Career

What do your interests say about you?

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What are your interests? What do you find yourself thinking, talking, or reading about in your spare time?

Whatever they are, maybe you should be paying a little more attention to them.

Back when I was desperately trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, I spent all my free time reading self-help books and blogs. I thought if I just did enough journalling exercises, I'd stumble across the right path. Maybe you've been there, too.

When I wasn’t reading books with titles like Finding Your Own North Star (an A+ read, by the way), I was checking out books on neuroscience and psychology. I was also weirdly drawn to marketing blogs, even though I didn’t have a “thing” I was trying to market at the time.

In retrospect, it’s kind of surprising that it took me as long as it did to figure it out.

I'm sure you've guessed the big reveal already:

Eventually, I realized that nothing made me happier than thinking and talking about...what makes people happy. Where they get stuck. Why they do the things they do.

From there, I just had to connect the dots to find a way to do that as a living.

So, let me ask you:

  • What interests could you spend all day doing or talking/thinking about?
  • Where are you already spending your free time, attention, and energy?
  • If you woke up tomorrow with no responsibilities, how would you spend your day? (Let’s assume you’re already well-rested and don’t need to catch up on sleep.)
  • If you could become an expert on anything, what would it be?

I’m not saying that your answers to these questions are The Answers to what you should be doing with your life. But they might have some valuable clues you’re overlooking. Maybe your love of legos will reveal something deep and profound about yourself!

Hint: watch out for thoughts like, "But isn't everybody interested in [X]?" or "[Y] is just a dumb thing I'm into, there's no way I can make a career out of it." Give your inner critic a rest and let yourself be curious about what comes up. Let me know how it goes!

If you'd like some help sifting through the data, sign up for a chat. As you already know, talking about this kind of stuff is my happy place. Who knows what we might discover together?

Image credit: freeimages.com/Terry Eaton

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Book Review: Designing Your Life

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If you're trying to figure out your career direction and you only read one book this year, it should be this one.

Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans came into being when two Stanford School of Design professors asked, "What if we take the tools we use to solve design problems and use them to create a roadmap for life satisfaction?"

I honestly can’t say enough about this book. I recently listened to it as I was driving across the state and I kept wanting to pause and take notes. Over and over again, I felt that spark of mingled admiration and envy that happens when someone puts your ideas into words and does it more elegantly than you could.

Your Powers, Combined

One of my main annoyances with the world of career planning is the dichotomy between what I’ll call the Dreamers and the Doers. You’ve probably encountered both: one person tells you to follow your passion, the other tells you how to hone your networking skills. You’re either floating in fantasyland or bored by 101 interview tips.

In my never-so-humble opinion, the best sources embody the Talking Heads lyric of “feet on the ground, head in the sky.” They emphasize the importance of a dream and a plan, teaching you how to effectively combine emotion, intellect, and action. Designing Your Life does this better than almost anything else I’ve come across.

Start On the Inside, Work Your Way Out

The book starts out by introducing some basic concepts and mindset tips. You’ll learn the value of staying curious, trying things (instead of getting stuck in endless analysis), and asking for help. It encourages you to start where you are and gather data about your current situation to see what's working and what's not. Then, it takes you through the process of generating possible directions to explore.

The second half of the book encourages you to take what you’ve learned and put it into action. It walks you through road-testing your ideas through a combination of information-gathering and test experiences. Finally, it concludes with some last words about effective decision-making (because they know that even after all this work, it’s still possible to get stuck in second-guessing).

I can't believe I'm saying this, but...

If you’ve participated in a program with me before, this process will sound familiar. It’s very similar to what I do with my people and if you had enough focus and motivation, you would get just as much from this book as you would from one of my 1:1 coaching programs. That’s right - this book is good enough to potentially put me out of a job, and I’m still recommending it.

If you've read Designing Your LIfe, I'd love to hear what you thought! Leave me a comment below.

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Hire a Career Coach if You're Serious About Leaving Your Job.

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So you’re ready to leave your job and look for something new. You've been thinking about it for a while, going back and forth, but now you're sure. Whatever mental and emotional calculus you had to go through, you’ve come to the conclusion that it needs to happen. What now?

Consider working with a career coach to plan your strategy.

Do you know what you want to do instead? If not, how do you plan on figuring that out? Do you know how to make the most of your precious free time so that you can make the jump as soon as possible? Where should you start?

How will you decide:

  • which of your options to pursue?
  • what trainings/career development to invest in?
  • how to break into your chosen field?

You might be smart (and you probably are, if you’re like most of my readers), but that doesn’t mean that you automatically know all the ins and outs of a successful career transition. A career coach can make this process a lot easier, because this is what we do.

Could you figure it out on your own?

Probably. Eventually. Like I said, you’re smart. I muddled through my own transition without professional help. I relied on self-help books and assessments and luck to get me where I needed to go. It took forever and I spent a lot of time wallowing in anxiety, self-doubt, and indecision. But I did get there in the end! You probably can too, if you're extremely self-reliant, motivated, and patient.

How can a career coach make things easier?

I’m so glad you asked. Here are just a few of the ways that working with a career coach will make your transition smoother, faster, and less stressful.

1. A career coach will guide you through the process.

It’s okay that you don’t know what to do next - I’m not an expert in whatever you do for a living, after all. I’m guessing that your situation is stressful enough without also trying to figure out and execute all the elements of a successful transition.

When you work with a career coach, you don’t have to be the expert. All you have to do is show up and be you, and I’ll guide you the rest of the way. I’m not going to tell you that changing your job is easy, but it’s a lot easier when you’re following a time-tested plan instead of trying to reinvent the wheel.

2. A career coach will help you with focus and follow-through.

Why do people have gym buddies? Because there’s more incentive to show up if you know someone else will be there. Why is it easier to learn from a class than from a textbook? Because you get accountability, homework, feedback, and the chance to ask questions.

When you’re feeling discouraged about your career, it’s easy to get lost in the conflicting thoughts and feelings about your situation. Even if you’ve created a plan/strategy/to-do list, it can be difficult to stick with it on your own. A coach can keep you on track and help you plan your next steps. Plus, I’ll help you maintain your sanity and humor along the way. :-)

3. A career coach has seen most of it before.

When you’re in the thick of your career drama, it can feel overwhelming. You may have never had to go through something like this before. Imagine someone telling you, “It’s okay, I’ve helped people in your situation before. It’s normal to freak out right now, but you're going to get through this.”

You are beautiful and unique, but your circumstances probably aren't. Stay-at-home-mom returning to the workforce? New grad with no clue what to do next? Burned-out non-profit employee? Only had one job since graduation? I’ve worked with someone like you.

