It is a commonly perpetuated fallacy that Albert Einstein was a dropout—a failure at school. Yes, he didn’t do well in history, geography, and French. And off course, he detested the regimental practices of his high school in Germany. But he was exceptionally brilliant in his favorite subjects: physics and mathematics. The punch line: Albert Einstein went on to become the greatest physicist of all times.
Did Einstein fail at school? Yes, with the subjects he didn’t like. Was he an academic failure? Not really. He just identified his academic inclination early on and cared less about other subjects. He just chose physics as his niche at an early age, focused to pursue it, and made it into an enduring lifelong career. The lesson: you can’t be brilliant at everything. So narrow down to what you want to achieve and focus on it.
Whether you want to be a CEO or a technical expert should be clear to you during the first few years of your professional career. This will enable you to channel your time and energy efficiently towards your chosen career objectives. Following the footsteps of Albert Einstein, you can also choose a career niche for yourself. But first let us understand what a niche means and why is important to pick one:
A niche is a specific skill you are good at. Mostly, it is derived from your natural abilities. All living beings have some peculiar niches: plants can turn sunlight into food, photosynthesis is their niche; lions can chase down and devour gazelles, hunting is their niche. What is your niche?
Unlike animals who possess a very narrow set of skills, we humans have the luxury of being able to choose a niche from a wide variety of options. We can even polish our talents. While we can select and refine our niche, it is advisable to take this step at an early stage of your career; this will enable you to dedicate your limited personal resources: time, energy, attention etc. towards your chosen career objectives.
The following seven lessons are intended to outline the steps you can take to land on to your career niche:
Lesson One: Identify Your Passion
There is a simple rule for identifying your passion: is there some activity that makes you forget your lunch? Is there some thought that inadvertently creeps into your mind as you wake up in the morning? If yes, that activity, that thought could likely be your passion. You may have numerous passions and it often gets hard to narrow down to a few, but it is extremely important to reduce to as few as possible.
Lesson Two: Translate Your Passion into a Marketable Skill
Once you have identified your passion(s), the next step is to evaluate if one or more of them can be useful to anyone. Can you use them to solve anyone’s problems? For instance, if your passion is ticket collection, it is much likely that no one will find this useful. On the other hand, if you are passionate about computers, you may develop software to solve a problem for someone. Select a passion that could be a marketable skill.
Lesson Three: Seek Honest Feedback
You may be interested in a field and that field might have reasonable market demand, but are you good at it? Do some self-reflection. Ask some trusted fellows for candid feedback. Besides, are you willing to invest time, energy, and possibly money to hon your skills in that field?
If the answer is no, drop this and pick something else. Repeat the process until you get to a single niche you are passionate about and either you are good at it or are ready to improve upon it.
Lesson Four: Start Small and Expand Gradually
Having found a marketable skill you are good at or willing to be good at, it is time to take some practical steps. However, instead of beginning with a grandiose start up, begin with something small—small enough to be rolled up easily in case it doesn’t seem to work for you. This will reduce your risks — less risks, less nerves.
For example, you have found that you are passionate about food business and want to start a restaurant. Starting a regular restaurant would involve buying or renting a place (assuming you do not own one), purchasing stoves, utensils, crockery etc. you probably would need to hire some skilled staff as well. Add to that the administrative measures your local regulations may require. It’s just not a simple thing for a beginner.
A wiser approach in above scenario would be to start with your kitchen and start offering meals to your friends and family members. This will give you time to get feedback and improve your skills and services. Once you gain some confidence in your skills, you may expand gradually. That is how Colonel Sanders founded KFC. However, before considering expanding your passion into a career, it is useful to have a career plan.
Lesson Five: Make a Career Plan
Making a career plan involves the steps you need to achieve your goals. Your career plan should provide an outlook of the timelines for each of your steps. What resources would you need to allocate corresponding to different steps. Which of these items need to be actioned immediately? The plan should identify the support and training requirements as well.
While preparing your career plan, be mindful to keep it realistic and attainable with regards to magnitude and timelines. Most of us overestimate our abilities and/or underestimate the quantum of work involved in achieving our goals. It is imperative to keep your career goals pragmatic and as clearly defined as possible. Don’t forget to review them periodically.
Lesson Six: Stop Thinking, Start Working
A lot of people get to the stage where they have a clear understanding of their passion and how can they transform that into a marketable skill but then they stop there. They keep making plans and continue postponing them. They do not start the actual work until one day they realize that they no longer have the time and energy to pursue their dream career.
Do not let this happen to you. Once you are clear about your career niche, start working on it. Mind you, just thinking is not working!
Lesson Seven: Do Not Expect Immediate Results
While some people do start the actual work, they fail to recognize that success takes time. Our media often portrays successful people as smart people. However, a vast majority of successful people are both smart and hardworking. You may be brilliant at something, but you would still need perseverance and persistence to reach the summit. And if you are not ready to persevere, don’t even pursue a niche; you are good the way you are.