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What’s your career spirit animal?

Whether you're a curious, energetic puppy or the wise owl, everyone has a career spirit animal, writes Julie Winkle Giulioni. What's yours?

5 min read


spirit animal

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I recently participated in a panel discussion with several executives about careers and career development following a keynote speech I delivered during career week in their organization. When asked about their philosophy of growth, one panelist shared what he’d heard shortly after joining the organization: “Here, you’ll tend to be either a monkey or a cat.”

He went on to explain that the ‘monkey’ archetype tends to swing from tree to tree, opportunity to opportunity, moving around the organization and trying different experiences, whereas the ‘cat’ tends to find that comfortable spot and curl up for a while.

The comment got me thinking about how unconsciously many of us move through our careers, doing what feels most comfortable, frequently without recognizing or ever challenging our natural patterns. Might career spirit animals offer a helpful metaphor and a novel way to understand and more deliberately advance one’s goals and objectives?

So, here’s a tour of the career development zoo and the many different breeds of behaviors and patterns that I’ve seen most frequently over the past two decades, as well as strategies that anyone can implement to experience more of what they want – in terms of growth and career success.

The Monkey: Agile and adaptable

Monkeys swing from tree to tree and opportunity to opportunity, showcasing agility and adaptability as they curate the experiences and challenges they need. They thrive on variety. And while they may not know where they’ll land next, they usually are in arm’s reach of a vine that will take them there. 

Want to lean into this archetype? You can:

  • Say ‘yes’ more frequently so you can be exposed to and enjoy more new experiences.
  • Network broadly across – and even outside – the organization.
  • Find cross-functional opportunities to engage with others, learn more about the organization and begin scoping out your next opportunity.

The Woodpecker: Diligent and persistent

Woodpeckers are known for their relentless effort and determination. The hardest wood is no match for their laser-like focus and willingness to keep chipping away. This kind of resolve and grit can be an enormous asset when building skills, a reputation and a career. 

Want to channel your inner woodpecker? Try this:

  • Establish meaningful goals – goals that genuinely interest you – and revisit them on a regular basis.
  • Develop the routines and habits required for the kind of sustained attention necessary for the long haul.
  • Celebrate progress so you maintain high levels of motivation over time.

The Spider: Strategic web-weaver

Spiders quietly build intricate networks of support over time. They are connectors, nurturing strong professional relationships and building community. These webs catch career opportunities just as a spider’s web catches its prey. They also offer a sometimes invisible yet strong safety net when necessary. 

You can be more spider-like with strategies like these:

  • Take the time and commit to investing in relationships – both inside and outside the organization.
  • Consciously build your professional network by engaging in relevant groups and attending relevant events.
  • Offer help (and don’t forget that asking for help when necessary is a powerful albeit counterintuitive connection-building strategy).

The Owl: Wise and knowledgeable

Owls have traditionally symbolized wisdom and the pursuit of knowledge. In today’s fast-changing business landscape, career success, in many cases, depends upon the commitment to continuous learning and skills development that owls naturally bring to their work. 

You can be one hoo (sorry, I couldn’t help myself!) who thrives through deepening knowledge and know-how when you:

  • Take ownership in seeking out the training, feedback, coaching and resources you need to grow.
  • Stop wondering about things and research what you might not know; answers are rarely further than a click away.
  • Commit to conclude each experience by reflecting upon and identifying at least one helpful insight or learning.

The Puppy: Curious and energetic

Puppies are known for their curiosity, creativity and boundless energy – all of which can be significant career development assets. They approach challenges and activities with enthusiasm and without a lot of preconceived notions that might limit their open-mindedness. 

Here’s how you can tap these qualities (so your career doesn’t ‘go to the dogs’):

  • Ask a lot more questions and listen ferociously.
  • Adopt a beginner’s mindset and channel the feelings of excitement and enthusiasm that naturally come when things are new.
  • Experiment, try things, think and act outside of the box and don’t take setbacks and mistakes too seriously. 

The Bee: Purpose-driven and collaborative

Bees work collaboratively for the success of the hive. And anyone who’d been part of a highly effective team knows the joy of this sort of bee-like effort. Those who intentionally contribute to teamwork and a broader purpose can achieve personal satisfaction, growth and success in their careers. 

So can you when you:

  • Connect the dots by consciously aligning the work you do with your organization’s or department’s vision and mission.
  • Find ways to actively support those around you, make their work easier or lighten their load.
  • Offer generous and frequent feedback, recognition and appreciation for the efforts of those around you. 

In the zoo that is today’s workplace, we need all these different animals. Throughout your career, you’ll likely find yourself morphing among them, taking advantage of their unique qualities and advantages during various seasons of your working life.

So, what’s your career spirit animal today? Identify it. Embrace it. Go wild as you allow it to facilitate the career experience that’s calling to you.

Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.


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