You’re not going to find an unconventional career through conventional means. Period.
Many of the people I career-coach have aspirations to do something unconventional – start up a business, launch a writing career, fitness training, etc. Their strengths, values, and passions are aligned to that type of lifestyle. Yet the methods they use to get to that career are conventional: forced networking, blasting their resume out to the world, having a presence on job boards, etc.
Conventional, safe, and planned out.
Truth is, the shortest path between where you are now and your dream job is to discover yourself through meaningful self-reflection and construct a life that is aligned with who you are. That second part takes unconventional action, stepping out into the unknown, and following the energy, wherever the energy might take you.
These aren’t easy things to do. They take time and effort and don’t fit neatly into our day. They also require a certain amount of risk-tolerance and willingness to fail.
But the best way to find the unconventional career path is by going where no one else is going and doing what hasn’t been done. You undoubtedly have ideas about what could be changed, improved, or enhanced in the world around you. There is also likely no clear path to that improvement. The good news is, you can’t go wrong trying something unconventional and failing.
The worst fate any of us faces is wondering what might have been had we only tried.
One of the great paradoxes of discovering what you should do for a career is that you likely already know the answer. In fact, you’ve probably known it for quite some time.
How do you know what it is? You’re probably reading about it, thinking about, following it, studying it, and pursuing it just because it’s interesting.
When I was in college I loved to teach. I taught Sunday School and I would mentally prepare my lesson all week. I’d analyze my classroom teachers’ techniques, read about how to get better at it, subconsciously critique others who were doing it, and think about doing it when I had nothing else to think about. So what did I do when I graduated? I went into public relations. Why? Because yet another sign of a potentially ideal career is that, paradoxically, we also doubt it.
Awhile back I was career coaching a student. I told her that she may already know what she wants to do but may be resisting it out of fear, doubt, or because there is no clear path. I asked her if she had any ideas. She said, “I think I know what it might be. I’ve been drawn to mental disabilities for the past year. I have many friends that have struggled with them and I’ve been passionate about learning more about them. I follow an association on Facebook, read articles about it, and find it really fascinating. I’ve even considered clinical psychology…” And then she said the one thing that almost always confirms that it is something that should be explored and pursued: “…BUT I didn’t think it was a viable career option…”
When we’re on the verge of a breakthrough we can almost guarantee that we’ll feel resistance. Your inner voice tells you over and over about paths you should explore and it is ALWAYS followed by the voice of resistance telling you why it won’t work and why you’re not good enough. Those who are successful don’t ignore the voice of resistance or silence it. Quite to the contrary they acknowledge it, recognize it as a sign that this might be something worth exploring further, and press forward anyway.
When you think about doing what you’ve always wanted to do, what comes before the “BUT” and what comes after? Heed the stuff before, acknowledge the stuff after, and press on!
What have you been resisting?
Yesterday I completed the first triathlon I’ve done in five years and I re-learned an important lesson about success. Once again, I underestimated how difficult it would be. In fact, before the swim portion started I commented to my buddy that next we needed to sign up for the longer distance.
I quickly ate my words.
The swim went well, although I thought I might drown from exhaustion 50 meters out. The bike totally crushed me. Athletes were flying by me one after another.
By the time I hit the run my energy was zapped. I was wiped out but I committed to just putting one foot in front of the other and no stopping no matter what. My goal was to run the entire time, whether that was at an 8 min/mile pace or a 10 min/mile pace and that’s when an interesting thing happened.
As I continued to plod along, athletes started dropping like flies. Some walked, hands on hips. One literally collapsed. And many of those who had sped past me on the bike were now getting passed on the run.
The burst of speed that had propelled them to the front of the swim or the bike was now catching up with them on the run and my consistent effort, meager as it was, was enough to propel me past them.
Now let’s be clear. I didn’t win. Didn’t even place in the top 50%. But at one moment on the run as my mind drifted I was thinking about the correlation to success — consistent effort is key. That’s how you build momentum. As long as I just kept running I would move to the front of the pack.
I was recently listening to a podcast with Seth Godin who had just written his 5,000th blog post. He said that no one blog post has made his career. Rather, the consistency of showing up every day and seeking to add value has catalyzed his success. He called it “swinging the ax and fetching the water.”
So what’s your goal? Whatever it is, do a little every day. It doesn’t even have to look good. It turns out a little every day goes a long way in the game of life.
Before you make the next move in your career, you can’t afford to make this one mistake that you’ve likely been making for years. I’ve written a brief parable to capture the idea.
A man was embarking on a trip across the ocean to a new destination he’d never visited before. He had high hopes for this change of scenery, believing it would make him happier than the place where he currently was.
He charted out the path on a map, gathered his navigational instruments, collected supplies to sustain him on the journey, and prepared for launch. As he looked out at the horizon and prepared to embark he felt anxious but wasn’t sure why.
The man had all the tools he thought he would need to make the journey — map, compass, food, anti-scurvy medicine (not even sure what that is, but it seemed to fit with the parable). Then, as he pushed off from the dock it struck him. He’d forgotten to pay attention to the most important thing that would make the difference between a successful journey and a disastrous one:
The boat itself.
You see, the success of any man’s journey depends on the boat that’ll take him there. Certain boats are better for certain journeys, and not all boats will take you to the same place. What’s more, a good captain knows everything about his boat. He inspects all parts, including the mast, sail, rudder, ropes and more, and becomes one with the boat before ever departing.
Likewise, you can plan your next career move, including mapping the next steps, building your support systems, getting your financial house in order, and preparing to launch. But if you don’t know anything about yourself — your strengths, your values, your ideal environments and what specifically you bring — you are like the man setting sail on a journey with no concept of the boat he’s navigating.
Good captains don’t just know general information about their boats. “Eh…it’s a boat…like, one of those kinds that floats. And it’s pretty good sized. And it works really hard. And it loves to transport people to places.”
What do you know about your boat?
Hi! I'm Dustin.
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