What is career alignment and why is it key to career fulfillment?Apr 16, 2021
Career alignment is the foundational concept on which my career coaching approach is based, but what does career alignment even mean and why is it so important? This is what I will be addressing in this article.
Let’s start by defining alignment. In the literal sense of the word, the Cambridge Dictionary defines alignment as “an arrangement in which two or more things are positioned in a straight line or parallel to each other.” Think of the wheels of your car, for example. When your wheels are in proper alignment it permits your car to move forward smoothly and with ease. When your tires are slightly out of alignment, your car may still move forward, but it will wobble and will strain to get you to your desired destination. When your wheels are completely out of alignment, your car won’t move forward at all and trying to get it to move forward will be down-right painful.
The same applies to your career.
There are certain components of your career that need to be in alignment for things to move forward smoothly and easily. When these components are out of alignment, your career journey may feel uncertain, stagnant, or forceful, and that’s when all the career components are even present! Most of the clients I have worked with are leaving key career fulfillment components out of the equation entirely. It’s like driving a car with three wheels! It doesn’t matter that the rest are aligned, you are going to feel like something is missing, because it is!
The first step to career alignment is getting your wheels together. There are 4 pillars that are key to achieving the depth of career clarity required to feel fulfilled and happy in your work and your life. Notice I don’t separate the two: career and life. That’s because they aren’t meant to be separate. Your career is an extension of you, not separate from it. It is also a part of your life, not separate from it. Let’s dive into the 4 pillars.
- Your authentic self: Uncovering your authentic self is foundational to achieving career alignment and where career clarity begins. Knowing yourself fully and understanding what parts of yourself are or are not showing up in your life and in your work is crucial. This is often the reason why people feel like “something is missing” in their career. They are leaving key parts of who they are out of the career equation. How does this even happen, you ask? Well, throughout our life, we internalize messages about what parts of ourselves are good/bad, acceptable/not acceptable and this shapes which parts of ourselves we value and what parts we don’t. The parts we value and feel are viewed positively by society we tend to highlight and bring forward, while those we think are viewed more negatively we sometimes minimize or deny. Sometimes those pieces that we minimize or deny make up such an important part of who we are that in minimizing or denying them, we prevent ourselves from ever feeling whole or fulfilled because, well, we aren't’ showing up fully and wholly. This is the missing metaphorical wheel on your car. It isn’t until we can fully embrace and embody all parts of ourselves that we can show up authentically as who we are in our career and our life.
- Values: Knowing your values is also foundational. Your values are your compass not just in work but in life. Again, these are not separate. It’s important to ensure that your career choices and decisions don’t conflict with the things that matter most to you in life. If they do, this will be a tremendous source of frustration and dissatisfaction, even if you love what you do. The only way to ensure that you don’t make career choices or decisions that conflict with your values is to know them. You need to be able to name them, define them and prioritize them. Most importantly, you need to know how they need to be embodied in your life concretely so that you can make career decisions that honour them. In my experience working with clients, this is the pillar that people find the most challenging to achieve clarity around. Identifying those values among the many that they hold that are most important to them can be difficult. Most of the time, once they do, they also realize how their primary values are not being lived out. Not living in alignment with your values is a sure-fire way to be unhappy.
- Identifying your zone of genius: yes, you have one! Think of your zone of genius as the intersection between the things you are good at, the things you enjoy doing and that energize you. Think about the times you’re in a state of flow, where time flies and you just don’t see it go by. Or think of a time when you are doing something that comes so easily to you that you don’t even realize it’s a skill. There is a good chance these things are touching on your zone of genius. When you are working in this zone, it feels so good! Most people either think they don’t have a zone of genius or that they can’t make money working in their zone of genius. Both beliefs are limiting beliefs. As a result, this is often where people get stuck. Because they can’t see the solution or opportunities, they think there aren’t any. It’s possible to move through this blockage and start seeing what possibilities actually exist that align with your zone of genius.
- Knowing what you need in a work environment to thrive: The environment in which you work matters! Getting clear on what your ideal work environment and conditions are is so important. This will help you identify your non-negotiables, those things you know you need to feel safe and to thrive in your workplace. This information is key when job searching as it will permit you to ask the right questions to future employers in order to ensure that the work environment corresponds to your needs. While no place is perfect, knowing your non-negotiables will make deciding what to stay away from and what to look for easy.
These are the 4 pillars to career clarity. This is the depth of career clarity that is required in order to start taking aligned and intentional action. Now, it’s time to start putting yourself out there as exactly who you are and asking for all that you want and need.
Scary right? Bringing those pieces of yourself that you have been hiding into the light? Asking for what you want and need from employers? Standing confidently in your zone of genius? Making changes that people may not understand and judge you for? This is enough to scare you right back into complacency and give up on yourself and your goals, right?
The truth is, this is where the real work begins when it comes to achieving your career goals. So many people think that if they could just figure out what they need to do for work to be happy or what changes they need to make to feel fulfilled, they would just do it and everything would fall into place. While career clarity will definitely give career direction, it’s usually not enough to get you where you want to be. It’s like aligning the wheels on your car but having a broken engine: if you can’t move through all the insecurity, self-doubt, and fears that will inevitably creep up, you won’t take aligned action.
Cue the mindset work.
Developing the self-awareness you need to identify and understand the mental blocks getting in the way of you achieving your career goal is necessary. Learning to do this will also play a crucial role in your ability to maintain your career success and help you self-lead as you and your career evolve and change (because they both will and the sooner you accept that, the easier it will be to navigate the changes when they occur).
In summary, career alignment is about doing work that aligns with your authentic self and your primary values and that allows you to work in your zone of genius in a way that you feel safe and that allows you to thrive. Not only is it possible to achieve, it will literally transform your life when you do achieve it because it’s about so much more than just work. It’s about living life exactly how you want and need to live it. Some of the unexpected outcomes that my clients have reported from taking aligned and intentional action in their career are an increase in self-confidence, lowered anxiety, greater sense of control over their life, greater self-trust and self-love, finding like-minded people, being accepted by others in their wholeness, improvements in their energy and relationships with others and finally having the space for the the people and things that matter most in their life.
If you are reading this and thinking “this is just too good to be true”, what I want to say to you is this: what you believe you create. Also, that is one of the limiting beliefs keeping you stuck, keeping you from taking aligned action or from asking for the help you need to create this life for yourself. It’s fear manifesting. I challenge you to think about what fear is keeping you from creating the authentically aligned life you truly desire? After all, you wouldn’t be reading this if it wasn’t what you wanted.
Career takes up a big piece of your life. But when it flows naturally from who you are and fits into the life you want and need for yourself, it doesn’t feel like work. That’s because everything is in alignment. This is where true happiness and fulfillment lives.