If you're sick or in pain, you go to a doctor. Your discomfort may seem specific to you, but she’s seen lots of people with your symptoms. In fact, that’s one of the reasons you’re there. She knows what questions to ask to determine the best course of treatment.

If reading a career book is like browsing WebMD, working with a career coach is like consulting a top specialist. Yes, it’s more of an investment, but you also know you’re getting the best available care.

4. A career coach will support you without getting emotionally invested.

Why is this important? Well, in the course of your ponderings, you may have talked to friends or family about your situation. That’s great! It’s good to have a support system in place. However, you may have noticed a few issues cropping up:

  • Your spouse/partner gets anxious about your financial future whenever you bring it up.
  • You don’t want to spend all your time unloading on your friends, but it’s still on your mind.
  • Your family has certain expectations of you that influences their advice.
  • People are offering a lot of suggestions and you don’t want to be ungrateful, but it’s really getting on your nerves.
  • You feel like you need to look like you have it all together, even if you’re flailing internally.
  • Resentment builds up if any of this goes on for too long, affecting your relationships and quality of life.

A nonjudgmental, supportive sounding board can be a real lifesaver in this situation. Your coaching sessions will become a haven where you can be yourself and talk things out without worrying about anybody else’s feelings, thoughts, or reactions.

Because you have this time blocked off for dealing with all your career woes, you can enjoy your time with loved ones more fully. Trust me, your family and friends will appreciate this almost as much as you do!

5. Finally: hiring a coach tells your brain that The Game Is On.

Reading blog posts and self-help books is fine. I’ve spent many happy hours doing just that. But it also can be a sneaky way of feeling like you’re taking action without actually doing anything.

You can daydream about the 47 perfect ways your life could turn out, create a vision board or two, decide what your top five values are. These are all valid activities, but they’re not getting you closer to a more fulfilling career on their own.

Hiring someone is Serious. It sends a signal to your subconscious that This is Not a Drill. It’s a statement that your future is important and worth an investment of real time and money. When you raise the stakes, you’re more likely to do something about it.

Think about it. That’s all I’m asking.

If you’re here to get inspired and think about what you might want to do next, that’s awesome. I've got a whole library of articles for you to check out! But if you’re really, truly serious about finding sustainable, satisfying work - it might be time to call in the big guns. Next step? Check out my article on how to tell whether a coach is right for you.

Image credit: freeimages.com/Asif Akbar

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Using Self-Kindness to Help You Get a Job

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A couple of weeks ago, I suggested to a job-hunting client that she spend a few minutes every day sending herself some self-kindness. She looked at me a bit skeptically. "How will this help me get a job?" she asked. Good question.

When you're focused on improving your career situation, taking time to be gentle and understanding towards yourself probably isn't a top priority. However, the truth is that self-kindness has a positive impact on every stage of the career transition process.

Read on to see how it can improve your confidence, motivation, creativity, and even your resume-writing skills. Then you'll learn a four-step process for building your own self-kindness habit.

4 Ways Self-Kindness Improves Your Job Search

1. It builds confidence.

Do your inner voices tend to be cheerleaders or inner critics?

If you're a recovering perfectionist, your inner peanut gallery is probably happy to point out the ways that you're falling short, missing opportunities, not fulfilling your potential, or just plain screwing up.

This relentless inner monologue can really affect your attitude towards your job search. If you're not convinced of your own worth, why should you try to share it with others? If you don't think you can do the job, why should your prospective employers?

When you consciously cultivate a habit of self-kindness, you're providing a needed counterpoint to those voices. You're taking a stand and saying, "I'm a person who has a lot to contribute. I know I can do this."

Which attitude do you think makes it easier to land a new job?

2. It improves motivation.

Inner critics often masquerade as motivational speakers, which is why so many people are reluctant to shut them down. "If I stop being hard on myself, I'll never get anything done!"

This is a lie. Don't listen to it.

Constantly trying to prove to your peanut gallery (or your prospective boss, in-laws, ex, parents, etc) that you're good enough is exhausting.

What's more, your inner critic makes it so you can't win, no matter how hard you try. 

  • You work on the thing and it succeeds. Your peanut gallery: "You probably got lucky."
  • You work on the thing and it fails. Your peanut galley: "You suck and can't do anything right."
  • You ignore the thing and numb out with your substance or behavior of choice. Your peanut gallery: "You're so lazy! You must not want this that much."

See how you never get to feel good about yourself?

Mindful self-kindness turns this scenario upside-down. Rather than saying, "I'll do the thing, and then I'll feel good about myself," it posits that if I feel good about myself first, doing the thing will become easier.

It can feel scary to abandon your carrot-and-stick philosophy, especially if you think it's what's gotten you this far to begin with. Don't take my word for it - try it with something small and see what happens.

3. Self-kindness increases creativity and problem-solving skills.

If your peanut gallery has a habit of shutting down every idea before you have a chance to explore it, you're missing out on your natural creative abilities.

Letting yourself dream big, crazy, and impractical before you pull yourself back to earth is a vital part of the process. That's why writers have rough drafts - if we needed every word to be perfect from the start, most of us would never get anything down. Give yourself some creative breathing room!

4. Self-kindness improves your interviewing skills and application materials.

The human brain is capable of processing millions of bits of information a second, most of which happens subconsciously. When you talk to someone, you aren't just listening to what they're saying - you're tracking their body language, tone of voice, facial expressions, and many other small cues. And they're doing the same to you.

This means that no matter what face you deliberately put forward while in an interview or writing your resume, the person on the other side of the desk is picking up a lot more than you might intend.

If your habitual messages to yourself are critical and harsh, you will speak and write about yourself differently than if you feel secure in your innate value.

To change the message you send to other people, you have to change your own internal programming first.

So how do I start practicing this self-kindness thing?

The first thing to keep in mind is that if your peanut gallery is loud and active, you won't be able to turn them into a cheerleading squad overnight. But over time, you can train your brain to travel down new (and kinder) neural pathways.

Pretend for a minute that your brain is a moving car driving down You Suck Boulevard.  Even if you wanted to back out and drive down I Believe in You Avenue instead, you can't instantly throw it into reverse - the car (and your patterns) have a certain amount of momentum. You have to hit the brakes and let your car (/brain) come to a stop, then shift it into reverse. So the first step is...

1. Slow down.

Become aware of whatever monologue is playing inside your head. Is it critical or supportive? Is it useful? You can't make any changes unless you know what's going on. Just becoming aware that this ongoing stream of thoughts is happening without your consent or control can be a big mindset shift.

