Maika co-leads Gallup's "Called to Coach" webcast.
"Maika, what kinds of work do you like best?" my Go To asked.
"Anything you need. I'll take it," I responded cheerfully.
"OK, but what do you love to do?" He pushed.
"All of it," I said, honestly slightly confused at the question.
"Maika, what projects bring you the most satisfaction? When do you lose track of time? How do you create the best outcomes? What do you do with ease, excellence and enjoyment?"
Questions like this helped me narrow down not only what I could do, but what I was made to do at a world-class level. It meant I would have to say no to some ways of working; turn down projects that might be good but wouldn't be the best. I had to learn not just to say yes but what my best yes truly was.
I may have just celebrated 10 years with a single employer, but to say I've had the same job for a decade couldn't be further from the truth.
When I first started, I said yes to just about everything. Need me to travel at a moment's notice? Sure. Work on a turnaround client with management challenges no one has imagined? Absolutely. Take on a well-defined project with clear rules and guidelines? You betcha. Saying yes to every way of working, every partnership and every assignment served me well early in my career.
When my husband's job required us to move overseas, saying yes allowed me to find ways to keep working for Gallup in Europe and the Middle East. While my tendency to adapt to anything that was asked did lead me on some great adventures, it wasn't adding up to much of a specialization.
In hindsight, I realize I was trying to be good at everything at the cost of never being truly great at something. Thankfully, I had a baby, and suddenly the job that required 75% travel was no longer within my ability to take on.
After returning from maternity leave, I had a great Go To who believed in two things: talent and me. I remember one of our first conversations about how to navigate my role and new motherhood. He helped me become more selective about work I took on, encouraging not only to like what I did, but also to feel it was an excellent use of my time -- projects that really played to my unique talents and contributions."
For me, that meant focusing on projects that gave me a sense of mission -- partnerships that I could contribute my communication expertise and knowledge of specific products but not necessarily be responsible for sales or details. It also meant starting projects that never had been done before --assignments that still honored my best talents but didn't require me to sleep away from home each week.
Not only was I navigating away from areas of weakness, but I was also aiming toward very practical alignment with my lifestyle. I learned the best environment for my talent is one with an audience, a quick turnaround, careful connection to serving a community and not missing more than two bedtimes in a row.
Some of this may change. I look forward to the day when I can offer more of myself to my career, but right now, there are boundaries defined by the challenge to be great at work and present in my daily personal life.
Without strong partnerships and collaboration, this idea of crafting a tailor-fitted job is only a philosophy, not a practice. Not only do I have to be an active agent for my own strengths by strategically saying yes and no, but I also have to be the first person to raise my hand and ask for help. In my strongest alliances at work, we have open conversations about what each person brings to the project. We stay in close contact and remind each other when we are trying to do it all alone instead of being stronger together. This kind of collaboration creates more reliable service for our clients. And, for me, it's more challenging and enjoyable.
There's a huge responsibility that comes with working in a place that embraces talent. It means you have to know what your strengths are but also how to highlight them. You have to pay attention to your successes and learn from your failures because both are important clues to performance. You have to own the responsibility to create that environment, but I'm up for it. Ten years of grabbing the opportunity to contribute my strengths in places they're truly needed have gone by all too quickly, and my future decades are sure to only accelerate.
If you're going to contribute something, it might as well be your very best.