Author: Kerryn Wayow

The Power of Your Personality and Potential

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Many younger career seekers can encounter significant challenges when beginning their careers. Typically, these individuals go to people who are closest to them and that they trust for career advice. These people can include parents, teachers and friends. Even though this advice when given can be well intended, it is usually wrong. But, why? Unfortunately, when people closest to you provide advice, the perspective it is filtered through their own distinct career experiences. More than likely, most other people’s career choices will not have any similarity to yours. In addition, most people who are close are too emotionally connected, providing advice that is not objective. The advice is typically biased. But most importantly, most people do not have all the necessary information and knowledge needed to successfully navigate today’s ever changing career market. With changing global conditions and technology, the career market today in the 2020’s is not even the same as 10 years ago. So, here’s a good starting place. Start with you. Begin with your potential!  

Using the word “potential” might sound vague, but it is not as ambiguous as it sounds. The word potential as defined by a dictionary means, “having latent qualities or abilities that may be developed and lead to future success or usefulness.” When beginning your career, attempting to discern your own potential is a good place to start, because it will help you to identify and characterize your own unique and special qualities. These broad set of personal qualities will be ones that you and only you will possess. These special qualities will help you to establish your very own career path. Many people underestimate their own personal qualities, assuming that everyone is similar. However, this is very far from the truth. Your personal qualities are very distinct and individual to you. However, what exactly is meant by the word “potential” in relation to your career?

Your potential can be specifically defined by four major areas: skills, interests, values and personality. These 4 qualities are not the only aspects that you can use to help reach your greatest career potential. However, with regards to your career development, these are very tangible concrete aspects that can be used to figure out a good career fit. You can consider your skills, interests, values and personality endowments, because these are personal characteristics and qualities that you possess. Whether these endowments have been acquired through god, genetic evolution or plain old chance, it does not matter. Your endowments can be used towards your own career advantage, helping you to design, grow and develop a successful career.

When trying to figure out a career, most people tend to first think of their skills and interests. However, it’s also important to explore your values and personality. Career values are personal principles that assist you is defining your ideal professional environment. These values can help you identify your most ideal work setting and important role characteristics. In turn, these will enhance your job satisfaction, accelerate career advancement and support you in achieving success.

Another personal aspect that also supports your career is your personality. It’s your distinct and exceptional personality traits that can help you uncover your unique career journey. Ironically, you may have similar skills, interests and values to other people, but it is the distinct combination of your personality traits that makes you, uniquely you. In the career world, adapting to a specific organization and its culture can significantly impact your career satisfaction, which can be a function of personality traits. So, let’s take a deeper look at how your personality can impact your career, because your personality is a significant part of achieving greater career fulfillment.

Your Personality Predicts Career Success and Satisfaction

Research has discovered that certain patterns of personality growth predict career success. In a major 12-year longitudinal study, researchers from the University of Houston followed two groups of youth from 17 years to about 29 years of age, approximately a 12-year period. They found that personality has important effects on early career outcomes. The effects were revealed through stable trait levels and how people change over time. The researchers reported that personality trait levels predicted career success. In another study, researchers examined personality traits in relation to satisfaction. They evaluated 5,932 individuals in career transition. They found that personality traits were related to both career and job satisfaction. Specifically, they found that 3 distinct personality traits were related to career satisfaction and success: conscientiousness, extroversion, and openness. At the moment, I will not discuss the specifics of the traits, but only reinforce the idea that specific aspects of your personality will be important to you in achieving career success and satisfaction. 

Your Personality Impacts Performance

Your performance on the job is not only about your skills. It can be influenced by many other factors, including your personality. There have been many great career accomplishments that have been reached, in the absence of strong skills and knowledge. People can attain extraordinary achievements, conquering significant challenges by employing personality strengths. An individual who was able to use his personal traits to overcome skill deficits was Jamie Oliver.

Jamie Oliver is a celebrity chef who has authored over twenty cookbooks. He is one of world’s richest chefs, with a net worth of over $230 million. However, you would be surprised by the fact that even though he has authored many books he only finished reading his first book in 2013. Oliver has Dyslexia, which is a specific learning disability that affects reading. Individuals with dyslexia have trouble reading accurately and fluently. Oliver has stated, “I’ve never read a book in my life, which I know sounds incredibly ignorant but I’m dyslexic and I get bored easily.”

