If you are thinking of changing careers, you’ll probably get advice along these lines.
1 – Review your history. What have you done well? What do you get praised for doing?
2 – What are you passionate about?
3 – What would you do if you won the lottery?
and (my favorite): What do you want your survivors to write on your tombstone? Mine will probably say, “She was more lucky than good.” But that’s another post.
Here’s an alternative approach.
To find your new career, look outside your career. What do you do when you have free time? What do you always make time for?
If you’ve been working a long time at a time-consuming career, you probably don’t have a strong inventory of things you really like. Your challenge is to find things to do beyond work. The first time you do this, you may be challenged and you may make mistakes … well, not mistakes, but you won’t make the best use of your time.
For instance, I was totally caught up in my academic career for many years. I loved research. I usually liked teaching (except when the students told me they should get an “A” because they paid tuition – yes – they really do that). I read mysteries and went to the gym. Sometimes I toured art museums. I went to the ballet.
What’s wrong with that?
Well, except for the gym, my activities didn’t really get me involved. I didn’t “engage,” the hot new buzzword. I didn’t use different parts of my brain. For instance, I was writing all day so what did I do? Take a writing course!
Fast forward a year when I took off from working. I started learning about music and taking pottery classes. Now, when it comes to pottery, nobody’s worse than I am. Years after that first course, my creations still look like something a third grader would turn out. But I’ve learned that working with clay seems to activate certain parts of my brain. I’ve always been un-handy; most of my do-it-yourself projects ended up in splinters. I’m much more confident at using my hands now.
Since then I started taking improv classes. I’m an experienced, capable speaker, but improv is a whole new way of relating to an audience. I’m taking sketch writing which is more about comedy than writing.
So here’s what I’ve concluded. If you’re ready for a career change, look outside your career. Find things to do that force you to engage with your environment in a new way. Include a physical component. Develop a skill that you didn’t have previously. Relate to people who are different from those you work with.
Don’t expect to feel good at first. One of the hazards of these projects is that you’re on a learning curve and it’s not always fun at the beginning. At some point you have to decide if you’re going to stick with it. I recommend at least finishing a course (if you are taking one) or a time commitment you’ve made to yourself. Sometimes you need to give up. I will never “get” cross-country skiing. Ever. That was a smart decision.
But awhile back I was ready to give up on my own pottery class. “I have no talent,” I said. (Nobody disagreed.) “I could be using this time for something else.”
But I kept up because (a) for me, pottery is like therapy but cheaper; and (b) I’d already paid for the course.
Suddenly I got a shift. My pots started looking almost good! I was so thrilled. People noticed. It was like I caught the spark.
The same thing happened with my sketch comedy. My first sketch was SO bad. Nobody even smiled. Everyone gave me that supportive, sympathetic look you don’t need when you’re trying to do something good.
But again the magic happened. We were assigned to rewrite the sketch. I went home and suddenly it hit me: I needed a new twist to transform this piece into something good. I caught fire and next time – it worked. I felt SO good.