2. Stop.

The best and quickest way to stop the internal chatter (even if it's only briefly) is to pull your attention into the present moment. Fully focus on the sensation of your breath entering and exiting your nostrils. Notice the colors and shapes around you. Put your hand on your heart. Act as though this is a holy moment created just for you. Experiment and see what works for you. You don't have to fix or change anything at first - just practice noticing the chatter and then bringing yourself to a place of neutral quiet.

3. Reverse.

Picture the small, scared part of you as something tiny and defenseless: maybe an animal or a child. Imagine that you can pick it up and cradle it against your heart - or just sit near it, if it doesn't want to be held. Tell it, "May you be well. May you be safe. May you be happy." Continue to send it loving messages until you sense or feel it relax. Notice how that feels in your own body. (Buddhist followers may notice the similarities to lovingkindness meditation.)

Once this part of you is completely soothed, you may feel inspired or motivated to take a particular action - or you may notice that your resistance to something you've been trying to get done has dissolved. In any case, you've just positioned yourself to act from a place of peace instead of panic.

4. Practice. Often.

You are literally changing your brain here, and that doesn't happen overnight. To your brain, the old self-critical pathways look like a six-lane highway and these new, kinder behaviors are the equivalent of hacking through the jungle with a machete. You have to keep walking that trail to keep the jungle from growing back over. Over time, you'll notice that it becomes easier to return to peace and equilibrium.

If you're looking for a next step to take, why not spend a few minutes getting clarity on your dream career direction? You might be surprised what insights come to light when you give your inner critic some time off. :-)

Image credit: Yair Haklai (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

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Your Online Dating Experience Makes You a Job Hunting Expert.

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You probably have one or two awkward date stories.

Here's one of mine - and how I used it to figure out what I really wanted.

I was sitting on the patio of one of my favorite brewpubs, wondering how long it could possibly take before our server brought the check. It was a beautiful fall day, but the atmosphere between my date and me was bordering on frosty. I thought about taking one more stab at conversation, but I didn't feel like having my opinions mocked yet again.

It turned out shortly after we'd sat down that Dude was a recreational arguer. Not only did he have an opinion about everything, he also had a list of reasons as to why all of mine were wrong. I swear, I think we got into an argument about whether smooth or crunchy peanut butter was better.

The low point had come when I thought we'd finally found a common point of interest and I recommended a great running shoe store I'd been to. When he found out where it was, he went on a multi-minute tirade about how awful that area was and maintained he never crossed the state line unless he absolutely had to. "There is absolutely nothing good about Kansas," he finished smugly.

"Well, I lived there for fifteen years, and I think I turned out okay, so."

And now we were waiting for the check.

Before, this would have discouraged me. (Okay, it still did.) But I had a reason to believe the afternoon wasn't a total waste. I was going to use this experience to help me get clearer on what I wanted.

Turning shit into fertilizer

When I got home, I pulled out my journal. I opened it to a list titled "What I Want in a Partner." At the bottom of the list, I wrote, "Listens to and respects my opinions. Desires connection."

(I could have put down, "Doesn't think opinions are a substitute for personality," but I was trying to keep it positive.)

Each date I went on during that year gave me similarly valuable information. At the beginning of my re-immersion in the dating pool, I really didn't know what I wanted. "Smart, kind, and funny, with some similar interests" was as far as I'd gotten when I first filled out my online profile. Months later, despite not really clicking with anyone, I had a much better picture of what I needed from a relationship.

What does this have to do with finding your dream job?

We've all spent time in jobs we dislike. I'm betting you've spent a decent amount of time daydreaming about something better - but what does "better" look like?

When I was feeling restless and dissatisfied with my job, one of my main anxiety loops was that I didn't know what to do instead. I had literally no idea. I had a lot of interests and a history of not sticking with any of them long-term, so I was nervous about committing to any one thing. All I knew was that I wanted something different.

Then I remembered the list from my online dating days (now, thankfully, behind me). What would it be like, I wondered, to take the same approach with my job?

Instead of trying to guess how this mystery dream job might look, I started with the things I liked and disliked about my current one. I looked at things like environment, commute, coworkers, work pace and type, and the skills I utilized. Slowly, a picture came into focus.

This was what I wrote.

I will use my whole self - every bit of my intelligence, compassion, resourcefulness, independence, and creativity - to both nourish myself and increase my right people’s well-being and happiness. Through my work, I will inspire others to do their best work, to rekindle their imaginations and engage with the world in a new way.

I will feel successful when:

  • I am working in a beautiful, supportive environment with/for intelligent, compassionate, engaged people.
  • I can see the positive difference that my work is making.
  • I have a schedule that works with my natural rhythms, instead of in spite of or against them.
  • I feel the satisfaction of overcoming challenges in a role that grows and changes with me.
  • I have the financial stability to meet my obligations, as well as fund some meaningful luxuries and adventures.
  • I can start and end the day by spending time with my husband.

It was still incredibly vague in some aspects, but it was a start.

The power of knowing what you want

As it happened, I didn't meet my husband during my months of online dating. He was someone I'd known for a decade - we'd even gone to the same high school. He wasn't anyone I'd thought about romantically before, but I impulsively asked him out on a date a few months after he'd broken up with his long-term girlfriend. It became very clear, very quickly that we were extremely compatible and we got engaged a scant five months later.

To be honest, I'd forgotten completely about my "what I want in a partner" list by then. It wasn't until we were getting ready to move in together that I found it while packing up my apartment. Frankly, it was eerie how perfectly it described him. I said a little prayer of thanks to the universe as I packed the journal away.

After my coaching practice had been active for about a year, I found the above list of desired job attributes. I read through them slowly, feeling a growing sense of gratitude and astonishment. I'd written it three years previously, hoping desperately that I wasn't asking for something impossible. As it turns out, I wasn't. Every single word of that document has come true.

Knowing what you want - being clear - has power. Otherwise, how will you know it when you find it?

Sometimes to find out what you want, you need to look at where you are now. What would you change? What are you tolerating? What feels like a struggle? What fills you with irritation, resignation, or despair?

I believe these feelings are here to do more than make you feel crappy; they are guiding you towards happiness, if you let them. It might not happen overnight - it took me three years to find that perfect job situation! - but how much easier is it to accept them and be curious about their messages if you believe they have something valuable to tell you?

Want to take this further?

This is hard work to do alone, which is why I created the coaching program Finding Your Fit.  In this three-month program, you'll get one-on-one support as you get in touch with your deeper purpose, discover your own version of success and learn the tools to get you there. Check it out here.

