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Every now and then, a client or reader will inform me that finding a deeply meaningful career is impossible.
They want a better career, but not a single one of their options excite them.
They’ve tried to find their passion, but came up short. They’ve tried brainstorming around their existing skill sets, eliciting nothing more than a yawn.
Slowly, the thought creeps up on them: am I doomed to a life of apathy?
Chances are, probably not.
But I know when you’re in the middle of this, the sense of hopelessness can be debilitating. The problem is, there’s no “one size fits all” solution. What works for one person may fall flat for you.
So in this post, I’ll tackle 4 problems that may be plaguing you and 10 solutions to regain your enthusiasm.
Problem #1: You’re tired or depressed
Solution: Take a break.
Remember when you were a kid and you had that odd day when you felt bored? Your mom would throw out suggestions, activities she knew you loved, and all you could say was, “Nah.”
This may be the situation where you find yourself now. You come up with career ideas and that voice inside your head discounts them just as quickly. What you need to remember is that 1) boredom doesn’t last forever, and 2) you need to force yourself to get out and do something.
The easiest thing is to take a brief break from your career strategizing and come back to it with a fresh mind. Remember that many of us do our best thinking while performing mindless activities (e.g. showering, sipping tea). If that doesn’t work, I highly recommend a real vacation, where you actually relax.
Allowing your unconscious brain to think about your options yields better results.
Solution: Get help and wait for the clouds to clear.
There’s a difference between feeling depressed and being depressed.
In the first case, the feeling is usually fleeting and resolves on its own. For example, I’ve come to realize I feel depressed, sometimes deeply, when I’m very tired. If I make time to exercise and then follow that up with a good night’s rest, the depression goes away and I’m able to plan for the future again.
Being depressed is more serious. I’m not qualified to say if you’re suffering from clinical depression, but WebMD has a quiz you can take to find out. If you are depressed, seek help from a source you trust. Once your feelings of depression start to lift, you can return to your career planning.
Problem #2: You’re too focused on money
Solution: Find a role model, then reverse-engineer a paycheck.
I recently had a client who finished my No Regrets course and discovered the work that really lit her fire: she wanted to help bring people into harmony with nature. But because she couldn’t figure out how to turn this idea into a paying a career within her constraints (i.e. she didn’t want to relocate), she discounted it as a viable option.
In our consult, we picked out role models who were already doing what she wanted to do at the regional or national level. I urged her to do two things: 1) study how these role models got paid for their work, then reverse-engineer her own career, and 2) reach out to these figures and ask for advice.
Asking for advise from role models you’ve already studied is a great idea because not only will they be flattered, but helping you will actually advance their own cause. So don’t feel selfish. See yourself as an extension of the work they’re already doing.
Solution: Be honest about what you want.
For a long time, I couldn’t understand why I was so unlucky in love. It was easy to think that true love didn’t exist or that all men were fatally flawed.
The real problem was that I knew the end result I craved, a loving relationship, but I had no idea what kind of person could help me realize it. Each relationship was a stab in the dark (and the heart, as it turned out). It took nearly 10 years to finally acknowledge I love tall, geeky athletes who can match me in wit and kindness.
It’s one of those funny truisms–once you know exactly what you want, it’s a lot easier to find.
As long as you focus, consciously or unconsciously, on money and how much you have to make, you’ll find your brainstorming isn’t very effective. So try prioritizing something else, like flexibility or time with your family, and see if your creativity doesn’t return.
Solution: Elicit the help of a professional nonconformist.
My uncle has had an unusual career to say the least. He’s done everything from selling flying squirrels to cashing out his savings to buy a tour bus and escort people around L.A. with his colorful commentary. While I might not ask him for traditional career advice, you can bet he’d be on my list to break out of a rut.
We all know someone who excels at divergent thinking. Your task is to find one of those people and get them to brainstorm and open up your sense of the possible. If you don’t know someone personally, try reading the musings of famous nonconformists like Chris Guillebeau, Leo Babauta, or Penelope Trunk.
Problem #3: You’re hung up on the word “passion”
Solution: Ask different questions.
Passion is such a loaded word, dealing with it can paralyze you (much like the word “fractions” did when I was in elementary school).
If the idea of finding your passion feels overwhelming or daunting, try a different approach instead:
- Instead of looking for a specific activity you’re nuts about, look for a theme among your interests. Maybe you’re an adventure junkie. In which case, your overriding design criteria might be adrenaline rushes. Note that this doesn’t necessarily mean you’re bungee jumping for a living. Stock traders and fire fighters are good examples of people who live for the rush.
- Ask yourself what you find intrinsically motivating, then try to design a career that lets you do a lot more of that.
- Ask yourself what you like to learn, then design a career that lets you apply it.
Solution: Find a cause, then a career.
In some respects, this is a variation on the theme of excitement. If your big theme is something like “make the world a better place,” then a cause may be more important than the career path that supports it. In that case, focus on how to apply your current strengths to your chosen cause (and refer back to the reverse-engineered role model tip above).
Solution: Find a community, then a career.
For one of my clients, this was the big a-ha that had eluded him. He was talented and a quick enough learner to do well in almost any role. How then was he supposed to choose?
He discovered his “passion” was working with a certain community of people. His career search then became an act of networking. He was confident that when he found his people, the feeling would be mutual.
Problem #4: You’re afraid of disappointment or failure
Solution: Curb your expectations.
Probably the worst thing you can do when trying for a super hard goal like finding a fulfilling career is to expect to get it right the first time out.
Expect that you will make mistakes. Plan to test-drive your career before committing to it. Trust yourself to try again.
But more important than that? Understand that a fulfilling career isn’t a destination you arrive at. You’re constantly tweaking and refining and pivoting. Embrace the journey and the barriers to beginning it will disappear.
Solution: Find a way to laugh.
Most career changers are way too serious! Like choosing the right career is life or death or something.
I get it. I was scared too. I didn’t want to look like a fool in front of my former colleagues. I didn’t want my kid to become a recipient of Toys for Tots instead of a gifter, all because of my silly dreams of fulfillment.
But you know what? That kind of thinking doesn’t do anyone any good.
One of the things we do in our house is to make fun of our previous mistakes and stumbles, usually well after they’ve happened and the sting is gone.
We laugh about how my daughter used to pretend she didn’t hear kids calling her name because she was too shy to engage them. We laugh about how my butt would drag while doing push-ups before I started practicing them everyday. The whole extended family laughs about how my husband once substituted garlic salt for garlic powder in one of his first cooking forays.
And in the process, we remember that mistakes don’t have to be a cause of shame. And that being a good sport doesn’t just apply to athletics, but to life.
So go ahead, laugh at yourself. Laugh at your situation and how you got there.
And then be brave enough to do something about it.
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