HOW TO DESIGN A NEW CAREER (Excerpt from Chapter 3, How To Decide)
1. Make a commitment to yourself to decide on your future vocation. The first step is to decide to decide. Wanting to decide will not get your plane off the ground.
What do you suppose the glazed-over, office-bound people you see taking the subway to work are thinking about? Probably they are thinking the same sort of things we all think: “I wish my life was ___.” “Wouldn’t it be great if I could ___?”“What I want is ___.” People can entertain themselves forever this way. But no matter how much they wish and hope and dream, they keep getting on the same subway each morning and going off to the same old job. You need to get clear enough about your commitment to the quality of your life that you can take potent and resourceful action to make your commitments become your reality. The way to do that is to step out and make definite promises that you are willing to keep, even when it looks scary.
2. Make designing your future career your number one priority. Don’t just fit it into the cracks of your life. You will get what you give.
3. Begin by looking in. The idea is to design a career that fits you rather than trying to squeeze into something the wrong shape or a few sizes too small. To do that, you must turn your attention inward. Get to know yourself thoroughly. Inquire into every aspect of your nature and personality. Even if you know yourself well, find ways to observe your past and present from new viewpoints, especially those that provide tangible, realistic, and practical clues about the best fit between you and the working world.
4. Seek full self-expression. You would be wise to honor every aspect and each domain of your life. Many poor-fitting careers result from considering only external rewards like money and status. Consider each thoroughly if you want your work to be balanced and harmonious. Full self-expression doesn’t necessarily mean swinging from the chandeliers. It means including all the important parts of your nature and your intentions. A career that fits perfectly demands that you be who you are fully and do what you do naturally.
All other creatures on the planet, from the lowest amoeba to the great blue whale, express all their component elements in a perfect dance with the world around them. Only human beings have unfulfilled lives. Only humans suffer from career discontent. But, then again, we may be the only inhabitants of the earth who get to decide what we will do with our lives. Since we have the option to be the authors of our destinies, why not do it well? The reward for taking on the adventure of choosing and creating a career is a life of fulfillment. There is nothing magical about this. It is simply a function of learning to have all aspects of your nature play together in harmony, like the instruments of an orchestra.
5. Break down the big question—“What am I going to do with my life?”—into smaller, more manageable chunks. If you are like most of us, when you attempt to make career decisions, you imagine careers that might be interesting (doctor, lawyer, Indian chief). Your mind hops from one potentially interesting career to another. Your romantic imagination kicks in. You think of all the positive aspects of the job: “Let’s see, I really like the idea of becoming an Indian chief. It seems like an exciting job, working outside, nature all around, not a boring desk job, great clothes, and etcetera.” Then, after a while, you have an attack of negative considerations, an attack of the “Yeahbut” thoughts: “I’m allergic to feathers, those cold winter nights in the teepee, and what about cavalry attacks?” You are left with a veritable blizzard of mental images and opinions about potential careers yet are no nearer to making a definite decision about which one to pursue. What’s worse, using this method, you tend to get foggier rather than clearer.
The more you think about a career, the more your opinions—both positive and negative—get stuck onto the original picture. After a while, whenever the thought of that particular career surfaces in your mind, all you see is all the stuff stuck to it. When you think “Indian chief,” up pops a picture of a cavalry attack. When you break down the “What shall I do with my life?” question into small chunks, thinking about it all gets easier.
Natural talents and innate abilities. Everyone is born with a unique group of talents that are as individual as a fingerprint or snowflake. These talents give each person a special ability to do certain kinds of tasks easily and happily, yet also make other tasks seem like pure torture. Can you imagine your favorite improvisational comedian as an accountant? Talents are completely different from acquired knowledge, skills, and interests. Your interests can change. You can gain new skills and knowledge. Your natural, inherited talents remain with you for your entire life. They are the hand you have been dealt by Mother Nature. You can’t change them. You can, however, learn to play the hand you have been dealt brilliantly and to your best advantage.
Personality traits and temperament. Many people are engaged in careers that make it necessary to suppress themselves at the job. An elegant fit between you and your work includes and supports the full self-expression of your personality. Telltale signs of a career that doesn’t fit your personality include: the necessity to assume a different personality at work, restricted self-expression, activities that conflict with your values.
Passion, meaning, mission, purpose. People who are enthusiastic about their work are usually engaged in something they care about and are proud of what they do. They feel they are making a contribution. They may need to go to work to pay the bills, but that is not what gets them out of bed in the morning.
