Guest author: Oliver Fink, University of Basel

This is one of Ibarra’s most important points:

“You cannot discover yourself by introspection. Start by changing what you do. Try different paths. Take action, and then use the feedback from your actions to figure out what you think, feel, and want. Don’t try to analyze or plan your way into a new career. Conventional strategies advocated by self-assessment manuals and traditional career counselors would have you start by looking inside. Start instead by stepping out. Be attentive to what each step teaches you, and make sure that each step helps you take the next.”

Currently my main job is being a researcher and I mostly love it. Back in university, I found research horribly boring (and in hindsight there are many reasons for this), so my career moved initially in a very different direction. Throughout various jobs though, I was always drawn to some form of applied research’ like impact studies or success evaluations, even if – in the strict sense – it had little to do with my actual responsibilities. Analyzing employee surveys, which was horribly boring for almost all of my HR colleagues fascinated me.

This interest in research throughout my career intensified with my wife enrolling in a MBA program. I also wanted to do something new and fulfilling next to my main job and started a career research project with one of my former professors in organizational psychology. It was applied research in the same field I was already in, linked with my interests and current profession (HR) while trying out something new. So, when I finally made my bigger career leap into a different field, I had already some ideas how I would do (although everything would still be quite challenging).

For several years I had a project idea closer linked to my humanitarian work before HR, that just didn’t seem to materialize until I realized I could put it into action within a research context!

At some point finally, I simply had to jump… no way I could have found out before if the depths of research really suited me, but I was as prepared as I could be – through action! And I decided to do a short initial 4-month project to check if I was on the right path.

Turned out I had a blast for three years in an absolutely fascinating context. I learned important skills, broadened my horizon and exposed myself to a very different setting. Even in case of eventually moving back into my old sector, it was a great experience, despite a steep learning curve. As one of the most prominent risk researchers, the German Siegbert Warwitz, recently said: “those who always play it safe become increasingly insecure”.

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