Image credit: Asaf R on Unsplash

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4 Fear-Busters for Tough Times

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The primary emotion I felt when I thought about quitting my job was fear.

I was afraid that...

  • I would never find out what I was "meant" to be doing.
  • I would pick the wrong thing, invest a lot of time/energy/money in it, and then get bored and feel trapped.
  • I would disappoint the people in my life.
  • I was wasting precious time because I couldn't make a decision.
  • I wouldn't be able to find something that was satisfying and financially sustainable.
  • If I did quit and take some time off, I'd run out of money before I figured things out.
  • At heart, I was a flaky, lazy and irresponsible person.
  • My skills were so specialized, I'd never be able to do anything else.
  • I'd never have a better situation than the job I had right now.

It felt like things were falling apart and I didn't know what to do.

I was in the middle of what Martha Beck calls a "Square One Meltdown." My sense of identity and my plans for the future were dissolving before my eyes, and I didn't know how to react other than with panic. At the time, I didn't have the context for what was happening to me, so it felt even scarier.

Now, three years later, I still get scared. Unfortunately, doing what you love does not inoculate you against fear. Coaching fills me with clarity and purpose, but there are plenty of days that I want to spend hiding under the covers.

The big difference is that I spend less time believing my fears, and I've learned to recognize the signs so I'm better at stopping a panic spiral before it gets out of control.

Here are the four things I do to bring myself back.

1. Get out of fight-flight-freeze mode.

When the nervous system gets overloaded by emotion, we disconnect from our bodies. For me, that looks like running around trying to get everything done, sitting frozen with thoughts racing through my head, or tuning out with a numbing distraction. My first step is always to realize that I've dissociated from my body and do what I can to get grounded.

I teach lots of ways to do this in Finding Your Fit, but here's one place to start:

  • Put one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest.
  • Inhale and focus on pushing out the hand on your belly.
  • Hold your breath for a few seconds.
  • Slowly release your breath, making the exhale longer than the inhale.
  • Try a count of in 4, hold 4, out 8.
  • Repeat at least four times.

What do you notice when you try this? I often feel like the air I inhale is attaching to all the tension in my body. When I exhale, I feel a softening, melting sensation in my neck and shoulders. The inside of my head gets quieter. I feel heavier and more grounded.

For more things to try, check out my article on getting out of fight or flight mode. It's important to get in touch with your body before you move on, because otherwise it's hard to slow down and focus enough to do the next steps.

2. Narrow your focus.

If you look at my list of fears up above, you'll notice that they are mostly abstract and based in the future. None of them are concerned with my immediate safety or survival. As my teachers like to say, "What part of this problem is in the room with you?"

Once you've returned to your body, take a moment to notice your actual real, present situation. Are you in danger? Are you being provided for at this moment? What needs to be dealt with immediately?

This isn't meant to be a "why aren't you happy with what you have?" type of questioning. It's a process of finding out how much of what's scaring you is in your head. When you take the time to notice that you are safe and secure, you can approach the next step with clear eyes.

3. Question your fears.

During my transition/soul-searching period, I was really good at journaling about my thoughts. Write down all your fears and insecurities? No sweat, I've got this covered.

While keeping track of these thoughts was a valuable first step, I just didn't go far enough. Once I wrote them all down, I accepted them as true. Instead of seeing my fears as a collection of words that were holding me hostage, I let them terrorize me into paralysis and called it "self-awareness."

Now, one of the biggest things I do with myself and my clients is identify and question the thoughts that cause us stress. We look for exceptions, assumptions, judgments, and projections. We see where we're voluntarily keeping ourselves small because being big is so much scarier. We let those fears be our teachers and direct us to those parts that need love and healing.

If you want some help getting started with this, check out the Work of Byron Katie. It's what I use with my clients and a powerful tool for seeing through your stressful thoughts.

4. Get help.

This isn't step 4 just because I'm launching a program - for me, it was the missing link between absorbing information and actually feeling some relief. I read a million self-help books on my journey, but nothing really sunk in until I sat down with someone whose job was to keep me focused, help me make connections, and point out my assumptions and blind spots. This process can be as uncomfortable as it is healing, and having someone go in there with you makes all the difference.

I hope that if you're freaking out right now, this has helped you calm down a little bit. And if you're ready to make a change and interested in finding some support of your own, check out how to work with me and see what kinds of things you're capable of when you approach your future from a place of clarity and confidence.

Image credit: freeimages.com/Ryan Dunaiski

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Don't wait to do what you love.

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When you're in a frustrating job situation, your whole life can feel like delayed gratification.

"Once I'm in a better place, then I can start enjoying myself."

"I'll be happy when I have a job I like."

Our culture doesn't help much; it demands a Serious Attitude when facing a Serious Problem (like what you're going to do with the rest of your life). The reasoning goes that if you're not worried about it, either you don't care that much or it's not really a problem.

I'd like to offer a counter-argument: enjoying yourself as much as possible has some very real benefits when it comes to figuring out your next steps. Let us discuss.

1. A positive mood improves your problem-solving skills.

In 2011, Scientific American reported that people who watched a comedy special were quicker at solving a word problem than those who watched an educational talk or a horror film. As it turns out, people in a positive mood have more activity in the area of the brain that is linked with sudden insight - those "aha" moments we've all experienced.

Approximately zero percent of my life-changing insights occurred during a freaked-out moment about my future. Even "useful" and "responsible" things like pro-and-con lists didn't play as big a role as you'd think in getting me or my clients where we are today.

Instead, these "aha" moments tend to happen (for me) during walks, naps, or conversations with friends. In fact, conversation in general played a big role in helping me get clarity, which is why I started my career-transition program, Finding Your Fit.

2. The things you enjoy are clues to your future happiness.

One of the reasons I never sought out a career coach when I was actively unhappy with my job is that I thought they would ask me about my interests and then offer related careers. "Oh, you like drawing? You should be an artist!" "You enjoyed planning your wedding? Obviously you should be an event planner!" (Turns out, this is actually not how coaching works.)

This line of inquiry might work for some people, but most of us need to dig a little deeper.

Here's an example: I love going for walks. That doesn't mean I'm destined to be a trail guide, but I can use the experience to gather clues.

Here are some things I get from the experience of walking:

  • freedom (the time, space and ability to do it)
  • beauty (looking at nature, peoples' houses and gardens)
  • moving my body
  • a mixture of solitude and companionship (I like going alone and with friends)
  • time to think
  • time to be without thinking
  • variety (I like to switch up my route)
  • autonomy (I get to pick the route and pace)
  • being outside in the fresh air and sunshine
  • feelings of curiosity, peace, appreciation

You can see how these desired experiences could translate to other areas of my life, like my career. I don't need all of them to be part of my job description, but my ideal situation gives me the time and space to make room for them in my life. Plus, when I focus more on the experience than the specifics, I don't get fixated on the outcome looking a certain way.

