What do your interests say about you?


Sometimes an interest is so much more.

I've seen the same thing over and over with my career coaching clients: the interests that they oh-so-casually bring up often hold a goldmine of information about their ideal career direction.

I was talking with a client recently whose chief childhood pastime was playing with Legos. Even though we talked about his professional and educational background, I really think we could have pulled out all the information we needed about his ideal work environment, tasks, and structure...just from talking about Legos.

It was kind of amazing.

The mistake most job-hunters make with their interests

I've noticed a pattern about people in career transition. They tend to do one of two things with their interests:

  1. They dismiss them entirely. ("Doing an hour of yoga every day is just...a thing I do. It doesn't have anything to do with the rest of my life.")
  2. They try to parlay them into something lucrative. ("I like yoga! Maybe I should be a yoga teacher! Or open a yoga studio!")

The problem with number 1 is that they're also throwing out a huge amount of information about what they like, what they're good at, and how they behave when free to be themselves.

The problem with number 2 is that it's easy to take an overly literal approach and put a lot of pressure on this enjoyable thing to make money - which often, unsurprisingly, makes it less enjoyable.

Yes, there is a third way! I'm glad you asked.

One trick is to toggle between metaphor and reality.

In the example of my client with the Legos, there are some aspects of the activity that can be taken fairly literally.

  • He liked to play alone, rather than with other kids.
  • He liked to put things together on his own first and then ask for feedback.
  • Rather than follow a set of instructions, he liked to make up his own designs.
  • He liked working with his hands.

That doesn't mean he wants to work at Legoland or become a professional bricklayer.

When I continued to question him, other themes came up:

  • He liked giving himself the goal of building something specific (like a car or rocketship) and then making it as good as possible given those restrictions.
  • He enjoyed the process of visualizing something mentally, bringing it into reality, and then sharing it with other for feedback.
  • He liked the way specific preexisting shapes or elements could be combined to create new things - a theme that was echoed in other interests we discussed.

While it's easy to see how a career like architecture or engineering would map to these elements, there are lots of professions for creative introverts who love problem-solving.

It's all about gathering the clues and seeing which benefit from a literal interpretation and which can be applied more loosely.

Another clue is identifying the qualities associated with that interest: for my Lego-loving client, they might be things like order, structure, creativity, or improvisation.

Gathering Clues in Your Own Life

Barbara Sher has an exercise where you walk around your living space and pretend you're a detective who's gathering clues about the person who lives there. I've taken a similar tactic with my Be Your Own Career Detective exercise (which you can download for free).

The benefit to taking different interests and holding them up to the light with an attitude of curiosity is that you begin to see the same themes over and over again. A good question to ask yourself over and over is "What is it that I like about ___?"

If you try this yourself, you'll notice that not everything fits in a neat little box and you'll come across internal contradictions. Embrace the exceptions! They're part of what makes you a human with a personality and not a perfectly predictable target market.

Whether you walk around your house with a magnifying glass or play social scientist to address your love of historical fiction, you'll have the unique opportunity of viewing your life from an eagle's-eye view and putting the different pieces into context.

Where do you go from there?

It might be a time for a little soul-searching. Given the information you uncovered, are you living your life the way you'd like? What parts of yourself have gone under-appreciated for too long? What deserves a more prominent place, and what have you been spending a lot of time on that could take a backseat for awhile?

These are big questions and not always easy ones to answer on your own. I wish you clarity in your investigations and suggest that you not be too shy about seeking an outside perspective - it can make all the difference. And if you'd like a little help, click here to find out more about working with me.

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