(I wrote this piece after I gave a talk to college students on How to Find Your Niche in an Ever Changing World. This was first published at The Philippine Online Chronicles on April 15, 2011 as Powered by Passion:Finding Your Workplace Niche.)
In an ever changing environment like ours, how can one ensure personal success? Should we constantly change and shift gears just because trends and economies are changing fast? Change is good but we don’t necessarily need to change everything about us in order to succeed. I strongly believe that finding one’s niche is like having an anchor. It helps one resist the changing tides when you think that these tides would not bring you to your desired destination. But, before I discuss how you can find your niche, let me first define what a niche is. A niche is your unique contribution based on your natural talents, passion and skill. It is the kind of employment, work or mission that best suits you.
Why is it important for us to find our niche in this world? There are four reasons which make it valuable for us to discover our niche. First, your niche is where you can give your best offering. You may be good in doing a number of things. But your niche is what you do best. Second, it is where you are happiest working out your skills and talents. Again, you may be capable of doing a number of tasks well but it doesn’t follow that you are happy when you perform those tasks. Third, it is where you are most likely to excel and be recognized. This is where you get compliments and people value what you contribute. Fourth, it’s your perfect fit. It’s like finding the best running shoes for you so that when you use it, you can run the fastest and farthest with very little or no discomfort at all.
How do you find your niche? There are four steps.
1. Make an inventory of your skills. Know where you’re good at. Recall your past accomplishments and successes. Pay attention to the comments or compliments given by others. Then, make a list based on these – personal knowledge, past accomplishments and feedback from others. From there, you can rank your skills according to your level of competence.
2. Discover your passion. Once you have made a list of your skills, rank them according to your passion. Which one would you love to do more often? Which one would you love to do all the time? Discover what you really love to do. What do you enjoy most doing? What would you still choose to do even if you don’t get paid doing it? I like the book Follow Your Heart by Andrew Matthews. It has inspired me personally to pursue my passions — training and writing — at a time when I hardly had any experience or knowledge in doing these things. It has empowered me to improve my skills on training and writing and eventually build a career based on these two. This book moved me to make a career shift and pursue what I’ve wanted to do for the longest time. It gave me courage to believe that as I get better in doing my passion, people would eventually notice my work and would be willing to pay for my services. I followed my heart (in the words of Andrew Matthews) and found myself achieving my goals in my chosen field. Ideally, the skills you are most proficient in should also be your passion. Or, you are skilled in the things you are passionate about. Now, what do you do when you discover that things are short of the ideal? You need to be true to yourself. Acknowledge where your real strengths and weaknesses are. Be realistic. Aim high based on your potential; however, be willing to accept your limitations as well.
3. Define Your Target Market. After you’ve found out where your passion lies, you need to define your target market. Your target market is the industry or employer who needs your competence, who can and is willing to pay for your services/product. You need to answer some key questions like in which industry/job can you apply your best offer? In what industry/field would you like to work and build a career? There are many industries you can choose from. Knowing yourself, your specific goals and the nature of the industries you are interested to go into would help you make the best choice. What job would you be passionate to take on? There are many kinds of jobs you can take on for example when you are gifted in communication and that’s your passion. Do you already have specific target employers in mind? Find out the basic requirements for the job and company you’re interested in. What job and industry best suits your personality? Your health/physical make-up? Your lifestyle? Your beliefs? Your personal goals? Studying your options carefully would save you time and money. It will also save you from heartaches. For example, you like your job very much yet the company you work for has some practices that violate your personal values. That can be very stressful to say the least. Thus, it really pays to investigate and weigh the different factors that you need to consider in choosing where you’d like to work and build your career. I’d like to share Stephen Covey’s Whole Person Paradigm from the 8th Habit. He says that each individual is made up of a body, mind, heart and spirit. Thus, each person has a need to live, to learn, to love and live a legacy. I highly recommend that you consider these four needs in planning your career so as to experience balance and to achieve long term success not just in your career but in your life as a whole.
4. Hone Your Skills Continuously. Lastly, make sure that you never stop learning. Practice, practice, practice! Study how you can get better at what you love to do. You also need to ask yourself questions like am I prepared for the jobs I am eyeing for? Am I prepared for stiff competition in this field? If there is a gap between my current skills and passion, do I have enough time to train for readiness? Do I have enough resources (like money, mentor or training) to help me prepare for this future job I want? To discover one’s passion is just one step. Getting people to notice that you’re very good or the best in your chosen field should be your objective. It will not happen without challenges, sacrifices, hardwork and perseverance. Give your best at every opportunity and strive to do things better next time. In that way, your customers (be it your employer or clients) will soon recognize your value. Before you know it, you have carved your niche and established a name for yourself in the field you are most happy to spend your precious hours on.
So before you send out your curriculum vitae indiscriminately or apply for a job that is popular and high-paying, choose to go through these steps. Don’t jump blindly into something you have not studied thoroughly. Time is precious. Be wise. I guarantee that you will not regret going through this exercise. You will not only end up more confident about your talents and skills, you will more importantly have a clearer vision of your future amidst rapidly changing times.