Chances are you’ve come across books or articles describing the process of “finding” yourself. But a more accurate description is that we as humans “create” ourselves—including our careers. A career you love isn’t waiting to be discovered under a rock or deep in a wooded forest. The process is much more intentional. It requires courage, self-knowledge, and a willingness to disassociate yourself from the outcome. These are just a few insights that emerged following my conversation with Sharon Price John, President and CEO of Build-A-Bear Workshop and author of Stories & Heart.
One thing is certain; John doesn’t run from adversity. She embraces it. But that’s not all that makes her an exceptional leader. In Stories & Heart, John uses her gift of storytelling to share personal experiences that provide a roadmap for anyone who wants to create a life and career they love. Here are just a few of the biggest takeaways.
Clarify your goals
Life is a journey; to create a career you love, you need to know where you’re going. That means identifying your goals. Once you’ve pinpointed them, John suggests writing them down and visualizing them as if they are already a part of your life. There is something powerful about writing down your goals, and there is research to back it up. Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at Dominican University in California, conducted a study on goal setting and found that participants were 42% more likely to achieve their goals just by writing them down. Finally, you must have the “gumption” to stick with your goals. Gumption, according to John, “is a mix of drive, passion, and creativity—not just sheer will.”
Define your values
Ultimately, people are happier when their value system aligns with their job or career. So to create a career you love, think about what is most important to you. These values could range from flexibility to a corporate environment that embraces teamwork and transparency. John adds, “by clarifying who you are deep down and the type of person you aspire to become, you will more easily recognize what really matters to you—so future decisions can be made more quickly with greater clarity, less stress, more conviction, and little regret.”
In the book, John explains why people don’t take action. They either don’t really believe achieving their goal is possible, or they are afraid of failure. One approach is to ask yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen?” Another tactic is to relabel the fear as something more positive, like excitement. Relabeling the feeling makes it much easier to manage. At that point, you can work on breaking your bigger goal down into smaller, more manageable steps.
Embrace planned serendipity
While learning to set and achieve goals is part of creating a career you love, it’s not usually a straight path. In fact, a few unexpected turns may be just what you need to reach your destination—a concept called planned serendipity. Planned serendipity is the idea of putting yourself in unfamiliar situations to be exposed to previously unknown people and experiences. It could be as simple as breaking your routine by taking a new route to work or sitting at a different table in the cafeteria. By altering your surroundings, you are opening yourself up to new ways of thinking. John points out, “I have found in my life that if I opened my mind to possibilities and then put myself in unfamiliar environments, it is a mechanism for awakening yourself to ideas.”
Failure isn’t a deterrent to success; it is part of being successful. It is much more empowering to think of failure as a stepping stone rather than an undesirable event. By labeling it as a learning experience, you turn failure into something positive. “The key to overcoming failure is to entirely redefine the concept, writes John. “When you can do this, you can also redefine your life.”
Trust your instincts
Albert Einstein once said, “the intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” When creating a career you love, you’ll want to gather as much data as possible and then balance that data with intuition. Just remember that intuition doesn’t usually present itself as a sudden “aha” moment in the form of a thunderbolt. As John points out, “instincts often do not yell and scream. They whisper. If your world, your mind, your life is too loud, they will be drowned out. You have to learn to be quiet and listen to them first.”
In the end, John reminds us that the whole point of creating a career you love is to find fulfillment. “Humans are meant to do something with their lives, she says. “That something is meant to create value, and that value is meant to help fulfill you. That’s the great circle of it all.”