Ep. 014: How to Find Your Career “Sweet Spot” — with John Benzick

Find Your Career Venture Superfly
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In your career, do you feel like you’re using your talents and being rewarded for them?  Are you operating in the best environment, with the right people, that will maximize your career satisfaction, growth and income?

Listen to John explain how you can find your career “sweet spot” to compete on your terms and on your strengths.

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Episode Transcript:

Greetings Product Launch Rebels: This is John Benzick from Venture Superfly.com, the website that helps you double your entrepreneurial courage, even if you don’t know what you’re doing!

Today in this episode I’m going to talk about how you can find the right fit for your entrepreneurial pursuits or career, to find your entrepreneurial or career focus area, or sweet spot. To make sure you’re playing in the right sand-box, so to speak. And compete better on your own terms, and on your strengths.

And I’ll start with some questions – a bit of an assessment.

Regarding your career, or job, do you feel fully appreciated by others, and rewarded for your talents? Do you even know your top talents? Do you feel like you’re unleashing your talents in a way that is elevating you to a higher level, and will continue to raise you up for the long term, and keep you secure over time?

Are you working with the right people, using your best skills, and operating in the best environment that will maximize your career satisfaction, growth and income?

If not, in this episode, I’ll introduce to you a very effective – but simple – exercise to help find your direction. To help put you on the right path.

And that exercise can be best explained by a personal story.

The idea of this exercise that I’ll introduce to you, came to me almost magically, about 11 years ago, at about 3:00 in the morning. I had a terrible time sleeping that night because I was doing some consulting work during that period, and I noticed that I struggled with inconsistency regarding the value I was bringing to clients.

With some clients, I did feel like I was adding a lot of value, feeling confident about myself and being well-paid.

In fact, in those situations, it felt as if I wasn’t even working hard, my success simply seemed natural and productive and rewarded. It just seemed like I was in a great spot and developing great relationships as well.

On other projects, however, I felt less secure.

There didn’t seem to be harmony with my role, my expertise, and the people that I was working with. It seemed that no matter what I did, there was something out of sync. I felt like I was constantly treading water, and always on the verge of losing the client – sort of barely holding on.

And so that night at 3am, feeling fidgety and troubled, an idea struck me right between the eyes, magically, like a lightning bolt.

It was an idea that I absolutely had to get down on paper, fast, before I lost it – do you know that feeling? It was one of those important “aha” moments that you have to act on.

So I leapt from my bed and darted downstairs to my home office desk, and foraged for a blank piece of paper and pen.

Eyes half-open, I drew a line down the middle of the paper, from top to bottom.

At the top left-hand column, I wrote the heading, “Life-Depleting Experiences.” At the top right-hand column, I wrote the heading, “Life-Giving Experiences.”

I then reflected on my life history related to each of these two headings. I recalled experiences in my career, in my friendships, in my family, in sports that I played – even in music, volunteer and other experiences. Not just job experiences.

In the life-giving experiences column, in bullet-points, I described situations where I felt purposeful, energetic, capable and valued. I jotted down things like, “developing new products,” and “thinking strategically.”

Conversely, in the life-depleting column, I described situations where I felt purposeless, under-appreciated, and unsustainable. Here, I wrote things like “day-to-day operations” and “highly structured corporate environments.”

I then pooled dozens of those notes into sub-headings of “talents used,” “knowledge or subjects shared,” “people that I worked with (or audience),” and “work conditions.”

And as I gazed at my notes, I became captivated by the contents I wrote in the life-giving column. These are the things that energized me, made me attractive to others, and delivered value to projects and others.

While reviewing my entries, it became clear to me that, to be happy, I needed to deliberately pursue a life in the life-giving column as much as possible. And I should avoid spending time in the life-depleting column.

I noticed that in certain life-giving situations, for example, I had valiantly and effectively led others.

In sub-optimal conditions, I wasn’t able to lead hardly at all! In some settings, I was an excellent coach to someone. At other times, I felt invisible.

The life-giving column turned out to be a major guidepost for me.

