What’s Next? Test your favorite ideas.
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 hardest part of figuring out what’s next is testing your ideas. This is where most people balk. If you’ve got an itch now, you’re feeling recovered, determined, or curious about what you’re really going to do next. If so, get started — go for it! If it feels scary, that’s normal. You’re about to make a change, and that can create some friction and stress.
Just keep moving forward and take some action, any action.
Your mission is to gather information, build a network, build skills (if needed), start eliminating options that aren’t a good fit and start applying to ones that are.
Clients often ask for examples of what this testing looks like. You want to take a first step in exploring your possible career areas. If you’re not working, you’ve got nothing but time, right? So use your time trying out things you’re intrigued by. Even if you are working, you can figure out really bite sized ways to try something new. How?
Fact check ‘impossible.’ It’s time to look back at all those “I would love to but ______” sentences. It’s time to put serious work into answering those questions. Think you can’t afford to produce the kinds of stories you love? (Or want to do work that pushes the envelope, but can’t handle the travel, etc…) Put a few hours into really filling in the blanks. Before you’re allowed to discard a dream, you need to really have spent some time seriously trying to figure out how to make it work.
Look for people who are doing the kind of work you want to. Check out what they get paid. Look at Guidestar.org for non-profit executive salaries (in the 990 reports) and sites like Glassdoor or Salary.com for other industries). Investigate what is in the venn diagram when you say “I would love to _______(be able to see my kids) *and* (continue to work internationally) ________.” Be creative at this point, and make a real effort at figuring out how it could work.
Get your hands dirty. Did you make a list of things you’d like to try out? It’s time to dive in. For each idea, think about ways to actually try out what you’re interested in. Take a class. Shadow someone. Go to a networking event for an industry you’re interested in, or to a related meeting. Do some market research. Volunteer.
Let’s brainstorm this together, just for fun. Let’s say you want to be a teacher. Here’s some things you could do: volunteer at a school, crash a teacher conference, take a class (or drop in on one), lookup teacher salaries in your area, talk with a teacher at your nearest school.
How about a more out of the box career idea like working in art? Go to a studio, make some art, go to a gallery opening, go to an art supply store, take an art class, take a design class, visit a museum, meet the person who sets up the store windows – wherever you are, ask the people who are there what they do for work. Think about how to put art together with another thing on your list. Art + therapy. Art + web design. Art + organizing. Art + ?
Keep a wide lens. Ask actual real people in the fields you’re interested in about what you want to do, and how to make it work. Look for the ones who seem to have figured out what you’re trying for. Don’t listen to the the first person who says it’ll never work. Once you have enough real evidence you can decide to keep it or scratch it off the list, but the the opinion of one risk averse person is not enough evidence. When you walk through the doors to test something, look around you. You’ll see jobs that aren’t “in a Richard Scarry book.” If you love art, you might go to museums and look at the people who work there beyond the artists, or look at a movie set design, or think about how you can use art more in your current field. This is not a linear process, you’ll pursue something, find out it’s a dead end, discover something else, just keep moving and keep track of what you learn about yourself and the field.
Now you probably have some ideas for yourself about how to do this. Need to know more about why? Several things will happen here.
You’ll learn what you like and don’t. Things I crossed off my list: Working in a job where I only talk with people once for a short period of time. Working with youth (important, but not my strength). Selling iced tea. Getting a Masters in Counseling. Things I like: Working with people over time and helping them create change (personally or in a system). Seeing a concrete impact in my work. The vibrancy of working with people who are rethinking everything and figuring out something new. Helping people take action. You’ll learn what the careers you’re thinking about are really like, before you make a big change.
You’ll be building a new network. By meeting people doing the things you want to do, you’ll also be building relationships and access to information about opportunities in the field. Doing good work with people can create opportunities for you to do more work with them.
“Tripping.” (not that kind). In a recent conversation a someone described their past job searches as ‘tripping over opportunities’ or ‘falling into a job.’ I remember feeling this way in college, and telling a career counselor that my plan was to do good work in the areas I was interested in and find opportunities that way. (He wanted me to be more proactive). At the time, it felt a bit magical, I was a part of a cultural exchange group and found out about a scholarship to study abroad. What a coincidence! With hindsight, I’ve realised that this is actually a mix of privilege and proactive work. If I’d been in a group of business students, I would have learned about different opportunities. If I had only taken classes and never done anything else, I’d be a lot more limited in the opportunities I was hearing about. Doing something with people who are already doing it is more “proactive” than sending a cold applications to jobs. What we teach people about getting jobs (look at postings, make a nice cover letter, send a resume, wait) isn’t actually the way most people get hired, let alone get the kind of job they want. While privilege makes this easy, some of the most impressive examples of this that I’ve seen come from people who have less privilege in the job market.
At this point you’ll be tempted to stay in the job, take the boring job, or quit school and go back to the unfulfilling work you had before. I want to challenge you to do the hard work of trying for the thing you really want.
Leave it all on the field by fully pursuing something you love.
In some ways it’s easier to keep cashing a check on a steady job and not take a risk to find or create something new. No one is saying that there won’t be hard choices and compromises, but they are yours to make. You may love your art, but need to support yourself, so you don’t want to drop everything and pursue a career producing individual pieces for sale. You may want to live near your family in a small city, while you’d have more and better paying job options in a big city. I trust you to know what the right decision for you, and I challenge you to look for options beyond the obvious which stay true to both your needs: Creativity and financial stability. Family and a rewarding career.
For many people, work is a way to pay the bills and their fulfillment comes from outside of work. You support your family, you have time off to care for someone, you’re a big part of your community, and work is just a tiny part of what you do and who you are. If this is you, good job! You’ve made the right decisions for your life. If you want to do something different in the future but come from a family where you are supporting others or taking care of your basic needs right now, more power to you. Do what you need now, and ask yourself how you can make long term plans to get where you want. I firmly believe that by working to get what you need and want, you are also helping others in your community to see more possibilities for themselves.
It’s time to act. If you don’t have a good reason to stay in an unfulfilling situation, why stay? What are you getting out of it? What is it costing you?
If you want to quit, use that to motivate you to do the hard work of figuring out what else you really want to do. If you’re laid off (and you can pay your bills), you are getting a rare opportunity to have the time and space to try out some new things. Treat this time seriously and get to work!
A final word and strategy for keeping in motion. Keep your eyes open for saboteurs, notice that they’re not helping you, and keep moving forward (this is actually a great time to practice noticing what happens when they come up, and learning how to manage them). I have two favorite strategies that are the exact opposite of each other, and depending on the day, a different one works.
- Do the hard thing first. Someone called this “eat the frog” because you’re getting the thing you dread most off of your plate first. I find this helpful when it’s something I know I can do, but I don’t want to do. Once I’ve just jumped in and done it, it’s easy to do everything else.
- Do the fun thing first. I’ve started using this strategy, especially when something else feels really hard and I notice that I’m avoiding it by doing things that are a total waste of time (ahem, hours on Facebook). If I pick one thing that I’m looking forward to doing, and get started with it, that gets me focused and builds the momentum to switch over to something harder afterwards.
Just keep moving forward. Dream. Test. Reflect. Repeat.
Julie Roberts-Phung is a career and leadership coach who works with really interesting clients. 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