Tips to get you on the path to a GREAT career

Tips to get you on the path to a GREAT career

Finding your version of “basketball”

This is the follow-up to the post “The one thing you need to do to have a great career” and second in the Career Potential series of posts.

So you are not sure if you are playing “basketball” or not in your career.  You’ve spent 3-5 years studying to get the knowledge you need to play your career sport.  You may have been doing your sport for a few years.  You might even be good at it. But you’re reading this because you know you are not great at it.  So what do you do?


Chart your course
Call it charting, or journalling or keeping a diary, what you want to do is to start charting your strengths.  The studies by the Gallup organization (such as Now, discover your strengths by Tom Rath and Marcus Buckingham) on the topic of Strengths will help you understand strengths and specifically your strengths.  In a nutshell, your strengths are:

  • consistent near perfect behaviors
  • a combination of your talents, skills and knowledge
  • things that “make you stronger”
  • things you do, not are done to you

These strengths are not the answer to what is your basketball, but are useful to get you headed in the right direction.

To tactically get started in charting your strengths, find a notebook, or create a Google doc or whatever you are most comfortable using.   Then start taking inventory of the following:

  • For the past week, times when:
    • you were “in the zone” and “lost yourself”;  Those times where you were doing work and lost track of time “OMG, it’s 5 already”
    • you learned and picked up something quickly
    • you had a sense of satisfaction (either during or after); Remember you want these times to be when YOU DO something not when they are done TO YOU (so if you feel satisfaction when your boss says you did a good job, that doesn’t count.  But if you completed a task and felt satisfaction at having done or accomplished it, irrespective of if others were aware or not then that counts)
    • you “felt stronger” / invigorated after doing it and couldn’t wait to do it again
  • For the upcoming week, times when:
    • You are looking forward to doing whatever it is

For each of these be specific about the context.  Record specifically what you were doing including:

  • the novelty of task (whether you’ve done it before, or how much it was related to something you’ve done before)
  • the role you played on the task (the do-er, the manager, the coordinator, etc.)
  • the people involved – if any (their personality traits, their interactions with you, etc.)
  • the “topic” of the task (related to an industry, a technology, a process, etc.)
  • why you believe you enjoyed the task (answer the question: You loved it because it…)
    • dealt with numbers and appealed to my analytical nature
    • challenged your understanding of X
    • it involved working with Joe and Sara who inspire me
    • etc….

This should get you the “good”.  Now you’ll want to do the same for the “bad”.

  • Take a look at the past week for times when:
    • you didn’t put your best effort forward
    • you couldn’t figure it out even after reviewing and doing it multiple times
    • felt “weaker” / drained after doing it and would not want to do it again
  • For the upcoming week:
    • what are you absolutely dreading to do

This should get you the “bad”.


Course correct
Now that you have accumulated the “good and the bad” for at least a month (ideally for a whole year since some activities tend to repeat only annually but I know most people are not disciplined enough to wait that long).  For the next month try to plan out:

  • How can I incorporate more of the “good” into my work?
  • How can I reduce the “bad” in my work?
  • How do I try new things to see if I can find more “good” (and potentially “great)?

You may start to notice trends in your “good” and “bad” and as you start to converge your basketball may start to come into focus.  If not, at the very least you’ll start to understand whether (to continue the sports analogy) you should be in a team “contact sport” (like basketball or football), team “non-contact” sport (like baseball or volleyball), an individual sport (like tennis), an endurance sport (like running marathons), sprints (like the 100m dash) or whatever other sport you can think of.  And don’t lose heart if your basketball seems elusive.  My personal journey took on the order of 15 years of intentionally (and sometimes unintentionally) course correcting and hopefully yours is shorter.

A few cautions as you start your course corrections, and you should consider avoiding the following:

  • Artificially finding trends when your data is limited: you won’t do this consciously, but if you only have a month of data, you may start finding patterns where they don’t exist, and start trying to direct your path “artificially” because your rationale mind is trying to convince yourself that is what you like doing
  • Being influenced by the perceptions of others: sometimes what others think be it friends or family weighs very heavily on us, so we may need to be prepared to be true to ourselves.  I know that if I were to have told my friends and family 15 years ago that I wanted to become a career coach they would have been quite confused, but when I told them after 15 years, the decision made perfect sense
  • Following the money: This will be a more controversial point as finding our version of basketball to become as successful as Michael Jordan is a pretty easy decision, but what about if the decision is to be more like Mother Teresa or Mahatma Gandhi?  That would be a much harder pill to swallow, but may be necessary to achieve your true potential

These are just high level guidelines and there is much more to the journey, but it’s hard to articulate all of the steps to achieve a great career in a short blog post.  So stay tuned for more insightful information!

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