Can A Mission to Mars Help our Careers?

We read a lot these days about how the ranks of the unemployed, or soon to be unemployed, can use this opportunity to turn a lifelong passion into a new career. I don’t know about you, but my early dreams of teaching Shakespeare to eighth-graders were chipped away by mortgages, tuitions, and Blackberry apps. Maybe someday, but not now . . . not until our two daughters can reclaim their birth names and are no longer referred to as Financial Black Holes 1 and 2.

What we should do is take the time to think about how every new career stage provides an opportunity for reflection and reassessment . . . a chance for reinvention. I don’t mean misrepresenting, but rather engaging in the process of looking back and determining what didn’t work and, more importantly, what worked. Which boss type was difficult (and how we chose to deal with that person . . . or not), what responsibilities or expectations were not aligned with our core strengths. At the same time, we can reflect on what we loved, where we brought value, and what made us excited to go to work every day. We should look at each meaningful role we’ve had and extract our career-defining moments. We need to ask ourselves “what was the best job I’ve ever had . . . and why?” And then, do the same for the worst. What may emerge from the vigorous process are new ideas and directions to pursue professionally. While this is not necessarily a time to be selective about what we do next, being aware of those experiences and their impact is a valuable exercise as we move onto the bigger and the better. The question is how do we actively engage in that process over the span of a career. Here are some thoughts.

My husband is a NASA engineer who has made a brilliant career of landing stuff on Mars. I am a devout English major who has found a passion for connecting communicators to careers. Over the years, we’ve gotten more than our share of “Hey, how did you guys meet . . . the planets must have aligned, right??” After I finish laughing like it’s the first time I’ve heard it, I do think about how we peacefully co-exist without really understanding what the other one does. He speaks in acronyms and I quote Browning. He can espouse the benefits of airbag landings and my explanation of how I found the absolute best candidate on this or any other planet — and the intricacies of how I found that person — have him wondering if I am better suited for the NSA than the PRSA.

Several weeks ago, though, a light bulb went off and an acronym he’s been talking about for years made sense in my world. Can job seekers benefit from TCMs – or trajectory correction maneuvers?

What we need to do is understand the potential benefits of our own professional TCMs. What happens when a spacecraft to Mars is launched? mars We, the public, watch the launch and eight to ten months later, we sit . . . holding our collective breaths (not unlike sending out a resume) and wait for the landing (offer letter?) It seems fairly point and click to us but during that ten million plus mile flight to Mars, something is going on behind the scenes that increases the likelihood of a successful landing and those are the TCMs or the usually slight adjustments in direction that refine and sharpen the spacecraft’s path. Whether its one, three, five, or even zero TCMs, they get the spacecraft to where they want it to be.

Do the same with your job search. Take some time and use Ben Franklin’s pros and cons exercise and apply it to the roles you’ve held. Highlight your strengths and uncover your weaknesses. It will nudge you in the right direction and also help you prepare to state your case with a prospective employer who is not quite sure that you’ve got the needed experience in an area that you’ve realized you’re passionate about.

So while we won’t be teaching yoga full-time or building cheesecake empires any time soon, we can decide to refine our resume or search efforts to reflect what makes sense for us to pursue and help us get to where we need to be. If a past focus on a sub-discipline that was part of a broader role really made us happy, take the time to emphasize those accomplishments. The one thing we must avoid is going for something for the sake of having a job. Lack of subject matter familiarity is going to come through in the interview process and could affect how you are perceived by the company if later, the job of your dreams is available. The future employer will remember how you danced around your experience. Trying to become something you’re not will show. If you’re currently in a role, offer to take on additional responsibilities that you’ve discovered you enjoy, using the opportunity to steer your career in a slightly different direction.

Your job search is your mission. You’ve got launch, cruise stage, and landing. Sometimes the results may not be what you hoped or they may exceed your expectations but taking the steps throughout the process, though, will help you get to where you want to be. There’s a lot of uncertainty about the process but what I do know is that when it goes right, and the planets align because we’ve all done our TCMs, this is what happens.

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