As a career coach I’m a compulsive researcher. There are thousands of articles and thought provoking videos on career change. I love tracking down interesting and occasionally contrarian perspectives on making successful career transitions.
Some of what I’ve learned lately has led me to question aspects of the conventional wisdom around uncovering your singular hardwired ‘passion’ as the holy grail of career and indeed life fulfilment.
Given that most of us are destined to change careers around five times in our lifetimes, do we need a more complex and nuanced discussion around purpose and passion?
If your next career step is proving illusive at least for the moment, these six pieces of randomly ordered, somewhat contradictory advice from a variety of videos may help.
Success fuels passion
One of the potentially paralysing obstacles to successful career change is getting stuck believing you’re hunting for one BIG high impact job. Writer and brand guru Terri Trespicio’s witty rebuff of the ‘single passion myth’ is a refreshing insight into the downside of searching obsessively for just one path to a purposeful career.
She believes that ‘success fuels passion’ and that we can find purposeful work in unexpected and underrated roles. This may mean doing unspectacular looking jobs well, at least for a time. After a fruitless wait for her dream job to appear, Trespicio gave in to her mother’s plea to ‘just take a job, any job’ (it turned out well and launched her improvised and impressive career path).
So perhaps consider not holding out for your dream job if it’s just not appearing. Instead hold your nose and jump into a job that looks less than ideal. Against the odds it might propel you towards your purpose or gently point you in the right direction.
Act first, reflect later
Writer and ‘cultural philosopher’ Roman Krznaric advocates turning the conventional career searching ‘plan and implement‘ approach on its carefully structured head. This makes sense to me and forms part of the exploration process I use with clients.
Get your ‘don’t know’ mind on and expose yourself to a range of possible and improbable options. Ask to shadow someone in a job outside your comfort zone that appeals to your braver self. You can learn amazing things about yourself and the world if you give something new a try, even just for a day. Volunteer or experiment on the side. Set up what Krznaric calls ‘a branching project’ outside of work time, doing something you love to do and watching where this leads.
Start with 'why'
This is the title of a book by ethnographer, and self-described unshakable optimist Simon Sinek. If you’re struggling to pin down ‘purpose’ as a ‘thing’ this may be a helpful place to start.
Sinek inverts our ingrained but often unconvincing ‘what, how, why’ approach to defining or selling what we do to put ‘why’ first. He defines ‘why’ as ‘your purpose, your cause, and your belief – your reason to exist’.
He illustrates his case with some compelling ‘why’ based success stories including:
- Apple - ‘just a computer company’ whose ‘why’ centred on challenging the status quo and a belief in thinking differently has won then legion of loyal fans
- The Wright brothers, unheralded pioneering aviators whose ‘why’ was driven not by dreams of wealth and fame but by their belief that figuring out the flying machine would change the world
- Dr Martin Luther King visionary civil rights leader whose ‘I have a dream (not I have a plan’) speech exemplifies agelessly inspirational leadership that speaks directly to our imagination and values.
Sinek’s ultimate message is, ‘no one buys what you do they buy why you do it.’ For career changers, this means two things. Firstly trusting gut instinct over intellect to define your ‘why’. Secondly seeking out ‘why’ compatible employers and selling yourself based on your strong sense of purpose and values, as well as your capacity to deliver results.
Consult your eight year old self
Find this surprisingly smart advice in a touching piece of career change storytelling from Ian Sanders, founder of the ‘Do - Encouragement Network’. When you’re stuck for inspiration and direction as Saunders was, remember who you were at eight.
Why is this a good idea? At eight, most of us are still fearlessly honest and fairly clear about who we are. The angst and insecurity of adolescence and beyond is still to come. Chances are, eight year old you will give you a straightforward and remarkably sensible answer to any ‘what next?’ question.
I was a quiet and curious kid. I loved solo adventures, battling through nature to the stream near our house, powering through endless books with my cat on my lap and baking creations with my mum. If I asked eight year old me for unsticking thoughts I’m pretty sure she’d say something like‘You’re smart enough to fix this, you’ve done it before. Wait a bit, have a good look, you’ll know when to move and what to say. In the mean time bake a cake and eat it in the sunshine.’
Rise to your own occasion
Don’t stay in a job you hate because someone tells you it will ‘build your resume’. This is step one in Live your legend’ founder Scott Dinsmore’s take on successful career change. Step two involves ‘becoming a self expert’. Dinsmore suggests journaling to consciously connect your daily experiences to your strengths and values. He encourages aiming to do seemingly (for you) impossible things and staying attuned to the qualities of people around you.
For career changers this means filtering out advice and opinion that doesn’t support your well founded sense of self, setting impressive personal goals and connecting to a community of positive people whose energy and direction match your own.
Writer Elizabeth Gilbert gives lucid and moving description of how to find ‘home’ as a safe place from ‘the random hurricanes of outcomes’. As Gilbert describes it, this particular home is not physical. Gilbert’s home is her writing - where the success or failure of her work matters much less than her ‘singular devotion’ to writing for its own sake. When confronted with fear-laden prospect of writing a follow up to her wildly successful ‘Eat Love Pray’, she simply went home and wrote.
How can you find your home? You’ll know it as that positive life affirming pursuit that you love doing regardless of any success or failure it brings. It’s that place where you’re so absorbed by the thing you love that you lose track of time. You can go there when you’re afraid or inspired or excited or lost. No matter how you arrive, you’ll find creativity and perspective and balance and the courage to continue.
By Jo Green, Career Change Coach
I know how it feels to be lost in your career. That’s why I coach, to create learnings, action and help others get stuff done! Changing your career can be lonely and confusing so I'll walk alongside you, be your cheerleader and help you figure out what meaningful work is for you.
Drop me a note to organise a free 20 minute consultation to chat about your career change and how coaching could help.