Exploring Interests & Starting Transitions

I recently had a long conversation with a good friend about how to get started exploring new directions in their career. My friend isn’t thrilled with their current situation, it’s not where they saw themselves, they are at a different life point now than when they started…Sound familiar?


One of the most common questions I get asked is some version of “I’m stuck, where do I go from here?”  Many of us have trouble beginning to think about new things.  We reach a point of comfort, or a “rut” and don’t have the time or energy to put into thinking beyond where we are today. If you are happy with what you are doing, that is fine. If not, here are a few ideas for getting started.


Note: This is NOT a post about “job searches”, rather it’s about how to explore when you think you need a change. Examples could be moving to a non-profit to feel more fulfilled or launching your own business.


1.      Determine a few areas you want to explore


This sounds obvious. It is. So do it.


What are you interested in? What activities get you excited and willing to go “above and beyond” without pay or recognition?


For me it’s always been teaching and coaching. I went to History graduate school believing I wanted to be a History professor. I decided against that after spending several years in a PhD program and realizing that success would be more driven by publishing than teaching. Time well spent in my mind. I now knew that I liked to teach, but that wasn’t the right avenue. I’ve found my way back in part because I kept gravitating to it.


So make a list. It may have really diverse activities or characteristics on it. Good. Play with it and see what emerges. It may yield ideas for job roles, businesses or simply ways to adapt your current job to meet your personal needs.


2.      Recognize that it takes effort, things don’t “work themselves out”


Once you have a few ideas, then you need to actually look around. Explorers don’t wait for new things to come to them. They set off without a clear idea of what they’ll find and generate opportunities to learn.


So do some reading. There’s more information out there on most topics than you can possibly digest. This is necessary, but not sufficient. It sets up the “real” research.


Most importantly, go meet people and get an intimate perspective on the area you are interested in.  For example this could mean talking to: staff and students at a school if you are debating a return or career switch, entrepreneurs you know about the joys and challenges of new business start-up, people who do the thing you are contemplating…You get the idea.


Important note: Don’t hesitate to connect with people. I am constantly impressed at how many people will help you with their perspective and a little time if you approach them respectfully. I write about this more in columns on relationships.


3.      Don’t be hasty or “crawl, walk, run”


Jumping into the deep end is not my idea of “exploring”. This is something to be pecking away at over time. If you can’t sustain interest over time, then you’ve found something out.


Figure out a way to gradually get into your chosen area(s). If you’re curious about counseling, take on a volunteer role somewhere, take a class.  If interested in starting a business, find a local entrepreneur and see if they’ll let you help them on weekends. If you really want to close the deal, don’t ask for salary.


Pick something and do it, but don’t over-commit. View it as a personal pilot program. Some pilots fail. That’s OK. You’ll learn some things that aren’t a good fit (and at a low personal cost) and maybe find your passion.


If you are actively moving some ideas and activities forward, you will find opportunities to make bigger moves or changes will “emerge” from the new connections you are making.


4.      Think through your cash flow, what do you need?


Not to be a bummer, but bills don’t pay themselves. Another benefit of crawl, walk, run is that it allows you time to fully understand the economics of whatever you are exploring. Will you make more, less? Are the hours different? Are there other costs to these changes (child care, school tuition, professional dues etc.)?


Make sure you are being a realist about the financial implications of your potential options. If you’re someone who is accustomed to a certain lifestyle, be honest with yourself about it.


5.      Don’t be a victim


This is a pet peeve of mine. I hate hearing “so and so is so lucky. Things always seem to work out for them.” Grrrr. Get off the couch and take action, even if it’s small. Activity compounds over time (like interest) and you’ll develop momentum. As golf great Gary Player once said, “the more I practice, the luckier I get.”


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