Elizabeth’s Situation: I’m not quite unhappily employed, but I’m not really enjoying my work anymore and it’s affecting my attitude. I’d love to do something that’s a little more creative and flexible.
Elizabeth’s Question: How do you determine your best skills and apply those skills to making a career out of what you love? I don’t have a vision of what I want next – I can’t seem to get from A to Z.
Julia’s Answer: I love this question because I’ve been there. It can be frustrating when you have a lot of interests but no real plan besides “I want something that’s not this.”
My recommendations combine some key mindset shifts with a couple of practical action steps:
- Scale down your vision.
- Identify a few directions to investigate.
- Get out of your head and into the real world.
- Stay curious!
Let’s go over each one.
Think A to B, not A to Z.
The process of figuring out what you’d like to do with your life is just that – a process. It’s not something that you can plan out in detail, because you just don’t have all the information you need when you’re starting out. Instead of a question with a simple answer, it’s more like a series of experiments that get you gradually closer to a solution.
Some people find it quite stressful that they can’t see and control the entire process. But if you look at it another way, you only have to see as far as the next step. The information you get from that step will help you figure out the one after that. When you let go of needing to know how everything’s going to turn out in advance, you may be surprised at how fun and exciting this time can be. Think of it like solving a puzzle or a mystery, if that helps.
It’s a little bit like being in a dark room with a flashlight. You can’t see the whole room, but you can see just enough to navigate and hopefully not run into anything. In this case, your “flashlight” is the information you gather as you explore different directions.
Investigating Your Options and Conquering the Lure of Limbo
First off, I want to talk about an issue I see a lot of people struggling with, and one I had to deal with before I could move forward on my own career journey: the lure of limbo.
This is the idea that committing to one direction rules out all others. What if you pick the wrong one? What if you’re missing out on the right one? Maybe you should just stay where you are until you know for sure.
It’s a bit like standing in a hallway where every door leads to a potential future – choosing one door means leaving the rest of your options behind. This mindset can keep you paralyzed for a very long time.
As you probably already know, there’s no One Right Answer for what you should do with your life. There are lots of potential paths that could work out well for you, and all you have to do is find one of them. That takes a lot of the pressure off, doesn’t it?
Now that you’re a little more open to exploring some options, let’s talk about how to choose which ones to look at.
Ask Yourself: Who Are You Jealous Of?
I love this question because it’s so good at uncovering hidden desires. Jealousy is just the feeling of wanting something paired with the thought that you can’t have it. If you’re feeling as directionless as Elizabeth, this question might give you some new insights.
In her case, she mentioned two people: a local bistro owner and a fitness coach. We talked about some of the reasons that she was attracted to those lifestyles. Some of her reasons were fairly concrete, like a shared love of cooking or being outside. Others were more abstract, like creating something for others to enjoy or having a flexible schedule.
Elizabeth could take her exploration in a couple of different directions from here. She could either find out what it’s like to actually do those jobs, or she could identify some common themes and see what other career paths might include those elements (this is what we do in our coaching programs, by the way).
Now she needed to get ready for the next step: taking this information to the real world.
Get Out of Your Head!
Elizabeth was getting stuck because she was trying to dream her way to her next career. Dreaming has its place – I love dreaming! But she’d gotten as far as she could from the inside of her head. At some point you have to take your dreams for a test drive.
Start talking to people who are doing cool and interesting things. What path did they take to get there? What challenges did they face along the way? What do they wish they’d known when they started out? People love talking about themselves, and few things are more attractive than a sincerely interested listener.
Once you’ve had a few of these conversations, see if there’s a way you can test out different experiences. You know how when you go get ice cream they let you sample different flavors? You want to get a taste-test of what a job is like before you go all in. In Elizabeth’s case, she might ask to shadow the bistro owner for a day and find out if the experience lives up to the dream.
This is the basic process of settling on a new career path: identifying some interests, following up with conversations and test experiences, and ultimately picking a direction to pursue. It’s not complicated, but it can be easy to get off-track.
Finally: Stay Curious!
The most helpful tip I can give you during this process is to approach it with an attitude of curiosity. From this perspective, all information is valuable. When you think of these exercises as mini-experiments, you truly can’t fail – each outcome will give you clues about where to point your flashlight next. Plus, you become less attached to the idea of One True Answer to fix everything and open yourself up to new possibilities.
Pulling It All Together
When you focus on the next step (instead of trying to see the whole picture), commit to exploring a few directions, test them out in the real world, and learn to see this part of your life as an ever-changing work in progress with lots of possible solutions, I think you’ll find this process a lot less angst-ridden. I definitely wish I’d known about this approach when I was trying to figure out what to do next!
Whose career are you jealous of, and what does that say about what you want? What are you going to do with that information?
Client Feedback on Working with Julia in a Cardy Career Coaching program:
“Julia expertly led our conversations and provided me with insights that helped me to think about my situation in new ways. I thought she asked great questions, summarized our discussions well, and provided concrete ideas to help me move forward.” – Just Get Me Pointed in the Right Direction Client
Each week the Cardy Career Coaching Team is tackling a career question from someone in our community. If you’re at a crossroads with your career and would like to pose a question, sign up for the Step-By-Step Career Change E-Course! There’s a link to a quick survey in the early emails of the course where you can leave us a question. We might just write a blog post for you!