Find Your Personal Verbs

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This is part 2 of a series, Careers as Verbs. Yesterday’s post was the kickoff.

Think about your job.  Think about every job you’ve ever done.  Now sort them into categories — jobs I liked and jobs I hated.  Think about what you did for those jobs, what core skills, what verbs, occupied your time.

Does a pattern emerge?  I’m willing to bet that it does.

I’ll use myself as an example. I’ve had three careers so far: a reference librarian at a university library; a high school and middle school English teacher; and a communications manager at a small private liberal arts college.  Each of those three jobs were fulfilling in their own way, and I enjoyed each of them differently.  So what verbs emerge out of me?

Well, one is connecting humans to ideas. It’s something I love to do.  In fact, I probably annoy most of the people I know by tweeting, posting, and emailing them things to read or look at or watch.  My mind is built like a web and I don’t think in linear strings; I think sideways and in loops and especially in flashes across the whole network at once.  Once I know where you fit in my nodes, what interests you, I’ll start seeing ideas or content or people that you should get to know. And if we’re friends, I’ll probably tell you.  In a library, that was the perfect fit for a reference librarian helping scared freshmen survive a speech assignment.  In my classroom, it was the sine qua non of my job.

And at a college, my passion to connect people and ideas emerges in lots of ways — perhaps when I pitch a story idea because I think the experience of one alumnus in his field might help prospective students understand our college’s mission better.  Or when I realize that two departments on campus would get more out of their individual projects if they joined forces, so I send both individuals an email.  Or maybe it’s when I’m staring out the window and daydreaming about developing a January term mini-course to examine the impact of the soldier’s wartime experience on his psyche using the vehicles of science fiction stories, popular films, soldier’s diaries, and journalistic writing. (Deosn’t that sound fascinating?!  It does to me.!)

I can think of other uses for my connecting abilities.  In fact, those opportunities come find me all the time. People assume I work at the Apple store when I’m there with a friend, because I’m busy explaining how a particular gadget would improve their working life. Customers in Barnes & Noble endlessly ask me where they can find a particular book — I guess I just look like someone who would know?  I’ve introduced countless friends to other friends, who have gone on to forge artistic partnerships.  I imagine that could be a career in itself.

If I were to list the verbs built into me, I’d include

  • teaching
  • connecting
  • provoking and challenging
  • questioning and clarifying
  • creating
  • communicating
  • helping or improving (people, sometimes ideas or things)
  • planning and developing
about sums it up
about sums it up

If you know me, you might be saying, “Wait a minute. You’re omitting all the verbs I’d put on your list.  Like playing the piano, playing video games, reading, and cooking. You do those all the time!”  True.

But 1) I’m focusing on the verbs that (for me) link to my productive work rather than to my leisure time, though I’m not necessarily opposed to finding a career that included some of my hobbies.

And 2) I’m not really trying to list all of human activity. That’s not my point.  I want us to drill down into the verbs that underlie our career choices.  For me, playing music or cooking don’t play into that; for you, they might.

* * * * *


My point here isn’t to dissect my working biography. Let’s focus on what these career – verbs can do for the conversations about calling and vocation that all of us should be having with the people we care about, especially young people.

A person’s career-verbs list can provide us with a working matrix for finding jobs that the individual might actually enjoy.

Returning to our fictional high schooler Erin:  Did the verbs jump out at you from the way people described her?  (I think most of us start out blind to our own verbs. Teachers, coaches, mentors, and parents can help us see ourselves more clearly.)   So what does Erin do right now, and do well?  She leads. She understands the flow of a soccer game (that might say something about her ability to read complex situations quickly and make good judgments).  She works to develop young readers, mentoring and coaching them. She solves conflicts between individuals.

Any career paths for Erin come to mind? I can imagine several initial candidates — from therapist to HR to process consultant or arbitrator.

More tomorrow.


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