Searching for the Niche

I was conversing with a friend about how careers unfold over time and the subject of finding your niche entered the thread.

In high school, guidance counselors were poised to help us find our career interests.  Some kids knew right away, others didn’t.  Sometimes we had an idea of the direction, but not the precise destination.

Years roll by and we have been reasonably successful, changing jobs a time or two, but staying within a career field.  Others stayed in the same career, and still others moved from field to field, but did well enough to consider the journey a success.

I think back to a test the counselor gave identifying career interests.   This wasn’t an aptitude test, rather through a set of questions it put you in some sort of career bucket. Teacher, doctor, engineer, accountant, white-collar criminal, sales, etc. My interests were diverse or very specific, so my score put me in Region 99 – Undetermined.  There was not a pigeonhole for me.

I was fortunate to have gone to college when it was actually affordable, and I came away with no student debt or misdemeanor/felony arrests. I am most proud of the latter.

College, not only educates you, but launches you into the employment universe. But how accurate are the launch coordinates?  There are a million stars in the heavens; which one is yours?

Let’s say you graduate with a degree in business, do you go into management?  Sales? Training? Human Resources?  Risk Management? Day trading? Wealth management? Business development?  There are all kinds of options, some you won’t hear about for years, because they aren’t careers yet. Perhaps your parents are just happy that someone is interested in hiring you.

Let’s take another degree: engineering.  Civil engineering to be precise.  Do you go to work in the private sector or the public sector?  Do you build roads? Traffic systems? Water or wastewater system?  Bridge engineering?  Material testing?  Or other specialty.  Do you like design or project management or do you want to manage other engineers or develop business (sales)?  You might not know until you have tried several of these and been in the field for a decade.  Maybe you want to teach and develop future engineers.

The point is, even if you know the career field, there are many different trails. People pick different ones for different reasons, and switch from one to another during their careers. As we grow, new paths emerge, our interests change and opportunities come and go. There is challenge, reward and fit.  We consider all of these factors. It takes a  while to find your niche even if you are shopping in the right aisle.

According to a January 2018 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average person changes jobs ten to fifteen times (with an average of 12 job changes) during his or her career.

Many of us also move around in our careers in search of our niche. Niche. It sounds sophisticated, so count me in, whatever it means. Niche, almost sounds like Nietzsche, the existentialist philosopher, so as a niche searcher you are on an existential journey into your own existence. Far out, man.

An online definition search defined niche as: a job or position that is very suitable for someone, especially one that they like.

Or, a shallow recess.  Still could be true.

Recent surveys show that most Americans are at least somewhat happy with their jobs.  There are many variables to the happiness scale.  Enjoying your work could mean it is your niche.  Investing in your career, undertaking challenges and not pursuing other options are commitments – at least confirming that you are staying on the current path for a while. Many people build lives on such a path.

However, we may find that deep down, what we really enjoy, and become good at, are unrelated to our education or work experience. I don’t mean someone who wants to do fantasy football for a living.  Ever known someone who switched careers, either because they saw an opportunity or circumstances forced them, and discovered something very rewarding?  I have known a number of people who unexpectedly found a deeply rewarding path, their niche.  Could your niche job make you a million dollars?  Wouldn’t that be nice.  A niche could be a specialty, something you are good at but others aren’t, and there is a big demand for your service or product.

A niche makes you feel good. It provides ownership of your efforts, and the outcome.  The quality and impact of the result matter – to you.  The niche is a reflection of who you are and your strengths. Your niche may be a skill, but also a commitment to service. It isn’t just that you are good. You do good.

A few examples of people who I believe found their niche:

  • My sister fell into becoming a property manager for our family property.  This was not her niche.  Within two years, she had conquered a myriad of building and financial challenges and tasks that she had no prior experience.  Her niche was organizing and problem-solving.  With those skills, you can do anything.
  • A relative is dandy, handy-man.  I seriously doubt there is any mechanical or woodworking challenge that he can’t solve. He has not only worked on my house but he has assisted my sister with property issues.  He’s detail-oriented and plans his work, but he won’t quit until it is just the way he visualizes it.  He never seems flustered and he can creatively find a solution because he visualizes what the result should be, and finds a way to achieve it.  He never asks for much money, he certainly puts more time into projects than he is paid.  I believe he gets as much delight as the customer.
  • My pharmacist is amazing.  She is extremely knowledgeable, that’s a given, but she’s incredibly thorough.  She pre-works with the insurance company to cut through the process and alerts me to helpful things.  She knows her customers, which gives me the comfort of knowing she cares about my health.  Even when she is not there, I know I’m in good hands with her staff.  One of the things I notice about someone in their niche, if they are in service, they pick up on an energy from someone having a great experience.  You almost feel the electricity in the air.

Your niche can be many things.  It is sometimes creative, sometimes technical, it is usually responsive, it is caring and it is honest. It’s the perfect fit.

So, on your existential journey have you found your Nietzsche?

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