Where to start where you don't know where to start

When looking to make a career change how do we avoid going merely “somewhere” like Alice and instead go to a place that matters to us?

If this is one of the blockers stopping you from moving into something new, you’re not alone: not knowing how, where or when to start is extremely common.

Life would be a lot easier if someone would just tap us on the shoulder and deliver our dream job, our eureka moment, “our passion” to us on a silver platter. Unfortunately, everything we’ve learnt about career change points to that not ever being the case.

To break things down we prefer to talk about curiosities, frustrations and heroes. This is an exercise in uncovering clues and finding a simpler, more intuitive way around the big questions.


Chasing Curiosities

On the surface, “Chase your curiosities” sounds eerily like the “follow your passion” myth. But there’s a clear distinction here.

“Follow your passion” implies that you know exactly where you’re heading and how to get there. On the other hand, “Chasing your curiosities” doesn’t require this much from you. It doesn’t ask you to know exactly where you’re going before you start. Curiosities are multiple and varied. They don’t demand that you have a pre-determined path (to ‘follow’); they require only that you have a sense of what seems interesting to you and a willingness to pursue it.

“Chase your curiosities” just asks that you let excitement and enthusiasm pull you forward.

Author Elizabeth Gilbert describes the idea of Curiosities vs. “follow your passion” quite well here:

“If something is interesting to you, trust that it is interesting to you for a reason; that it is another breadcrumb on the amazing trail that will make your life yours and not anybody else’s.” –Elizabeth Gilbert on Curiosity

In fact, chasing curiosities is what Walt Disney credited Disney’s success to:

“There’s really no secret about our approach. We keep moving forward—opening up new doors and doing new things—because we’re curious. And curiosity keeps leading us down new paths. We’re always exploring and experimenting.” –Walt Disney

Or…Chase Your Tennis Balls

A helpful way to think of chasing curiosities is to picture the way a dog chases tennis balls.

If you throw a tennis ball with a dog beside you, what does the dog do? She has almost no choice but to chase the tennis ball.

There are likely things that pull you like a tennis ball pulls a dog. Try to be attentive and listen to those things.

Every time you walk by a bookshop, do you feel pulled to walk in? When you hear someone talking about sailing, do you instantly perk up and chime in? Ever hear about a new business idea and think “HELL YES!”? Those all sound like tennis balls. New possibilities emerge as you let yourself be pulled like a dog chasing a tennis ball.

Of course, these may not translate immediately to a new opportunity, but listening to the things that pull you and giving yourself permission to be pulled by them will likely lead you down promising paths.

Exercise: Uncover your curiosities

Your curiosities might be staring you in the face, pulling you in all kinds of directions every day – in which case, feel free to jot them down and then scroll ahead to the next section on Frustrations. More likely, your curiosities are bit more buried and need bringing out into the light.

To uncover your curiosities, take yourself on an ‘Artist Date’ (an idea made popular by Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way). This is a planned, once-a-week, solo expedition to explore something that interests you. Your task is to take yourself (and no one else) on a date, and your aim is to play – whatever that means to you. Ask yourself ‘what sounds fun?’, and give yourself permission to go and do it. Try to ignore the voice telling you ‘that’s stupid’, or ‘you’re too busy’. It could be a museum you’ve been meaning to visit, a craft shop you sometimes walk past, or a coffee-making workshop. It could even be a walk in nature or two hours in a coffee shop with your notebook. (For inspiration, check out this blog post >>> 101 Artist Date Ideas).

Do this regularly, ideally once a week. See what you learn, and keep following what you’re drawn to.

Follow Your Frustrations

If chasing tennis balls and following excitement doesn’t work for you, maybe you’re driven more by frustrations or wrongs you’d like to fix in the world. These problems can create the fuel that drives you in a new direction.

What frustrates you? What problems do you see in the world? What bugs you to no end?

Frustration is what drove skipper and director of Pangaea Explorations Emily Penn to dedicate herself to tackle our planet’s enormous ocean challenges. Emily described to a past Career Change Accelerator group that she wasn’t always interested in plastics or the health of the Earth’s oceans but seeing it firsthand while on an expedition disgusted her.

Emily has since organised the largest ever community-led waste clean-up from a tiny Tongan island, trawled for micro-plastics on a voyage through the Arctic northwest passage, and rounded the planet on the record-breaking bio-fuelled boat Earthrace.


Examples of Frustration into Opportunity

From Fast Company, How To Use Frustration To Create Something Amazing:

The technology that created Xerox, for example, was invented by a lawyer who grew sick of messy carbon copies so he rented a room to experiment with alternatives.

Similarly, it was Anita Roddick’s burning concern for the world around her that propelled her to launch The Body Shop. It was the conflict between Russell Simmons’s love of rap music and an inability to rap that propelled him to launch Def Jam records. It was Dhirubhai Ambani’s parents’ inability to afford him a college education that launched him toward building Reliance Industries, today the 99th-largest company in the world.

As Thomas Edison once said, “Discontent is the first necessity of progress.”

Over to you. What are some of your frustrations?

Please take a few minutes to jot down some things that are frustrating to you below.

Ask yourself:

  • What frustrates or angers you?
  • What do you wish there was a better solution for?
  • What seems unfair or unjustified?
  • What do you think deserves more attention?
  • What do you find yourself debating with friends or colleagues?
  • What do you care enough about to stand up for, even if it puts you in a minority?

Start a list, and keep adding to it.

Identify Your Heros

Although your relationship with the word “Hero” may vary, here’s what we mean:

“A Hero/Heroine is a tangible example of someone you might aspire to become. Someone who embodies a trait, habit, expertise, career, lifestyle or a body of work that you admire. Heroes are role models for the type of person you might grow into.”

You could a single hero who’s created a lifestyle you admire. You might have many heroes whose small traits collectively embody someone you hope to grow into.

How the people we admire (and envy) can give us valuable information about possible new directions for ourselves.

Heroes aren’t meant to be worshipped or forever live on a pedestal far away. One purpose in having a hero is to try to close the perceived gap between yourself and them. You want to learn and study from your heroes, not just for the sake of it, but with the goal of one day becoming more like them.

Fortunately today we live in a world where we can have a closer relationship with our heroes through social channels — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, blogs and many other online media channels, or even offline meet-ups. If our heroes have created bodies of work and have documented their life story, we can easily and quickly follow their blogs, read their books, watch their talks, learn about their lives.

Pay attention specifically to what it is about that person that you admire or envy. Why do you want to be more like them?


This article was taken from Escape’s online career change course. Find out more and sign up here (enter the discount code ESCAPE for free access).

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