During this 30-minute process that night, I unearthed characteristics that clearly suggested where to focus, where I belonged and where I could thrive. If you’re following me closely here, can you see how that would be?

Regarding life direction, and where to focus my energies, my answer was right there, on paper – in black and white. That life-giving column is where I could thrive on my terms, on my strengths, and propose my best offerings to society.

These are the simple steps I did (the exercise I wrote down) that gave me confidence, vision and energy to no longer feel that struggle or inconsistency.

And it’s the exact same thing that I’ll suggest to you now, in this podcast.

So let’s try to recreate that for you. Here’s what I want you to do:

Pull out a sheet of paper (or you can download the PDF that I have attached to this episode on my website, episode number 14).

Put your name at the top in the center of the paper. And write down the main heading, “Where I Will Thrive.”

Then draw a line down the middle of the paper, from top to bottom, separating the left and right side of the paper, into two columns (a left column and a right column).

At the top of the left column, right down the column heading, “Life Giving.” (This will be referring to the things you will do, or the environments you’re in, or the people you with, where you feel it is giving you life, is energizing you.)

At the top of the right column, write down the column heading, “Life Depleting.” (This will be where you’ll jot down your ideas about the things you do, the environments you’re in, or the people you’re with where you feel heavy, less valued, un-appreciated, and struggling.)

Then, picture this: one-fifth of the way down the page from the top, write the word “talents” as sub-headings, in both the right- and left-hand columns of the page.

Then, allowing for some space, two-fifths down the page (or another 20 percent down the page below the sub-headings labeled as “talents”), write the word “conditions” in both columns as sub-headings to those columns.

Then three-fifths of the way down the page, write down the word “subjects” in both columns and sub-headings.

And finally, four-fifths of the way down the page, write the word “people” as sub-headings on both sides of the page.

So envision this: what you have here is a piece of paper with two columns, one is the life-giving column, and the other is the life-depleting column. And each of those two columns has sub-headings labeled as “talents,” “conditions,” “subjects,” and “people,” where you’ll jot down thoughts and ideas related to each of those sub-headings.

For example, in the talents section, you’ll write down the talents or skills that you use that both energize you and make you feel purposeful and useful, as well as those skills that you use that deplete you, that either you’re just not that interested in doing, or you’re not good at.

And what you’ll be doing here is listing your thoughts and ideas within each of these sub-categories: but on the left side, your notes will include those things that bring you life, that energize you and make you feel good and productive, and that reward you, financially and otherwise.

And on the right side (the life-depleting side), you’ll jot down your thoughts on those circumstances, things and people that have depleted you, that drain your energy, where you feel insecure and less valuable.

So, the end-result of this will be that you will be able to start focusing and leaning into, and pursuing those things that are life-giving to you (the left-column stuff), and start reducing emphasis, and getting away from those life-depleting activities (the right-column stuff).

So let’s go through each of these two columns, along with their sub-headings, one by one, along with some examples, to give this meaning, and to demonstrate, so you can do your own.

And then, when you’re done – like what happened to me – you’ll clearly see where you need to apply your energy to maximize your growth potential – in the areas of people to work with, skills to use, knowledge to demonstrate and type of environment to work in – to significantly increase your personal growth potential.

Now, in some cases, it might be easier to start with the right-hand, life-depleting column first, since sometimes it’s easier to know what you struggle with versus what you really want. Sometimes it’s easier to know what you don’t want, as opposed to what you do want.

So, in the right-hand life-depleting column, under the sub-heading of “talents or skills,” write down the skills or talents that you use when you feel low energy, or not mentally or physically alert or good about. And really, in this life-depleting column, these might be your “weaknesses” in terms of skills or talents.

So for example, in my case back on that early morning 11 years ago, in the life-depleting column, I wrote things like “tactical thinking” and “working in large groups,” and “executing projects started by others” among other things. These were things that I could do and have done (sometimes well), but didn’t prefer to do, and really didn’t have the interest to do, day in and day out. Someone else would likely be better at, or more committed to, these things compared to me.

