Nine years ago I was pitching Beano to journalists for a living. Now I teach leadership development. How did I make the jump? I developed and practiced one simple habit, which I’ve detailed below, and it made all the difference in my career.
We often enter a career search with a fairly narrow idea of what jobs exist, brought on by theFunnel Effect. We don’t know what we don’t know! When we enter college we are presented with a limited number of departments to call home, perhaps six or seven. We declare a major, often blindly, and assume that our passion lies in one of these seven departments. Within that department we strive to narrow down our focus more, but at the end of the search we may end up with something slightly more narrow but still very broad. For example, I chose the Communications department because I enjoyed communicating and felt pretty adept at it. I then narrowed my focus to Public Relations, which, it turns out, is still a massive field that can take on a variety of appearances. In order to land where I am today, I needed to do the opposite — I needed to expand my awareness of the offerings and be more flexible. And the key to broadening our sense of what exists in the world is to develop a “habit of exploration.” But it took some time to figure this out.
Immediately after graduating I secured a job at a PR firm that gradually seemed to suck my joy. One year later, I could persist no longer. I quit my job, loaded a moving truck, eeny-meeny-miny-moe’d a map, and somewhat arbitrarily landed in Murray, Utah. We settled into a dumpy apartment and I quickly secured a job at Overstock.com as a low-level customer service representative. This job served several purposes: 1) It provided an income; 2) It felt mind-numbing and therefore drove me to earnestly seek a new profession; 3) It was simple and allowed me to store up enough energy and brainpower to spend my non-work hours vigorously exploring potential life-paths. In fact, I made a habit of informally interviewing every individual I could. I would generally ask some variation of the following questions:
The results of these conversations were fascinating and led to two very distinct outcomes: 1) They broadened my perspective of what was “out there” career-wise, and 2) I realized, and this is significant, that I was not alone. A jarring result of my dialogues was learning that virtually no one was content in their field. Many people did not feel like they were doing what they loved and an even greater number had no clue what they really wanted to do. Ironically, they would often turn the questions back on me, to which I would reply:
This “habit of exploration” was really a key to unlocking my future career path. In fact, it was while engaging in one of these conversations that I discovered the path that led me to teaching leadership at the university level and conducting training for companies and non-profit groups. An old friend introduced me to the field, arranged an informational interview, and set me on the path to where I am today.
The goal, then, with self-exploration and vocational searching is to take a rather wide spectrum of potential career paths, ranging from gardener to astro-physicist, and begin to reduce the options by filtering them through what you know to be your strengths. The end product is a fairly narrow range of possible paths, any of which will allow you to maximize your potential and all of which will yield a high degree of success and satisfaction.
So start today. Take every opportunity you get to ask people how they decided to do what they do. You’ll be fascinated by the results. Then cling to the options that seem to get your energy flowing and throw out the ones that sound lame. For what it’s worth, this habit of exploration also makes for a great conversation starter. Just today I asked my wife’s Ob/Gyn how she decided on her career path. For her, it was a volunteer position she took as a sophomore in college. Go figure.
So how did you decide you wanted to do what you are currently doing? I’m interested to hear. Drop a quick note in the comments and tell your story. You just may influence a fellow reader’s path.
Hi! I'm Dustin.
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