I’ve had several jobs over the last ten years in the sales field, but none of them ever seemed to stick. Sometimes I get fired and sometimes I leave, but either way these jobs never last. I’m tired of moving from one job to the next, and would like to find something I like that’s stable. I have a Masters degree in Communications by the way. Any suggestions?
There is one common denominator between all of your past employers who proved unsatisfactory: you. So let’s start there.
Everyone has what I call a “work identity.” Before you can find a job that you can get excited about, you have to first assess your work identity so you understand what opportunities fit with your criteria for a satisfying work life.
Your work identity, like your personal identity, is comprised of your characteristics, personality, uniqueness, job history and overall perception of right and wrong in the work place. It fuels what jobs you apply for, accept and abandon on a regular basis, so you need to take a look at how you’re operating in the business world.
Every identity, like every good story, had a beginning which shaped it. Part of my personal identity, for example, is the fact that I have never liked my name. In assessing why, it’s likely because I’m not thrilled about how it was given to me.
My mother was a bit of a hippie, and had some pretty creative names she wanted to try on me. My father, a strict German, was not having any of that. He wanted to name me Senta, after the Austrian-born actress Senta Berger who was a German entertainment sensation.
There was a slight problem with naming me Senta…my maiden name was Klaus. So my full-blooded Italian maternal Grandfather shouted through the maternity ward that no granddaughter of his would be named Santa Claus.
The arguments continued, and three days after my birth, the nurse instructed my mother that she had to give me a name if she expected to take me home. My mother promptly looked at her and asked, “Well, what are people naming their daughters these days?” to which the nurse replied “Jennifer seems to be pretty popular.” And that was that.
My family has always called me Jenny. My friends call me Jen. My college friends called me Klaus (which was actually a nice break from being the 17th Jennifer in any given room). My colleagues call me Jennifer until they get to know me, at which point they call me Jen.
In seventh grade, I decided to add an extra “n” to Jen so that the ever-sophisticated “Jenn” would differentiate me. (I later dropped it.) Barely getting out alive with a first name, a middle name was not in the cards for me, so I took my confirmation name and made that my middle name. (I later dropped it.)
When I turned 35, either out of maturity or name confusion fatigue, I decided that Jen just suited me best. It may not be musical or sophisticated or exotic, but it’s approachable, and it’s friendly, and, at the end of the day, it’s me.
It’s easier to assess your personal identity, so start there. Looking back, what beginning shaped your current personal identity? What top five life experiences impacted you from there? How does your current approach to life ands relationships echo those experiences?
What are your life strengths? Are you good in a crisis or particularly financially savvy? How about your life weaknesses? Are you temperamental? Impatient? Forever the Put-Upon Martyr?
Now, onto your work identity. Contemplate how your personal identity may impact your work identity. If you are the Put-Upon Martyr in your personal life, perhaps you act the same way at work. If you hear yourself consistently lamenting that your efforts are not appreciated, you’re never acknowledged for the amazing work you do, and they won’t know what they’ve got till you’re gone, you may want to take stock of how unhealthy personal habits are sabotaging your career.
What beginning shaped your attitudes about work? Did you grow up on a farm, getting up before the sun did? Or did you have everything handed to you? Think about what messages you received about what a work ethic looks like from the adults who influenced you as a child and adolescent.
What was your first job experience like? What skills have you been complimented on by past employers? When you get fired, is it for the same reason consistently? How about when you leave on your own? Do you leave because you anticipate being let go, or because you’re dissatisfied in general?
How about your overall attitude at work? Are you a team player who will work past 5 pm for the small business owner who needs the occasional extra support? Or are you constantly griping about the crappy benefits and the audacity of your employer who actually expected you to work on your anniversary?
Often who we think we are at work is perceived quite differently by those with whom we work. Do you dash off nasty emails, and then note your incredulity when the recipient questions your professionalism?
If you would describe yourself as “professional,” try to list 5 things you’ve done in the past month that could have been (or were) perceived by others as unprofessional. How can you alter your behavior so that your actions line up with your intentions?
Have you considered that “sales” may not be a part of your work identity? Why do you continue to take jobs in a field that doesn’t seem to be a good fit for you? If you have a Masters in Communications, what classes did you excel in? If you’re a great writer, try your hand at PR or advertising. Look at your true strengths in the workplace, and seek out job opportunities which play to them.
Can you honestly say that you’ve paid your dues? Many people who shift jobs constantly are seeking the quick rise to the top. “The next job will pay me what I’m worth,” they tell themselves. “The next job will honor my natural talent.” Any career worth having requires less-than-glamorous time in the trenches. Have you put yours in?
A work identity is a blend of your attitudes about work and the interest you have in the work you do. One can certainly override the other, so if Attitude is running the show, fire it.