To say that Jamie Oliver has had some very controversial moments would be an understatement. Oliver has a shocking career history of making people extremely angry with his personal views and perspectives, and sometimes downright hypocrisy. These controversies are the result of strong personality characteristics. Being a celebrity chef isn’t just about having cooking skills and knowledge, otherwise any chef could be on TV. It’s beneficial to have a big personality in the media world, so you can light up the television and get attention. This is where Oliver’s personality comes in. Because he is constantly in the spotlight, he needs people to listen and grab their attention. His celebrity survival depends on his personality. There are countless examples of people using their unique personality characteristics to shape their career, Jamie Oliver is just one person out of many. Pursuing a career that best compliments your personality will not only help you achieve the best performance on the job, but will support you in reaching your highest career potential

Personality is the Key to Strong Organizational Culture Fit

There are many people that do not take into consideration or appreciate the fit between themselves and the culture that exists in the organization that they work for. However, on the other hand, many companies today view organizational fit as a critical company aspect, especially when it comes to hiring new employees.

In a corporate recruiters’ survey conducted by GMAC Research Services, employers were asked to identify the skills and traits they felt were most important to consider when evaluating recent business school graduates to hire. The survey drew responses from 842 employers representing more than 530 companies in 40 countries around the globe. Among the 12 traits that respondents were asked to rank in order of importance, the survey found that a candidate’s ability to fit within an organizational culture was ranked highest overall across all world regions.

Organizational culture is generally understood to include all of a company’s beliefs, values and attitudes. The combination of these factors influences an employee’s behaviour, affecting his/her interaction with others and work performance. The importance of organizational fit should never be underestimated, as it can be a critical driver of your happiness in the workplace. Multiple research studies have drawn a connection to job satisfaction and productivity. It is also intuitively obvious that if a person feels like they are an important part of the greater organization his/her commitment will deepen. This person will feel greater work engagement and be motivated to “go the extra mile.” Your personality is a key aspect to achieving strong organizational fit, being vital in identifying the work environment that is best suited to you. More importantly, this will also allow you to maximize your greatest career potential.

The Real Costs For Post-Secondary Students That Lack Career Clarity

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Many people still think that it’s okay for students to be unsure or lack career clarity when attending post-secondary education. I have heard many parents communicate this advice, and even some academic institutions support it. For instance, on a top Canadian university website there is a statement to students, “No one expects you to have your whole life mapped out when you apply to university. There are so many universities and choices. You may discover new programs after you apply or even once you get to university. It’s okay to change what you’d like to study. Many students do.”

There are also post-secondary educators that provide similar advice. In a Macleans article (December 3, 2018), Aritha van Herk,a professor from the department of English at the University of Calgary stated, “Explore. Give your curiosity free rein. Universities are programmatically structured now, but don’t let the requirements of your program confine you. If you want to take astronomy and your English degree tells you that you can’t take any more options, resist and figure out a way to do both. It is less important to complete a degree than to discover your fascinations, which will follow you through life.” Really? Is it not that important that a student does not complete his or her degree?

A lot of students have difficulties choosing academic programs, lacking direction. For this reason, changing majors is a very common occurrence for many post-secondary students, especially in university settings. Even I changed my majors when I attended University. I would argue that it is such a common occurrence that many individuals don’t realize the real consequences of making this critical decision. As the opening quotation mentions, students that change majors are part of the norm. Do not misunderstand me, I completely support the idea of exploration. Indeed, exploration is at the heart to a successful career development process. However, I believe that gaining greater clarity about post-secondary education needs to be a priority because academic uncertainty is extremely costly. In this blog, I want to look at facts surrounding academic decision making, the true costs of switching majors and some of the benefits of using career development strategies.

There are many career development strategies that can be effectively used to reduce doubt and uncertainty, helping to enhance academic decision making. My intention is to open a dialogue about the true need for career development, as way of reducing uncertainty and gaining clarity. More importantly, it is also a way of avoiding major unforeseen costs.

Percentage of Students Changing Majors

First, let’s look at some cold hard facts when students change majors. Within Canada, there are not very clear statistics on the number of students changing their majors. However, in the United States the Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), conducted a longitudinal study in 2011 to 2012. The study found that 33 percent of students that were pursuing a bachelor’s degree and 28 percent of students within associate degree programs had changed their major at least once. The survey also found that about 1 in 10 had changed majors twice.

Relevance of Academic Studies to Work

Additional research involved university students from a major Canadian survey completed for 2020, the Ontario University Graduate Survey. In this study, researchers examined two key factors that were related to graduate job results. The first factor was the skills students had developed from their program. The second factor was the subject matter knowledge they acquired. With regards to the skills that university students had developed in relation to their work, 53% of students stated that they were “closely related”, 34% recorded that they were “somewhat related” and 13% noted that they were “not related at all”. In relation to the subject matter, 46% of students stated that the knowledge gained was “closely related” to their work, 30% indicated that it was “somewhat related” and 24% recorded it was “not related at all”. 

