Many people ask me about how to find the position that is the right fit. Just last week, I spoke to three early childhood educators who practiced many years in the classroom. They were asking the same question. What other opportunities are there outside of the classroom in our field? In thinking about the question, I realized it’s not only finding work outside of the classroom, it’s important to find the classroom that aligns with our beliefs, values and skills.
Choosing your next position in early childhood begins with some thinking about what you enjoy about your current work and what you hope for in the future. Thinking starts with reflective practice. These reflections become the foundation for updating your resume, creating a checklist of attributes you use to critically review jobs and help you to become clear on what you want from the next step in your career.
The following is an exercise that I use when coaching early childhood educators. The exercise provides an opportunity to think about your skills and desires and where they overlap.
By following these simple directions you can start your thinking journey.
You will need a blank sheet of paper. For this activity, it’s best to work on paper. The activity itself (on paper) engages both the left and the right side of your brain. The left side will engage in the logic of the activity the right side will engage in the creative thinking. Drawing on your paper, will help your brain make new connections in your thinking.
Using a pen, markers or other writing tool, draw two large circles. They will need to be big enough to write your ideas inside. Using pens and/or markers with paper, creates deeper thinking and reflection, especially if you use three colors or more. Using color actually increases recall of ideas.
In one circle brainstorm your skills and talents – they don’t need to related to your job---they should be things that you feel you are good at. A brainstorm is a first pass at thinking. It doesn’t have to be complete, just write down your ideas. If you need to create a sense of urgency, use a timer and set it for two minutes.
In the other circle, write down some of the attributes of the work (not the workplace) you want to do in the future. Is it working with people, working alone, involve active movement in the work, sitting quietly? Write about all the things that you enjoy most. Also think about when you are super engaged in a project or work and time seemed to fly by. What were the conditions that created that feeling. The feeling is most often referred to as Flow and it is state of engagement in your work. The interesting thing about Flow is it happens during meaningful work, and hard work as well. We don’t achieve Flow when the tasks are easy.
Once you have your two circles, spend a little time reviewing what you wrote and see if anything is missing. Add any details that you want. Take a few minutes here to think about what you do for fun or during your off time too. Activities for fun are intrinsically motivated. They are how you choose to spend your time. Think about the skills you need to do these activities and add them to your first circle.
Now you are ready, now go back and circle the works or ideas that have the most meaning for you. Some of your talents and skills will not make the list. We are all good at some things that we are not interested in continuing to do. This is such an important first step. The act of choosing what holds the greatest value to us, creates emotional alignment between what we value and how we want to work.
Create your final list of key words, talents that you are both good at and want to do in the future. These are your key values that you are seeking in your next position.
What to do with your key values? It’s now time to take those key values and use them to start making choices about your future work. The first step is to look at your resume and think about its content. Did you highlight the skills that you were both good at and enjoyed doing? Think about editing your resume to reflect your key values. Keep these key values close and thread them into your cover letters when needed. The reason that we revise our resumes and cover letters is to align them with who we want to be in the world. The added benefits is when submitted, we are highlighting the work we want to do and not the work we might want to leave behind.
When looking for a new position/career, use your key values to see if the position is moving you in the direction that you want to go. Often we apply for a position out of a scarcity mentality---it is the only position that will come available. In reality, we might consider taking the risk and applying for a position that is aligned with our key values and plays to our strengths. Choosing the ‘right’ fit for us contributes to our long-term success and peace-of-mind.