Sometimes we can attach ourselves to our jobs and job titles to such a degree that they begin to feel like part of us. We start defining ourselves in terms of these things. Because losing them would make us feel like we were losing part of ourselves, we begin to make decisions based on the notion that they ARE part of us. So taking care of ourselves means taking care of our job title and our job.
You Are Not Your Job Title
If a job was not a good fit for someone but they believed it to be a part of who they are, then they would naturally be at odds with themselves for even considering a a career change. Yes, issues of stress, chances of success, loss of salary and status and other things would come into play. But if they asked themselves, "Who am I if not a [insert job title]?" and could not answer, the idea of not knowing their place or role in the professional world could provoke feelings that would send a person running. Running towards whatever would help them get rid of that unsettling, confusing feeling. Which in this case could likely be staying in a job they hate and trying harder to make things work or just hoping things will change.
We see the sometimes devastating effect that the loss of professional identity can have on an accompanying spouse if they are unable to find a job or work in their new expat home. In a recent study 90% of accompanying spouses were working prior to expatriation and only 35% found jobs upon arrival in their new country. Over three quarters of them wanted to work and experienced a great deal of stress, frustration and even depression because of that loss of professional identity or "job title" that previously was such an important part of who they were. In fact dissatisfaction of the accompanying spouse is one of the primary reasons for the failure of expat assignments. Given the cost of sending a person to work abroad can be upwards of 1 million USD, it is not just the expat, but their employers as well, that should be concerned with whether they feel valued, respected for the value they bring and empowered by their job title, project and organization.
Letting Go of Labels
Why is it so difficult for us to let go of ill-fitting "labels" and embrace new ones that support our happiness and growth? The reality is change is part of life. There is not a single one of us that does not change. So what is right for us, how we show up in the world and the potential value we can create in the world is constantly evolving. We can embrace this and the discomfort that comes along with stepping into new territories by continuing to move into new roles that best suit us. This would maximize our chances of professional satisfaction and performance, as well as the potential impact we could make in organizations. Or we can resist it and possibly create incredible amounts of unnecessary suffering for ourselves by fighting against a foe we will never beat - change. Staying small or in ill-fitting roles and mindsets inhibits us from truly enjoying or realizing our full potential at work. It also robs the world of a person's gifts that are best shared.
That said, it's not surprising that many people could internalize their job or job title and begin to see it as part of who they are. In many cultures people are defined by, and get external affirmation because of, what they do instead of who they are. "What do you do?" is a very common question asked soon after two people meet. Often we offer a job title, or perhaps tell people something like "I help sales teams get more of the right clients faster" which is certainly more descriptive but does not tell the whole story.
Not Connecting Innate Qualities to Performance
How people do what they do is just as important as what they do. In fact given that some say 50% of job failure is due to lack of cultural "fit", why would a person's qualities not be more clearly defined in how people see or talk about themselves? Or directly addressed in the hiring process? People can be recognized at work for their impressive accomplishments or given raises for outstanding performance. However certain qualities that can have a significant impact on their overall performance, as well as that of other employees (and hence ultimately that of the company) are not acknowledged or rewarded. I believe this is because the connection between the quality and performance has not been made or the company does not factor it into their measures of success.
How many companies recognize, measure and compensate people for their empathy, patience or joyful nature? Their presence that can calm a room in seconds? An intiutive nature that can hone in on person's hidden strengths and encourage them to come out and shine? All of these things can have great impact on everyone's performance and may be the key to a solution to a problem. Business at the end of the day is done between people. Yet such qualities are often not cited as primary requirements for a position. Perhaps this happens to some degree on an informal basis. But if it this is the case, why not call a spade a spade and deal more directly with what is really going on for better results for all involved?
Self Definition Leads to Clarity and Continuity in How We Value Ourselves
What if a person defined themselves as a collection of skills, strengths, experiences and qualities that contributed to creating value in the world instead of a job title - in other words their personal brand? How might that change things? Their perceived value would based on a more holistic picture of who they are, not on a job title, and relatively industry independent. Given the short lifespan of job titles (read Jobs that didn't exist 10 years ago) and the ebb and flow of relevancy of particular industries today, this would eliminate the rollercoaster ride of potentially feeling cutting edge, in demand, on their way out and then obsolete. Being able to create real value for a company will always be in demand.
This idea of the blurry line between where a person begins and their job title ends would have limits. The dependency on the job or job title for self-definition would no longer exist. In order to "self-define" their value a person would have to truly understand who they are and what they offer. The clarification of a person's personal brand (the unearthing, not the creation, of a person's unique value) would be a matter of course and perhaps synonymous with the career management process - not just one of several approaches to professional success. The process of negotiating terms of employment and salary might put both parties on more equal ground if the terms were based on a complete picture of who that person is and the value they can create versus the market rate for a particular position.
As mentioned above we all change and evolve. Hence our skills and experience change. Which means the value we can create for an organization changes. Labeling our professional self with the same job title for years would generally not allow us to communicate the increased or different value that we could provide as we evolved professionally. This is particularly true as a person spends more time in a new culture and becomes more connected and saavy about how cultural values affect business practices. Identifying the evolution in value and communicating it well would be the individual's responsibility - not some external body, industry or market.
