It’s not that you don’t know what you want.

You crave flexibility and more meaningful time with the family. You dream about a job that’s exciting instead of stressful. You want to care about the outcomes of your work. You want to make a difference while still taking long, luxurious vacations.

You could go on and on.

No, the problem isn’t figuring out what you want, it’s knowing where to find it.

The problem before you, my friend, is a case of buried treasure.

If you’re tired of digging holes and coming up empty handed, if you’re starting to think this whole idea is just a fantasy, take heart.  The journey is about to get a lot easier.

You just need a better map.

X marks the spot

When you know where you want to go, it’s easy to get directions.

Ask how to become a baker or lawyer or volunteer coordinator, and you can get very good, specific advice.

But how do you ask for directions when you don’t know where you want to go?

As I started coaching clients on career change or even selecting an initial career to pursue, I realized most people had the wrong tool in their hands.

They were trying to find their way with a roadmap, when what they needed, at least to start with, was a treasure map.

I needed to teach them how to solve the puzzles that would take them to the next stage of their journey, and how to spot the markers that indicated they were on the right path.

You probably don’t have a lot of experience looking for treasure, which is why it’s felt so unbelievably hard up until now.

So let’s take a look at the big picture, how to get started, and where many go astray.

6 steps to a jewel of a career

Step 1 – Define success. More than anything else, I am convinced the reason why so many people are unhappy with their careers is because they miss this step.  Either they fail to measure up to society’s ideas of wealth, fame or position, or they “have it all” and still fail to feel any better. It’s a fail-fail situation until you learn the value of impressing yourself instead of everyone else.

Step 2 – Understand yourself.  This is actually the easiest step, but people can get lost trying to plumb the depths of their psyche. What you’re looking for is a career that 1) answers the needs of your personality, 2) balances your passions and your dislikes, and 3) leverages your strengths. It involves some compromise, of course, but looking at all three pieces together really helps narrow down which careers are most likely to be a good fit.

Step 3 – Overcome your fears. Over the years, the voices in your head get adept at blowing up shadows until they’re too scary to deal with. The way to defeat them is planning followed by stepwise action. No one said you have to quit your current job and run off into the sunset with your dreams tomorrow. Figure out what needs to be done to allay your fears, then start doing it, one step at a time. Taking action, almost any action, will help you realize the journey is much easier than you thought it would be.

Step 4 – Research your options.  This begins with asking good questions, and it’s really hard to do that if you haven’t completed the first three steps! It’s also more than just thinking about a problem, it’s getting your hands dirty and testing out assumptions. That might include an internship, a side hustle, finding a mentor–whatever you need to narrow down your options and commit with confidence. When I read a NY Times article about the dangers of pursuing your dream, I thought, “These people didn’t do good research.”

Step 5 – Position & package. This is going to sound obvious, but people are often so eager for results, they jump to this step too early. You can’t position and package yourself for a job until you know what you want and why you’re a good fit. Positioning might overlap with your research efforts, so you can often kill two birds with one stone there.  But packaging can be more than a resume. Think about blogging, speaking, contests, and other creative ideas as well.

Step 6 – Market. In the best of all worlds, this step isn’t necessary–the market comes to you.  If not, you have to make sure the right people are noticing you. That might mean applying for a job, or it might mean tracking down a hiring manager at a conference for a quick conversation in the hall between sessions. But the regular principles of marketing really do apply–you have to know your audience and then deliver a message they can’t afford to ignore.

Navigating around regret

Inexperience with the process can make finding the right career frustrating, to say the least. But a fear of failure or making the wrong choice–now that can stop you in your tracks.

Regret is what happens when we’re unhappy with ourselves and our choices. Disappointment is what happens when we’re unhappy with an outcome.

You’ve probably heard the saying, “You have to play to win.” But that doesn’t mean you’re going to win all the time, or even with the speed or frequency that you desire. A full life is one full of both wins and disappointments.

In fact, making decisions to avoid potential disappointment is a great recipe for regret.

That doesn’t mean you tune out all the scared voices in your head. Fear has a purpose. You just have to do due diligence.

And that means starting your career change (or choice) journey at the beginning.  Because I saw too many people jumping to the latter steps too soon, I created the  No Regrets Career Academy to help people successfully focus on Steps 1 through 3 above.

The interviews I’ve done with career changers who’ve created the life they always wanted back me up. In fact, one interview subject was so passionate about it, he emailed me back repeatedly, saying “You have to emphasize how important step 1 is.  Tell them it can’t be done without that step.”

It’s hard to describe the emotion you feel when, after years of aimless digging, you finally hit on something solid. You can’t know how long it’s going to take to bring that treasure out into the open, but you finally have confirmation you were right. It’s real.

Best of all, it’s not as hard as most people make it out to be. You just need the right map, and maybe a guide.  Which is why I’m offering free training to help you get started.

I know one thing for sure: you won’t regret it.