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The Career Advice I Always Give

This is the career advice I always give: Say what you want.

Out loud. In writing. On Facebook. In your phone. On a Post-It note.

Be really clear about what you are looking for and what you really, truly want.

And this is where we tend to get hung up—on the part about being really clear. It’s surprisingly harder than you might think to know what you want—and then to say it out loud. Most of us shy away from telling people what we really, truly want. We often tell people the “reasonable” version of what we want. Maybe so they don’t think we’re nuts. Or maybe it’s so we aren’t disappointed if it doesn’t work out. Or so they won’t tell us “I told you so,” or so we don’t look foolish—to ourselves or anyone.

Sometimes it can be so scary to imagine what we really want that we stay cloudy and confused. That’s not unusual, but you should also know that confusion is usually a mask for fear. If we are confused about what we want, we don’t have to risk going after it. Our brains are tricky that way. They “protect” us from failure by keeping us confused.

If you’re in the spin cycle of confusion, try asking yourself these questions to gain some clarity about what you really want:

  • What is working in your life right now that you want to keep?

  • What isn’t working in your life right now? (Knowing what you don’t want can help you figure out what you do want.)

  • If you could be successful right away, what would you do?

  • If you didn’t have to do it perfectly, what would you try?

  • What comes easily and naturally to you? (This does not have to be work related.)

  • What would you like to learn about yourself?

  • What’s going to put you in a position to learn it?

Brainstorm answers to these questions and see where they lead. You don't have to commit to doing any of them (that's one way we block ourselves from having clarity). You only have to commit to allowing yourself to brainstorm.

Remember—and this is important—knowing what you want is very different from settling for what you think you can get. Knowing what you want feels exciting, maybe a little scary, uplifting, expansive and energizing. Settling feels like resignation. An example of settling is: "I’m only applying for these jobs because I know I have the skills already and they are safe." Or: "I’d love to do X, Y, Z, but it’s not practical. I have bills to pay."

I see people talking themselves out of what they want and into some lesser version of it all the time. They convince themselves to apply for the job they think they can get rather than voicing what they truly want. They don’t contact the company they want to work for because it might not be the safe choice.

We tend to cut off our dreams even before we start having them. This way, we never risk disappointment or failure. We also stay stuck and never get what we really, truly want.

Fortunately, a friend recently reminded me of how backassward that is.

A couple months ago we were talking about what she’d like in a job. I asked the standard, “What’s your ideal job look like?” She proceeded to come up with a bunch of things she’s worried about—lack of experience, a three-year gap on her resume, all the things that were wrong with her last job, etc. Basically, she was doing a great job of talking anyone out of hiring her. So I asked: "What would it hurt if you wrote down what you really want?”

She gave it some thought and made a list of what she really wanted in a job—a short commute, on-the-job training, nice people to work with, flexibility, and a company mission she believes in.

And then she did her homework. She figured out which companies she wanted to work for and applied to at least 12 jobs.

Lo and behold, she got exactly what she wanted.

The commute is short. They are delighted that she doesn’t have any previous experience because she won’t have any bad habits to break or be bitching about “the way things used to be.” They think it’s awesome that she took a break from work and they don’t give a crap about the gap on her resume.

If she hadn’t been willing to say what she wanted and allowed herself to dream, she wouldn’t have taken the necessary action to get the job. You can’t get a job you don’t apply for, and the people in your life can’t help you if they don’t know what you want. Notice, she didn’t sit back and say, “Universe, deliver me a job.” She figured out what she wanted and found it.

Many of us get stuck because we’re afraid to dream, afraid of the unknown, afraid of failing. A wise person once said to me, “You’re going to pay either way. Which way do you want to pay?” Meaning: you can pay in 'what ifs' and regrets or you can pay by facing your fears. The choice is up to you.

Trying something new ain’t easy. Sometimes it’s exhilarating and sometimes it sucks. But the alternative is staying stuck, and from my experience, that sucks even more.

So, what do you actually want?

What's the first baby step you can take right now toward what you want?

I’ll go first: I want six new clients to fill my afternoon openings. This blog post is step 1.

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