If I had gone another year doing the same thing, I think I would have chewed my foot off.
That’s how I was feeling during the fall of 2008 when my oldest child was entering her senior year of high school. I’d spent the last several years supporting her dream to become a ballet dancer, driving her sixty miles round trip twice a day to her dance studio.
Now she had a car and could drive herself, so I had more time to focus on my public relations consultancy. I’d worked in PR for over twenty years, first in the corporate world, then with an agency, and finally owning my own business. As I began having children, I took on fewer clients so I could prioritize parenting while still keeping my toe in the water.
I’d worked with all kinds of clients — from celebrities, to fashion designers, arts organizations, dance companies, retailers, and non-profits. Initially, the work had been fun and exciting. I was able to live in New York City (and eventually back home in Atlanta) and work with a variety of interesting people helping them reach their dreams and live out their passions.
But as my life priorities were shifting, I hit a brick wall with my career. At first I noticed a resistance to accepting new clients. Then I found myself delaying my project work for existing clients, forcing myself to produce out of a sense of responsibility — but with very little joy. I felt like I’d done the same thing a thousand times over, and my eyes were glazing over with boredom and frustration.
Not just boredom and frustration — but a lack of meaning. I could do the job, but did I want my tombstone to read, “She could promote the heck out the latest fashion trends?” It was during this period of my life, at age 49, that I finally began to search for my own life passion so I could ultimately find a career I really loved.
Believe me when I tell you, I was flailing and scared out of my suburban wits. I was a freaking English major who never used a computer for anything more than typing press releases. Now I was leaping into the great unknown, surrounded by people a lot younger who were far more technologically savvy than me. With that negative belief swirling in my head, I stumbled around looking for something I could do that I might actually get the tiniest bit enthusiastic about.
I’ll cut to the chase here. As you may know, I ultimately decided to go back to school to get a coaching certification. I started a coaching business, created a blog to promote the business, and discovered I loved writing and creating courses, helping people all over the world envision better lives for themselves. Now I’m an online entrepreneur, running my entire business online from the comfort of my home. Do I absolutely love it? You bet!
So what happened between that fall of 2008 when I first began my search and sitting here today, writing to you and living my passion? Rather than bore you with all of my meanderings during my search, I’ll pull out the pertinent bits that can help you with your search for a passionate career.
Here’s how to find a career you love:
Step 1:: Don’t Just Do Something. Sit There.
If you are unhappy or bored with your career, you’re desperately seeking an exit ramp out of the hell of your existence (maybe a little hyperbolic, but you get the picture). Because you’re busy working in this job you hate, you don’t have a lot of time (you think) to figure out something new to do, so you reach for the low-hanging fruit — a different job in the same industry or the same job with a different company.
But wait just a minute. If you’re gonna do this thing, if you’re gonna jump ship in hopes of finding something better, give yourself the time and space to figure it out. You’ve suffered this long. You can suffer just a bit longer to make sure you get it right. So . . . that said . . . don’t take action UNTIL you do a bit of inner self-discovery work which you can do from your office chair (when the boss isn’t looking). And that leads me to Step 2.
Step 2:: Who the Hell Are You Anyway?
When was the last time you really dug around inside your psyche to get to know yourself? If you’ve ever done it, it’s been a long, long time. Maybe the job you have now is something you fell into by happenstance. Or maybe your parents thought you’d make a great accountant, so here you are.
If you were like me and didn’t have any idea what you wanted to do after college, you took the first job that seemed remotely interesting and that was that. Now you’re here years later, with all of these responsibilities and bills to pay, and a resume of experience in something you don’t really even like.
So how do you figure out what you do like? Well, you start by revisiting your personality and your aptitudes. When I’m coaching clients seeking their dream job, one of the first things I do is have them take a personality and aptitudes assessment. You can find them free online (just Google it).
Once you have your results, its great to see reflected back your natural motivations, interests, characteristics, temperament, strengths and weaknesses. You probably won’t be surprised by what you find out, but these assessments are useful in improving self-understanding and seeing core themes about yourself. This information can help launch you in the right direction as you begin your search.
Step 3:: What Really Matters to You?
