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Career Constraint

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Folks often tell me they haven’t a clue about the career or business they want to have. What they do know, is they don’t want to keep doing whatever it is they’re doing now.

It makes perfect sense and stands to reason that they would then reach out to me to help them get to the bottom of their problem.

So, I ask what seems like an obvious question…”what is it that prevents you from figuring out what it is you want?” The answer I hear the most is this:

“I don’t know what else is out there or what else I could do”.

This is such a common thing I hear that I had to take some time to write about it. It’s something so many of us have said, right? So much so that it sounds perfectly reasonable and well, true.

What I’d like to offer is that whether it’s true or not, it’s an incredibly unhelpful thing to think and belief to hold. If you’re familiar with my approach to career change you’ll know that thought work is a big part of what I teach people. So, of course my question becomes this:

How does thinking a thought like “I don’t know what else is out there or what else I could do?’ make you feel about yourself or about the world?

I think we can all agree it’s a pretty dis-empowering belief to have. I’ve written often about what our brain does any time we say “I don’t know”. It does the equivalent of turning off. Essentially what that thought is trying to do is relieve us of the responsibility of deciding what to do next. It’s a sneaky way our brain keeps us from having to make a decision.

Maybe you’ve also heard me say that not making a decision is actually a decision. It might not be one we’ve deliberately chosen but that doesn’t matter here. If you feel like you “don’t know” something that seems to be the thing that’s keeping you stuck, sit down for an hour and write out everything you DO know. In the case of your career, write out everything you know you DO want for your career and life. What’s important to you? What do you know you love? What does your ideal day look like? Whenever your brain feeds you “I don’t know” or “I’m confused” (it will), ask yourself this: “what if I did know?”, “what if I wasn’t confused?”

Take a break from the job titles and job duties and go bigger picture. Think about how you want to feel and ask yourself, when was the last time I felt that and why? Once you’ve come up with a page or two and created your big picture vision, write down any career areas you’d like to learn more about that you think could fit into your vision. There is no expectation that you’ll commit to anything you write down, just do it. If you had to guess, how would these career areas fit? There might be some that you rule out immediately. Take whatever options are left and think of 2 ways you could learn more about them. This is your action plan. Rinse and repeat. There’s at least one career area that you’ve considered, something that interests you. Maybe you’ve ruled it out as unrealistic or for some other reason. Start here. Don’t aim to learn everything about every occupation there is for fear of missing something. You won’t. Start with what you know. Empower yourself.

By the way, this approach works equally well if you’re spinning in confusion about what business to start. Pick something you know that could fit with your big picture vision for your career and life and start taking steps. If this isn’t “the thing”, believe me, it can and probably will evolve over time. You’ve got to start with something believing you actually can. Believing you don’t know will keep you stuck.

I know. By this point your brain will be FREAKING out. You’ll still believe you’re missing something, there’ll probably be a deep fear that you’re picking the wrong thing because you don’t have ALL the information. Your brain might be telling you you can’t just pick, you need to explore every possible option and scenario first, then pick exactly the right thing.

If you’ve chosen something you have interest and skill in (or you can acquire the skill) and something that has the potential to fit into the big picture vision you have for your future, that’s enough. More options will only bring about more confusion. More options will provide more opportunity to avoid making decisions and taking action. What having more options does is send us into a tailspin. We become paralyzed, overwhelmed, and confused. What we need here is what I talked about last week, and you’re probably not going like it. What you need here is…constraint. You need to pick something and limit your options from here. Remember, this is to remind yourself of what you DO know. You might pick something, dig into a little and then rule it out. That’s okay. As long as you commit to doing the process again until something sticks.

The reason we're afraid to make a career decision is because we fear getting it wrong—especially when we think we got it wrong once or perhaps many times already. We worry that if we pick the wrong thing we'll ruin our life or suffer a fate worth than death somehow. So, we never pick.

I’d rather pick something, learn and grow than stay stuck.

The truth is there is no way to know if something is right until you do it. You have to make your best guess and then go for it knowing that you are in charge of whether or not this decision will be a fate worse than death or not. It’s not up to the choice to determine that, it’s up to you.

Yes, there are career tests you can take and ways to short-list options on the basis of what might be a good fit based on certain predictors. Take some of these tests, look at the options that come up but you’ll still need to pick something. Whether the options are generated from a career test or from your own brain the truth of the matter is there are no sure things.

I had many career tests suggest that becoming a teacher might be a good “fit” for me when I took them in high school and again later in life. I actually went to University to become a teacher. I did my teaching practicum in classrooms as part of the program and passed with flying colours but never ended up stepping inside a classroom as a teacher after university. I decided to do something else instead. I don’t regret making a pivot, and it didn’t create a fate worse than death for me. It challenged me and resulted in growth and reminded me that I have agency. That’s what I needed from my career. I didn’t need a career to create happiness for me. I create my happiness. I learned that I get to decide. I learned that I HAVE to decide. I choose something and then commit to growing into the person I’m meant to become in the process. However that takes shape. I’ve had a number of pivots since and wouldn’t change a thing even I could. So decide. Then commit to doing what it takes and please, PLEASE, PLEASE, stop believing that you don’t know.

Remember, I'll be glad to tell you all this in person, on the phone. Set up a chat with me HERE.

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