Where I mix career information and career decision making in a test tube and see what happens

Monday, June 20, 2016

A Three-Angle View on Your Career

When you think about how to improve your career, it helps to view it from several different angles. I find it useful to employ the approach called tagmemics. Please let me define this term for you before it scares you away, and then you’ll start to see its usefulness.

The idea of tagmemics is that any unit of human experience can be viewed in three forms: as a particle, as a wave, and as a field. This approach was originated by a linguist, Kenneth Pike, so it may or may not be very sound as physics, but I find it very useful for achieving insights into ideas such as the one I’m discussing here: improving your career.

First, let’s look at your career as a particle—as a static entity. To do that, you need to move away from the word career (which implies development over time) and focus instead on the word job. (If you’re still in school, consider that your job.) Ask yourself these questions about your job as it is right now:

  • Does your job have a title that you’re happy with?
  • During the workday, do you find the work tasks interesting and engaging, or do they involve knowledge or tasks that don’t interest you?
  • Are your skills a good match for the job, or do you feel overwhelmed (or unchallenged)?
  • Is the stress level one that is comfortable to you?
  • Are you satisfied with the physical requirements of your job?
  • Is the amount of structure in your job too loose or too confining?
  • Do you enjoy the level of creativity in your work?
  • At the end of a typical workday, do you have a feeling of satisfaction?
  • Do you have a way of assessing your work and therefore taking pride in what you have accomplished?
  • When you’re not working, is your job providing a sufficiently comfortable lifestyle and amount of leisure?
If some of your answers indicate a situation that is not totally satisfactory, this may be an indication that you need to make some changes to your job. But first, you need to consider the wave and field perspectives on your career.

Your career is a wave in that it is a dynamic process. It is unfolding over time; it has a past and a future. Here are some questions that reflect on this dynamic nature:

  • Over the course of time—whether it’s a day or a year of work—does your job offer a level of variety in tasks, locations, or people that you find satisfactory?
  • Do you make career choices by planning, by seizing opportunities, or by following the path of least resistance?
  • Are your past career preparation and experiences a good match for your present job, or would they be a better match for something else?
  • Does your job provide opportunities for advancement?
  • Are you knowledgeable about future developments in your career field and the job opportunities (or threats to job security) that they will create?
  • What have you done or are willing to do to prepare for these job opportunities or to counteract any threats?
  • Will your career allow you to deal adequately with future changes in your lifestyle, such as marriage, child-rearing, or retirement?
  • If you’re still in school, will you be able to get through the program?
Your answers to this second set of questions (wave-based) may help you plan for ways to remedy shortcomings revealed by your answers to the first set (particle-based). But you should also consider the field aspect of your career, which has implications for both your current situation and your plans.

Your career is a field in that it involves relationships. It occurs in a spatial and interpersonal context. Answer these questions:

  • Is your job allowing you to live in a community that satisfies you?
  • How do you feel about your workday commute and the amount of travel?
  • Do you enjoy the physical setting of your work?
  • How comfortable are you with your boss, your co-workers, and members of the public whom you deal with?
  • Are you satisfied with the job’s ratio of solitary work to working with or dealing with other people?
  • Do you desire more or fewer opportunities for leadership in your job?
  • Are you knowledgeable about your industry, not just your job?
  • Do you have credentials that have value in your industry (or another industry)?
  • Are you known to people in your industry (or another industry) and, if not, do you know how to make yourself known?
  • Do you feel good about the extent to which your work contributes to the well-being of other people, of animals, or of the natural environment?
  • Do you worry about the possible impact of an on-the-job error on your organization or on other people?
  • Does your work create stress between you and your family or community?
  • Are you satisfied with the level of prestige that your work confers on you?
If you have read this far, I hope that you understand that you usually need to consider all three aspects of your career to solve any problems that you have detected in it. For example, if your work is too stressful (a particle issue), you need to think about what is causing this stress. It might be another particle issue, such as the necessity of following a restrictive rulebook, but it could also be a wave issue, such as a feeling of being in a dead-end job or worry about future threats to job security. It could also be a field issue, such as concern about making decisions that could bankrupt your employer or the perception that your long hours at work are making you lose touch with your family.

When you evaluate a possible change to your career, be sure to consider the change from the perspectives of all three aspects. For example, if you decide to get a degree or certification to improve your future employability (which you may think of as a wave-related change because it happens over time), consider the particle issues that this will raise, such as how well your skills and aptitudes will match the demands of the program. Consider also such wave issues as how the program’s demands on your time will affect your family relationships or how you can leverage your new credentials to achieve greater recognition in your industry.

Your career affects so many aspects of your life that you need to be multidimensional in your thinking when you assess your satisfaction or make plans for improving your situation. Tagmemics can provide a structure to help you expand your thinking.