In reviewing the percentages, only about 50% of the students indicated that both their skills and subject matter were closely related to their work upon graduation. Overall, it’s clear that there are a vast number of students do not employ a significant level of skills and knowledge in the work that they do. Many students do not maximize their education, with regards to the future careers they pursue.

The Real Costs of Education

When attending college or university there are significant costs that go along with this major life decision. Let’s look at these costs. According to Statistics Canada, a typical university Canadian student enrolled full-time in an undergraduate program will pay, on average, $6,693 in tuition. This was for the 2021/2022 academic year. Of course, tuition will depend on the area of study, increasing in cost for most STEM and professional degrees. If a student is in residence, the annual cost can be even higher.

Associated with the costs of going to university is the large number of students having significant student debt. Statistics Canada reports that for the 2015 year, 64% of the graduates who graduated with student debt still had an outstanding debt after three years. Among university programs, graduates with a bachelor’s degree had a median debt of $20,000. Graduates in professional programs were three times higher with a median debt of $60,300

Costs and Consequences

Let’s quickly sum up the facts, to evaluate the real costs for a student’s lack of career clarity and uncertainty. First, a significant percentage of students will change their majors, up to a third. Second, only about 50% of the students indicate that their skills and subject matter are closely related to their work upon graduation. So, many graduating students will not be maximizing their educational field of study to their future careers. Third, with the average cost for a year’s tuition for university being approximately $6,700, having to take any additional years to complete a program is an extraneous and unnecessary cost. Fourth, if students decide to change majors the courses already completed may not be relevant to the new major. Students may not be able to transfer all their credits, having to pay for any additional credits, increasing costs. Furthermore, this will also extend the date of graduation. Fifth, if students extend their graduation date, they will have to pay for additional courses. In this situation, they will also be losing employment income, because they have not started their career. Last, when students extend the date of graduation, the time required to pay off any outstanding student debt becomes longer.  

Benefits of Using Career Development Strategies

I hope that a review of these fact and numbers, provides confirmation that switching academic majors has significant costs and consequences. Even though many students choose to switch majors, it should not be taken lightly. As I have discussed making the wrong decision is very costly. However, is there a way to reduce the chance of having to switch majors? There have been multiple research studies explicitly confirming the effectiveness of the career development process for supporting successful student decision making.

There are many advantages for students to undergo a successful career development process. First, students gain self-awareness. Being self-aware forces a person to look at themselves more objectively. Examining strengths, weaknesses, personality traits and values assists in more effectively exploring career directions and opportunities. Second, it provides a way for students to create career goals, which supports the decision-making process. When students have goals that they want to achieve, it helps them plan more effectively. Third, it establishes a long-term vision. Vision also supports the decision-making process, assisting them to prioritize what is truly important in their career. Finally, a sound career strategy allows students to better explore the labour market. Today’s labour market is expansive and endlessly changing. Students need to understand labour market trends, impacts and disruptions. With the rising costs of today’s education and the continually changing labour market, an effective career process can help a student not only avoid getting into the wrong career but provide a successful career foundation. The process can  help a student have a deeper understanding of who they are and what they truly want from their career.

Reasons Why Young People Struggle to Find a Successful Career

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In my work, I encounter many youth struggling to find a successful career direction. In this situation, I am not talking about finding and obtaining the right job. Finding and obtaining the right job involves a successful job search strategy. I am talking about choosing the right job. From my perspective, finding a job and choosing a career are entirely separate aspects. Let me explain.

I remember one very specific call. The client was a younger individual who had just finished completing her teaching qualifications. She recently started a teaching position, providing high school instruction to youth. During the call, she very definitively stated that she hated it. I asked her why and oddly enough, she mentioned that a lot of the kids were “unmotivated”. We spoke for a while longer and discovered that she could not quit the position, due to a large outstanding student debt. She was clearly upset and frustrated with her job but was forced to stay in it. This young person found a job but chose the wrong one. Since then, I have encountered many young people who have taken the wrong programs, have completely switched their majors or struggled to establish a strong and successful start to their career. Needless to say, this is detrimental to their career progress, not to mention very costly.

