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3 Tips for Figuring Out What To Be When You Grow Up

I love working with people who don’t know what they want to be when they grow up.

For some people they are bored, burned out, and want out of the corporate rat race.

Other people just started working and kept doing the job in front of them. They didn’t ask themselves whether it’s what they actually wanted to do. After hitting 40, now they are.

And then there are people who have been forced out of their career by layoffs, technology, or outsourcing to another country.

No matter the reason, making a career change feels like taking a final exam when you haven’t been to any of the classes. So here’s what I recommend.

Tip #1: Buy this book by Barbara Sher: I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was

The book is full of great exercises that will help you ferret out what’s getting your way. Without blame or judgment, Sher points out what some of the common stumbling blocks are and how to overcome them. It is, however, a work book, meaning, to get the value out of it, you gotta do the work.

Tip#2: Do this timeline exercise. Draw a line on a piece of paper and mark off 5-year increments, e.g., 5, 10, 15, etc. until you get to your current age. Each number represents your age, give or take a couple years. Now, think back (look at photo albums if it helps!) and answer these questions and be as specific and detailed as you can:

  • How did you spend your time?

  • What did you enjoy doing?

  • Why did you enjoy it?

  • Who did you spend time with?

Once you’ve got this mapped out, what do you notice? Are there themes that emerge? What natural talents and interests did you have? This can give you some insight about what your gifts are. Before you say, “Yes, I have gifts, but I can’t make any money with them!” go to the next tip.

Tip #3: Answer this question: When you think about making a career change, what are you really afraid of? Why?

When you have an answer to the above, ask yourself this: What would it mean if…[fill in your answer to “why?” above.]

On a scale of 1-10, how likely is it to happen?

Doing these exercises is a way for you to gather some raw material to sift through and see what comes up. You may see a pattern emerge. You may have sparks of ideas. Write them down, even if they seem wildly impractical.

Sometimes we get answers, but we dismiss them. We automatically begin to consider how we can make our idea happen, and since we don’t have it all mapped out in an orderly fashion, we get skittish.

As difficult as it may be, don’t worry about the “how.” In this case, “how” is a bugaboo your brain is throwing out there because it doesn’t like change, not because it’s a bad idea.

But we make up all kinds of reasons why it is a bad idea.

Uncle What’s-his-name tried it and lost all his money. I don’t want to lose all my money.

We’d have to sell the house and move. I don’t want to move.

I’d have to quit this job, like, now, and then we couldn’t pay rent.

In fact, we come up with so many solid, practical reasons for why something won’t work, that we never try anything and remain stuck.

What if you didn’t need to have all the answers immediately? What would one small step look like?

If your brain is screaming at you that this is nonsense and there’s no way it would work and all your ideas are stupid, that’s pretty normal. Congratulations, you've joined the group of folks who dare to dream.

The bottom line is that fear will always creep into our brains. The only way to get over fear is to walk through it. Next week I'll be sharing a story about a client who did and lived to tell the story. Stay tuned!

If you’re ready to take that first step toward a career change and want to learn some tools for managing the fear—and excitement!—that comes with it, email me for a free mini-session by phone.

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