by Marcyline Bailey, LCSW, ACSW
Everyone graduates with the desire to have a successful career. Corporate cultural norms imply that career success includes a title with status, promotion opportunities, and lots of money. Who wouldn’t want to earn lots of money? These norms, however, do not consider the importance of satisfaction in the work experience. Satisfaction increases the ability of the worker to meet every challenge and enjoy every moment. I challenge you to work toward a satisfying career, and you will experience success along the way. Start by using the framework below.
1. Have a vision.
Every successful career, venture, or life begins with a vision. Your vision represents the most satisfying life and career you can imagine. Take a few minutes to think about your dreams and desires. Allow your imagination to make vivid pictures. Imagine your work life. What type of work are you doing? Who is working with and/or for you? What do you wear to work? What are your work hours?
Describe your work environment. Does it have an open floor plan that encourages collaboration? Is it located close to your clients? Is it high tech? Is it bare bones? Imagine every aspect of your work, including your attitudes and feelings about the work you are doing.
Also, imagine the attitudes and feelings of those around you. Write down everything you see in the context in which it is done. Include the clientele you serve. Do not edit or limit your imagination.
Now imagine the personal life you desire. Your personal and professional life should complement each other to maintain balance. Allow your imagination to flow with no editing or limits. Hopefully, you are smiling as you imagine the following: Do you live in a rural area, in a large city, or in a small town? Do you live in the U.S. or abroad? Are you married? Are you single? Do you have children? Do you have pets? How do you spend your time when you are away from work? With whom do you spend your time? Write down everything that you imagine. This is the life you desire and work toward.
2. Develop a personal/professional mission statement.
Your vision will enable you to develop a personal/professional mission statement. This is the next step toward developing a satisfying career. A mission statement is important to career growth, because it defines your purpose and provides a framework for all actions. Read an organization’s mission statement. The mission statement says, “This is what we work for.” All actions, statements, promotions, or programs align with the mission. Your personal/professional mission statement should direct your actions, statements, and goals, as well. It will guide you more quickly to your desired outcome.
3. Find and work within your niche.
A well-defined mission statement will help you to find and work within your niche. The four components of a true niche, as I define it, are compelled, competent, comfort, and context. Your niche is more than a job title, a target population, or your passion. You are working in your niche when you are doing work that you are compelled to do.
Compelled is the first aspect of a career niche. Compelling work goes beyond passion. Passion is a feeling of overwhelming pleasure.You may have a passion for cooking, reading, designing, or teaching. You participate in these activities because you enjoy them and want to do them. You have a choice.
When you are compelled, however, tension builds in your body and is not relieved until you perform a task. The physical and emotional discomfort experienced causes you to find solutions to feel relief. The idea of being compelled means that you have no choice. You must perform a task or work to experience rest and comfort.
The second aspect of a career niche is competence. Competence means that you demonstrate skills, knowledge, and expertise in your work. You utilize opportunities to learn, experience, and practice new techniques. You are knowledgeable regarding emerging research in your area of practice, and you share information that establishes you as an expert. Most importantly, your experience brings the desired outcome for the client and organization.
Comfort and context are the third and fourth words I use to define a career niche. It is important that you work in an environment that meets your needs and in which you are totally comfortable. Context includes every aspect of a work environment. This means the physical structure, the layout of the office space, and the location. It also includes the amenities, such as the furniture, decorations, and snack room provisions. Context also relates to the quality and character of interactions among staff members, clients, and the community at large. It speaks to the personality and culture of the workspace.
When working within one’s niche, the best work is done when one is comfortable within the context of the work. Let’s do an exercise to help determine what you need to be comfortable in a work environment. Make two columns on a sheet of paper or in a computer document. The column headings are Needs and Wants. The needs column will represent your bottom line work requirements. Examples are: a regular pay check, a safe work site, and benefits. In the wants column, write those good-if-you-could-get-it amenities that would increase your comfort. Examples are: a mentor, company car, flexible work schedule, free Starbucks coffee. These lists provide an opportunity to determine what is most important to you. They will also help you to decide if a workplace is a good fit.
4. Develop career-building relationships
Working within your niche will enable you to develop career-building relationships. Relationships are vital to building a satisfying career. You need a committed mentor and a network of like-minded colleagues. Mentors are individuals who have attained a certain prominence in your area of practice. Choose a mentor wisely, based on your career goals. (Always keep your vision in mind.) A mentor will enable you to reach those goals sooner by providing insightful counsel, making key introductions, and guiding you in the most beneficial direction.
A network of like-minded colleagues will provide support, encouragement, “bro-love” or “sister-girl” motivation, and friendship. A network is comprised of individuals who are working toward similar goals. They share information, tangible support, and opportunities with each other. The network is based on relationships that have been cultivated over time.
Building a network takes time, because it is built on trust, respect, and mutual goals. Your particular network should provide win-win opportunities for all of its members. This means that the members of your network should be ready, willing, and able to actively participate. Include individuals who bring a variety of skills, knowledge, and experience. It is also important that those in your network have complementary personalities, as well.
5. Develop creative and innovative solutions
Build a satisfying career by developing creative and innovative solutions. Thirty years ago, I would have typed this article on my Smith-Corona typewriter. Twenty years ago, I would have used a boxy desktop computer with green letters. Today, I am using my streamlined 2-in-1. Innovative and creative solutions bring financial rewards and promotion.
New social workers are in a prime position to use innovation and creativity to address our community concerns. The key is creativity and innovation. First, define the real problem. There is a difference between a problem and a symptom. A sore throat is a symptom of allergies, hay fever, colds, flu, and several other upper respiratory illnesses. Before treatment is prescribed, the actual cause of the sore throat is determined and the treatment targets the cause.
Second, consider the impact the problem has on the community. This will help you to develop ideas that comprehensively address the concern. Third, develop buy-in by building community coalitions. Remember the network we discussed? Change does not take place at the top. It occurs with innovative thinking, shameless creativity, and electrifying energy.
6. Take action
The final step is to take action. Take action and take chances. Listen to good counsel, and learn from your mistakes. Be fearless in your efforts to provide the best possible service. Be fearless as you work toward your organization’s mission and your own personal/professional mission. Be fearless in enjoying every moment of this exciting, challenging journey. Following these steps will lead you to the satisfying, successful career you desire.
Marcyline Bailey, LCSW, ACSW, provides mentoring and self-care resources to social workers, licensed clinicians, and those in the helping professions. With 30 years of experience in the social work and nonprofit fields, she demonstrates how to find your professional niche and how to maintain a satisfying work life.