Generally, many early job seekers and young people fail to consider the many career options that are available to them. Many students identify careers that easily come to mind that they might enjoy and pursue them. However, there is no career development process, strategy or deeper exploration. Without deeper exploration, students can make very erroneous decisions. At the same time, all the many job possibilities can be overwhelming, as there are a seemingly infinite number of career choices. There are many reasons why people struggle to get a strong foothold when beginning their career. These need to be considered, if they are going to get a strong start in their career. If you are a younger person, you need to understand the 4 following major factors that will greatly impact your important career decisions.

Influence and Impact of others

Students are typically surrounded by a network of people who significantly impact and influence their career choices. I have spoken to many young people who have been influenced by those closest around them. These individuals can include parents, family members, teachers, counselors, mentors and friends. In general, most of these people are very supportive in a person’s life. Research supports this. Studies have found that these individuals can positively influence a students’ education and career decision making. An American study discovered that family members were the greatest source and had the highest percentage of influence on a student’s career decision. Teachers were cited as the next group, for influencing a student’s decision. The last source of influence was school counsellors.

Indeed, there are many students that follow their parents’ recommendations, generally finding work in the career fields that their parents wanted for them. For students making a critical career decision, it can be difficult to separate what people in their close network want for them and the career they would like to choose for themselves. This difficulty in separation comes from a process termed internalization. Internalization happens when values, patterns or beliefs within oneself are acquired through learning or socialization, as conscious or subconscious guiding principles. Both children and youth have a strong tendency to internalize career values from others around them, especially their parents. As such, the influence of others can hinder a student’s ability to envision their own distinct career path or independently choose their career direction. As a young person, you will need to take the required time to adequately reflect, meditate and plan your own career choices, separate from those around you.

No Direct “Real-World” Experience

There’s a saying I typically mention to clients that I serve, and it’s, “Passion cannot be discovered through thought.” I will use my own personal experience to explain. When I left high school, I wanted to go into aerospace engineering, as I enjoyed the sciences, especially physics. I imagined myself designing and building really cool jet fighters. I knew very little about the engineering field before I got into my program, and I failed to account for one major factor. Everything in engineering revolved around design, drafting and mathematics. There was a lot of math equations! It was only when I faced the non-stop daily grind of performing seemingly endless chemical, math and physics equations and problems that I thought, “Woah, enough!” In high school, I studied many other subjects, and had not experienced the intensity of mathematics and sciences every day, until I got into my program.

Real passions do not evolve out of thoughts, they are a product of experiences. Most people have tendencies to “think” about their passions, instead of taking direct action and trying something new. We habituate our minds to analyze, rationalize and figure things out. However, this is the main reason why many people buy exercise machines that eventually end up sitting in a corner of their homes. The thought of looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger is exciting and great, until a person has to put in the consistent and hard work to develop a body like Arnold. Finding a successful career is about directly immersing yourself into many experiences, actually trying them. Without tangible and concrete knowledge, you will not know what you are truly passionate about and love.

If you are early in your career, it’s well worth to try as many activities as possible, gaining direct experiences. Participate in volunteer work, additional training, hobbies and leisure activities, along with joining internships and extracurricular activities.

No Priorities; Not Knowing What’s Important.

Ask yourself this question, “Have I identified, planned and taken real action on a really important goal that will move my career in a positive direction, significantly moving it forward within the next year?” Unfortunately, when I ask this question to clients, it’s a very difficult one to answer. Most people have a tendency to choose jobs and centre their career around immediate and personal circumstances and situations. People’s careers can be very reactionary. In the case of younger people, the main reactionary situation in their lives is leaving high school. When school ends, they are forced to make very quick and pressured decisions about what career they want. This time crunch can be very challenging, because how does one choose quickly? It can take time to get to an understanding of what’s going to be important in the next 5, 10 or even 20 years into the future, as priorities constantly evolve. As a young person, it is critical to take the time, energy and effort to define what you want and what you consider a successful career. Create, develop and work on a career vision for yourself. Otherwise, like many people, you could end up stuck in job that you seriously dislike and even hate, while become so immersed, it will be difficult to pivot or change career direction.

Your Own Psychology

Career decision making is one of most important aspects of career development, even perhaps the most critical. Unfortunately, despite people’s best efforts, they make wrong choices. These errors in decision making are less about intelligence and being “smart”, as opposed to knowing how your mind specifically operates and the types of operational processes that are integrated into the decision-making process.  

Heuristics are processes by which humans use mental short cuts to arrive at decisions. They are strategies that are part of the operational processes of the mind, being incorporated when making judgments, evaluating decisions and finding solutions. These processes are used to find answers that are most likely to be correct. However, they are not always right or even the most accurate.

