Magic mirror on the wall, who is the most talented of all?
Reflections on the workshops with the European Commission trainees
Have you ever stopped thinking about how special you are? If I ask you to list your talents and gifts, would you come up with something beyond “good time management” or “team player“? Would such an exercise scare you, would you find it mostly stupid, or would you actually make an attempt? I can reply for myself. I have tried to avoid these questions until the very moment the questions came knocking at my door. And I can tell you, it wasn’t pleasant.
Why am I asking these questions? Last month I held a series of workshops on career orientation and planning to a group of European Commission trainees. It wasn’t the first time Project 668 had delivered such trainings, but it was the first time for me in the capacity of “teacher”. I went in there in between terrorised and frightened; and with a lot of preconceived ideas on what would happen. Of course, most of the situations I imagined didn’t take place. I had to re-evaluate my expectations and I came back home with a lot of thoughts and lessons learnt in my bag.
What was I expecting? We organised six workshops, as part of a career package designed to help the participants understanding their strengths and weaknesses, and then enable them to put what they learnt into practice to actually land a job. The workshops were on the topics of career orientation, career planning, CV and cover letter writing, job interview preparation, networking, and project management. In my experience trainees are very straightforward: they want a job after their traineeship and they want practical tools to reach their goals. Therefore, I was expecting a high level of participation in the workshops related to CV writing and job interview preparation. To my great surprise, the highest attendance was for the workshop on career orientation, which was also the one I felt most unsure about.
Why was I so surprised? First of all, I thought the workshop would be seen as too theoretical. And then, understanding what you would like to do in your career starts first and foremost with learning who you are, what you excel at, what you are not too good at. These questions are not easy to answer – even more so in a context where other people are present. Despite my initial expectations, several trainees showed up for the workshop and they were very open about the various exercises we went through together. We talked about their values, the personal SWOT analysis, but also the Ikigai, and other tools that may have helped them to get to know themselves better.
What did not surprise me? I found some resistance in some of them, as expected. Of course, each exercise was strictly confidential and the participants shared only what they felt like sharing with the rest of the group. But the most interesting outcome was that some of the participants approached the exercises with skepticism considering questions related to their core values and personal strengths as too theoretical and not relevant to their future job search. Another interesting outcome was related to the use of words such as “talents and gifts” to describe their strengths: most of them felt like these words were almost inappropriate to describe simple skills they had or had acquired over the years.
What did I learn? To me this experience was eye-opening. Until then, I had never realised how in need young people are to reflect on themselves. Not only, the educational systems and the work environment have no structure or processes to support young people in discovering their talents. In a world where talents and gifts are decided by the number of likes on a post, understanding our own individual potential is absolutely pivotal. And on the same lines, our uniqueness as human beings – not only in terms of work-related skills – cannot and should not be jeopardized by comparisons made with unobtainable standards and prototypes.
On the contrary, it becomes exceptionally important to be able to reflect individually on who we are, what we would like to do, why and how we can achieve our goals. Asking ourselves and replying to these questions, if not easy nor pleasant at times, becomes our comparative advantage against navigating through life just because we are pushed by the waves.
It will take an enormous amount of courage, strength and tenacity; it will not come easily and it will take a considerable amount of time, but knowing yourselves, profoundly understanding your talents and your reason for being will pay off. Therefore, my personal words of encouragement are: ask, listen, understand and trust. Ask yourself difficult questions, all the time, on any topic. Listen to yourself, even when it hurts, even when your are telling yourself something you would never like to hear – only knowing you can fix it. Understand who you are, where you are coming from, why you are doing things your way. And trust that you know better than anyone else, when it comes to you and your future.
by Federica Margheri