Self Definition Gives Us Freedom, Power and Satisfaction
Ultimately I believe the expat defining themselves (professionally speaking) by the unique value they bring to the world and ownership of their personal brand can only lead to more freedom, power and satisfaction. It would also benefit companies as their employees would likely be a better fit for roles for which they are hired due to a more comprehensive understanding of their value and potential impact. Due to the empowered nature of a "self defined" individual, their performance, productivity and satisfaction would also likely increase. Self definition also respects the fluidity of value a person can bring to the table over time and how that value could change based on the role, company and culture in which they operate. With an awareness of those changes an organization can more effectively capitalize on all of what a person can do to help them reach their goals or solve their problems.
A Bad Fit is Just A Bad Fit - Not an Inability to Perform
Perhaps most importantly, defining the unique value we offer employers ourselves rather than using a job title could help avoid the identity conflict mentioned above. Leaving a job might not present such a fundamental struggle as it previously did. People may feel more empowered to leave bad situations sooner, and in turn experience a lot less suffering professionally. Admitting a job is not a good fit would not necessarily suggest something is wrong with us as it may have done before. When we thought our externally defined job and value had become part of us, not performing well may have led us to believe we were failing at being the person that we are supposed to be. But given a clear understanding of one's own value and how and where they are able to truly thrive professionally, a bad fit would just mean the job was a bad fit. Nothing more.
But Isn't This Already Happening?
You might say that self definition is already done through a person's CV or resume or bio. And I agree a person's personal or executive brand currently is most effectively communicated in these documents at present. There is certainly ample space to do it and to provide supporting evidence. The bio in particular can bring out how a person's unique combination of qualities can create value in a way that others cannot. But many fail to do so in a comprehensive way even then.
But how does the resume, CV or bio play a role in what happens in the day to day? How we see ourselves and how others value us on an ongoing basis? We don't go around handing out our CV, resume or bio to people so they understand what value we bring. We don't use it as a tool to help our bosses best leverage what we can do to generate value for the organzation. And it's generally not updated enough to accurately reflect the increased value a person can bring due to more experience and their own professional growth. To me the disconnect is clear and results in the waste of a company's most expensive and valuable resource - their people.
A Definitive Change in How We Define Value is Required
A definitive change is needed in how people and employers define value in workplace. I am talking about something much more explicit and direct than using a document to define us or speak for us. I'm talking about employers no longer being so in control of defining a person's potential to create value and impact through job titles. I'm talking about people defining and owning their own "labels" and value. Undermining people's potential to internalize a label that is ultimately inhibiting and even crippling to their ability to enjoy and perform in their job could have tremendously positive impact - impact in people's career and job choices as well as organizations' hiring, employee development and performance evaluation practices.
This means people will need to do a better job of evaluating themselves and finding the language to more effectively communicate their unique value. This means employers will need to revisit how they define value, what they measure and how they hire and evaluate their staff. I'm sure the HR professionals who are reading this may want to share a few choice words with me for what I am proposing as it will likely mean more work for them. But at the end of the day, overhauling some of the current processes and paradigms could bring individuals and employers alike very signifcant increases in levels of performance and satisfaction.
Such steps would also begin to address the global epidemics of underperforming due to lack of engagement and unhappiness at work, affecting economies and quality of life worldwide.
EXPAT CAREER AND BUSINESS SUCCESS TIP: If you are an expat considering a career change, ask yourself if there is a part of you that feels attached to your job title in a way that might be holding you back for making a change. If you do notice an attachment, question the validity of it.
Ask yourself if the job title you use when describing your professional identity truly captures what you have to offer. Create your own definition of value you bring to the marketplace outside of a job or job title. See what shifts this brings to your sense of freedom, power and satisfaction professionally speaking. Come back and share what happened.
I'm a member of the Career Collective, a group of top career coaches, career professionals and resume and CV writers who blog monthly on a designated topic for careerists and job seekers. This month's topic is "Advice for Career Changers". You can find us on Twitter. Our hashtag: #careercollective. This article above is my contribution to this month's topic.
Here are the posts on the topic of Advice to Career Changers from other members of the Career Collective:
- Are You Ready for a Career Change? @Debra Wheatman
- Changing Careers? Ask yourself these questions. @erinkennedycprw
- Changing Careers: Not for the Fainthearted, @GayleHoward
- Career Change Isn't An Exact Science, @careersherpa
- The 10-Step Plan to Career Change, @KatCareerGal
- When it’s Time to Recycle Your Career, @WalterAkana
- Best Career Change Advice: Target & Plan, @JobHuntOrg
- How social media can help you change careers, @keppie_careers
- Expat Careers: You Are Not Your Job Title, @expatcoachmegan
- Changing The Direction Of Your Career, @EliteResumes @MartinBuckland
- Career Changer: Can You Quell Bottom-line Ache? @ValueIntoWords
- Top 3 + 1 Tips for Making a Successful Career Change, @KCCareerCoach
- Changing Careers: Look Before You Leap, @barbarasafani
- 10 Commandments for Career Changers, @LaurieBerenson
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ career by choice can help you...become an expat and experience a global lifestyle ~ explore international career options and find work abroad ~ understand your Brand DNA and how you can perform at your best ~ clarify your personal brand to stand out and be sought after for top jobs overseas ~ develop branded tools and strategies to communicate your unique expertise in a differientiating, compelling way ~ strengthen and manage your online reputation to attract employers and clients worldwide ~ leverage your expert status to become highly visible, recognized and well compensated for the value you create ~ leverage social media to build your global online network ~ develop a global mindset ~ manage transitions and overcome challenges during international assignments ~ provide an international career coach and experienced guide to help you think.live.work.global ~ optimize your career choices and discover success abroad on your terms by being your best self ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~