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How To Maximise Your Career Potential?

Todd Burnham

There is a Greek fable about a youth sitting in a fig tree, surrounded by ripe, juicy figs. He starved to death because he can't decide which one to eat. Many talented people are like that youth. They sit in a fig tree (their job) and slowly starve for fear of losing money, security or ego. their figs (better opportunities) rot within arm's reach. Amid all the current fears of downsizing and layoffs, there is an even greater tendency to hang onto our jobs with fear and trembling. We hope against hope that we will not be the ones who have to go. We are even less likely to see the opportunities which surround us.

It said that we tap only 10-20 percent of our potential during our lives. If that's true, and I believe it is, then the amount of talent that goes unused in this world is beyond our understanding. We all have talents, in spite of occasional doubts. Unfortunately, most of us never really recognize them. Or we don't understand them well enough to make full use of them. Or worse, we mistake a skill (something learned and developed by repetitive action) for a talent (an innate or carefully developed ability).

How then can you identify your talents? it can be as simple as just opening your mind to alternatives. What do you have a deep interest in? it is nearly certain that you can develop yourself in that direction. So allow yourself to dream. Envision yourself doing something else.

Of course, you have to be realistic. Many of us might find it easy to envision ourselves as a movie star or professional athlete, but few of us genuinely have the talent to be one. Next examine what you do with your life outside of your job. Your hobbies and interests will provide some concrete clues as to where your talents lie. (Few of us spend our leisure time in activities we don't enjoy or aren't good at. Of course, it is important to remember that people sometimes ruin good hobbies by trying to make money at them). For example, I one worked with a man who had spent years in facilities management. (He basically supervised janitorial services). In his private life, however, he was the president of a national volunteer organization. This man had immense talents for leadership and management that he was not using in his income producing life.

Next, take a hard, honest look at your self-image. It's purely subjective, of course, but to a large extent it's probably right. If your self-image is too low, it's likely because you're not using your talents. (Or your neat fulfilling your internal requirements. We'll discuss that in another column). Take a hard look at your functional habit patterns - the conditioned reflexes which repetitive activities have instilled in you. They could be a clue to talents hidden beneath routine work habits. Are you better at formulating policy or carrying out plants?

Do you work better with processes or with people? With numbers or with words? Alone or as part of a team? (Bear in mind, if you undertake this exercise, that the work you do and have done will influence your functional patterns. If you've been in the army for 30 years, your conditioned reflexes will be quite different from someone with 30 years in retail sales.

Even take a look at the activities you enjoyed as a child, before parents and teachers began molding you. In trying to please their parents, people often suppress their personal desires (talents). During all this self-examination you may very well find that you are using your basic talents in your career. The broader question then becomes: Are you using them in the most appropriate application? It's always important to examine this question.


Todd Burnham

Limington Maine

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