There are many different types of heuristics. However, I will provide an example of one specific type, termed the Representativeness Heuristic. This heuristic was first researched by psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman in the 1970s. Like other types of heuristics, making judgments based on representativeness is intended to operate as a mental shortcut.  However, it can lead to significant errors. In a classic experiment, Tversky and Kahneman gave research participants a description of a person named Tom W. They described him as orderly, detail-oriented, competent, self-centered, with a strong moral sense. Participants were then asked to determine Tom’s college major. The researchers found that the description led them to use the representativeness heuristic, resulting in the belief that Tom was an engineering major. This of course were only the perceived conclusions drawn by the participants, and occurred, despite the fact that there was a relatively small number of engineering students at the school where the study was conducted.

Heuristics can lead many people to false conclusions about certain occupations, influencing critical career decisions. We all have opinions, perspectives and judgements about specific types of jobs. However, your own psychology and thought processes will greatly impact your decisions. These decisions will eventually lead to significant career consequences. An effective educational planning and career development process can help you to make more accurate career judgements and conclusions. It supports by enhancing your awareness when using heuristics, incorporating deeper reflective processes and applying greater logic and rationality. Overall, it will be beneficial for you to gain a deeper understanding of your career decision-making process and own psychology.

Do You Have Both Fulfillment and Career Success?

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If I asked you if you were okay or satisfied with your career, I bet many people would say that they were. However, if I asked if your career was truly “successful”, what would you answer? There are probably hundreds of internet articles on ways to achieve success, either in a job, career or business . However, even though there is plenty of advice and guidance on ways to achieve success, for many people it can remain elusive. Achieving success can be challenging, because it can be complicated. First, there are obstacles preventing a person from reaching goals that he/she would like to achieve. Whether the goal is a certain salary level, promotion, specific job role or particular company, they may be stopped by multiple challenges. However, I think what is more challenging than even getting to an intended goal is whether the person reaching it will see it as a “success”. Sometimes, people create and achieve many goals, but they do not feel as if they are successful or fulfilled. Ultimately, they can be unclear about what success means to them. I believe that this lack of clarity in defining success is one of the biggest career challenges, and yet some people never take a deep dive into exploring and clarifying it.

Some time ago, I became very intrigued with the concept of career success from watching a 48 hours episode. The specific episode was titled “Kiss of Death and the Google Exec”. The episode was about a 51-year-old executive, Forest Hayes. From an outside perspective and by all accounts, Hayes had a very successful life and career. He was hired as a top executive to work at Google X, one of the company’s most technologically innovative and imaginative division. Hayes could be described as “high-powered”, as he had lots of assets that included a $3 million dollar home in California. He had one prized possession a 46-foot-long yacht valued at $200,000 dollars. It had a high-end security system, and even had a captain’s chair estimated to be $8,000 dollars. He also appeared to be happily married for 17 years to his wife and had five children.

I don’t think that anyone would have guessed that he would die alone on his prized possession, the 46-foot-long yacht. Hayes was left dead on his yacht through a fatal injection of heroine, after an encounter with an escort. The entire story is really quite sordid and tragic, and I will not recount the actual details of his passing. You can Google the complete story, if you so choose. The details of his death are not relevant to this discussion. More importantly, the  significant question is, how does someone who seemingly has everything, end up dead under such scandalous and seamy circumstances? From an outside perspective he seemed to have it all. Hayes had a family, money, respected career and many personal assets, and yet he sought out drugs and paid companionship.

I realize that I have used a very extreme example to discuss career success. However, I wanted to really drive home my main point. It is this. There are many people who strive and work hard for the type of success that Hayes had and for many of these people this type of success is very fulfilling, and for others such as Hayes, it is not. A person may have all the external success but still be internally miserable and unsatisfied, even feeling hopeless with their life. There are people who seem to “have it all”, and yet, they may not view themselves as successful, feel happy or be joyous. Sometimes, these people’s stories end in sadness and tragedy. Forest Hayes certainly wasn’t fulfilled, even though he attained a significant level of professional, personal and material success. He still sought after something elusive, in an attempt to reach a greater sense of fulfilment.

