EF Education First Teachers

This week I came across Sheryl Sandberg’s quote “Careers are a jungle gym, not a ladder”. I realized that while I agree with that statement now, I didn’t always. But it wasn’t Sandberg that made me ditch my ladder and jump onto the jungle gym. It was my friend Shauna, a person I was lucky enough to work with while volunteering as a teacher in East Africa in 2008.

One day Shauna and I were talking about the future and I asked her what she had planned for when she went back to the US. She said, “I’m not sure really. I’ve kind of accepted the fact that I’m never going to have a traditional career. I just keep finding really interesting things to do so I guess the plan is to keep to doing that”.

Know yourself

I remember being confused by the response but after my initial skepticism at Shauna’s lack of career direction, I began thinking a little differently about my idea of a career. I recognized that the experience I was having outside my so-called career was helping me develop skills and awareness that I hadn’t had before. I came to realize that career is not always an upward sloping line; but instead it’s about a collection of experiences. So then the question became how do I choose my experiences?

And the answer I came up with: do something that matters to you. Shauna knew what mattered to her. While she didn’t have a particular job title or salary package in mind, she knew what she had to have in order to feel satisfied – she knew her values.

Identifying values

There is no such thing as good or bad values, they are just who we are. When we are true to our values in our career and personal life, we feel fulfilled, satisfied and grounded. When we are not being true to our values we feel frustrated, lost or demotivated.

To help identify your values, try to answer these questions:

  • What are the characteristics that you truly admire in others? Why? Do these suggest your own underlying values?
  • When do you feel totally engaged? What values are being honoured then?
  • Is there something that you are obsessed with? Maybe your family or friends point it out to you (e.g. cleanliness, control, diet). Does this point to an underlying value?
  • What are the characteristics in others that annoy or frustrate you? Why? Do these point to an underlying value?

Let your values guide your decision

When you are considering your professional life, do something that lets you be true to your values. If you value security and routine, avoid jobs that are risky and varied. If you value creativity and fun, work somewhere that allows you to make things and laugh. And don’t wait til your next job to start thinking about values. Bring your values into work today! If you need challenge, take on something something that stretches you. If you need humour, make people laugh. It’s up to you to create a meaningful experience. When you choose experiences that reflect your values, you will be passionate about what you do which makes the experience more meaningful.

It’s not that career is gone; it’s just the traditional notion of what a career should be. That’s ok though. Ask a kid - you can do more on a jungle gym than a ladder. It’s bigger, more exciting and more engaging.

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