There was a great response to last week’s post on leaving a corporate job to follow your passion and the first interview with Mike, piano rock extraordinaire. It seems this is a topic that resonates with many of you.
I also had a very good question from a friend, who pointed out that there is a step that comes before the change itself, that is, deciding what it is you’re going to do instead: what if you don’t have that one big passion? Or, at least, what if you don’t know what that passion is?
One option is to hire a career coach. They can guide you on setting goals and support you in meeting those goals, and an objective third party can be a huge enabler for making informed decisions. I think, though, that you can ask a lot of those same questions, and find good answers, on your own.
Here are some of my suggestions, based on the reading and thinking that I’ve been doing myself. Let me know if they work for you or if you have other ideas!
1) Look behind you
Most, if not all, of us will have had childhood fantasies about what we wanted to be when we grew up. Prima ballerina? Fireman? Veterinarian? Cowboy? Now these may not be careers you still find appealing as an adult. I no longer want to be an astronaut (though I might be convinced if George Clooney came with me) – but at least I’ve thought about it and that won’t be one of my regrets when I look back over the choices I’ve made.
A couple of books I’d recommend here. First, a novel: in The Life List, the protagonist is obliged by her dead mother’s will to accomplish each of the points on her list of goals that she had written as a teenager. Her initial reluctance gradually falls away as her life is transformed – predictable, yes, but nonetheless both moving and thought-provoking. Second, a memoir: The Last Lecture, in which computer science professor Randy Pausch tells the story of achieving each of his childhood dreams during his life, which was now coming to an end as he was losing the battle against the ten tumours in his liver. You can also watch the actual lecture he gave, fundamentally intended as a way to share his life lessons with his children.
Moving beyond your childhood, take a look at your career to date, the decisions you’ve made along the way, and the motivations behind them. Why did you choose to study physics at university? Why did you take that internship at the headhunting firm? Why did you accept that promotion? This can help you to understand how you’ve ended up where you are today, and guide you on which things to prioritise moving forward.
2) Look ahead
Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten? Twenty? What’s most important to you? Is it having the time to spend at home with your children? Is it being able to afford that big house with a garden and swimming pool, and the annual holiday in Mauritius? Is it being in a position of power that allows you to make a real impact in the world? Is it feeling that you’re making a difference, however small, in your day-to-day life?
Fast-forward even further ahead to the classic rocking-chair scenario: when you’re sitting by the window of your retirement home, thinking back over your life, what will you most regret having done or, more often than not, regret not having done? Regrets can be very personal, but there are some that seem to be common. Here we can steal insights from people who’ve already had those epiphanies by looking to The Top Five Regrets of the Dying:
(1) I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
(2) I wish I didn’t work so hard.
(3) I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
(4) I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
(5) I wish I’d let myself be happier.
(I’m currently reading the book and though the author’s personal story is interesting, the book is long and badly written and I wouldn’t recommend it! Those five insights above are all you need.)
3) Look to others
Believe me, you are not alone in the questions you’re asking about career and family.
You may be able to talk to someone you trust – a friend, a sister, your partner – about the questions playing on your mind.
Sometimes, though, it’s more productive to talk to someone outside your immediate circle. This is because it’s likely that the people you spend your time with are a product of the work you’re currently doing, the lifestyle you’re currently leading. If you’re surrounded by corporate climbers, you’re unlikely to get a lot of support from them when it comes to moving away from that kind of existence. Talking to people with totally different lifestyles and priorities – dentists, doctors, musicians, massage therapists, butchers, bakers, candlestick makers – will give you a fresh perspective and help you to understand that there are other paths.
There are also countless books and blogs written on different aspects of career and life satisfaction, and you need only do a quick search to be confronted with more insights than you could possibly need! Some suggestions at the bottom of this post.
4) Look to yourself
At some point, in order to be fully satisfied with, and committed to, any changes, you need to make a decision yourself. After all, no one knows you as well as you do, and no one is going to have to live with your decision as much as you are. It’s scary, yes, but it’s also exciting and, speaking from my own experience, incredibly empowering when you make decisions that turn out for the better.
5) Look alive!
A lot can happen simply by observing. Pay attention to how you feel in different contexts. Recognise when your heart isn’t in it, and at the other end of the spectrum when you feel fully energised and motivated (what psychologists call “flow”). Keep your eyes open for new opportunities that you might not have considered before.
Most of all, don’t get stressed! You’ve made your decisions up until now for reasons that were valid at the time, and you have the power to change the future with fresh decisions. You don’t have to find the answers to all of life’s mysteries today. Take the time to understand what you enjoy and what you don’t, what changes you want to make and how you can take baby steps in that new direction. And, in the meantime, don’t forget to have fun! In any case, if you’re sitting there reading this post, your current life is probably not too shabby, so enjoy it and appreciate the many good things you already have.
The Escape Manifesto is a practical guide written by three English guys who decided to leave the world of management consultancy behind to start the Escape the City community. It takes you from pre-escape (thinking about why you’re not happy, the things that are blocking you, what are your priorities, how to manage your finances) to post-escape (whether in the form of finding a more exciting job, going off on an adventure, starting your own business, or doing something completely different!). They also have a website with opportunities across those different possibilities (adventure, entrepreneurialism, exciting brand, exotic location, social impact) and success stories. If you’re in London, you may want to go to some of their events, where you’re bound to meet other likeminded people. (There are a couple of hot men coming up this month, so that alone is a reason to go. For some of us, at least.)
Another website with reassuringly diverse success stories for inspiration is Career Shifters, which also features advice and support on topics from identifying your “ideal” career and overcoming fear and other obstacles through to managing the change successfully.
How to find fulfilling work is an interesting book that reflects on the growing trend of people yearning for a more fulfilling career and advocates acting first, reflecting later. There is no one single perfect job out there, that’s a myth, and so we should experiment and explore to find potential careers that will potentially fit with different aspects of our character. The author, Roman Krznaric, was a founding faculty member of The School of Life which takes a broader perspective on emotional intelligence not just at work but also at home and in relationships.