How Experimentation & Shadowing Can Enhance Your Career
When I first started out in corporate America, I was a test designer, and over time, I was depressed in that position. I had an opportunity to moonlight as a consultant for a company trip for a few days, and I fell in love with the work. I saw that I could have a great deal of success in that role, and I decided to set my sights on transitioning from test designing to consulting.
However, management didn’t think I was ready for that particular role, so they discouraged me from pursuing that path.
I didn’t want to give up, though. I had an acquaintance within the company who was a consultant, so I reached out to her and asked if I could shadow her to see how she did her job day to day. She said sure, and I was off and running.
Each day, I got to work at eight o’clock and I knocked out all of my work by lunchtime. With my work done, I spent my afternoons at her desk, working on figuring out what she did and how she did it. Day by day, I learned basically how to do the job that management was saying I wasn’t ready to do. That period of shadowing totally changed my career. It essentially cracked open and stuck my foot into a door that had been closed.
There are various points in one’s career where experimentation and shadowing can be hugely beneficial. Many people complete internships while they’re still in college. Internships are a form of experimentation — they’re a way to enter a workplace and observe a field of work from the inside. During an internship, you can size up whether or not a field feels right to you. You can see what people who do that job each day do, you can talk to people who are in the position you think you want to someday be in, and you can decide whether or not what you thought you want to pursue is really what you want to pursue.
A lot of people only think about that level of experimentation and exploration in college, though. What this line of thinking fails to recognize is how valuable experimentation can be at all stages of your career. You may think you want a specific promotion, or you may thank you want to transfer to a different line of work. Or perhaps you have an idea about someone else’s success, and you’re hoping that you can get that type of success yourself. All of these concepts can be explored first hand through shadowing.
Shadowing shares some qualities with internships — mainly, it gives you a front row seat to someone else’s day to day. Unlike an internship, you’re unlikely to be given responsibilities while shadowing. Instead, the purpose is for you to observe firsthand another person’s job, successes, or habits.
Shadowing has several benefits:
It removes the possibility of failure. You’re not testing yourself. You’re testing the effectiveness of an idea, possibly someone else’s idea. Your ego is safe.
You’re actively attempting to enhance your life. You have a goal and a plan to achieve it. You’re taking action.
You judge the results and then seek to find an even better way. What could be more effective than this?
Enjoy the process of discovery:
1. Choose a theory or two that you’d like to test. Do you have a theory that a particular job other than your own would bring you the fulfillment you’ve been searching for? Or do you believe that someone else is inherently more successful than you, and you want to find out why? Pick something you want to explore, and get curious about it.
2. Learn what you need to know. Be clear with yourself about what is you want to find out. It’ll help you align yourself best to explore the situation for answers to those questions. For example, maybe you’re curious to find out:
- What are the day to day responsibilities of a person who works in a particular department?
- What type of independent work does a person with a particular position do? Who does he or she report to? What type of management or oversight is involved?
- What does this person who is already successful in the path you want to take do every day? What habits does he or she have that make him or her a successful person?
3. Get into it. Find someone you can observe or find another way that you might be able to engage in the real life day to day details that you’re hoping to discover. Go in curious and don’t try to editorialize what’s happening around you. See everything that’s happening as fast — analyze them later.
4. Evaluate your data and formulate a conclusion. What did you learn? What about what you discovered sat well with you, or what gave you pause.
5. Consider the next step. What do you want to do next? Do you want to continue down the same path or did this form of experimentation make you want to run for the hills?
With something as big as where you want to go next in your career, there’s no reason to go into something blindly. Get yourself into experiences that can serve as experiments. You can find out definitively what does and doesn’t work for you. Imagine all the incredible changes you could make if you made them mindfully!