We’ve all heard the career advice, “Follow your passion.” But what happens when you don’t know what your passion is or if you have several things you are passionate about? You’re stuck at step 1. Paralyzed, you feel the pressure of making the wrong decision and heading off in a direction that will take you off course before you’ve ever even begun your journey.
Bill Gates didn’t start out as a successful businessman. He started out experimenting and exploring things that were interesting to him and held his attention. He “geeked out” over things that fascinated him, learned as he went, and iterated his way to becoming a business icon. Arianna Huffington didn’t start out a successful media maven. She wrote - books, articles, even songs. She got involved in political issues that were important to her and developed here interests into her version of career success. She had several websites before iterating her way to the Huffington Post. Both of these examples are models of following your interests and curiosity.
Set Up Mini Experiments
When you are feeling stuck or ready to make a career transition a good first step is to set “mini experiments” to start gathering information and feedback. Mini experiments will feel more like playful curiosity. What do you want to learn or explore? Don’t worry about being able to draw a straight line from your interest to a paying job. Just start expanding your inputs. Do things out of your normal routine that expose you to anything that delights you or holds your attention.
Check In and Align Your Expectations
How you think about your career transition is just as important as the actions you take. Cultivate a mindset of curiosity and openness. Set your expectations to allow for small “next steps” instead of having to have it all figured out before you can begin. In the design thinking approach, the idea is to design your way forward instead of trying to decide your way forward.
Be Action Oriented
Thinking about your choices is good. I’ve also seen it result in analysis paralysis. Having too many choices can keep us from ever making up our minds. The only way to know if you are really going to like something is to give it a try. Think about breaking your mini experiments down into baby steps that build on each other. You don’t have to invest in another degree or go get some certification to be action oriented.
Years ago I set out to be a personal trainer. I got certified, bought some nifty looking workout clothes, invested in lots of equipment and material – before I ever had my first client! While there were some great things I learned from the experience of being a personal trainer (reinforcing my interests and developing skills to help, coach, and mentor people looking for transformation and change) that was not the path for me. So be action oriented and break the processes down into baby steps. I could have done more job shadowing of other trainers, had more informational interviews to get a better idea of the benefits and challenges of the work, and even hired a trainer for a few sessions before jumping all in.
Create 3 -5 Options and Possibilities
A helpful way to get started is to create of list of 3 -5 things you’d like to explore. Begin by following your energy and curiosity. Sit down and ask yourself what you’d like to learn, who has a career path that sounds cool, and if you could do anything, what would it be. When I wrote the “Myth of ‘It’” a few years ago my goal was to help people in career transition or career re-entry understand that there are many things you can do for work that create meaning in your life. We are larger than just 1 role, job, or position. We are dynamic and complex and we learn by experimenting and exploring and refining our vision over time.
Go forth and explore! I’d love to hear how this is working for you.