Willingness to stretch your boundaries. One of our clients was a forty year old woman who decided to pursue a career in medicine. Her previous college record was insufficient for entry into medical school. She had no money to finance a medical education. Her willingness to stretch beyond what seemed possible was so strong that she went back to college and completed prerequisite courses. She gained admission to a fine medical school and managed to creatively finance her education. Other clients are unwilling or unable to make more than a modest stretch in a new direction. I encourage you to stretch as far as possible toward a career choice that will not be a compromise. At the same time, be completely realistic. It makes no sense to make plans you are unwilling or unable to achieve.
Fulfills your goals. To have something to shoot for is an important part of the joy of working. A custom-designed career supports you to fulfill your personal and family goals and gives you a sense of challenge on the job.
Rewards fit your values. Like a biscuit you give a dog, rewards are the motivators that help keep you happily performing your tricks at work. Some rewards mean more to you than others. That is because they are linked with your values. If recognition for doing something well is a value important to you, then it may also be a necessary reward to motivate you to keep performing well. Doing without adequate recognition will slowly erode your well-being on the job.
Compatible work environments. Each person flourishes in some work environments and finds others stressful or otherwise inappropriate. Several different aspects of the environment that surrounds you play a vital role in the quality of your work life. You live in a certain geographical environment.
The company you work for has a particular organizational environment, style, and corporate personality that affect you every minute you are there. On a smaller scale, your immediate work environment includes the physical work setting, the tone or mood of your office, and your relationships with others, including your supervisor, fellow employees, and clients or customers.
The bottom line. Are the careers you are considering really suitable, doable, and available? Do they really fit you? The decisions you make about your career direction are no more than pipe dreams unless they are achievable and actually turn out as you hope they will. Research is the key to understanding the reality of potential future careers.
6. Ask resourceful questions. The quality of your life depends on the choices you make. Your choices stem from how well you answer fundamental questions about yourself and your future. The quality of your answers directly depends on how focused, how succinct, and how clear you are willing to be when posing important questions.
Like most intelligent people, you may have already learned a great deal about yourself. Many people who know themselves well still have difficulty making the best decisions. Getting a PhD in psychology has never made anyone well-adjusted or happy. However, the way that you understand yourself and how you use this knowledge are often more important than how much you know about yourself. The art of inquiry is an essential skill in designing your life. The better the job you do of framing the question, the better the answers will serve you. In fact, when you frame a question perfectly, the answer often seems to fall from the question naturally and easily, like rain from a thundercloud.
One secret to successfully asking and answering important questions is to break them down into small chunks. Answering the question “What shall I do with the rest of my life?” is a mammoth endeavor. The only possible way to tackle it is to break it down into small, manageable questions. As our ancient ancestors knew, you eat a mammoth one bite at a time.
7. Delve into all important questions using inquiry tools and self-tests that help you become absolutely sure what the elements of your future work will be. As you continue on through these pages, you will come upon many guided assignments and exercises called inquiries. Some of them are like telescopes or microscopes. They allow you to look farther or deeper. Some are a bit like the transporter room on the Starship Enterprise. They give you access to new possibilities and new worlds. Others serve the function of a crowbar, prying you off the rock you are clinging to for dear life. Each is designed to delve into one important area in a way that allows you to get clear enough to make some decisions. You must remember that these tools are only little black squiggles on white paper. They will not do it for you or to you. Only your wholehearted engagement with the inquiries can make it happen.
You may find that some chapters and inquiries focus on things you do not need to investigate. If you are sure about some parts of your career design, skip the chapters that cover those areas. Just use what you need.
8. Design your career one piece at a time. Build with definite components. Tentative decisions engender fuzzy commitments, which in turn give rise to irresolute actions. Often people attempt to hold back on making decisions until they have done all the research and answered all the important questions. They have mounds of information but nothing definite nailed down. They try to manage the wild herd of mustang dreams, needs, wants, insights, and goals stampeding through their minds. As attractive as this method seems, there is one small problem with it: It just doesn’t work! At Rockport, we see a steady stream of clients who have spent years trying to do it this way. They know themselves as well as the canary knows its cage. But they still haven’t decided what to do with their lives. The only way I know that works consistently is to build a piece at a time, to make a series of smaller choices that fit together like the blocks of snow in an igloo. It doesn’t matter if you make big decisions or small ones. Each is a worthy piece of the puzzle. Build your future career one block at a time. Build it from solid chunks, made from components that you have chosen as definite parts of your future work. The best question you can ask is, “What am I sure will be some of the definite components of my work?”
