The Highlands Company Blog

Your Family of Origin and Developing Your Career Observing Ego (COE)

family tree workshop activity

Awhile back, I had the opportunity to teach two graduate level summer courses. I taught the same personal and career development course to two different sections on alternating days. The students (26-53 years old) sorted out their abilities, skills, interests and the rest of the eight factors in the Highlands Whole Person Model, as well as where their career had been and where they wanted it to go.

The course was for working adults in Human Resources and Organizational Development, and the course objective was for each student to develop a Career Observing Ego (COE); the ability to envision their career unfolding into their future guided by their emerging Career and Life Vision.

What Is an Observing Career Ego?

Essentially, Observing Ego is the process through which you can monitor yourself in real time. This is an essential part of making changes to your thoughts, your behaviors, and ultimately, your life. It is a mechanism that is used metaphorically to reduce automatic, reflexive reactions.

Career Observing Ego, in my mind, is the refinement of this process by adding clarity of thinking and of feeling at a meta-level to your everyday work/job/career experiences. Only by observing what you are doing in the present can you make conscious and deliberate choices that will lead to the fulfillment of your emerging Career and Life Vision.

I find that many of us are stunted in the development of our Observing Career Ego as we keep our noses to the grindstone or fill our day with multiple irrelevancies that distract us from understanding our experiences and translating them into somewhat meaningful and useful pieces of information about ourselves. Observing Career Ego development is not simply an internal process but is based in transactions with others, the world around us, as well as quiet reflection.

It is action and inaction, engagement and withdrawal. It is focused and unfocused thought and behavior. It is tackling a blank sheet of paper or electronic screen and letting yourself go into some yet undetermined direction that eventually yields some fruit. Some of that fruit may need ripening or may need to be discarded, but it has stimulated you nonetheless.

It is observing yourself in the world of work that reinforces and/or provides corrective feedback to align with your Career Vision!

A COE Example from Family Genograms

family tree workshop activityAll the students in the above-mentioned class were asked to interview family members and develop a genogram that went back at least three generations. This is usually a powerful exercise as participants garner many insights into choices, explore options family members took, as well as the legacy of the family including its trajectory into the future.

Monica, a 28-year-old woman in that class, was apprehensive to call and discuss this with her long-estranged father. Upon interviewing her mother, the mother told her that if she wanted to find out a bit about her dad’s family, she should read a book. She then proceeded to pull a slim volume from the shelf and hand it to Monica.

It turns out Monica’s paternal grandfather wrote the book, which is a complete history of her paternal side going back generations! Monica was amazed at the number of distinguished-looking relatives whose photos looked up at her from the pages, many of whom were descendants of slaves and farmers and in the early part of the last century moved into roles of doctors, and lawyers. She was amazed at the prominence of her father’s family in the Boston area. She had little idea!

With this knowledge, she approached the interview with her dad with a different mind frame. Monica came to the realization that she had much in common with her dad including a quick, sharply critical mind, a strong love of words, and an observational sense of the absurd. (Interestingly, her own clarity of her talents had been accentuated by having already delved into her Highlands Ability Battery feedback as well as her Skills and Interests.)

Her Career Observing Ego had moved to a new level of complexity. She realized there was much more information to be mined! A cutoff had become another road. Now choices that she hadn’t considered before became possibilities.