Rambling Through the Thicket of Professional Callings
One day, I woke up with the realization: This is my life. I asked myself: Am I doing what I love? Am I faithful to my professional callings, personal callings, and family and friends?
For those who may know me, I tend to take most of my energy and place it in one bucket: work. In many ways, this is great. I have gathered a lot of expertise in many areas; I am highly efficient and can be counted on as a valuable contributor and resource in various circumstances. But the real question I recently asked is: Am I doing what I love? And, do I love what I am doing? Am I trailblazing a path that I set out for myself when I was younger and had envisioned the ‘adult’ version of myself?
As part of this reflection, I realized that I knew my professional field exceptionally well. So well that I didn’t readily see a path forward. I knew that I needed to pause and to think deeply about myself and my future.
I had traversed a complex landscape over the last year: a global pandemic, remote work, strong feelings about a national landscape in which critical issues such as public health, civic discourse, and racial equity seemed not to have advanced to the place where I wanted them to be. I became aware that there is so much to do and so little time.
I already knew that I wanted my path forward to be grounded in my ethics and values. As one of my heroes Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation, often notes in his statements: “Speak truth to power.”
While I like to listen to my gut, I also enjoy learning from my friends and colleagues. I’m grateful to my many mentors, colleagues, and friends for helping me over the years. It was with these thoughts moving through my mind that I chose to reach out directly to network with the question: “What should I really be doing?”
It was through a series of conversations and perhaps a few strident tears along the way that I found a way forward.
He challenged me to consider what my professional life would look like if I shifted my focus away from my zones of competence and excellence toward moving into my “zone of genius.”
I realized that I was doing things that were very comfortable for me in my zones of competence and excellence and where I was already an expert. There was nothing wrong with that, although I had a sense that I could be doing more. I started asking myself where I could go in my career to advance beyond the continuum of my zones of competence and excellence, and instead grow into a place where I may not always be comfortable, but where I will consistently embrace my foundational values and push myself beyond my own boundaries. A place where I can experience great joy!
As a lifelong running enthusiast, my mind shifted to trail running. Is there a (metaphorical) trail that I can run in my professional life full of adventure and challenge, one that I’ve not run before? A race during which I can derive great joy and satisfaction?
In time, the answer came. I chose to assume some new responsibilities at Dartmouth College, which will grow me in unexpected ways into new areas of service about which I am deeply passionate.
If you are at a similar crossroads in your career, I hope you will join me in exploring your path to your Zone of Genius.
Kate Norton is Executive Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations and Special Fundraising Initiatives at Dartmouth College. She works across Dartmouth to advance new philanthropic initiatives relating to energy and environment; diversity, equity, inclusion; and other areas of deep importance to society. She is an alumna of the University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth College, and the Stanford LEAD program. She loves running, hiking, and gardening with her family, two children, and dogs in NH.