No matter what reason we were hired to coach, one topic that most of us in executive coaching will hear clients bring up is vocation.
As clients go through some of the deep work that coaching often entails, they start to question the choices they have made that landed them in their current careers. When I ask leaders how they came to be in their current job I often hear things like:
- It was my next logical step for promotion.
- My boss thought it would be good for me to get experience in this area.
- There was an opening, I interviewed, and here I am!
- I always had an interest in ____________. (fill in the blank…science, math, the arts, dance, music)
Because my role as a coach is to help people explore the choices they have made and the choices they see in front of them, I rarely offer advice about what clients should do. I am asked all the time, "If you were me, what would you do?" Most of the time I say, “I am not you. I have not had your experiences. I don’t have your skills. I don’t have your unique giftedness. So I can’t tell you what to do."
About a month ago that exact scenario happened. ”Scott, if you were me, what would you do?" was the question posed. I did my little duck-and-weave maneuver described above and helped the client think through options they saw in front of them, as well as presented some other options that may not have naturally occurred in the conversation, and all was well. This is how it usually goes. Then, the session ends and the client goes on to make decisions and from time to time they keep me posted along the way.
As I finished my time with that client, I spent some time reflecting. This is something I do a lot after a coaching session. I like to think about things like:
- What kind of energy did the client show up with?
- What words did they use?
- Where did the conversation lead?
- What issues were brought to the surface?
- Did we get closer to achieving whatever goal has been set?
- What was my energy?
- What words, stories, analogies did I use?
- If I was the client, would I have valued the time I spent with me?
While in this reflective mood I remembered the client asking what I would do if faced with their vocational choice. I thought a lot about what I said and the words I chose...and then the thought hit me: I wonder if the client understood what I meant by pointing out their unique giftedness? I am sure he understood that I meant that he had unique experiences and skills, but unique giftedness is a term many may be unfamiliar with. In fact, it is a term I use often and even I wasn’t sure I knew exactly what I meant!
So I did what comes naturally to me, I started studying.
As it turns out, the idea behind unique giftedness has been explored in some detail over the last decade or more by career counselors and those interested in vocation. Its genesis and thesis are derived from what is known as depth psychology. Clinical psychologists use depth psychology to explore the unconscious mind. By paying attention to things like dreams, slips-of-the-tongue, sarcastic humor, spontaneous humor, and meaningful coincidences, clinical psychologists are able to chart an exploration of the unconscious mind.
Depth psychologists probe areas of the mind looking to help their patients unlock the unconscious or discover things that have been trampled over and subdued from the past. While most people thinking about vocation don’t need to explore any repressed memories, career counselors have starting using some depth psychology techniques to help those they work with explore their giftedness. It turns out that as we progress through life some of us may find ourselves in a job or career that has us scratching our heads wondering, “how in the world did I get here?"
Using this vocational depth psychology approach, people are encouraged to explore career, not from their credentials, their job title, or any organizational function they are attached to, but instead explore vocation by asking the question “What are my leading gifts and abilities?”
While there are several techniques I found for uncovering answers to this question, the one I found most intriguing is called The Childhood Autobiography. It is a simple exercise where you write your own biography of what it was like for you growing up as a kid. Then you search for things within your autobiography that point to what you really loved as a child. These first loves and interests are the sparks for your unique giftedness.
I was really fascinated by this idea of childhood autobiography and how it could link me to unique giftedness, so I thought I would give it a try.
Here are the questions I used to help me write mine, and here is a link to my childhood autobiography if you are interested. (it's only a page or so, but I did find it very informative in exploring my unique giftedness.
- What are the earliest memories you have from your childhood?
- How did you spend your time as a kid?
- What kinds of things brought you pleasure?
- Are there things you tried to avoid?
- What kind of people did you really enjoy being around?
- What kind of people annoyed you?
My next step was to read through my childhood autobiography to see if I could pick up any unique giftedness.
Any you know what… I did!
I found out that my vocation really isn’t about skills, talents, or even intellect. My big discovery was that it does not matter what vocation I choose if I am able to have fun and be curious. I could be happy and find fulfillment in many vocations.
Why not create your own Childhood Autobiography? You can use my questions above to explore this for yourself. If you do learn anything fun in this process, drop me a line. I would love to hear about any impact this little exercise had on you.