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We all look to discover the "element" within ourselves, to "fit in" and work in a zone where our passion and personal abilities are combined. What if you and everyone on your team "fit" their work? Felt like they were working in their element? Can you imagine the sense of meaning, productivity and creativity you would feel? Finding your element will go a long way in creating a sustainable career.

About the Author
Caela Farren, Ph. D.
, is Founder and President of MasteryWorks, Inc., - a leading Career Development consulting organization offering innovative solutions to large and mid-size companies, including Baylor Health Care, Brown Forman, Northrop Grumman, Reebok, Bayer, Sprint, Sodexo, Sandia National Labs, and CapitalOne. MasteryWorks, Inc., provides enterprise web portals, training, consulting, e-Learning, and an assessment framework for employees and managers. For more than thirty-five years, Dr. Farren has been a passionate leader around complex issues redefining the workplace. She envisioned the current workplace climate fifteen years ago, when she published a cornerstone compendium on career development, “Who’s Running Your Career: Creating Stable Work in Unstable Times” (Bard Press, 1997). Through MasteryWorks, Inc., she oversees solutions that create the foundation for impact-filled “career conversations” - centered on increased contribution, performance, and fit. She is the leading authority of strategic approaches which consistently deliver employee engagement and retention goals for her clients. In her current series, “Facing Changes of the Next Decade,” Dr. Farren describes the most important characteristics of Sustainable Careers.

For more information, contact Tom Karl, Vice President, or call us at (703) 256-5712

in our Sustainable Careers series

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Building Sustainable Careers. . .
Are You Working in Your Element? - The 4th Characteristic of a Sustainable Career
by Caela Farren, Ph.D., MasteryWorks, Inc.

“Being in your Element is the point at which natural talent meets [your] personal passion.”
—Sir Ken Robinson


When our jobs, organization culture, personal passions and individual talents intersect, we become fully engaged and innovative.Introduction
We’ve all heard the song, If You’re Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands. "Fitting in" is a phrase we hear in many different settings. Our assessment or reaction is visceral. Our body knows when we’re happy and when we "fit" long before our mind makes the assessment and gives us reasons for why we feel we "fit in." There’s a simple way to see if you "fit in." Just ask yourself:

  • Have I ever been in a job that was a perfect fit?
  • What did it feel like?
  • Why was it so perfect?
  • Does my current job feel the same way? Why? Why not?

We’re happiest and most productive when our uniqueness "fits" our work. The combination produces personal passion - and passion and talent often join together with explosive results. When our jobs, organization culture, personal passions and individual talents intersect, we become fully engaged and innovative. It’s truly a joyful experience. When there’s little fit, we feel stressed and burned out. Our performance and our reputation often suffer. We burn up more emotional energy and effort to be successful when we don’t feel we "fit in."

Finding Your Element

Sir Ken Robinson, Ph. D., noted author, speaker, and advisor on education, says you’ll know you fit in "when you’re working within your element. That’s when something you’re good at comes together with your passion. When you are the most centered, most focused, when time disappears, you know you’re working in your element."

Dr. Robinson defines the term, "element," as "the meeting point between natural aptitude and personal passion." Natural aptitude is the innate ability to intuitively know about something, its innermost workings, and how to master it. When people are in their element, he writes, "they are doing the thing they love and, in doing it, they feel they are their most authentic selves. They find that time passes differently; they are more alive, more centered and more vibrant than at any other time. They connect with something fundamental to their sense of identity, purpose and well-being. They see who they are and what they’re really meant to be doing with their lives."

Finding the right work that fits your element is often a trial and error experience. It may take a few false starts, but when your passions, abilities and interests come together, the combination is stunning and you will find yourself working in the zone.

The Zone
Not unexpectedly, Joan E. Ames pointed out fifteen years ago the same qualities Sir Ken Robinson discovered. In a collection of interviews with thirty-three remarkable people, Ames gave us an anecdotal glimpse into the minds and hearts of people who had attained mastery in their respective fields. When they were in their element and found the right fit, most expressed an extraordinary, mystical spirituality connected to performing their art or work. Time stood still. When working or performing at the highest levels, athletes, scientists and performing artists felt themselves in a "zone," likened to a spiritual state of inner peace and well being. In the end, she found the spiritual quality produced a common experience of deep humility and an inner confidence to perform the extraordinary at the highest levels.

