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Career Development Tip: Finding Your Niche

Career Development Tip: Finding Your Niche

At the risk of sounding cliché, the New Year is commonly a time for introspection. I've currently got a lot going on in my life -- both personally and professionally -- so I've been doing a lot of thinking and pondering of late. Along the way, I've had a couple of ideas that I'd like to share.

Envy Can Be a Virtue

Envy is a pretty ugly character trait. For example, it's easy for me to think that I hate Scott Hanselman when I'm being petty. The guy is constantly cranking out talks, presentations, podcasts, blog posts, and the like. Or, I could find it pretty easy to hate Paul Randal or Kalen Delaney -- their knowledge of SQL Server is borderline criminal.

That's the ugly side of envy -- the part where we compare ourselves to people and only focus on how we can never measure up. On the other hand, I believe there could be a brighter side of envy -- one that lets us focus on the people and traits that we admire in an effort to emulate them.

Under this paradigm, I don't hate Scott Hanselman at all. Instead, I'm just a bit jealous of his ability to create so much valuable content on a regular basis. What I truly dislike, then, is what I incorrectly assume is the apparent ease in which he's able to be so prodigious. If I'm truly being honest, then what I really hate is my inability to do something that I value.

Once, I almost started to half believe that Scott was super human. Maybe he 'suffered' from that disease where you never need to sleep (Google 'Thai Ngoc'). But believing that would not only have been absurd, it would have just been a way for me to dismiss my own malaise and inability to execute.

In the end, Scott's just focused. He's even shared some of the excellent productivity tips that he uses. With that focus, I'd argue that he's made his way to a dream job where he can bump into all sorts of interesting, driven, and passionate people to interact with and interview. In other words, he's used effort and determination to find a place where he can keep developing his strengths. In short, he's found his niche.

Consequently, if I focus less on being petty (i.e., being jealous of his accomplishments) and focus instead on ways that I can try to emulate his efforts to avoid distractions, then it's possible to argue that envy ceases to be ugly and could, in a twisted way, become a virtue. Along those same lines, instead of simply being jealous about Paul Randal's or Kalen Delaney's leet skillz when it comes to SQL Server, maybe I should look at how they got those skills – by relentlessly testing, exploring, and work through long hours of hands-on interaction with SQL Server under several different situations and scenarios. In other words, if I spent more time on hands-on testing and tweaking and spent less time day dreaming about how I could be like them, then my own knowledge and understanding of SQL Server would easily grow.

Your Niche is Bigger than Where You Work

Of course, the thoughts I've shared about transforming envy into something more productive like admiration and resolve doesn't just apply to work. One of the best things I've ever heard on Twitter was something to the effect of "Remember: the people you work for are at home." Stated differently, home should already be your niche – a place where you can use your strengths for the greater good. If it's not or if there's room for improvement (and there always is), then look to others whom you admire. Figure out what it is that you admire about them, put petty jealousness and all the rationalizations about how you could never be like them or do what they do out of the way, and seek to emulate what it is you admire about them.

Life is also about much more than just work and home. Of late I've almost been wondering if I should somehow switch careers, move to South Africa, and work with orphans. I've actually given this a ton of thought. Our current adoption is partially related to these ideas.

A smarter approach, though, would be to somehow find a way to use my existing strengths and professional talents in a way that would let me shift my niche to the point where I'd be a lot more effective rather than if I simply took up a vow of poverty and went out do what I could with limited means. As such, I've found that I've needed to look to other organizations and people working to promote good and effectuate actual change – so that I can see what they're doing and try to figure out ways that I can be more like them or try learn from their successes.

In the end, this means that envy can, in a weird and sort of twisted way, be a virtue.

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