Your Turn!

Step 1: Make a list of at least 10 things you like to do.

If you need a place to begin, start by making a list of things you enjoy doing. What makes you laugh? What makes you feel free, peaceful, energized, engaged, or cared for? What feels satisfying?

For the moment, leave off the things that maybe you don't love but know are good for you (like exercising). You may feel better afterwards, but are you excited about doing it right now?

If there are some things you like doing, but know they can turn into self-destructive or numbing behavior if left unchecked, put them down anyway. For example, one of my clients loves reading fiction, but she knows that it's an easy escape from the rest of her life. There are still valuable clues to gather!

Once you have your list, see if there are any common themes. What do you like about each activity? Do you do them alone or with others? How long do they take? How much money do they cost? Are they location- or situation-dependent? What is the ideal time of day to do them? In a perfect world, how often would you do them?

Looking at them from a less literal place: what qualities are present in these activities? How do you feel when you do them? What other situations, people, or activities bring up those feelings? What experience are you looking for when you do them?

If you get stuck, a friend or coach comes in handy here to help you see things from an outside perspective and ask questions you may not have considered.

Step 2: Do these things often.

As I mentioned earlier, wisdom and insight bubbles up more easily from happy minds than angst-filled ones. I'm not trying to downplay the struggles you may be facing. I know it sucks. But when you take the time to do what you love, you bring that energy to other areas of your life.

Be curious about any resistance that shows up when you commit to enjoying yourself. I spent a lot of time during my own transition believing that dissatisfaction and unhappiness were my best motivators. While those feelings had some valuable information for me, I believe that you don't need to be miserable to deserve a change. The scared or judgmental thoughts that show up when you move towards joy can be amazing teachers - but only if you listen to what they have to say without buying into their messages.

If you're intrigued but have trouble seeing how having fun and lightness can improve your job situation, check out how to work with me - I'd love to help you tease out the insights hiding in your life. You already have everything you need to be successful - sometimes you just need a little help seeing it.

Image credit: freeimages.com/Julia Freeman-Woolpert

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Stop Faking It if You've Already Made It.

A Dream Deferred

When I first became a coach, I really wanted to work with people in search of satisfying and fulfilling careers. However, my own path was so convoluted that I doubted my ability to guide others through their own transitions. 

Obviously, I knew something about making decisions and trusting my heart, but I was so fixated on the specifics that I missed the larger lessons I was learning at the time. Instead, I decided to focus on the "easier" (to me) issues of perfectionism and procrastination.

It wasn't until I'd been doing this for awhile and decided to check in with some of my more successful clients that I discovered something surprising.

That thing I thought I couldn't do? I'd been doing it all along.

At the time of our coaching, these clients tended to be un-, under-, or unhappily employed. After working with me for a few months, they found better situations and ended up feeling optimistic about the future. It wasn't until I talked to several of them in a row that I began to see the pattern.

That's right - despite claiming all along that I wasn't a career coach and knew nothing about helping people achieve the same results that I had, each one of these women had crafted a path to greater happiness while working with me.

Underselling yourself isn't modesty - it's blindness.

"Fake it 'til you make it" isn't terrible advice, especially when it comes to matters of self-confidence. However, it can backfire when you've been slowly "making" it all this time but forgot to stop "faking" it - i.e., you've been improving, but your confidence hasn't.

This is when things like "imposter syndrome" (when you're perfectly qualified but feel like a fraud) come into play. You over-prepare for things, worry over every little detail, obsess over your perceived shortcomings, and dismiss your successes as flukes. You live in dread of being "found out" as less skilled than everyone thinks you are.

Once I was able to let go of my assumptions about what "career coaching" really entailed, I was able to see how my strengths had contributed to my clients' progress. As it turned out, I didn't have to know where they were going; all I had to do was help them get clear enough to figure it out on their own.

This was a huge epiphany for me.

I no longer had to fake confidence that I didn't really feel.

As much as I'd wanted to work with people in career transition, my lack of faith in my own abilities stopped me from specifically trying to reach out to them.

But when I took the time to look back and examine some of my past successes, I didn't have to have faith that I could do it, because I'd already done it. I didn't have to hold on to some nebulous "belief in myself" because the facts told me I was already successful.

Turns out, I wasn't the only one doing this.

My clients were doing the exact same thing. They already possessed all the makings of their success, but just couldn't see them. I know that sounds cheesy, but it's true. They just needed to get to a place where they could stop discounting their gifts and their intuition so that they could see that they already had everything they needed.

When you're living inside your own head, it can be almost impossible to get perspective on your strengths and abilities. It's easy to discount them because they're easy for you.

I get it: I spent years feeling that achievement wasn't valuable unless I worked extremely hard for it. Now, I'm learning to lean into my strengths and play up to them and not take them for granted.

Here's a quick and easy way to do this in your own life.

Whether or not you're interested in changing careers, I can't imagine that it's a bad thing to get new perspective on what makes you awesome.

Here's the exercise:

Take a typical day in your life and write down all the things you do, beginning with getting up in the morning and making breakfast.

Move through the rest of your day, noting down the tasks and projects you're in charge of, the things you get done, and the people you interact with.

For each of those things, ask yourself, "What did it take for me to be able to do that?"

Even something as simple as getting up in the morning can take strength of will or self-discipline. Maybe you're drawing on your innate qualities of dedication, conscientiousness, or scrupulousness.

What skills did you have to utilize to get through your day? What strengths, abilities or qualities did you need?

You don't have to get pedantic about it or take it to a level of tedium - all we're doing is bringing a new level of self-awareness to the ways you're already rocking your life without realizing it.

I think it's important to note the difference between skills and preferred skills.

Just because you're really awesome at putting together spreadsheets or meal plans doesn't mean you like them.

It's good to notice all the skills you have to draw on, but it's also worth paying attention to how much of your day you spend doing things you're good at versus things you're good at and enjoy.

I hope you found this exercise illuminating! I'd love to hear what it brought up for you. If you're wishing for a job that that uses more of your skills, check out my career transition programs to learn how coaching can help you make the jump.

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When not knowing what to do makes you crazy.

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There’s a specific mental loop that I get stuck in at times and it goes like this:

I don’t know what to do → I should know what to do → I need to do something now → but I don’t know what it is!

Sound familiar?

