On Knowing What You’re Good At & Being Driven

A year or so ago they held one of those personality typing workshops (based on the Keirsey Temperament Sorter) at the office for the administrative folks to assist us in better understanding ourselves in relation to working with others. I’ve done this sort of testing at other workplaces as well, using different models, but the result was always similar: those who were already somewhat self-aware became moreso, and those who weren’t prone to self-inquiry or observation (in general) would revert to whatever behavioural patterns they were prone to and the exercise was pointless (at best) or served as yet one more weapon in “their” arsenal to better exploit the perceived weaknesses of those who were not type As.

But the personality typing isn’t specifically the point of this post, it’s merely to point out an observation that I made during the sessions in regard to something someone said during the event.

Throughout the sorting process of establishing which category one falls under, certain traits are highlighted, and I remember one of the participants saying that being “driven” was one of hers. I wondered, at the time, what she meant by that, because she was pretty much at the top of the totem pole in our current hierarchy and there didn’t appear to be anywhere else to go. Of course I am not privy to much, so it didn’t surprise me that about a year later an announcement was made about her transitioning into a newly created role that was administrative but no longer secretarial. She is good at what she does and makes this obvious to everyone that crosses her path. A typical type A personality, she is great at self-promotion. There certainly is a drive to succeed, and she exploits whatever means there are in order to achieve a goal. Being goal-oriented is part of who she is.

I am not a type A personality. While I can certainly list the things that I am good at, I am less than likely to make you aware of what those things are, figuring that if you haven’t caught on to them yourself then you are either a bit dense or have no appreciation for them, and hence even if I were to point them out to you, you wouldn’t find them remarkable anyway. Many of my “skills” are soft skills, intangible and difficult to articulate or administer to a goal-oriented business setting. Clearly this is probably not the best way to “get ahead” in a competitive market, but then I am not the competitive sort. I don’t enjoy competing and find it (*yawn*) tiresome and counterproductive.

I think that making a workplace run optimally is really like putting together a 3D puzzle; you gather all the pieces and see where they fit best. Unfortunately that is mostly not the way things are implemented, due to several factors, one of which may be that the puzzle pieces may not agree with the overall assessment of where they are placed, but also because managers tend to be unable to really accurately assess what peoples’ true skills are, looking at them from the cubby hole they have been slammed into, irregardless of the person’s initial shape (shaped peg, shaped hole, not always fitting together properly).

So, pulling back from the tangent I’ve indulged myself in, how, you ask, does this apply to this post?

Being a creative type in the typical corporate workplace can be a difficult thing (I will include myself in this group). Many of us have a wide variety of skills because we have a natural curiosity, and yes drive, to learn new things, the steady flow of incremental improvement something of import to us. While not all of us are so, we are also mostly introverts, which means we tend to not overtly run around our workplace flying our awesome-and-we-know-it flag. Mostly, we are subdued and compliant, always willing to conform to the needs of the company as they arise. In fact, if it weren’t for us there probably would be no sense of balance in the workplace.

At any rate, self-promotion must be prefaced by self-assessment, and since we introspective folks tend to do that really well when it comes to figuring out the areas of improvement that we must focus on, we seldom seem to notice (much less acknowledge) the things that we are good at, especially those intangible things that are important to the smooth running of an organization as well as society as a whole. So I encourage you to make a list of your contributions and accomplishments from the perspective of someone who already does that well. You don’t have to be that person all the time, but certainly slip into the persona when doing something (such as self-assessment) that feels unnatural and counter-intuitive.

As for drive. Well, that is an interesting word.

I am currently reading the most gorgeous bit of writing I’ve read in a long time, called tiny beautiful things: Advice on love and life from Dear Sugar (see here). The book is a compilation of pieces from an advice column on therumpus.net, an online publication that calls itself ‘the online urban hipster coffee shop’. One of the letters was from a creative writing professor of a classful of soon-to-graduate literature majors about to set foot into the world with much trepidation as to how they will be able to apply the skills that they clearly have but which most of society sees as “impractical”.

I will quote a part that I found incredibly poignant, because it applies to those that create things, and how despite being undervalued, at the core of us is an intrinsic knowledge that we ARE capable of great things:

Years after I no longer worked at the last restaurant where I waited tables, my first novel was published. The man who’d been my manager at the restaurant read about me in the newspaper and came to my reading. He’d often been rude and snappish with me and I’d despised him on occasion, but I was touched to see him in the bookstore that night. “All those years ago, who would’ve guessed we’d be here celebrating the publication of your novel?” he asked when we embraced.

“I would have,” I replied.

And it was true. I always would have guessed it, even all the time that I feared it would never happen. Being there that night was the meaning of my life. Getting there had been my every intention. When I say you don’t have to explain what you’re going to do with your life, I’m not suggesting you lounge around whining about how difficult it is. I’m suggesting you apply yourself in directions for which we have no accurate measurement. I’m talking about work. And love.

We pull things out of ourselves. Our calling is to express things that somehow form within us and ask to be released into the world. They serve a dual (in fact a multi-) purpose: to show a view of something that others may not have seen and to express the things that move us, which in turn may move others as well in ways that perhaps they would never have been capable of being moved had it not been for our voice.

That is important work. Never forget that. And always, always know your true worth.

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3 thoughts on “On Knowing What You’re Good At & Being Driven

  1. theartsyfartsychick Post author

    I managed to somehow obliterate my previous post from this morning, and with it Mel’s gracious comment, as follows:

    What a wonderful post. I hope you’re counting skilled writer along with your visual arts talents, and your many other talents and wonderful qualities.

    I can totally relate. I worked at my most recent job, in a corporate office, for over six years. And though it was a good company to work for, and I did my best (both for the company and myself) it was a bit sad: I knew that some of my best skills and abilities weren’t being utilized.

    Sure, my writing skills ensured I drafted clear and concise emails and letters. And my ability to get along well with others and to adapt as an asset in a change-prone work environment, but my creative writing and my visual arts abilities – my vision – weren’t wanted there.

    I’m glad you’re keeping an eye on the big picture. Yes, a corporate job is often necessary for a creative person in order to make a living, but our value as people far exceeds what tasks are required at most jobs. So keep knitting, baking, taking pictures, and keep being kind, funny, and sweet. I hear your voice, and I love it. :]

    (Perhaps she can be persuaded to repost it…) :)

  2. Melody Nunez

    What a wonderful post. I hope you’re counting skilled writer along with your visual arts talents, and your many other talents and wonderful qualities.

    I can totally relate. I worked at my most recent job, in a corporate office, for over six years. And though it was a good company to work for, and I did my best (both for the company and myself) it was a bit sad: I knew that some of my best skills and abilities weren’t being utilized.

    Sure, my writing skills ensured I drafted clear and concise emails and letters. And my ability to get along well with others and to adapt as an asset in a change-prone work environment, but my creative writing and my visual arts abilities – my vision – weren’t wanted there.

    I’m glad you’re keeping an eye on the big picture. Yes, a corporate job is often necessary for a creative person in order to make a living, but our value as people far exceeds what tasks are required at most jobs. So keep knitting, baking, taking pictures, and keep being kind, funny, and sweet. I hear your voice, and I love it. :]

  3. reblaura

    Thanks for writing this. I really resonate with it! I agree, there is a kind of drive that comes from within and has nothing to do with professional accomplishment at a workplace. In fact, learning and creativity might be at odds with advancing in a workplace. Sometimes the inner drive for learning is such that you need to try new activities and new places.

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