Career Search Tip: How to Locate and Harvest
Your Sweet Spots

by Nina Ham

"Sweet Spot: a place where a combination of factors suggests a particularly suitable solution or direction." (Wikipedia)

When mid-life women come to me for career search assistance, they already have a wealth of experience in the work world: a bank of skills, well-tested knowledge of work environments and structures that work or don't work for them. But what they often don't have is familiarity with what truly excites them and how to translate that into a career.

While there are many tools that offer guidance on this topic, the present discussion focuses on your daily Sweet Spots, those almost mystical moments or situations when you're "in a zone", doing whatever you're doing without effort. Learning to harvest a Sweet Spot, understanding the factors that make it effortless, can yield invaluable information about what you want to be looking for in your next career.

First, how to recognize a Sweet Spot?

"When I was looking for my dream-come-true home I had a very general sense inside of what I wanted. I went out looking and saw a number of houses that I tried to make work. The moment I walked through the front door of this house I knew it was the one. With that experience to give me confidence, I'm now at the stage of developing that "sense inside of what I want" for my dream-come-true career." SB, career-search client.

  • Clues are likely to be found in the "sense inside" a combination of physical and emotional feelings and thoughts.

  • Look for an intuitive "sense of rightness" about what you're doing. You're exactly where you want to be. You have no temptation to persuade yourself, one way or another, about the rightness.

  • When in a sweet spot you may feel tireless, energized, inspired, or confirmed ("this is what I'm about"). You may lose track of time.

  • Sweet Spots are often accompanied by a sense of discovery or surprise: "Wow, look what I've just gotten done!" Or, "I don't know how I did that so quickly!"

  • You may be exerting effort but you don't get drained.

  • Confidence, satisfaction and ease frequently accompany.

  • Creativity flows.

  • Failure, frustration, or disappointment, if it occurs, becomes grist for learning rather than a deal-breaker.

Second, how to interpret a Sweet Spot?

"I know how to create interesting opportunities and I know how to take advantage of them. But how do I know whether any one of those opportunities is what I really want to be doing?" MD, another career-search client.

Now that you have some facility in recognizing a Sweet Spot, you're able to engage your analytic mind and ask yourself some questions about it. Generally this will be afterwards, as you look back. However, the closer to the experience, the more fine-tuned your answers can be.

The questions:

What were the personal qualities that were tapped or activated while you were "in the zone"? Values? Strengths? Be as specific as possible. For instance, "helping people in need": what type of people? what type of need? providing help directly or indirectly? with services? with resources?

What other times have you been in a similar zone? Include both your personal and work life. What generalizations can you draw, about what you were doing or the parts of yourself that were engaged?

Was there some stretching of yourself involved, some type of challenge to be met? Was the stretch in the direction of being more of who you want to become? In what respect?

Look for instances (different from Sweet Spots) where you were resentful, or felt drained by what you were doing. What was missing? What wasn't getting satisfied? What could have made it different? Resentments often point the way to something we want that we may not even know we want.

Cultivate curiosity and open-mindedness! The answers to some of these questions may surprise you with a new perspective on yourself that doesn't easily jive with what you thought was true. To the extent possible, welcome this and see where it takes you.

Now that you've harvested the information from your sweet spots - data on when and how you work at your effortless best how to put it to work for your career search? Some data may point the way easily; for instance, "I work effortlessly when I'm helping disenfranchised people discover new resources." Another approach, if the carryover is less obvious, is storytelling: Develop a story based on two or three Sweet Spot experiences and construct a career that incorporates them. Remember that stories don't have to be limited by reality; their value is often in elucidating what might be possible. Here's an article on storytelling in career search that may be useful: www.quintcareers.com/story_of_ideal_career.html .

You may feel it's a good investment to employ the services of a career professional to help identify where and how to incorporate your sweet spot findings into your career search. For many people, having work that provides those "in the zone" moments, moments of total engagement with what they're doing, is a dream come true and worth whatever it takes to create.


Nina Ham, certified career coach and licensed psychotherapist, is Principal of Success from the Inside Out. Her company assists midlife professional women to define and create personally meaningful work and craft strategic career development plans. Nina is also Designer and Master Facilitator of Success and Me: A Game of Self Discovery, a facilitated game designed to guide people to their uniquely personal visions of success. Learn more about the Success Game at www.SuccessandMeGame.com. Subscribe to Nina's free bi-monthly e-zine containing practical and gently humorous carrer search tips at www.successfromtheinsideout.com/library.html and get answers to "Is Your Work Working for You?" You'll also get Compasspoint, a personal coaching tool to help you clarify your choices and point you in the right direction.

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Copyright 2007 by Nina Ham. All rights reserved.

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