Here's my most recent President's Message from the Carolina Communique:
How does someone go about “reinventing” themselves? Where do you start? How do you know whether you’re making progress? When are you done?
Where you start is simple — with yourself. Reinvention does not mean becoming a different person. On the contrary, it means hewing to your true nature — becoming more of who you really are. It requires becoming keenly aware of what you do best and what you could do better. Understand your strengths so that you can spend more time using them on the job. Equally understand your weaknesses so that you can figure out to work on or around them.
How do you hew to your true nature? You can take personality or aptitude tests, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, to get an objective sense of who you really are. You can observe yourself during the day and notice the things that come naturally and those that require more effort. When something comes naturally, you’re playing to strength.
Marcus Buckingham has written a series of books about this, the most relevant being Now, Discover Your Strengths. Buckingham spent years working with the Gallup Organization studying effective managers. Through exhaustive quantitative research, he extracted 34 personality themes, such as “Learner,” “Ideation,” and “Communication.” If you buy the book, you get a key to take an online test that tells you which of these themes and their related strengths apply to you.
For me, reinvention meant becoming a writer again. Writing allows me to play to my strengths of “Communication” and “Ideation.” Time flies when I write, and I sometimes achieve a state of flow.
It turns out that hewing to your true nature is an effective defense against the commoditizing of technical writing jobs and tasks. As I and other speakers said at our November program, “Don’t Offshore Me,” one of the best ways to preserve your value on the job is to be the best at what you do. You cannot be the best unless you are doing something that plays to strength.
To excel at technical communication, ask yourself these questions: do you truly enjoy technical things, and do you truly enjoy communicating? Is technical curiosity second nature to you? (See my previous article, “Developing Technical Curiosity – A Marketable Skill.”) When you are engaged in an act of communication (writing, speaking, designing, and so on), do the hours fly by?
If the answer is yes, reinvention may mean rededicating yourself to the assignments and responsibilities you already have. Or it may mean seeking a different assignment. If one of your strengths is “Learner,” as it is for me, technical communication is a suitable profession, because there will always be something new to learn and write about.
If the answer is no, reinvention may mean finding a different job. Many technical communicators parlay their experience into job titles such as Information Technologist or Usability Specialist.
So how do you know whether you are making progress in reinventing yourself? Again, the answer depends on whether you are spending time doing things that flow rather than drag. Are you getting energy from your work, or is it taking energy out of you? The more energized you feel by your work, the more progress you’re making.
And when are you done? Never. The world will continue to change. Change with it — be in charge of your personal change.
There are lots of opportunities for reinvention when you’re active in STC. Do something you haven’t done before — we’ll be there to help. Check out the programs we offer — we strive to provide information and knowledge to help you grow professionally and keep current. Come to one of our events and meet fellow professionals. Write an article for our newsletter. Volunteer to help in some way through the committees our chapter offers.
Becoming more active in committees helps you connect with others. A past president of our chapter, Diane Feldman, once wrote “real networking doesn’t happen at the meetings — it happens on committees! In the context of accomplishing a task, you also accomplish all of the goals of networking. You learn about your colleagues — what kind of work they do, what their skills and interests are, what they have to offer — and they learn about you. You find out which companies are doing what, who the managers are, and where the opportunities are. You get a chance to practice or develop skills that you might not get to work on in the regular course of your job. People in your industry come to recognize you as a committed professional who gets things done.”
And when you are trying to reinvent yourself, perhaps with a new company or in a new role in your current company, having contacts who know the value you bring is a priceless benefit. When you embark on reinvention, an established network will support you along the way in your journey.
As with a weight loss program or a new fitness regimen, or a commitment to learn a new language or how to play an instrument, there will be peaks and plateaus in your progress in reinvention. The results are worth it. You’ll be recognized as the committed professional you are. You’ll feel more energized and engaged in your work. And you’ll have fun.