Taking stock of our lives: career and personal development

Hester Bancroft shows us how to set career and personal development goals in the second of a six-part series on life investment

Personal-development-totally4womenFollowing on from last month’s article on intimate relationships, this month we are taking stock of where we are with regard to our career and personal development. This article will allow you to explore how things have been for you in the past, how things are for you right now and how you would like them to be in the future. It will also give you the opportunity to focus on your core skills and passions to ensure you are developing yourself in ways that are truly meaningful to you.

Last time I touched on how, as women, our lives are forever changing; distinct phases of our working lives are created by events such as marriage, pregnancy, logistics of childcare and (increasingly commonly for many of us) divorce and subsequent relationships.

For the majority of women our home and family lives have a crucial bearing on all the choices we make; we often accept lesser-paid or lower-graded positions to fit in with school days and holidays or take complete career breaks. In addition, if our partner’s job changes or relocates we often move further away from our own contacts and previous working environment. Not surprisingly then, many women retrain and embrace second careers due to changes in their circumstances, priorities and (very often) their increased understanding of themselves.

Wherever you are yourself right now – working full or part-time, at home, married or single, parent or not – I am sure that, as a woman, you will have made choices based on the needs of others. So, whilst fully accepting that the logistics of our family lives and the maintenance of our key relationships have an important bearing on our career and personal development choices, I urge you to give yourself permission to focus only on your own needs as you work through the exercises in this article and let your own, inner voice be the loudest.

Let’s look at you: Development Exercises

Firstly let’s revisit our childhood and get back in touch with what hopes and dreams we had for ourselves before adulthood, limiting beliefs or stark reality took over.

Between the approximate ages of 7 and 14 each and every one of us went through the ‘modelling’ phase when we actively (albeit often unconsciously) seek out role models; people we know, see or read about whom we wish to emulate.

Think now about the childhood ambitions you had for yourself (however fleeting or seemingly whimsical!). Our adult selves can be very quick to dismiss our childhood dreams as ridiculous, sometimes to the extent that we forget we even had them, so if you are struggling to remember any childhood ambitions, stop for a moment and really focus; those ideas were there even if some now seem outlandish, unrealistic or even utterly impossible.

Now make a list of the elements about those (probably diverse) roles that specifically appealed to you; some roles may have a caring element, some glamorous, some influential, some exciting, some may allow you to perform, some to be heroic, some allow you to travel and some to be part of a team or a respected institute. These are the elements that resonated with you as a child and will still (at some level) resonate with you now:

• Are there any common elements in the roles you aspired to as a child?
• Do you currently have any of these elements in your life?
• If you could choose just one element to add into your life now, what would it be?

Now think about people you currently admire for what they do, how they move through the world or for the skills they may have. Again these can be people you know or have just seen or read about (they may not even be alive today). For each of those people think about the following:

• What specifically are the things you admire about them?
• If you could do just one thing as well as them what would it be?
• What would you need to do, have or learn to be able to do that?

As women, and particularly as mothers, we can focus on those we support and, naturally, feel proud of their achievements. In doing so, though, we can sometimes forget to focus on our own achievements, so I would like you now to list everything you have achieved so far in your life (big or small). Start by thinking about your achievements from your school life all the way through to now.

• Which, of all these things, are you proudest of?
• Did you achieve these things through hard work, natural skill or a combination of both?
• How did you feel when you achieved it?

Really take time to acknowledge and enjoy the feeling of having achieved all that you have as these feelings can provide us with fantastic motivation to achieve more.

Finally, before we focus on the specifics of your career and personal development I would like you to ponder some key questions:

• What is your personal vision of a fulfilling life?
• If money didn’t matter, what work would you choose to be doing each working day for the sheer enjoyment and satisfaction of doing it?
• When you die what do you want to have achieved in your life?

These questions can be truly life-changing. This does not mean you will necessary have a sudden and profound realisation that you should be doing something completely different (although you might!) – what it will allow you to do is recognise how much time you are or are not spending pursuing what is most important to you.

Career Development

To explore your working life let’s start with examining what is important to you about your work (if you are currently not working, focus on what will be important to you when and if you return to work). Make sure your list covers all of your needs; financial (security, freedom, independence), social (fun, teamwork, social life), emotional (recognition, praise, sense of self worth) and professional (trainings, certifications, opportunities).

As discussed last month, we really do tend to get what we focus on, so ensure that you state your ‘wish list’ in the positive. For example, rather than ‘I don’t want to be taken for granted’ say ‘It is important my contribution is appreciated’.

When you have completed this list take time to put the points in order of importance. These are your career values and it would be useful now to think about how well your current working life meets your needs and write yourself a ‘working life wish list’ underneath.

