The gift of an imperfect career
The other day I received a gift from University of Houston research professor Brené Brown - her book, The Gifts of Imperfection.
What struck me about her work is that it provides a complimentary and reinforcing perspective on many of the key themes in the Chaos Theory of Careers - which I developed with my ACU colleague, Adjunct Professor Robert Pryor.
For instance, in her chapter on Intuition and Faith, she writes: "In my research, I found that what silences our intuitive voice is our need for certainty. Most of us are not very good at not knowing. We like sure things and guarantees."
It is a theme of the Chaos Theory of Careers that uncertainty is inherent in all that we do, and therefore learning to live with uncertainty is an important thing to do.
Brené researches "wholeheartedness" which she argues is a process we cultivate through courage, compassion and connection. I have often written before about continually summoning the courage to try things out, to take risks, to live with uncertainty, to be bold enough to fail, to reach out and to connect or network.
Whether it is the overwhelming majority who fail to put achievement statements on resumes because they feel they haven't achieved anything, the job seeker who writes cover letters pointing out what attributes they do not have, or the perpetually scared and frustrated person who dares not take a risk because they feel that are not good enough or too weak to deal with failure - all these people are being too hard on themselves, and not living wholeheartedly.
Brené's message that our love for others is limited by our love for ourselves may be confronting for some, but is captured perfectly in her quote from Leonard Cohen's Anthem: "There is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in".
If there are no repeating patterns of love towards ourselves, then how can we extend these patterns to include others? We can't - the external patterns of love are not fully authentic because they are not reflected within us.
Brené stresses the dynamic nature of these processes. It is the practice of connection, belonging and relationship, and the practice of love that matters. My Chaos Theory of Careers states that we are intimately inter-connected, and the acknowledgement of this is crucial for effective career behaviour. Put simply, you cannot work without others.
The aspect of belonging also resonates strongly with me. When jazz musician James Morrison was about to perform live in front of a billion people to open the Sydney Olympic games, I asked him whether he was nervous about playing a bum note.
He said: "when you have a strong feeling that you belong where you are, the anxiety recedes and there is no question of playing a bum note".
If you have a strong sense of belonging, then the worry about "I'm an imposter, get me out of here" can be replaced with "they have entrusted me to do this, I can do this."
Having a sense of belonging allows you to focus your energy on doing your best. The same goes for a job interview. The employer has invited you to the interview, so they have given you a strong signal that says you belong. It then becomes not a question of being examined, but of exploring a subject of mutual interest - they want to fill a position and so do you!
Finding a job that you love can be informed by considering belonging, connection and relationship. We cannot fully control and predict our careers or lives. We are not perfect and no career or job is either, but we can make the most of our gifts of imperfection.
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