I was in the UK all week. I used my time to catch up with colleagues. In person. On the phone. By email. Over lunch. And over dinner. I listened a lot. I learned much and offered a few opinions. I asked many questions…and I identified a new question to ask as well…and then used it several times.
When in your career have you felt most happy, positive, or engaged? And why was that?
Well yes. I know. That’s really two questions. If I had thought about it more, or had used it before, then I would have honed the detail…but I liked it just the same. I recognised that I liked the question when I ended up asking myself it several times. In fact the first time I asked someone else I spent as much time thinking about my own answer as I did listening to their answer.
The first thing I realised is that answering the ‘when question’ takes a little thought. It doesn’t ask about being successful and it does (rightly or wrongly) focus only on career. But it immediately made me consider periods of time stretching back from several years ago to several days ago. And then the ‘why’. Again – no right or wrong answer but the best answer is more than ‘because I was happy’. What was happening that lead to my feeling of happiness. And presumably over a period of time.
For my own answer, ‘when’ was quite straightforward. But ‘why’ was both harder and more interesting. The goal of course is to define some parameters and factors that are reproducible moving forward. When I was being supervised by Chris is a good answer, but in itself is hard to reproduce. Why was it that Chris was such a good person to work with…what did she or he do that made such an impact. What were the opportunities I was given? What was the environment I was in? All these could be reproducible.
And of course this is really what the question is about. We all want to feel more happy and more engaged. My question(s) is looking to help me define what that would look and feel like in a way that I could achieve or recreate. I can’t go back in time, but I can learn from my past to influence and guide my future.
The answers are entirely personal. Almost by definition they have to be. My answers varied (or maybe improved) during the course of the week as I thought more and more deeply. I spoke to one colleague at the start and the end of the week – and their answers changed subtly but significantly during the week.
For me, my answer was all about when I had chance to learn the most. To learn about people; to learn about new aspects of our industry; to learn new science or new business; but above all to learn about myself. I am most happy and most engaged when I am learning most.
This helped me understand why I seek out new opportunities (people, projects, processes, problems) to learn, to grow and to try to help. This feels consistent with the amount of time I spend looking at things I have done to try to learn – did that idea work? Did that advice help? If so why? If not – why not? What will I do differently next time?
Often when I am learning most I am in positions of uncertainty, or significant change, and may even have to make or enact difficult decisions…but I still feel happy and engaged.
I learned a lot about myself this week.