If you’ve been unhappy with your career, it’s highly likely your job doesn’t support your core values. Maybe you don’t know your core values, or you might not know them consciously, but your feelings of frustration are telling you something’s off.
You spend your entire day at work, so if your work is out of sync with your values, you can’t be happy. It’s like trying to swim upstream against the current. Your inner self knows this isn’t working for you. So what can you do?
Start by making sure you know what your core values are. When I say “core” values, I mean the top five or six that are your guiding principles for this phase of your life (your values may change over time).
Let’s say family time is a core value for you, but you’re offered an interesting job that requires you to travel two weeks out of the month. This job does not support one of your core values, and therefore you’ll wind up in the same place — frustrated and unhappy.
With every decision or opportunity during your search, hold it up to the mirror of your core values. If it doesn’t reflect most of these important values, it’s not for you.
Step 4:: Phone a Friend
This may sound crazy, but you won’t believe the amazing results my clients have had with this. Send an email out to friends and family who know you well and generally support you. Tell them you’re looking for your passion, a career you really love. Ask them what they could see you doing.
You’ll get a wide variety of answers, some of which will be duds. But there’s someone in your circle, unbeknownst to you, who has a really great idea, insight, or contact for you. At the very least, it will be a confidence boost to hear the nice things they say about you.
These people who know and love you may see potential and talent in you that you don’t see in yourself. People are surprisingly willing to help you out and offer feedback if you ask for it.
Step 5:: Be An Online Voyeur
Since you graduated from school, you wouldn’t believe the number of new college majors, advanced degree programs, and certifications available. Find a major university and go online to peruse their list of majors and degrees.
Not only will this spark some ideas and interests for a career field, but you might find you want to get some additional training or education, as I did with my coaching certification.
You may see careers that didn’t even exist when you were starting out. Not that you’re a dinosaur, but things are changing so rapidly in so many industries that new programs are popping up left and right. Do some research and let yourself dream and explore.
Step 6: Don’t Just Sit There. Do Something!
Ok, now it’s time to take action. As you’ve gathered all of these clues about what you might want to do, choose something that seems like it might be a good fit. That’s what I did with coaching. I didn’t know 100% that it was the field for me, but it seemed like the best option from all of my research.
You don’t have to commit yourself right away. Experiment with your idea by volunteering, taking on a side gig or part-time work, or shadowing someone. Find a mentor who is successfully doing the job you are considering, and take that person to lunch to learn more. Maybe there’s an introductory class or course that provides more insight or information. I was able to take a sample coaching class and interview a coach before I signed up for the program.
There are dozens of ways to learn about the day-to-day responsibilities and requirements of a profession before you dive in. This isn’t time wasted, even if it doesn’t turn out to be your dream career. This experimentation allows you to get your hands dirty and feel what this career might be like before you sign on the dotted line.
Step 7:: Maintain Your Perspective
Finding that career you really love can take some time. You might get frustrated, wondering if you’ll ever know for sure if you’ve found “the right thing.” Here’s something you must keep in mind: your passion doesn’t just land in your lap with a guarantee that “this is it.”
Finding a career you love is like finding the person you want to marry. You have to date around, have a few hits and misses, until you feel someone who sparks chemistry and compatibility. Sometimes this dawns on you slowly over time. Other times you know within a few dates. But you must go through the process to get to the result.
It’s the same with finding a passionate career. Once you’ve done your inner work and your research, keep experimenting until something feels like the best direction based on everything you’ve learned. If that direction fits with your values, provides an income you can live with, and gives you a reason to hop out of bed in the morning, you just may have found what you’re looking for.
One other thing to keep in mind as you go through the process — be sure you have an emergency fund of about six months savings. You may not need it if you move directly from one job to another, but if you decide to go back to school, start a business, take a job that pays less, or move to a new city, you’ll be glad you have the extra cash.
You don’t have to languish in a job you hate. Set aside an hour or so a day, and begin the process of finding work that makes you come alive. Just the process will make you feel more in control of your life and offer a sense of hope and anticipation.
Work on it every day until you narrow down the field and feel relatively sure you’re on the right track. Then take the leap. Nothing great in life ever happens without taking a risk!