The irony is that most of us know that success is highly subjective, being defined uniquely and individually, by each person. True success is defined independently of other people, as only you can define your own success. However, many people still seek the opinions, expectations and perspectives of others around them. To be able to find real and authentic career success you must go through the process of clarifying it, for yourself. I am not saying that if you don’t define success that your life will end in tragic death, as Forest Hayes did. However, if you never define success for yourself you might wind up in a career that is completely unfulfilling, unsatisfying and miserable. I give you four ideas to ponder, when reflecting on your career success:

Clarify Your Definition of Success

Clarity sorts out confusion. If want to head in the right career direction, then you need to have vision. Having no career vision is similar to jumping on a plane for a vacation and not knowing where it is going. Ultimately, you are making no decisions, and you will not know where you are heading. This would seem ridiculous to most people, however, it’s simply astounding how many people do this with their career. They simply apply to whatever job opportunities are available and take the first job that meets their life needs and necessities, instead of planning and mapping out their long-term career focus. No clarity means having no real control over your own career outcomes and future. So, begin to think and reflect on what career success means to you. Start to clarify your own definition of career success.

Ensure Your Definition of Success is Authentic to You

There’s a quote by Harry Truman stating that “If you don’t have your own goals, you’ll be doomed to work toward someone else’s.” Yet, we have tendencies to be guided by those around us. Everyone has recommendations for our career, such as our parents, friends, family, co-workers, bosses, priests, hairdresser, mechanic, plumber and even the news media. It’s easy to rely on the opinions of others when we are unsure of our direction. However, instead of looking externally to others, it’s important to begin an active internal reflection and mediation. As the saying goes, “The heads thinks. The heart knows”. Rely on authentic parts of yourself to help you guide your career decision making and direction

Prioritize Areas of Career Success

Finding career success means determining what is truly important. There are many things in your career that you may want to succeed at. You will have many goals and achievements that you would like to attain and accomplish. However, there is one element that will stop you from reaching all that you would like to achieve: time. Time  

always marches forward, and it will be continuously running out on you. You must pick the most important goals, if you want your career to feel successful, while also leading to greater happiness and fulfilment. You must not waste time on things in your life that don’t matter or contribute to feeling successful. When you waste time on things that are not important then it can lead to major regrets over not achieving the essential goals that you deeply wanted to reach.

Choose What Makes You Come Alive

In a previous blog, I discussed that it’s important to find passionate and interesting career activities, as these are major contributors to a positive life. These activities will support your overall well-being, while helping you to reach your highest potential. Many successful people love the work they do, using intrinsic motivation to overcome big obstacles and reach very challenging career goals. Unfortunately, there are many more people who choose work that is ordinary, mundane and dull. These days of monotony turn into months, which eventually turn into years of boring and never-ending work. It’s difficult if not impossible to feel that your career is a success when you are not engaged and interested in it. However, it’s surprising that people never ever search for passion in their work over their entire lifetime. Will you?

What Makes You Come Alive!

With the current release of Top Gun 2, I was reminded about my educational and career experiences as a youth. It also provides me the perfect opportunity to talk about the idea of career aliveness. I think this is a vital career topic, because according to a Gallup organization survey, only a mere 28% of all workers are engaged in the work they do. So, there are plenty of people out there who are disengaged. There are many reasons for this, but in this blog, I want to discuss this crucially important one.

I am not sure how many people will remember the original Top Gun movie. For the younger generation, they may not know about this movie at all. It was a movie starring Tom Cruise who plays Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, a F-14 fighter pilot. The main storyline involves his flight training adventures at Top Gun, which is based on the real training academy called U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School, formerly based at Miramar Naval Air Station. For me, as a young 16-year old boy, the movie had everything that I would want in a story; an awesome 80’s rock song, a pretty blonde girl and a gritty dramatic story line, but most of all it had lightening fast and cool fighter jet scenes. I could see myself sitting in the cockpit of a fighter jet, doing crazy dogfight maneuvers like kicking on the afterburner and performing jaw-dropping barrel rolls and yo-yo’s. I was pilot in my prime!

Let’s fast forward many years later. This dream turned into a choice to be an aeronautical engineer. I thought instead of flying planes, I would design them. Eventually, I found myself sitting in engineering classes and hating every single minute. Somebody should have warned me about all the calculus. Go figure!?

Maybe you have had or still have a career dream. You know like being a cop, chasing down a ”perp” and bringing him to justice. Your dream might be about being a doctor who dashes into the emergency room, saving a person from a deadly heart attack. Maybe you see yourself as a young Thomas Edison creating an invention that will change the world. I get it though! You might be saying, “Kerryn, dreams like this are not even close to the actuality of a real-life job.” Yes, I would agree. Not many pilots are doing crazy sonic boom fly-bys when they are in the air, just to annoy air traffic controllers. Also, on the other extreme, some of you might be thinking that your dreams are so crazy that if you told other people about them, they would fall down in a fit of hysterical laughter. However, these comments miss the entire point of this specific career exercise, which is to start an internal conversation and dialogue with yourself about career aliveness.

