Organize Yourself in 2015–Leveraging Your Talents


“Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.”

Archimedes

Look at the successes you had last year.   Now bring your focus out a bit more and look at the successes you’ve had in the past five years.   And finally, look back on your entire career and asking yourself the following questions:

What has been most responsible for my success in the past?   What am I really good at?   (Or what have I become good at over the years, even if I wasn’t good at it at the beginning of my career?)

Now switch to thinking of the future:   if you won the lottery or came into an enormous amount of money and you could choose any job or any part of a job to do for the indefinite future, what work would you choose?   (These questions are from Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, chapter 12.)

Of course, in the previous chapters I’ve talked about “frogs”, that is, the most important tasks that you have to do.   As you may recall from previous posts, the whole point of Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog! is that you should shift to doing those “frog” tasks, i.e., those of the highest priority, as soon as possible in the day.   In that way, not only will you continue the day with a sense of accomplishment, but by facing them first thing in the day you will strengthen your “anti-procrastination muscles” in your head.

However, just like in fairy tales, sometimes a “frog” is actually a “prince” in disguise.   There are tasks which are in the areas where you have special talents and that you most enjoy.   The goal in your career is to maneuver yourself in the organization you work for, or in the industry you work in, or in your profession in general, in such a way as to leverage your special talents, where you are a “prince” among “frogs”.

Just to give an example–I found in college that I had a passion for learning foreign language, although my undergraduate major was engineering physics.   By the time I went to graduate school, I decided to parlay my love of foreign languages into my choice of future career, so I majored in Asian Studies and studied the Chinese and Japanese–not just the languages, but the culture, literature, history, and even philosophy from the countries of China and Japan.

When I graduated, I was chosen to be a technical translator at Mitsubishi Motors Corporation in Tokyo.   However, after my first initial years in this position, the HR department had an idea of using me to help with their litigation management.   The details are unimportant, but although I enjoyed what I was doing to a certain extent, the more and more time I spent at Mitsubishi the less and less time I was using my Japanese language abilities.    Then in 2004 when I was laid off from that company, I went to work for an insurance company where I was doing something similar, but for many Japanese manufacturers who were their clients.   In 2010, I was laid off from that position, but couldn’t get a job in litigation management because that kind of position was a relatively niche job and there weren’t a lot of them out of there.    And the places I did apply now made it plain that they required you to have a law degree to enter the position.   I tried taking a step back and offering to do claim management, but was told “sorry, you’re overqualified.”   I couldn’t win for losing.

After a year of networking, I came across people who asked me the same questions I wrote at the top of this post:   What has been most responsible for my success in the past?   What am I really good at?   I responded that I’m good at communication in the sense that I love studying foreign languages and cultures, and I’m good at cross-functional communication, that is, getting lawyers, engineers, and accountants to talk to each other even though they often speak different business languages, so to speak.

So someone suggested project management and I took a community college course, then a course at New Horizons, and finally got my CAPM certification.    I was fascinated, and got to work on using project management for many volunteer jobs, including those at the Project Management Institute itself.    I realized that I am an organized person, so planning is something I actually enjoy doing, but more importantly, when I see problems related to communication such as conflict management, I don’t dread those problems, I relish them because, frankly, I tend to be good at getting disparate people if not to totally respect one another, to at least be willing to work together with them (which is half the battle).

In the same way that I improve my key skills in areas that will make me a better project manager (see previous post), I also look for opportunities to play on my strengths.   Those tasks that I do for work which also coincide with my strengths I call my “prince” tasks, and I love the time I spend doing them.   If you shine at those kind of tasks, sooner or later the people you work for will notice, and will realize that what had the unassuming appearance of a frog was actually a prince (or princess) in disguise!

Now in today’s economy, finding such a position or job is a lucky accident, but you can make yourself more “accident-prone” if you shine at tasks where your natural gifts come to the fore.   So here’s to positioning yourself in 2015 for “lucky accidents” to come your way!

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