And in the left-hand column, the life-giving column, I wrote things like, “strategic, big-picture thinking,” “creating new products,” “selling,” “ideating,” and “leading small creative teams” and other descriptions.

All in all, I had about 15 things listed in the “talents” life-giving column, and 15 talents listed in the life-depleting column.

The next sub-heading for you to jot down your ideas, is the “conditions” sub-heading. This is where you write down ideas related to your work conditions that give you life, or that deplete you.

So for me, as an example, I wrote eight or nine things in the life-giving column. Things like, “working independently,” and “working on short-term projects,” and “working in informal situations,” and “working in creative environments.”

In the life-depleting section of the “conditions” sub-heading, I wrote things like “being involved in day-to-day operations,” “working on long-term projects,” “corporate environments,” and “formal, and rule-driven work settings.”

Moving on to the next sub-heading of “subjects,” this is the area where you write down subjects that you demonstrate, talk about, or pursue, that either give you life, or that deplete you.

As an example, in my life-giving column of “subjects,” I wrote things like, “entrepreneurship,” “innovation,” “strategic planning,” “business development,” and “product development.”

And in the life-depleting column of the subjects sub-heading, I jotted things like “managing existing businesses,” “quantitative-oriented subjects,” “specialized business knowledge” (since I’m more of a generalist), and “standards and policies.”

And finally, in the “people” sub-heading, this is where you write down your ideas related to what type of people give you encouragement and energy, versus what type of people that deplete your energy, that don’t resonate with you, and don’t seem to value your knowledge, skills or style.

So in the life-giving column of my notes, under the “people” sub-heading, I wrote down descriptions such as “creative people,” and these included designers, marketers, product developers, visionaries, out-of-the-box thinkers and entrepreneurs. These are people that I’ve seemed to enjoy working with over the years, and they seemed to enjoy working with me.

In the life-depleting column under the “people” sub-heading, I described people that were more quantitative thinkers; people that looked at things in black and white, people that were driven by rules and regulations, and were more authoritative versus collaborative.

So, in summary, what we have here is a valuable list of things in life that deplete you, and a list of things that sustainably give you life, energy, purpose and focus.

It’s right there in black and white.

And when you focus and apply yourself towards the life-giving column – the talents, conditions, subjects and people – we see that this is where you need to spend your time to maximize your personal growth and security.

I do want to re-iterate that in my past I have done well on a short-term basis working in the life-depleting column, using talents that weren’t my top talents, working in conditions that weren’t ideal, and demonstrating knowledge in areas that weren’t my top knowledge areas. But over time, those weren’t areas that were sustainable for me. They were areas that, ultimately, I really couldn’t compete well over the long term.

So this exercise really, truly helped me see, for the first time, in black and white, where I should apply myself, which was to lean into the things listed in the life-giving column.

It was powerful for me, and I think it will be powerful for you, too.

Of course, it’s not always possible to live entirely in the life-giving column. You can’t always just instantly jump from one column to the other, and live your life that way, because outside resistance is everywhere.

Knowing that you have your thoughts written down, however, in this template, is to have a very helpful occupational compass that you can refer to or implement, either slowly or quickly, depending on your situation.

Additionally, when not in the thriving, life-giving column, referring to its contents could help you incrementally construct those conditions.

To shift the balance, for example, you could promote your skills more confidently, and more often, within your current space, or when you’re stuck in a set of life-depleting situations. You could also seek out supporters within that life-depleting environment to slowly start building your “tribe” and mission.

Finally, to finish out this podcast episode, as I mentioned earlier, visit the VentureSuperfly.com website, and look for this episode #14 to download this exercise template.

Alright! Good luck to you, everyone, let me know if you have questions, and we’ll see you in the next episode!

About the author, John

John Benzick is an entrepreneurship coach and the founder of Venture Superfly. He is a Tech Partner at the venture-capital fund of Matchstick Ventures, a Mentor with Techstars Retail accelerator, an Entrepreneur-In-Residence and (former CEO-in-Residence) at the University of Minnesota, and founder and owner in two consumer product businesses. Click the button below to learn more.

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