I ran around this loop constantly when I was trying to figure out what the hell I was going to do with my life, and then again after I'd started my business and was blanking on my next steps.

If I’m not careful, I find myself going in circles, getting wound up tighter and tighter, until I get to the point where even if there is a good decision to be made, there’s no way I’m going to know what it is.

Today I want to break down this loop into its components and explore some of its implicit assumptions, which will hopefully make it a little easier to deal with (and eventually get out of!).

There are three parts: the initial thought, the judging thought, and the urgent thought. 

Part 1: I don't know what to do.

This thought is actually pretty neutral when taken by itself. It's a statement of fact. I'm pretty sure there are times when you didn't know what to do and it was no big deal.

Therefore, it's not the thought itself that makes us anxious, it's the judgments and assumptions we have about the thought. This leads us to the next part.

Part 2: I should know what to do.

This is what takes the first part and turns it into something to get stressed about.

These anxious feelings tell me that it's a really good thought to question, like so:

  • Is it true? Should I know what to do?
  • Who says? 
  • How is this thought trying to serve me? (And isn't that an interesting question!)

The reason I'm having the thought in the first place is that it’s trying to protect me, albeit in its own not-very-enlightened way.

Its purpose is to motivate me to look for new solutions and to supposedly keep me from giving up. If I don't know what to do, the reasoning goes, I need to keep working until I do.

Unfortunately, it doesn't really work that way. I usually end up just getting paralyzed and feeling ashamed, frustrated, and anxious.

Part 3: I need to do something right now.

What we want to question here is that sense of urgency. It feels like the clock is ticking, like you're wasting time. If you're a millennial like me, maybe you grew up hearing about your potential and then at some point became terrified of wasting it.

There's an implication that there's a right way to be spending your time and if you're spending it in the wrong way, you're letting it slip away. Time is a precious thing in this loop and it feels very scarce.

Again, the “helpful” reason that thought is there is to keep me moving forward and keep me from giving up or settling.

Instead, I go straight into sympathetic shock, which is a fancy way of talking about the fight-or-flight response. I start running around, doing lots of different things but not really making much progress on any of them. Nothing really gets done, and if it does, I'm more apt to make mistakes and things tend to take longer.

What you want to do when you're stuck in this part of the loop is to ask questions like these:

  • How urgent is this, really? 
  • Will someone die if I don’t act immediately?
  • Do I have to figure out the whole thing now, or just the next little piece of it?

Getting Out of the Loop

So, to recap, what we've done so far is 1) notice we're in the loop and 2) start questioning the judgments and assumptions. Now, we're going to do something about it.

1. Come up with some alternative thoughts.

What "better-feeling" thoughts can you offer your anxious, worried, harried brain?

  • I don’t know what to do yet, but I'll figure it out.
  • I have plenty of time.
  • All I have to figure out is the next step.
  • I’d like to figure this out soon, but it’s not imperative that it happens right now.
  • I don’t know what to do this minute, and that’s okay.
  • I have lots of different options, even if I can’t see them right now.
  • Relaxing helps me to see my options.
  • I’m exploring my options.
  • I’m learning about my options.

2. Give yourself a 10-minute "worry break" and reconnect with your body.

When you're in that fight-or-flight feeling, you're completely dissociated from your body and your pre-frontal cortex (the part that makes decisions and regulates emotions) goes completely offline.

Meditate, do some stretches, or take a walk. Even just feeling your feet on the ground, paying attention to your breathing, and putting your hand on your heart or your abdomen can help.

I've written a whole blog post about some other things you can try. Just give yourself a brief vacation from having to deal with your stressful situation.

3. Next, feel into your body and let this question bubble up into your brain:

"What needs to happen next?"

Like literally, the very next thing you're going to do. It might be to go get a glass of water or answer an e-mail.

But whatever it is, let it come into your consciousness without forcing. Just take that one next step, and then see what happens. Do you go back into your anxious loop, or does something else come up?

When you come from that quiet, calm place and ask what needs to happen next, you might be surprised at the answer.

If it's too anxiety-provoking to trust yourself that way, treat it like an experiment. See if you can do that for an hour. Just see what happens when you let yourself trust the part of you that knows how to answer that question.

I know this isn't easy.

The fact that you're here and reading this means that you're interested in changing your patterns. It happens a little bit at a time, so don't get discouraged if this doesn't come naturally at first.

I can tell you that if you stick with it, it becomes easier and easier to gently detach yourself from the doom spiral and trust that the answers will come.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this post, you can subscribe to my newsletter and get notified about new articles. If you need a next thing to do, you'll also get my free workbook Anatomy of a Dream Job: Bring Clarity and Focus to Your Career Search.

Image credit: freeimages.com/William Ray

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You're not a failure if your Plan A falls through.

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So, your plan A fell through. Maybe...

  • you have an advanced degree but can’t find a job in your field.
  • you took a risk and moved for a job that you ended up hating.
  • you got let go and have no idea what’s next.
  • you spent years getting into an industry that wasn't the greatest fit.

These are all people I've coached. They did everything "right" and things didn't just turn out. They came to me feeling lost, frustrated, and confused - and who can blame them?

When your Plan A blows up in your face and you don’t have a backup, it's normal to feel unbalanced and uncertain for awhile.

It can be easy to start questioning your judgment or distrust your ability to make good choices. Maybe you feel trapped, stuck, or helpless. I know I did! There were also periods of hope, optimism, and relief - but that wasn't when I needed comfort or advice.

There is a time for pep talks, and there is a time for someone to sit next to you and rub your back and say, "I'm sorry, sweetie, that sucks. You're gonna get through this." This post is the latter (but check out the article library for the other stuff).

8 Things I  Want To Hear When I feel like a failure

1. It’s okay to be pissed that your nice road-map is now a crumpled smoldering mess.

For reals. The time for looking for silver linings and growth opportunities will come. Sometimes to get there you have to scream, cry, journal, or vent first. Let's face it: starting over kind of sucks.

2. You are not a failure.

People try things, and sometimes they don’t work out. It doesn't mean you made a bad decision or have poor judgment. This situation doesn’t have to define you, and you can learn from it when you're ready to look at it in a new way. (That doesn't have to happen today, btw.)

3. It’s not necessarily true that things would have worked...

...if you had only been braver, smarter, or more diligent. Perfection is not protection against life’s slings and arrows. Try not to beat yourself up for not being better.

4. You can figure this out.

You have more resources than you realize. It’s normal to be unaware of them right now because seeing your options while in a state of panic is like trying to solve a crossword puzzle...that's also on fire. It’s okay, just know that they’re there.

