As a boy growing up in western Pennsylvania, I was taught from early childhood that the center of human history could be found at the confluence of three rivers – The Monongahela, The Allegheny, and The Ohio – otherwise known as Pittsburgh. Combined with a clear devotional focus on “The Steelers,” this orientation did make us “locals” believe that it was destiny in the years when the Steelers, the Pirates and the Penguins won championships. There were even two years when two of the teams won their respective championships in the same year!
This orientation to look at things in “threes” amplified during my theological studies. In a class called “hermeneutics,” the focus was on how to create, prepare and deliver an effective sermon. One of the first lessons was that all good sermons had three key points. While it was suggested that this structure was to mirror and emphasize the Trinity, I had a sneaking suspicion that the professor might have been a member of the “Steeler Nation.”
With all that said, over the past few months I found myself in a number of conversations in which I kept referring to a simple “three-part” model. These discussions were generally with folks trying to gain clarity on their next career move, though they ranged from a company president to someone who has been out of the work force for years. Regardless of their backgrounds, these people seemed to find this three-step approach helpful. It centered around the concepts of:
When I’m working with people who are trying to consider professional alternatives, I try to help them find the confluence of the three factors above. The process begins by pulling out three sheets of paper, one for skills, one for experiences, one for passions. Then, on each sheet, write the details for each category and rank them from high to low. Finally, take the “highs” from each list and lay them out on a single sheet. I have had some clients use a pyramid, a triangle, or a three dimensional graph for this step. It works just as well to lay them out on a sheet and use them as a tool in making decisions.
If an individual is deciding between a number of roles, he or she may use the list to see which role maximizes the confluence of the three lists. If an individual is brainstorming possibilities, I help him or her imagine roles (or industries, companies, etc.) that would be a good combination of all three elements. There have been moments across my career where I came close to making very bad decisions based on thinking about only two of the three factors. As I was heading out of grad school, I had the enviable situation of having to decide between three very different job offers. One was for a role in the marketing research department of a large food company. I had tutored econometrics and statistics in grad school, so there was a good fit for skills. I had worked part-time in the marketing research department of a company while at grad school, thus my experience was solid. The trouble was that my passion for the work was a zero. I was good at it and I hated it! Thank goodness I had enough sense at that time to NOT take that job, but to take a role where my skills, experiences, and my passions ALL could be brought to bear.
As you face moments in your career or life when trying to make decisions about your next role or opportunity, think back to the confluence of those three rivers and try to find your best three-fold confluence.