To ensure you haven’t missed anything off your ‘wish list’ think about when you are discussing your work with your partner or your close friends. Is there anything you repeatedly complain about? Also consider these questions:

• Do you feel you are fairly paid (or are able to pay yourself) for the hours that you work and the work that you do?
• Do you have time to do all that you need to do every day or do you always feel you have too much to achieve in the time you have?
• Do you enjoy working with your colleagues and feel they appreciate you?
• Do you feel your work allows you to develop your skills practically and professionally?
• What do you find most challenging or frustrating about your work?
• What else would you ideally like to get from your work if you could have anything?

If there are things that are making us unhappy in any area of our lives it is crucial to question our part, however small, in creating the situation. In order to make any positive changes in our lives we need to recognise what we ourselves can do to bring those changes about.

If you have a colleague who is disrespectful, unappreciative or rude to you on a regular basis think about how you are allowing that to happen. Think specifically about what they do and ask yourself what could be making them behave in that way. Try to really look through their eyes and understand what might be going on for them. This does not in any way render unacceptable behaviour acceptable – it simply allows us to take their actions less personally and thus communicate in a more positive and empowered way. It also forces us to recognize if we are doing anything at all to irritate, antagonise or upset them.

You then need to focus on what you would choose for them to understand from your perspective if you had to choose just one thing (and I mean really, completely understand). If you know the answer to this question before you discuss any issues you have with another person, you are in a much stronger position to communicate calmly and concisely and get a much better result from the interaction.

If there are other things you would like to get from your work that you currently do not, think about what it is that is stopping you from getting them (whether that is financial remuneration, appreciation, support or training). Ask yourself what you really feel you deserve and what you need to do to make that happen.

• Have you clearly identified what you need from your current work to make you feel content, happy and appreciated?
• Have you calmly and clearly communicated what it is you need to the right person?
• Is the work you currently do able to satisfy your career values or should you be considering a career change?

Whilst it can feel daunting to think about retraining it can also ultimately be liberating. The first thing is to recognise whether the work you are doing does not (and cannot) in anyway match your career values. If this is the situation you are currently in, then allow yourself time to research other options in light of what you have learnt from doing the above exercises.

It is important to put aside the logistical concerns to allow yourself to research all possible options to retrain. Only when you have done your initial research should you think about how you can fit retraining into your current life situation, whether that is full or part-time, distance learning or on-the-job training.

If your current work does have the potential to give you what you need then decide on what action you need to take and make a commitment to yourself to take it.

Personal Development

Developing ourselves, whether it is for the good of our career or for the sheer satisfaction of achieving something new, can give us tremendous purpose and pleasure in our everyday lives.

All of us can incorrectly believe that some things are beyond our ability when they are not. Whilst we need to be realistic about what we can achieve (for example if I was motivated enough to devote enough time and effort to it I could train for and run in the London marathon but, even with the best will in the world, I would not be able to take part in the Rio Olympics in 2016) we also need to recognise that most of us underestimate what we are capable of achieving.

This underestimation comes about through the limiting beliefs we hold about ourselves; we take these limiting beliefs on from significant adults during our childhood years when labels are (usually completely unwittingly) bestowed upon us from our parents, our teachers and other significant adults (e.g. she is very shy/outgoing, academic/not academic, musical/not musically gifted, sporty/not a natural sportsperson, etc.). As children these labels are easily integrated into the very core of our being, which, unless we question their validity, can render us reluctant to take on certain new challenges.

• What labels might you have been given when you were a child?
• Are there things you believe you would never be able to learn or do?
• What evidence do you have to back up these beliefs?

Think of people you might know who, as adults, have mastered a new language, a new instrument or gained the skills to create a magnificent piece of artwork. Very often we look on and wish we had the time and inclination to do the same. Interestingly though, when we find something we are truly passionate about, we will always find the time to put in the effort that we need to.

• What skills and abilities do you admire in others?
• If you could acquire a new skill by this time next year what would it be?
• Is there something that you have always wanted to master but have never even tried?

Giving thought to all of the above allows you to truly take stock of where you are in your career and your personal development. It would be useful now for you to answer these goal-setting questions in light of any new awareness you may have gained from doing the previous exercises:

• What does a fulfilling life mean to you?
• What changes do you need to make to have the working life you desire?
• What new skills would you love to master?
• How would it feel to be where you want to be in terms of your career and personal development by this time next year?

Finally, we should all allow our ‘inner teenager’ to ponder on the meaning of life and our purpose on this planet. As adults we can all get so focused on getting through our everyday tasks, meeting our commitments and paying our bills, that we can forget to step back and look at what we want to achieve for ourselves. When we are teenagers we dare to dream; when we are adults we can take steps to make those dreams reality. As the great Thomas Edison once said:

If we did all the things we were capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.

Hester Bancroft

About Hester Bancroft

I am a BSc(hons) Psych and member of the British Psychological Society, a master practitioner of NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) and an experienced Life Coach and Therapist. I provide high quality one-to-one coaching for individuals wishing to establish more positive ways of living their lives. I help my clients in dealing with the underlying causes of existing unhelpful behaviours, establishing empowering new behaviours and setting attainable and sustainable goals for the future.