Please, mind the maps
This weekend I was giving some thought of the random assortment of skills I’ve collected throughout my career, which I realised has reached the lovely milestone of 20 years.
I haven’t been in one single industry or path for this whole time.
At times, I think that's me not wanting to commit to things, and I get all anxious and wondering what the heck I’m doing with my life. But most of the time, I see it for what it really is: I can become interested on nearly anything, and I enjoy learning.
If I could pick a profession, I would love to be a Researcher, but without a specific field of research. Since that is not a thing, I learned to put each set of skills I acquire to good use in the different industries I’ve been on.
There is something to learn from anything we do, and that’s not just a cute saying to make you feel better when you fail. The valuable stuff is there, as long as you can focus on it.
I have one example which is happening to me right now and is what prompted me to think this way: right now, as a manager, the core of my job is communicating. Be it with my team, with customers, with senior management or other departments. There's a lot of other stuff, but it all works best when I'm able to communicate clearly and establish relationships that are based on mutual understanding. I had never considered how much of my ability to communicate comes from my past in journalism and marketing. As much as I want to believe that part of my life is over, it lives on through the work I do whenever I reach other people or need to share a vision, motivate someone. Formally acknowledging that helped develop my confidence in my work, it gave me the base for saying to others "I know what I'm doing and here's why".
Once I realised that, I actually went back to dig some skills that were buried some three careers ago. I revived stuff I learned in school and things I learned while working with other journalists and editors. I looked at it from a different perspective and repurposed the stuff to fit the new objectives I have as a Customer Service manager. And I connected them to things I learned recently, which made them all the more powerful. As the philosopher once said and Rodgers & Hammerstein so beautifully composed, nothing comes from nothing. If I can do these things today, it's because at some stage I learned them. Nothing magical about abilities, they are honed.
It sounds obvious when you say it out loud, but it's easy to forget that these learnings happen and that we should be adding arrows to our quiver, not completely replacing one set for the other. I have seen my share of people who have skills that they simply ignore when it's time to move forward that I thought it deserved bringing it up.
Especially when you've had experiences that don't seem to be connected at first, building the mind map can help you see these connections, it can help you repurpose something you've learned years before and you never thought would ever be useful.
You could just make a list of your skills. And it does work. So why bother with a mind map?
It's worth using a mind map because it allows you to put your thoughts in a visual form that can make it much more obvious what you have to offer, especially when you're working in tech, where the tools and the requirements change so quickly that you may forget the valuable things you've accumulated over the years because the focus is in the shiny new stuff. Today it's Social Media Management, tomorrow it might be Self-driving Car-Directed Marketing, who knows? You may be already equipped for tomorrow's job market, but to determine that, you must know what skills you have.
PS: if you want a nice little tool to build your mind maps (like the one in this post), I recommend Canva.com. It's beautiful and free for the most part. I get nothing for recommending them, believe me. I just really love the tool.