Today I met with a mentee that first came to me through a referral from a friend in HR back in July of last year. When I first met “Jane”, she was waiting for me in a conference room. She was half under a table. Don’t get me wrong – she was sitting in a chair, however, she was slumped down low, her body language telling me everything I needed to know.
I asked her to tell me a little about herself and what work she was doing at our company. She said she was an engineer and one of her first comments was “I think I studied the wrong subject in school, I am not sure I should be an engineer.” Wow. Powerful statement. She was questioning everything – even her decision to study engineering. For about the next 15 minutes, I listened as she told me all the things she didn’t like about her job and I probed to find out why she had made such a powerful declaration. I let her go on for a while. When she took a breath, I stopped her. I asked her to take all the negative, unhappy, unhealthy energy she had just unleashed and put it in a box and slide it under our table and out of sight. She gave me a questioning look and then I asked her to shift gears and tell me what she did like to do. After a long pause and some uncomfortable silence, I knew she was stumped. She had been so focused on what made her unhappy, she had lost sight of figuring out what would make her happy. We discussed the importance of self-discovery and I asked her to do some journaling. Before we met again, I wanted her to think about “What would I do for free?” and write whatever popped into her head. She took on the challenge and left.
About a month later, her name showed up in my e-mail with a calendar request. I was happy to meet with her and hear what she had thought about. This time she was waiting for me, standing in the doorway of the conference room. Her eyes were bright and I could feel her shift in energy and excitement. She told me that she had found time on an airplane ride/business trip to journal. She shared the beginning of her notes.
“What would I do for free?”
Talk to Joe (the owner) of the Ski Shop
Discuss how his current software is not working for his needs
Work to develop a better software solution for Joe and the Ski shop
…many more pages of words….followed by “HFE!!!!”
I asked Jane – ‘what is HFE?’ and she went on to explain Human Factors Engineering to me. Her eyes were wide open, she was sitting up straight and leaning toward me across the table. I could feel the energy and the passion in her voice. She then asked “what do I do with this knowledge?” My reply was “it’s time for Networking!” I jumped on-line and looked at my network within our company and picked six people I thought could help us find a Human Factors Engineer. I shot off an e-mail and asked for willing technical mentors. We continued talking about other things she could do while we waited for responses.
After celebrating her upcoming transition we spoke about next steps. Jane is off writing her transition plan to make sure nothing gets dropped as she leaves, ensuring her current manager gets recognized for his risk-taking and support of her growth & development, and planning out her deliverables for success in her new role.
How well do you know and understand yourself? Are you unhappy with your work? Do you wish you were excited and passionate about what you do? Who is your mentor? How big is your network?
It may all start with the answer to a disarmingly simple question. “What would you do for free?”