Ames and Robinson also found an epiphany often strikes like a bolt of lightning when people discover their passions and then look to shift into high gear. Just a few words or deeds trigger powerful changes. In most cases, the event occurs at an early age, but in every case, the change produces an inner need for knowledge and growth to feed a vision. In all cases, teachers and mentors then provide the discipline and tenacity needed to get it right. Joan Ames, Mastery: Interview with 33 Remarkable People, Rudra Press, Sept 1997.

I think we all look to discover the "element" within ourselves, to "fit in" and work in a zone where our passion and personal abilities combine. Ken Robinson provides us with a hint of the ingredients that are present in order to work in the zone. He writes that the Element is strung together in successive events. First, there’s the epiphany of your natural talent: "I get it;" then there’s the passion: "I love it;" accompanied by the necessary attitude: "I want it;" and lastly finding the right opportunity: "I’ve found the Place – my Tribe." The Element, Ken Robinson Ph. D. and Lou Aronica, Penguin Books, 2009, p22 et seq.

The Career Fit™ Model

The Career Fit™ ModelAre you working in your element? In the zone? In the right type of work – field, job, organization, industry? Are you in a position where your personal aptitude meets your passion or are you just staying in a safe place? The following Career Fit™ Model will give you a way to assess your current work "fit" and prepare you for a career conversation with your manager or mentor. Think about your current work as you’re studying the Career Fit™ Model.
Which elements "fit" your current work? Which do not?

The elements on the inside of the model describe various aspects of your uniqueness while the elements on the outside designate the work choices you can or have made in your career. The more coherence between the inside and outside, the more successful you will be and the better the fit. Your energy will be cycled into your aspirations and passion rather than into “survival” in a “poor fit” mode.

Are You Working in Your Element?heading here YES NO
1. Do your values fit your organization’s culture? Values are those ideals a person cherishes that aid in their day-to-day choices – such as honesty, achievement, family, integrity, challenge, service, or security. Do your values fit your organization’s culture?    
2. Do your interests fit your current job? What you love to do. Interests fall into 4 categories: working with people, ideas, data, or things. The more your work fits your natural preferences the greater your motivation and contribution. Does your current work allow you to spend most of your time in your high interest area(s)? Nothing’s more draining than being a people person and spending all your time working with data, or loving to work with things and spending most of your time with people. Talk with your manager about your interests and brainstorm ways to add more activities in your interest area. Do your interests fit your current job?    
3. Does your current job fit your personality style? How you do your work. – These attributes characterize our actions and can be hard to change. Examples could include being: analytical, compassionate, decisive, funny, innovative, detail-oriented, or curious. When there’s not a good fit between your personality and your job or organization, you’ll feel stressed or “out of place.” Does your current job fit your personality style?    
4. Do your competencies fit well with your job?
Competencies include clusters of skills needed to be outstanding in a variety of work settings. In the model, they are broken into profession-based skills, business skills, team skills, and leadership skills. “Poor fit” can happen when you have not kept up with your professional skills, don’t have the requisite team skills for a project, or lack the day-to-day business skills for a fast paced, quickly changing work environment. Do your competencies fit well with your job? your profession? your team?
5. Is your profession essential to the mission of your organization? A profession is a distinct discipline or field of knowledge, requiring specific competencies, knowledge and formal or informal certification to take care of one or more basic human needs. Is your profession critical to your organization’s mission?    
6. Do your values fit the culture of the organization? An organization is a group of people who have come together to achieve a specific mission. When there is organization fit, people are aligned with the values and mission of the culture and the strategic needs of the organization. Do your values fit the culture of the organization?    
7. Is your profession critical for the industry? Industries are clusters of professionals working together to take care of one or more basic human needs. Industry fit enables a sense of meaning, propelling people to anticipate how industry changes will impact their profession and job. Is your profession critical for the industry?    

Talk with your manager about your natural aptitude and personal passions. Discuss how well you "fit". Are you in your element? Talk about the "fits" and possible "misfits" between your current work and your unique talents and abilities. Brainstorm ways to find more work that fits your talents and passion.


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