There is a strength called Input. It comes from the Gallup Strengths Assessment called StrengthsFinder 2.0.
Input is the way someone learns and uses knowledge and information. People who are strong in input collect information and call it up when they need it. Input people enjoy learning in order to use the information. They will read enough to get the idea and store it away, as opposed to learners who are fascinated with the process of learning and will delve into things deeply.
Input is a strength because input people tend to make interesting and novel connections between seemingly disparate pieces of information.
I know this strength well because it is one of my top strengths. I find that a lot of my clients have this strength as well.
The issue with input is that it sometimes takes a long time to amass enough information and knowledge to feel comfortable putting it to good use. Recently, one of my clients told me how frustrated he is with constantly taking in information that he does not know what to do with. He wishes he could figure out right away what to do with his career. “It takes so much time”, he said ruefully.
So what helps?
What helps is to view your life as a series of experiments. As Herminia Ibarra said in her brilliant book Working Identity, the most successful career transitions occur when you have try out different possibilities and experience what works and what does not works for you. This approach takes time and carries with it uncertainty, possible contradictions and even doubt. Yet it is all part of a journey that results in true fulfillment. The worst thing is to remain paralyzed in inaction until you have figured out the “perfect” career.
In the case of my clients, once they begin to view their lives as a series of controlled experiments, all sorts of things begin to change. First and foremost, they begin to feel in charge of their lives. They may not know the destination but they know that they are on a journey and that whatever they experience is good information. For input people, this is especially helpful since even a “negative” experience can tell you what you do not like; by extrapolating, you can figure out what you do like!
And it helps to add to that the notion that there are no mistakes, only opportunities for learning.
Whether you are a musician, a lawyer, a small business owner, take heart. Look at the projects that excite you. What strengths are you using? What makes you feel the passion? What are you good at? Each project can be a learning experience as you chart the course of your life. The more input and experience you have, the more information you will have to design your career.
In my case, I did plenty of experimenting before I came into my own with coaching and teaching. Starting out as a lawyer, I learned that what I like best is thinking big-picture about strategy and solving a problem. I also enjoyed training younger lawyers and encouraging their growth and development. And I really loved being viewed as an expert on subjects that I cared about.
Furthermore, because I was not fulfilled in my legal career, I learned how to network as a way of sharing knowledge and information and down the road as a way of finding out about and creating opportunities.
As a non-profit arts executive, I loved creating new processes and structures with my team members and figuring out how to make the best use of our limited people and financial resources.
As a board chair, I learned how to lead and inspire others around something that I am passionate about.
In my personal life, I learned how to cultivate close relationships thanks to my extraordinary family and friends. Through years of playing the piano, I learned how to overcome perfectionism and enjoy making art. And I learned how precious life is when I nearly lost my own life and worked hard to regain my health.
I draw on all of these experiences as a coach and a teacher. My goal is to share these experiences with my clients and students and inspire them to find their own path to fulfillment. Yes, it may take some time but the journey is fascinating and full of extraordinary learning and opportunity.
So if you find yourself wondering what to do with your career, relax. Try out some new things. Look for new opportunities at your current job. Take a class. Read a new book. Volunteer for an organization whose mission excites you. Do a small consulting project. You will know what feels right. And slowly, you can put the pieces together and figure out what direction your career can take. It will happen if you have faith in yourself and the process and allow yourself the time to figure it out.