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I’ve been trying to decide who to give $7.5 million to.

The money is for a new synthetic biology project I’m managing as part of my Air Force reserve work. There are a lot of things that drive me crazy about continuing to work in the government, but I still love awarding big sums of money to innovative scientists trying to push the edge of our knowledge.

Programs like this attract the very best scientists in the country. Most grants are on the order of $1 million. Getting $7.5 million completely transforms your career and reputation.

As you might imagine, it’s not an easy decision. The chances of ultimately getting selected for funding are roughly 2.5%. In an extremely competitive field like this, the difference between success and failure often comes down to something small.

Leading this effort gave me a big picture view of competition and an objectivity I don’t always enjoy. All of a sudden I realized my own approach to getting help and getting ahead was less than stellar. I bet yours is too.

These lessons learned will be useful for anyone who thinks they have to tackle every big challenge alone (ummm, overachievers, I mean you).

But if you’ve ever toyed with the idea of starting your own business, either on the side or as a full-time replacement for a job you’re eager to escape, for goodness sake, don’t skip this post (or the webinar announcement at the end of it).

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Career planning used to be a pretty depressing exercise for me.

I found it nearly impossible to see into my future. I  wasn’t excited about any of the executive level jobs I knew about, and frankly, the people in them didn’t seem to enjoy them that much either.

I’d reach out to a mentor for advice and invariably they would ask to look at my 5 and 10-year career plan. I would stare at them blankly.

“How can I make a 5-year career plan, or even a 1-year plan, when I have no idea what I really want to do” I would ask them.

They were used to people who could pinpoint the pinnacle of the career they wanted, down to the exact job title and organization. Career planning for them was merely a process of walking backwards.

I just didn’t fit the mold.

I worried about pinning my hopes on just one job.  Too many unknowns! The world (or my heart) might change! I might get locked into something I don’t want!

So I became an opportunist. I waited for interesting or prestigious-sounding jobs, then jumped on them.

And that largely worked for me, unless you consider that I was advancing myself in a career I didn’t particularly care about.

For all these reasons, I thought long-term career planning was a waste of time.

I’m here to say I was wrong.

I recently discovered a surprising tool for making sense of the big picture of your career, even if you can’t fill in the details. And it turns out to be critical if you want to combine the growth that you’re hoping for with a lifestyle you’ll love.

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So many career changers come to me feeling completely helpless.

They think they have an either/or decision to make: “Either I stay in my current career or go back to school to retrain for something better.”

When neither option is appealing, the tendency is to just give up.

But what if I told you that not only are there many jobs that don’t require a degree, but it’s completely possible to get hired without one, even in those that do?

Today I’m sharing an inspirational story from one of my No Regrets clients.  She shares how she landed a job as a librarian (definitely a job that normally does require a degree) and thrived in that career without one for 22 years.

These are her own words.  I’ve only edited them for length and clarity.

Her lessons apply to nearly every profession outside of becoming a doctor or lawyer.  It’s a good reminder that all you really need is passion, the right mind-set, and a belief that your value doesn’t depend on a piece of paper.