How to Find Your Career Bliss
A couple years back, I found myself staring down the blank progression of days on my calendar with no idea what to do next. I'd recently been laid off, and while I marched through the motions of looking for work with steady discipline, inside I felt lost and empty. Nothing interested me.
This experience came back to me the other day when my friend Megan joked that she couldn't follow her bliss because she didn't know what it was. It got me to thinking about how I got from there to here --- with more ideas than I have time and excited each day to get started.
This isn't to say there aren't hard days for this former lawyer and novelist now working as a freelance writer, but I finally feel that I'm on the right path, and that knowledge pulls me through. I'm writing about issues that I care about and living in a place I love. I may not be sure where my life is heading, but I'm confident it's moving forward.
So how did I find my way back? How did I -- and how do we -- tap into our passions when they may seem to have gone underground? As I mulled over this question, I also consulted a book by one of my favorite guides, career guru Barbara Sher.
In I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was -- as timely now as when it was published in 1994 -- Sher insists that all of us know what we want, and if we think we don't, it's only because inner conflicts are blocking our dreams. For example, we may yearn for both adventure and security but assume it's impossible to combine them. Or we may have wide-ranging interests and fear that choosing one path will forever preclude others. We may be afraid of failing or, conversely, afraid of doing too well.
Whatever the obstacles in our way, Sher is confident that we can overcome them. Here are three key tips to get you started -- strategies I can vouch for since they worked for me.
1. Take action.
We often make the mistake of waiting for inspiration to act. This is exactly backward, especially for those of us feeling stuck. Taking action helps you think, raises your self-esteem and increases the probability that you'll get "lucky," Sher explains, adding that "even action in the wrong direction is informative."
That being said, to the extent we have a glimmer of what excites us, Sher urges movement in that direction: "Every time you have to make a choice about anything, think 'Does this go toward or away from what I want?' Always choose what goes toward what you want." (This is how I came to launch my blog, which ultimately led, among other things, to writing the piece you're reading now.)
2. Get support.
You need people in your life to cheer you on as well as offer practical suggestions in line with your goals (not theirs). You might want to try a version of Sher's Success Team model, where people come together to help each other brainstorm and pursue their dreams. If your dream is finding your dream, you might start by asking your team to alert you when you seem especially excited -- lit up -- by an idea or potential direction. Amazingly enough, we often tend to ignore such signs when left to our own devices.
3. Cultivate patience.
Major transitions take a long time -- five to seven years, by some estimates. If you're feeling discouraged about what seems like slow progress, it may help to know that this is normal. (William Bridges' Transitions and Martha Beck's Finding Your Own North Star both expand on this point.)
I recently bumped into Megan again, but this time, I listened carefully for signs that she did in fact know what to do, if she'd just let herself. When I pushed her a bit, she said that she yearned for a job that would involve brainstorming with funny, smart people around a shared project. (She happens to be one of the funniest people I know.) "I should have worked in TV or advertising," she said. "But that doesn't exist around here." She may be right about TV -- we live in a New England college town -- but advertising? Is that really so hopeless?
A smile played on her lips as she acknowledged that maybe, possibly not.
SecondAct contributor Amy Gutman writes the blog Plan B Nation: Living Creatively in Challenging Times. The author of two suspense novels, she's also written for the Chicago Tribune, Salon, and Huffington Post, among other publications, and lives in western Massachusetts.