I remember when I worked at my previous job, and working with folks with progressive disorders, incurable deterioration of body systems that would get worse and worse for the rest of their lives. And I remember what one of the biggest issues was around research.
Here you’re probably thinking that this is a no-brainer. Find a cure, right?
But in reality, no. In reality, the biggest priority of most of our research was not directly about a cure, rather it was about accurate diagnosis. And while practically this starts to make sense when one considers that (like if you’ve ever watched House) you can’t start treatment until you know what the problem is called, from a patient (or as we called them, client) perspective, diagnosis really meant one big thing: there was a name for the problem.
I don’t mean to equate life-changing disease with my own mental quips, but it is a fairly accurate analogy to the search by many people for definition in their career. The problem with so many professional folks like myself is that (when faced with the idea that we should probably be thinking about a career change) being a guy with jumble of skills and no easy title is kinda like being a patient with a jumble of symptoms and no diagnosis. How can you get a job, sell yourself professionally, pitch your skills in a well-rounded package, if you don’t have that diagnosis… ahem… I mean career definition?
If you are one of those folks who’ve trained for a specific role, this is probably quite abstract. (It took me half the trip to Red Deer in the car to explain this to Karin.) If you are a teacher, well, you have that career diagnosis. If you are a trades person, you have that career diagnosis. If you are an accountant, you have… you get the idea. That isn’t to say you are stuck or cannot switch, if you are so inclined. But if you needed to walk into a job interview (presumably for one of those jobs) you would just say, “I’m an [insert title here] and I have X number of years doing that job. Here are the details…”
But being a guy in the other category, a guy with a jumble of skills and a vague (and fairly meaningless) job title, consider the daunting prospect of interviewing when all you’ve got for your sales pitch is a bag of parts and not much purpose.
That said, I’ve been trying to find my own diagnosis for the last little while, and it is not nearly as straightforward as one might think. In fact, just coming to the idea that I might need a diagnosis was a conceptual leap in itself. This diagnosis — or perhaps it would be better to call it self-definition — is no easy thing, but in the end I’m convinced that such an exercise will have just as many benefits for any future career change as a diagnosis would have for a sick patient: having a name for the problem means there is something to work at fixing.