Rare and Valuable

In my never-ending quest to figure out my own future, I stumbled across the work of Cal Newport, and particularly his recent book So Good They Can’t Ignore You. I’ve made it known on several occasions that I hold many “follow your dreams” bloggers in low esteem, especially those that seem to have no measurable skills or life experience. This particular book caught my eye by echoing many similar sentiments. In it, Newport takes on the “follow your dreams” philosophy and turns it on its head; recommending that we stop trying to be useful by following our passion and instead seek to find our passions by being useful. It’s an interesting concept, and one I hadn’t given much conscious thought to over the years, but it rang with a note of truth. Newport got me thinking about the idea of career capital. In other words, people that we admire for following their passions tend to launch into their passions from a position of experience and strength. They use their established skills and accomplishments as a launching pad into something new. In practical terms, it means don’t go looking for people to pay you for doing what you love, but look for people willing to pay you for what you do well. Then, use that as a foundation for launching into what you love. At the time, I was still looking for the “right” job. In my mind, that meant working for another company or organization. I needed a new way to search for job openings that would fit me well. So, I took the idea of career capital and asked some friends and colleagues the following question: “What skills or gifts do you see in me that could be considered rare and valuable OR could be further developed to eventually become rare and valuable?” It was an interesting exercise, and somewhat surreal. I received lots of good feedback and some really insightful observations describing the ways in which I facilitate teams, think strategically, balance opposing views, and think outside the box. It was humbling and heartwarming to receive such things, but I had to admit to being a little frustrated. None of those answers listed any good keywords or search terms for finding a new job. I wanted things I could just plug into a formula and it would spit out a new job for me. I walked away from the exercise thinking “ These characteristics show that I would be a huge asset for any organization once I am on board, but they won’t get me through the front door.” That was a hard truth. Why didn’t I get the information I wanted? In the end, I realized I was asking the wrong question. The question I asked was more about my personality and less about my skills. Eventually, the correct question was pounded into me by circumstance rather than insight. Upon occasion, people will ask me to help them with their website. For several years, my answer was…

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