9. Fit together everything you are sure of like pieces of a puzzle. Construct your future block by block, piece by piece. The building blocks are made of the one and only element you have to work with that is as solid as the blocks of snow in an igloo: certainty. You build with whatever you are certain of as you go through this career design process. There are really only two ways to be sure of anything. You can look inside yourself and uncover preexisting requirements, elements about which you are already sure. For example, you might already be sure that you will work in the world of business—or perhaps you’re sure that you definitely won’t work in the business world. The other way to be sure is to declare some element you want to be a definite requirement: You make a commitment, a promise to yourself. If you decide that you will work outdoors most of the time, future components you add to the “Definite” column have to be consistent with that choice. That commitment will also bring up new questions and guide you in adding other components to your design.
10. Go for vitality, not comfort. Be unreasonable. At every moment, you have one essential choice: to let the programming steer the boat or to take the helm yourself. Your present circumstances, your mood, the thoughts that pass by all have a life of their own, independent of your will. You can, at any moment, take flight on new wings into an unprecedented life by making a choice for vitality, for living fully, for life spelled in capital letters. It is, however, an expensive journey. You pay by giving up the familiar, comfortable, everyday ways of living and thinking that are the wages and rewards of going with the flow of your programming. The willingness to feel fear and keep going forward distinguishes the living from the merely breathing. In fact, it is not just the so-called negative emotions that are uncomfortable. When you choose to live fully, your palette of experiences, thoughts, emotions, and possibilities expands. This leads you onto new ground in other areas of your life as well. And, folks, all that newness swirling around just ain’t comfortable.
The question is not whether to take risks but which ones to take. The peril of being reasonable is that you miss all the fun. It’s not enough to edge your way cautiously toward the cliff. Learn to revel in taking risks for the sake of your soul. Every choice you make gives birth instantly to certain risks as surely as your shadow follows you.
“There are really only two ways to approach life—as a victim or as a gallant fighter—and you must decide if you want to act or react, deal your own cards or play with a stacked deck. And if you don’t decide which way to play with life, it will always play with you.” —Merle Shain
11. Go out into the world and do research to discover what sort of work matches the pieces of the puzzle you have assembled so far. Your definite components become the specifications you use to come up with specific careers that may fit. Now it is time to look out into the world and see what sort of work these specifications fit. Do some research. You want to list a few possible careers and then find out more about them.
12. Persist in spite of obstacles and setbacks. Don’t stop until you know what you are going to do with your life. If you quit before you reach your goal, you won’t reach it. That last statement seems almost idiotically obvious, doesn’t it? Yet it is the number one reason people do not get what they want.
“Let me tell you the secret that has led me to my goal. My strength lies solely in my tenacity.” —Louis Pasteur
Throughout history, men and women who have made extraordinary contributions have been asked the secret of their genius. The one thing that most of them agree on is the power of persistence. No matter how brilliant your idea or how large your dream, without exceptional tenacity it is likely to remain unrealized. The quirk of human nature that makes it difficult to persist when the going gets rough is that most people are more committed to experiencing their habitual, comfortable range of inner sensations than they are to accomplishing what they have said they will do. If you are will¬ing to experience fear, disappointment, humiliation, and embarrassment, and keep going anyway, you become an unstoppable force of nature. As we shall see in later chapters, the secret to perseverance is a simple one: have a commitment to getting the job done that’s bigger than a desire for comfort and ease.
As you travel through The Pathfinder, you will discover that your biggest difficulty in persisting, as well as in making the final decision, is something I call “Yeahbuts.” These are thoughts generated inside you by a device that seeks to keep you safe by keeping everything in your life the same. You will meet up with it often on this journey. For the time being, begin to notice that you have attacks of thoughts that try to persuade you to give up on making any substantial changes to your life.
13. Keep whittling down your list of possible careers until you know enough to make the final decision. Then make the leap and make the choice! Once you put together many pieces of the puzzle, there comes a moment of existential choice. It’s time to leap; to decide on your future career. For most people, the final answer will not appear out of the fog on its own. You have to make your own final choice. A few weeks or months ago, it may have seemed like an impossibly large leap. Now you are ready. Because you have worked so diligently making some of the smaller decisions, it is easier to decide. In the movies, the hero often has to make impossibly long, death-defying leaps from the roof of one building to another. Making the final decision may feel a little like this. But all the work you have done has paid off. It has brought the buildings sufficiently close together so that making the leap is now within the range of what you know you can do.
14. Celebrate! When you have decided what to do with your life, celebrate! You owe it to yourself. Or, even better, why not celebrate that you started this process today? Tomorrow celebrate that you are moving toward your goal. When you get stuck, celebrate that you are stuck. Celebrate when the sun shines and when the cold winds blow. Make this process one of joyful creation rather than a job that you have to do.