5. You don’t have to have everything figured out right now.

All you need to know is whatever will get you through the next day, or hour, or breath.

You may feel like you screwed up somewhere along the way. Whether or not that’s true, you still deserve kindness (yes, even from yourself).

6. It’s okay to hide when you need to.

You don’t have to act strong and smile for everyone when what you need at the end of a long day is tea and blankets and a good book. Give yourself a place where you don't have to have it all together.

7. You don’t have to try so hard.

If you’re doing your best, that’s enough. Possibilities and opportunities are easier to see when you’re not all twisted up inside, so do what you can and try to let the rest go for now.

8. You don’t have to figure this out by yourself.

You are not alone. It's okay to ask for help, or to admit that this is too much for you to deal with right now.

 

 

The people I've coached through situations like the ones in this article are all in happier, more stable places than where they started. One thing I've learned from witnessing their journeys is that you don't wait until after you've formulated a Plan B to relax. Instead, the process of calming your stressful thoughts is vital to figuring out your next steps. That's where your real work is, and the first step is accepting where you are right now (even if it sucks). After that, the rest takes care of itself.

I'll be writing more about this in the near future, and I hope you'll stick around for my next posts! If you subscribe to my newsletter, you'll get notified about new articles and you'll also get my free workbook Anatomy of a Dream Job: Bring Clarity and Focus to Your Career Search.

Image credit: freeimages.com/Zsuzsa N.K.

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Should you quit your job?

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This post is for you if you're daydreaming about quitting your job and your biggest reasons for staying are one or more of the following:

  • I can't leave - they need me.
  • Plenty of people don't like their jobs and handle it just fine.
  • It's not so bad - I should be able to suck it up and deal.
  • I'm lucky to even have a job - others have it much worse.
  • I don't want to be a quitter.

These thoughts and others like them kept me stuck for a long time. If they (or their cousins) are running around in your head, I want to give you some useful alternatives.

To do that, I need to start off by telling you about a fun little thing called the Drama Triangle.

The Drama Triangle: Disempowerment for Everyone! Oh Boy!

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The Drama Triangle is a relationship framework that involves three roles: the Victim, the Rescuer, and the Bully. I teach this concept more in-depth in my career transition program, but all you really need to know is this:

  • You can be on the Triangle with other people, situations, and even yourself.
  • You can and will shift roles during an interaction (you may start off as a rescuer and end up feeling like a victim, for example).
  • The Victim feels helpless. The Rescuer feels responsible (and resentful). The Bully is just mad (and mean about it).
  • Each role tries to feel safe by manipulating the other players with fear and guilt.

What does the Drama Triangle have to do with your less-than-lovely job? If you're anything like I was, you're probably playing all three roles throughout the day.

Take a look at those thoughts up above. I can't leave. They need me. It's not so bad. Suck it up and deal. Can you see how they all step from guilt and how they fit into this dynamic?

The problem here is that you give away all of your power to your coworkers, your boss, your job, and any stressful situations you might be experiencing. You're looking for validation from someone else that if you just work hard enough, for long enough, you're a good person whose needs will get met.

How long are you willing to wait?

I know you might be thinking, "Julia, it's not like I have a choice - I need this job." I hear you, and I would also question that conclusion. What would happen if you got fired tomorrow? You would figure out something else. It might not be fun or easy, but you probably have a few contingency plans between here and living in a cardboard box.

So I'm going to lay a few thoughts out here - see if any of them resonate with you.

1. No employee is irreplaceable.

You - beautiful you - are one-of-a-kind. Your job isn’t. In one of my last jobs, I believed (a bit egotistically) that I was the only person between them and disaster...until I quit and saw them scramble to get the help they needed elsewhere. It wasn’t pretty, but they got the job done. Without me.

2. Being unhappy is a good enough reason to leave a job.

You really don’t need to justify it to anyone else. I kept getting caught up in the thought that I didn’t have a good enough reason to leave. Just like a relationship - you don't need a reason to break up besides "This isn't working for me anymore." Don't let internally- or externally-created guilt keep you in a bad situation.

3. There is no hierarchy of pain.

Do you have a better job than a little sweat-shop kid or a coal miner? Yeah, probably. Does that mean you’re not unhappy? That you don’t deserve to do something that doesn’t make you break out in a cold sweat on Sunday night?

The world doesn’t need you to stay miserable for the sake of everyone who has it worse, it needs you to find out what makes you light up so that you can go out and kick ass at it. It might not help a child laborer (although it might!), but it will make you much more pleasant to be around.

Plus, if you have a loving partner/child/friend-group, it will make them much happier to see you happy. (Trust me on this one. My husband tried to get me to quit so many times before I finally pulled the trigger.)

4. You don’t have to wait until you’re miserable to start looking for other options.

If you start disliking your job, ask why. Is it a temporary project that’s freaking everybody out? Okay, maybe if you wait it out things will get better.

But if the problem is interpersonal relationships, poor communication, or you’re not enjoying your duties anymore (and they’re not likely to change), you might want to start putting out feelers.

5. There is no prize for being the person who willingly puts up with the most shit.

The only thing you will get is more shit to deal with. You might get some appreciation or acknowledgment, but you'll also become the person that other people think, "It's cool, So-and-so can handle it." Do you want to be that person? Do you feel any guilt for not wanting to be that person?

So you're thinking about quitting your job - what next?

If you’ve managed to move past the guilt and gotten up the courage to consider quitting your less-than-stellar job, there are probably a few things you’re freaking out about right now.

Maybe it’s money, maybe it’s the job market, maybe it’s how you’re going to tell your [people who are intimately involved in your life decisions]. Maybe it’s that you have no clue what you really want to do with your life.

This shit is scary, I'm not gonna lie. It takes a lot of guts to consider a leap into the unknown. Many people choose to stay in icky situations indefinitely because the alternative is so terrifying. I have a lot of respect for you for being willing to pursue something more.

If you're going to make this work, start setting up your support systems now. Maybe start saving more of your paycheck, start researching your options, and stick out your current situation as long as you can with the knowledge that this is temporary. Hire a coach (hi!) or get a trusted friend on speed-dial to talk you off the ledge when you start wondering if you're making a huge mistake.

You're not. I believe in you. Now it's up to you to believe that you deserve something better.

Image credit: freeimages.com/Mario Alberto Magallanes Trejo

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Finding peace in transition.

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In transition? Bring on the identity crisis!

This post is dedicated to everyone who's in transition and feeling weird about talking about it to other people. I can't be the only one, right?