Even though I never pursued my dream as an aeronautical engineer, and I totally missed the mark of understanding the realities about being a true fighter pilot (Cut me some slack for being 16-years old), it was the first opportunity to ask myself an essential career question that I think most people ignore. It is the question, “What makes you come alive?” I do not believe that many people ask themselves this fundamental and essential question. Most people think they need to be completely “realistic” in their career choice. Unfortunately, I think that the idea of “realism” and being “practical” eliminates the vital aspect of joy, as part of their career. I agree that there are many important practical questions that we need to ask when we are in our careers. These questions include “What are the key qualifications employers look for?”, “Should I go on to higher education?”, “What salary will I be making?”, “What am I good at?”, and “How do get the promotion I want?” There are many important career questions. However, asking what makes you alive is the quintessential question that if you never ask, you will never ever discover your true potential. I also believe it will lead to career that is completely unfulfilling.

Ultimately, finding activities that bring passion, deep interest and excitement to your career are major contributors to a positive life. More importantly it will support your overall well-being and help you reach your highest potential. Many people choose work that becomes ordinary, mundane and dull. These moments of monotony turn into days, which turn into months. These months eventually turn into years of boring and never-ending work. The daily work that you choose is one of the most essential factors to whether you will be highly engaged. It’s surprising that many people never ask this simple question.

One person who exemplifies exploring activities that cultivate aliveness is Richard Branson. I think most of you know who Richard Branson is, but I will highlight his accomplishments. Branson is an English entrepreneur, investor, philanthropist and founder of the Virgin Group, which includes more than 400 companies throughout 30 countries. He is a larger than life character, having gained notoriety through many daring and audacious achievements. Richard has set a record for the first person to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a hot air balloon. He successfully crossed the Pacific Ocean and made attempts with several colleagues to circumnavigate the entire globe by balloon. As of 2014, he held the records for the oldest person to cross the English Channel by kiteboard. He has millions of followers on LinkedIn and is the richest reality TV presenter with an estimated worth of £3 billion. In 2004, he founded a spaceflight corporation, Virgin Galactic. As recently as July 2021, Branson travelled as a passenger onboard Virgin Galactic Unity 22, a spaceplane that travelled to edge of space.

One quote that Richard Branson lives by is, “The brave may not live forever, but the cautious do not live at all.” He reveals that he has always searched out adventure because it is where he feels the most alive. Branson attributes his success in building businesses, expanding his mind, and discovering new perspectives on having a true spirit of adventure. He uses this essential principle of aliveness to go beyond his limits and has been able to forge an unparalleled career and life. Richard Branson seems to hold on to dreams, like those that we had as kids. What happened to these dreams? So, if you haven’t asked yourself what makes you come alive, you need to do it! After all, a balloon flying, space-trotting, wealthy billionaire might have some very wise and enlightening career advice. It might be the critical difference between you attaining an extraordinary career that is fully alive or one of absolute unfulfillment.

Why Is It So Difficult to Find Passion?

There is abundant advice out there telling people to find their passion. This advice does not fall on deaf ears, as many people desire it. People want career passion. According to a survey of approximately 1,000 people by, nearly 74 percent of Americans stated that they have left a job to pursue their true passions. Furthermore, today’s younger workers have a high desire for passion. Research conducted by strategy firm Department26 found that 44% of respondents wanted a passionate role as a top priority, slightly surpassing salary requirements at 42%.

But even though people want passion in their careers, it is mysteriously elusive. In a study conducted by Deloitte, they cite that companies spent over $1 billion on employee engagement in 2017, with over $100 billion on training and development activities. Even with massive investment, employee engagement remains low at 34 percent. A research division of Deloitte surveyed more than 3,000 full-time US workers from 15 industries across various job levels. They found that 48% of all workers had no attributes of “worker passion”, with a mere 13% having additional attributes for passion. What’s truly interesting is the study also found that employees want to be passionate, desiring to learn and make a positive impact.

Passion can be difficult to identify, and even more challenging to integrate it into a career. But why do so many people not know what their passions are? There are many reasons, but a major reason is that most jobs have multiple activities not just one. For instance, let’s suppose you love to play guitar, and decide that you want to be a musician. To be a musician you will need to do more than play the guitar. Even if you were passionate about practicing and playing, you may need to write and record music, tour, collaborate with band members, give interviews, market your music, close business deals or communicate to fans. (Oddly, I actually play the guitar and the reason I chose not to be a musician is that I do not like to perform in public, along with not being that good!) Overall, there is a low probability that your passion will completely match all of the requirements of your work.

