What’s Next? Brainstorm new possibilities.

Posted by on November 13, 2014 in Blog, Career change, Coaching | 0 comments

The “What’s Next?” series of blogs follow along with folks who just wrapped up their job the first week of November and want to make their next career move really count. Most of the advice in this series is also applicable for people who are still working at a job they think they want to leave, or people who picked up some work after their last job ended — but it’s not fulfilling work. The goal of this series is to share a process to help you through your transition, give you some homework to help you along, and share resources.

The first question people usually ask when you say you don’t know what you want to do next, is “What’s your dream job?” or “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” If you have good answers to those questions & the means to take some risks, great! Go for it. For me though, it’s not that simple. If I knew what I wanted to do, I was pretty confident that I could take the steps it’d take to get there, but I honestly didn’t know.

So your first job is to expand your idea of what is possible.

1) Suspend your disbelief. The most common version of this (unless you are independently wealthy) is “I want to do something fulfilling but I can’t make the money I need to live.” Other versions might be: “I want to live near family, but there are no interesting jobs out there. I want to do work that matters, but there’s no way to do it without crazy hours.” These ‘buts’ might be true in specific cases but until you’ve done the homework and really brought your idea to a dead end, I don’t want to hear it. Suspend your disbelief until you have proof. What you find along the way will take you more interesting places if you don’t rule things out right away.

2) Map out the best version of what you’re doing now. If you like a lot about what you’re doing, it’s time to think about what you really want, and be proactive about trying to get it. Some questions to get you started brainstorming:

  • Whose work inspires you? Who would you love to work with?
  • What projects get you excited?
  • Write your perfect job description?
  • What’s your dream project?
  • What kind of team do you want to work with?

3) Consider everything, the weirder the better. Consider the ideas that seem too wimpy, like you’re selling out, or totally unsustainable. Especially consider the embarrassing stuff. Here are some of the things I considered:

UPS driver (& radical Teamster), cold brewed tea cart lady, PTSD therapist working with Veterans, career counselor at a community college, singer, bounty hunter, stunt woman, or work for the philanthropic arm of a tech company and get them to support work that has real social impact….

Here’s some brainstorming questions to get you started in this direction:

  • What did you want to do as a kid?
  • What hobbies have you enjoyed?
  • What would you do if you didn’t feel guilty/scared/obliged?
  • Whose life are you fascinated by?
  • What occupations have you ever dressed up as for Halloween? 😉

4) Do new, creative things. Trying out new fun things is better than these questions. Do improv, take a trapeze class, take a Zumba class, take up juggling, walk every street in your neighborhood with no headphones in, do NaNoWriMo, do something that is completely contrary to expectations. Ballet? Bhangra? Belly Dance? Capoeira? Hip Hop? Square Dance? You get to pick.

What does this have to do with finding a career that’s just right for you? You’ll learn new things about yourself, what you like, what you don’t, what you’re capable of (and what takes a lot of effort). You’ll spark that feeling of excitement and enthusiasm that you might not have felt for a while. You’ll stretch different parts of yourself and find things that you may enjoy and be good at.

While your hands or brain are busy, you’re giving yourself a break from stressing about what you do next. While you’re hands and brain are busy, new ideas will come to you.

You will also become more familiar with that place where everything is new and you fumble and fail a little bit less each time. To make any change, do anything new, you’ll need to be ok (or even enjoy) this place. You’ll have a chance to practice switching from a fixed mindset (I am great or I suck) to a mindset of learning and improvement (I can apply myself to new things, learn and grow and become better at them).

I could go on, but it’s best just to try it out and see for yourself. Besides, it’s fun. This is your one life — as one client put it “Your most important campaign.” It might as well be fun.

Two pitfalls.

This sounds like fun and games, but it can be challenging work. There are two big pitfalls that I’ve seen derail people.

Pitfall #1: Saboteur voices. By this point you probably have an idea of something you might want to do. Think about it for a second. Got it? Now notice what else you’re hearing in your head about it. “You can’t do that, it’s not feasible, doesn’t make enough money, isn’t serious enough.” If you’re hearing things like that, these are your Saboteur voices. You can tell if they’re saboteurs if it stops you from moving forward.

One way to think about saboteurs is like monsters under your bed. The impact of a ‘monster under your bed’ is that it keeps you frozen there with your feet pulled up, and maybe even the covers pulled over your head. They’re also imaginary. When the sun comes up, the idea of a monster under the bed loses all its power.

It’s really helpful to have someone else to help you strategize a way around your saboteurs because it’s hard to have perspective on your own. For now though, I’d recommend a detached curiosity about who is showing up. Notice that there is a voice showing up that is creating a block for you, but turn on the lights, say ‘hi’ to the monster under the bed, and move on. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or hopeless or stuck, taking a break can help. Noticing these voices is the first step to neutralizing their ability to paralyze you, and it’s a skill that you develop with practice.

Pitfall #2: Getting too invested, too early. Most of my clients are high-performers who know how to get stuff done and never let anything fall through the cracks. For this project, you have to grab a whole new toolset. Absolutely do not take this seriously. Don’t start at the top of your list and work through systematically to the end. Don’t feel like you have to explore each thing equally, and never give up. You get to stop, if and when you’re bored with an idea.

Treat this more like a crazy game of tag with three year olds who don’t quite know how the rules work yet. An idea comes near? Seems exciting? Follow it! A different one comes by & seems more interesting? Peel off and follow that one now. Getting bored with an idea? Drop it and move on. Also remember that you don’t have to make a decision until you have all your information, so you can be a little detached about the process. There will be a time for your usual rigor, but for now, follow your enthusiasm like a summer firefly, bobbing along, blinking out, and flashing on again somewhere unexpected.

Your homework: As you are doing fun, new and/or uncomfortable things (and pausing to ride a wave of difficult emotions), your homework this week is to draw up a list of possibilities. Don’t eliminate anything at this point. The longer, crazier, more varied or embarrassing the list is, the better. Notice what you get really excited about and put a circle around it, or brainstorm a bunch of ideas that are in a similar vein. Some voices will pop up and discourage you. We’ll talk more about them down the road, for now, just notice it, and keep moving.

If you feel so inspired, post some of your ideas in the comments section below!

A client's homework - writing up ideas to explore. Silvio (of Soprano's fame) is  here to remind her that even though she might not have some traditional credentials, she knows how to get things done. He's also good about rubbing out those saboteur voices. (Shared anonymously with client permission)

A client’s homework – writing up ideas to explore. Silvio (of Soprano’s fame) is here to remind her that even though she might not have some traditional credentials, she knows how to get things done. He’s also good about rubbing out those saboteur voices. (Shared anonymously with client permission)

Julie Roberts-Phung is a career and leadership coach with some really happy clients doing exciting things with their lives. If you’re curious about coaching, you can book a free, no-obligation sample session to ask questions and try it out here: booketc.youcanbook.me



  1. What’s next? Making the day after your job ends count. | Empower Together - […] Brainstorm new possibilities. You’ll feel your recovery kicking in when you’re getting big, fun ideas about what you can do…
  2. What’s Next? Test your favorite ideas. | Empower Together - […] check ‘impossible.’ It’s time to look back at all those “I would love to but ______” sentences. It’s time…

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *