Having a gigantic selection of career possibilities is a good thing, right?
Not so much if you have a huge desire to make a change in your life and feel overwhelmed by choices.
It reminds me of my single days, when I didn't have my handsome, warm husband at home. In any social situation, there would always be that nagging question in the back of my mind: Will "he" come swaggering in the door today? Could this guy be "The One?" How will I know? What if he is not and I miss out on "The Real One?"
In that kind of context, possibilities are kind of exhausting.
What should you do?
The same is true for people who feel paralyzed trying to figure out the next step in their career.
- Should you quit your job, make a dramatic exit a la Jerry Maguire, read your manifesto to the entire office, take your fish and figure out next steps later?
- Should you start a small business on the side?
- Should you sign up for the MLM business your brother-in-law has been pestering you about for the last eight months?
- Should you look for another job to tide you over until you figure out what you really want to do?
- Should you move back in with Mom and Dad?
All of these questions leave you stumped if you don't have any context or criteria for your decisions.
In fact, in the middle of writing this post, I got this email from a new newsletter subscriber (referenced with her permission):
"I am pondering self-employment. However, I'm not sure that I would've given it a thought if it had not been for an unceremonious parting of the ways with my previous company. After a year of struggling with a new manager, we both realized that I was leading a program in a different direction than the direction she wanted it to go. I was given a couple of unpalatable options so after 8 years of contribution I moved on.
Only I don't have another job. And I need one. But I don't ever want to get stuck again in such a bad situation. So I've been exploring consultancy or freelance work. However, that takes a lot of effort and energy that is different from the effort and energy that goes into finding a new job. How can I tell which direction is right for me? Are the 2 directions mutually exclusive? If I'm serious about self-employment should I take a bridge job to tide me over until self-employment can be made a reality?"
Define your ideal life
What I suggest to this kind reader is to spend some time fleshing out a picture of her ideal life, which doesn't have to include a specific description of an ideal job, or an ideal business just yet.
It can be something like:
- I live in Boston
- I work about 20 hours a week from home, doing a variety of freelance projects.
- Virtually all of my business is conducted over the internet.
- I travel to deliver keynote presentations six times a year in major cities like London, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Tokyo and Hong Kong.
- I have a small team of great partners who compliment my skill set. We all work for ourselves.
- I have a happy and fulfilling home life. I am present in my kids' lives and have time to participate in school activities, help with homework and bandage skinned knees.
- I exercise every day.
- I have "x" dollars in retirement accounts and "y" dollars in savings.
- I make "z" dollars per year
- In my spare time I am a backup dancer for Beyoncé
Once you begin to develop this big picture of your ideal life, you can create a list of "must-do's" to accomplish that picture.
The must-do list
This list can contain things like:
- Skills to learn (writing, freelance marketing, sales, accounting, Hip Hop dancing)
- Experience to gain (teaching, blogging, creating websites, presenting)
- Money to accumulate (retirement cushion, launch fund $, savings accounts)
- People to connect with (mentors, partners, friends, Beyoncé)
- Places (to live in, visit, frequent)
- Brand to build (incoming blog links, press mentions, raving fans)
Then, with this list in mind, you can select your next step with the specific purpose of checking off a few things from your list.
- You could choose to take a job in Boston which would get you settled in the place you intend to live
- You could take a less than ideal, but very short-lived and high-paying freelance gig that would allow you to bank up the money needed to start up your business
- You could move back with Mom and Dad with no shame, in order to have time to get your freelance business off the ground without the pressure of paying for rent
- You could start to perform your backup dancer skills at Talent Night every Friday evening in every surrounding city
This chart is a visual example of how each step takes you a bit closer to the ideal vision (click on it to make bigger):
What if your ideal vision changes?
Of course your ideal life vision may change as you start to make concrete progress towards it. Most likely, you will make a series of tweaks as you get experience and information about what will make you the most happy, healthy, wealthy and wise. Expect things to change a bit. Just pay attention to making concrete progress in gaining the specific skills, experience, knowledge, contacts and resources to bring your dreams to life.
By choosing criteria, you can give yourself a break
We tend to get quite melodramatic when we make career decisions.
- If I take a real job again, I will show the world I am a failure as an entrepreneur
- Only losers sleep on Mom and Dad's couch
- If I take on one less-than ideal project, I will be doomed to do them the rest of my freelance life
This is only the case if you choose to see it this way.
When I was pregnant with Josh, I chose to work on one of those "less-than-ideal-but-megabuck" consulting projects. The travel schedule was grueling -- I traveled every single week from Phoenix to the Bay Area and worked on things that weren't necessarily my core passion. Because I get terrible morning sickness when pregnant, the travel was really a pain.
But as a result, I was able to bank up a bunch of cash and took a whole year off after Josh was born. This allowed me time to change directions in my business, start a blog (this one!) and spend lots of time learning about online branding and marketing. It was definitely worth the momentary discomfort!
I hope this approach to career planning gives you a bit of context and decision criteria for your next step.