A lot of job seekers rarely consider job fit when creating their career or searching for work. As we have seen, this is a major reason why many people dislike their careers. The following are additional reasons why people find it difficult to identify their passions.

1. People go down the path of least resistance to meet lifestyle needs

We all can get comfortable with routine. People get stuck in the routine of going to work, coming home, watching tv, perusing Facebook or being distracted by their cellphones. These activities become our life. These by themselves will impact your perceptions and worldview, but worse, it impacts your emotional and psychological state, mainly negatively. It’s difficult to change and finding passion in these negative states is next to impossible. I remember attempting to coach a client who had been unemployed and staying at home. He watched tv and surfed the internet all day, and his perceptions became deeply negative. At that point with his perceptions being very narrowed, it was very difficult to motivate him into action, never mind discuss finding passion.

Unfortunately, we can get locked into day-to-day routine habits, which provide comfort and security. However, this limits our ability to seek and find passion. To avoid this, break out of your routines. Expand your worldview, experiences and perspectives when it comes to exploring passion.

2. People don’t explore different passions

Juggling the constant demands of life can be challenging. With these pressures on time, interests and hobbies for many Canadians is way down on the priority list. A statistical survey produced by Statistics Canada demonstrates that Canadians tend to put other priorities over hobbies and interests. The survey found that the average Canadian watches approximately 16.5 hours per week watching television or videos, as opposed to participating in a hobby. The average Canadian spends less than 3 hours per week on a hobby, writing, artistic or leisure pursuit. With Canadians not prioritizing creative and leisure activities relative to other activities, it leaves little doubt as to this being a major reason for people having difficulty in identifying passions. It is beneficial to seek and find new hobbies. Get started on that hobby that you have been putting off for a very long time.

3. People don’t take the time to understand and reflect on their passions

Many people make the assumption that having strong feelings is passion. These feelings make them pursue activities until they one day get bored and lose interest. They will then abandon the activity all together. This happens to all of us. People have many interests that they love, but with enough time it fades away. It’s human to get bored because we love variety and are wired for novelty. However, one researcher who conducted a study argued that there is a difference between passion and “emotionalism”. Emotionalism is an exaggerated display of very strong feelings. These feelings can be very deep self expressions, which can be mistaken for passion. Passion is very different in that that the more you engage in a passionate activity over time, the more excitement you feel. Personally, this is what happened to me. I began my studies in psychology in my twenties, and I also studied mathematics, science and engineering. To this day, I still have an ongoing passion and curiosity for the field of psychology, but my interest in the other subjects faded. You need to take time, intentionality and reflection to explore and learn what your deeper passions are. It is about being patient, to discover how strong an interest and passion is.

4. People can be rewarded for activities that are not in alignment with their passion

We don’t live isolation. We have friends and family, while also being a co-worker, community member and global citizen. Within our social networks, we interact with people and groups that have diverse beliefs, values and expectations. These values and ideals are constantly communicated and are pervasive. It has been noted that a person can experience up to 4,000 to 10,000 marketing messages in one day. We are flooded by a barrage of ideas, values, opinions and worldviews. This directly impacts what passions we identify, adopt and value. For instance, occupational interests in STEM and technical fields are financially rewarded more than pursuits within the arts. In an article written by the Upper Cumberland Business Journal, they found that STEM workers who majored in STEM fields in college could typically make higher salaries than those who did not. The average was $101,100 versus $87,600. These rewards not only occur in the form of financial remuneration, but in social status and recognition as well. Unfortunately, there are situations where a person may be teased, ridiculed or mocked for having passions that are not in alignment with the values and beliefs that are present in his or her social circle and network. We are constantly within family, “peer” and societal networks that pressure us to normalize and conform to expectations.

5. People are at different life stages

Individuals experience their lives at different stages. Living as a student is very different than being newly married, or being married for 15 years, and this impacts how a person experiences passion. Early in our careers our exposure to work activities is limited. Whereas when we get deeper into our careers, we acquire more experiences. This diversity in experience allows us to gain an awareness of what we enjoy doing and what we don’t. Later in our careers we have different perspectives because we have lived with our experiences longer.

Different life stages also have very different pressures, decisions and expectations, which influence a person’s ability to explore and experience passion. Priorities change over a lifetime, and the ability to explore and identify passions varies with these changing life priorities. However, the career management secret is to continue to prioritize the exploration of passion. As we discussed, it’s very easy to be comfortable, remaining in the same day-to day habits. These daily routines may provide a strong sense of security and comfort, but unfortunately, they will destroy and kill your passions.