March 31, 2010

Finding your way to your next great career

Several weeks ago I listened to a radio segment about a guy fresh out of college, but without a lot of direction for his life. His solution to that problem was to try a lot of different jobs for a short while--a week or a month. After a year of working this way, he wrote a book about his experiences. My first thought was, “Ah, you stole my dream.”

I’ll just go out on a limb and admit it. No matter what I have done for a living, I’ve always had a wandering eye. With the exception of a two exceptionally deep love affairs with work, no job (or career) has ever been enough to hold me. My longest run was 12 years in a single profession, divvied up between two employers and a self-employment stint. I fought hard to get into that profession. After working my way in, I achieved a degree of mastery that was enough to merit interesting assignments, professional credentials, and awards from my peers. But I couldn’t imagine an entire lifetime of the same work. I wanted to know more about what was out there. Was there something else I was really intended to do? Was there someone else I had the potential to become? Doesn’t everyone wonder that?

Whether you share my wanderlust or life has dealt you some cards that force you to think about what‘s next, you may be interested in a new book designed to help you figure stuff out. The Leap: How 3 Simple Changes Can Propel Your Career from Good to Great includes access to an electronic assessment tool that allows you to evaluate how close you are to your sweet spot--the overlap between your passions AND your strengths. According to author Rick Smith, most people won’t be truly satisfied until they fine a career that combines both elements.

If you view your prospective career change as a slam-dunk effort where you figure everything out quickly and march through a series of chronological steps, you may be disappointed by Smith’s encouragement to experiment and iterate. Nevertheless, I have to say that this approach worked well for me. I volunteered and part-timed my way into both new careers. That gave me a chance to try before buying and allowed me to get experience in a low-risk way.

Evidently, I share a common denominator with other career changers: we don’t think of our changes as reinventions. With each change, I found I became a little more like myself. After I announced my most recent career change, my husband tried to make me promise that this would be the last one. I wouldn’t do it because I knew part of my life’s work would be allowing things to unfold, discovering how past experiences might fit together in ways I just couldn’t anticipate. For some of us, it’s the journey and not the outcomes that are going to matter most when we are laying on our deathbed. There are tradeoffs and compromises, especially if you choose something more than just what you are good at.

Perhaps the most important tip The Leap offers for fulfillment in work is to set your own standard for success--don’t just follow along. Without that standard, you may wake up one day with a life that someone else wanted--not yours.

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