When I was frustrated with my corporate career – many years ago! – I kept wishing for a wizard machine. You could answer three questions and pop! Out would come a card listing the best career for you.
“What kind of work should I be doing at this point in my life that’s likely to result in greater personal satisfaction and congruence with my values and unique combination of skills and capabilities?”
First, I don’t think there’s just one kind of work for everyone. Most people can find fulfillment doing a variety of things. It’s harder for some people than for others.
For instance, several years ago, the NYC Ballet was forced to lay off several dancers. Many were forced to consider new careers. Some welcome the opportunity to grow and one reported feeling “liberated.” while Others felt they were losing themselves.
Athletes feel the same way when they get injured or displaced from professional teams. They’ve been doing the same thing since they were young children. Joe Hawley reinvented himself after he retired from the NFL. He donated all his personal belongings, bought a van, adopted a dog, and set out to tour the country.
Yet even these folks almost always find new careers.
Second, the path to a new career can be (and usually is) a winding road. Much of career counseling and coaching has been based on anecdotes, not tested theories. Even the venerable What Color Is Your Parachute can be questioned. I don’t buy the idea that you can figure out your career goals by the people you want to spend time with.
Besides, the core principle of Parachute – the notion that you can just call strangers for “informational interviews” – is no longer valid. Busy executives won’t talk to anyone without an introduction. Independent consultants can’t devote an hour or two, even with a referral from a friend.
The new career watchword is “serendipity.” Research suggests that most people find new careers by chance. They happen to talk to someone who offers a suggestion. They volunteer for a one-time project and realize it’s what they’ve always wanted.
A couple I’ll call Jim and Ralph moved to a small town in New Mexico when I was living there. Ralph arrived with a good job in a field where he had experience.
Jim floated around, not sure what to do next. He took a job in the office of the real estate agent who’d sold the couple their home. He found he liked the work, so he took the real estate exam.
Within a few months, he became a star agent. Soon he was opening his own agency. He was one of many people who found his calling by accident.
So how do you get serendipity working in your favor?
(1) Get active. The more people you meet, the more likely you’ll find someone who has the key. Join new groups. Attend networking meetings outside your field. Take up new activities.
(2) Be open to ideas that seem totally unappealing. Every s often I make a specific suggestion to a client. The client wrinkles her nose (metaphorically), refusing to follow through or explore. “I know I wouldn’t like that.”
People who make successful career changes will be willing to explore even if their first impression is negative. One of my clients was at a career crossroads. I suggested she look into becoming a librarian, with a specialty in information science. She agreed to try out a few informational interviews but came away with the realization that she didn’t want to go to library school and follow this path.
A few weeks later she fell into conversation with someone at her church, a meeting that led to her next career. I’m convinced she achieved her goal by harnessing the momentum from exploring widely.
Another client had worked in the medical field. She seemed to be the perfect candidate to become a health coach but resisted. When she finally started exploring, she realized she loved the idea. She became a successful life coach with a specialty of wellness.
Bottom line: Finding your next career may begin by exploring your least appealing options and taking advantage of new experiences.
For more: Check out the 21-Day Extreme Career Makeover.
Another good book is Teach Your Intuition to Send You a Telegram, Not a Post Card. Your intuition is your best career coach.