Who am I?
As we are confronted with pandemics, natural disasters, mass-migration, constant system change, technological and political developments, shifts in workplace expectations (“Should I be a specialist? A generalist? Or the new specialist-generalist?”), impacts of business liquidations, mergers, restructuring and retrenching; our understanding of who we are becomes more complex. Furthermore, what happens when people doubt their career decisions, or just want a change, or are faced with losing their job, their role or business, which has formed a major part of their identity? “Who am I if I am no longer a …?”. For some, considering this question might feel like an ideal opportunity to reinvent themselves, while others might be totally at a loss for what comes next. Either way, they’ve got to know who they are to figure out where they’re going… or, indeed, who they could become.
Last year I attended a children’s birthday party where the mother had cleverly (and perhaps bravely) created a warm-up game based on the popular “Who Am I?” game. It is essentially a guessing game where players use yes or no questions to guess the identity of a famous person. The children all lined up to receive their party hat with the name of a friend placed on it. Each child had to ask questions of the others to be able to identify the person on their hat. The one rule was that they weren’t to ask any questions related to physical appearance. Quite challenging, I thought, for eight-year-olds but what struck me was how quickly the children were able to determine ‘who they were’, by using some pretty sophisticated questioning related to traits, quirks, and preferences.
Career journeys unfold
How simple life would be if we could just put our name on a hat and get others to work out who we are! As I consider this as a career practitioner looking back on my own career journey unfurling, I realise there were key moments where I too questioned my identity: as a young person finding my way through those awkward years as a teenager coupled with a complicated upbringing; as a student teacher finding my own voice; as a new-New Zealander proving my worth as a teacher in a new country, and later, as I went through my own career pivot, as I left teaching and reflected on “if I am not a teacher, then who am I?” Although my career identity as a teacher was very much part of who I understood myself to be, it was an exciting shift into the world of industry training. Further on, as a new mother I questioned how I balance family and career. More questions surfaced as I left the relative security of full-time employment for the precarious world of contracting while undertaking post-graduate study; and then finally into private practice, and now as one of the founding Executive Directors of The Career Development Company.
A key theme weaving through my own journey is change. Not necessarily change in who I am innately, but rather an awareness of who I am as I respond within those dynamic contexts. Ultimately, we all learn more about ourselves as we experience change – sometimes this learning is subliminal rather than overt; and it is often only when this is reflected back to us through dialogue, that we can better understand who we are and who we could become. Dialogue helps challenge our assumptions, concepts and identities (of career and self), and requires us to feel, observe, talk about and reflect on our experiences and in-so-doing reframe our experiences so we can navigate career more responsively and meaningfully.
Career conversations matter
Helping others navigate change is what drives me. After many hours of career coaching and counseling, my approach, and indeed the approach of my colleagues at The Career Development Company, is constructivist and dialogical. Having those honest, challenging conversations within a carefully constructed framework helps clients to reflect first and foremost on the ‘Who am I …’, so that they can explore possibilities, and create and activate meaningful strategies in times of change.
Amanda Smidt is an Executive Director at The Career Development Company