Going to my 10-year high school reunion was surreal and slightly awkward in a way that I think is unique to that kind of event. I enjoyed connecting with some people I hadn't spoken with in years, and there were a few surprises that night (who had beards! who had babies!).

An unexpected surprise was my shyness around my fledgling coaching practice. After all, I have a website! I have business cards!

In reality, when people asked me what I was doing, I said something like,

"I've spent a lot of time doing museum installation, but, um...I'm actually transitioning into life coaching."

If I were truly comfortable with this identity, I would have just been like, "I'm a life coach, bitches." (Bitches implied but probably not vocalized.)

Finding the useful amidst the awkward

Immediately after the event, I was frustrated with how milquetoast I'd been about it. Now, I'm actually really happy that I got such clear information about what I need to work on next.

What I wish I'd done before the reunion was recognize where I still had insecurities and fears and worked to resolve those, rather than worrying quite so much about business card design. (They are really pretty, though.)

What I did was turn a blind eye to the hard stuff inherent in starting over. Years out of high school, I wanted to look established and successful. (Hello, ego, I don't remember inviting you to the party, but here you are!) I didn't want to look shaky and in the middle of transition, and in the moment I made a snap judgment to highlight my former stable career because it felt safer.

Can I just take a moment to acknowledge all the hard here?

  • It's hard to give up being an expert in exchange for looking like a newbie.
  • It's hard to let go of an old identity, even if it's not serving me anymore.
  • It's hard to explain why I wanted to leave a job that sounds really cool.
  • It's hard to claim a (slightly cheesy-sounding) profession that many people haven't heard of and don't really understand.

By trying to ignore all the lingering resistance/fear/doubts I still had around making such a drastic change, I couldn't get to a point of feeling safe and confident about my choice. No wonder I clung to my security blanket of Respected Museum Professional™.

Now, I'm retroactively writing myself a giant permission slip.

Permission to feel weird about being in transition! Permission to be new and inexperienced! Permission to not explain why I left my old career! Permission to not care what people think! Permission to be vulnerable! Permission to be scared of all the new things I need to learn! Permission to not be perfect and have it all together! Permission to not know how it's all going to turn out!

I'm already breathing easier.

You guys, starting over is hard. There will be people who won't understand. There might be people who will even take it personally. Being willing to show up and screw up is one of the scariest things out there. Letting go of an old identity can feel a little like death.

This is where I am, and that's okay (even if it sucks).

However, I've found the secret to peace in the midst of all this chaos: accepting where I am, growing pains and all. Being able to say, "This is where I am, and it kind of sucks, and that's okay," is one of the most powerful ways I've found to claim my own experience and let it be what it is. It's when I get scared and try to present myself as an expert or totally in control that things feel icky and wrong.

If you're in transition and scared of what people will think of the changes you're making, you're not alone. And if it doesn't feel safe to talk about what's going on yet, that's okay too. Your new identity is a tiny sweet thing and deserves the right time and place to emerge - which might not be a high school reunion! Share it with people who love you, who trust you to make the right choices for yourself. And when you feel that love and trust for yourself, I hope you'll let it out so the rest of us can enjoy it, too.

Image credit: freeimages.com/Kaliyoda

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What do your interests say about you?

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Sometimes an interest is so much more.

I've seen the same thing over and over with my career coaching clients: the interests that they oh-so-casually bring up often hold a goldmine of information about their ideal career direction.

I was talking with a client recently whose chief childhood pastime was playing with Legos. Even though we talked about his professional and educational background, I really think we could have pulled out all the information we needed about his ideal work environment, tasks, and structure...just from talking about Legos.

It was kind of amazing.

The mistake most job-hunters make with their interests

I've noticed a pattern about people in career transition. They tend to do one of two things with their interests:

  1. They dismiss them entirely. ("Doing an hour of yoga every day is just...a thing I do. It doesn't have anything to do with the rest of my life.")
  2. They try to parlay them into something lucrative. ("I like yoga! Maybe I should be a yoga teacher! Or open a yoga studio!")

The problem with number 1 is that they're also throwing out a huge amount of information about what they like, what they're good at, and how they behave when free to be themselves.

The problem with number 2 is that it's easy to take an overly literal approach and put a lot of pressure on this enjoyable thing to make money - which often, unsurprisingly, makes it less enjoyable.

Yes, there is a third way! I'm glad you asked.

One trick is to toggle between metaphor and reality.

In the example of my client with the Legos, there are some aspects of the activity that can be taken fairly literally.

  • He liked to play alone, rather than with other kids.
  • He liked to put things together on his own first and then ask for feedback.
  • Rather than follow a set of instructions, he liked to make up his own designs.
  • He liked working with his hands.

That doesn't mean he wants to work at Legoland or become a professional bricklayer.

When I continued to question him, other themes came up:

  • He liked giving himself the goal of building something specific (like a car or rocketship) and then making it as good as possible given those restrictions.
  • He enjoyed the process of visualizing something mentally, bringing it into reality, and then sharing it with other for feedback.
  • He liked the way specific preexisting shapes or elements could be combined to create new things - a theme that was echoed in other interests we discussed.

While it's easy to see how a career like architecture or engineering would map to these elements, there are lots of professions for creative introverts who love problem-solving.

It's all about gathering the clues and seeing which benefit from a literal interpretation and which can be applied more loosely.

Another clue is identifying the qualities associated with that interest: for my Lego-loving client, they might be things like order, structure, creativity, or improvisation.

Gathering Clues in Your Own Life

Barbara Sher has an exercise where you walk around your living space and pretend you're a detective who's gathering clues about the person who lives there. I've taken a similar tactic with my Be Your Own Career Detective exercise (which you can download for free).

The benefit to taking different interests and holding them up to the light with an attitude of curiosity is that you begin to see the same themes over and over again. A good question to ask yourself over and over is "What is it that I like about ___?"

If you try this yourself, you'll notice that not everything fits in a neat little box and you'll come across internal contradictions. Embrace the exceptions! They're part of what makes you a human with a personality and not a perfectly predictable target market.

Whether you walk around your house with a magnifying glass or play social scientist to address your love of historical fiction, you'll have the unique opportunity of viewing your life from an eagle's-eye view and putting the different pieces into context.

Where do you go from there?

It might be a time for a little soul-searching. Given the information you uncovered, are you living your life the way you'd like? What parts of yourself have gone under-appreciated for too long? What deserves a more prominent place, and what have you been spending a lot of time on that could take a backseat for awhile?

These are big questions and not always easy ones to answer on your own. I wish you clarity in your investigations and suggest that you not be too shy about seeking an outside perspective - it can make all the difference. And if you'd like a little help, click here to find out more about working with me.

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