3 ideas to help you start your career change

Since escaping Consultant Management for IBM, Matt has spent the last 5 years as a facilitator, writer, publisher, and speaker helping people work purposefully. Here he shares three ideas to help anyone at the beginning stages of a career change.

I remember contemplating quitting my IBM consulting job back in 2010 (almost three years before I actually did quit). It started as a quiet voice in my head:

“You should quit.”

At first I ignored it. But it was a persistent devil. It continued to surface on my weekly commutes home, each time louder and with an increasing sense of urgency. Each time, I’d hurry to quiet the voice. And each time, I succeeded.

Sure, working in the “real world” didn’t feel quite like I thought it would, and quitting it sounded romantic enough. But I had bills to pay and a lifestyle to uphold. Maybe if the voice had the decency to provide some viable alternatives, or even justified its impulsive murmurings, I’d entertain it.

Sure, maybe consulting for a big corporate wasn’t for me. The problem was: if not this...then what?If I were to chuck it in, I had no clue where to start and what to do instead.

Where do you start when you don’t know where to start?

If this is one of your Blockers, you’re not alone: not knowing how, where or when to start is extremely common. It’s almost like we’re waiting for someone to 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. However, we have found tactics and tips which can help you work out where to start.

Here are three ideas that might help:

1. Don’t “follow your passion.”

I’m sure you’ve heard this phrase before. A simple Google Image search brings up a handful of “inspirational” quotes with shallow promises and empty calls to action:


The problem with “follow your passion” is that it’s largely unhelpful and not instructive at all. How does one go about “following” their passion? What if you don’t know what your passion is? How do you find it? Where does it live? Are you stupid if you haven’t found it yet?

Where did this phrase “follow your passion” come from in the first place? Plugging the phrase into Google Books’ Ngram Viewer, a search engine that shows how often phrases have occurred in books over the years, reveals an interesting truth: “Follow your passion” is a fairly new phenomenon.


The phrase paints the inaccurate picture that “your passion” is a treasure to be found at the end of some glowing rainbow, or a lightning bolt that strikes down upon you in a flash of genius.

According to Cal Newport in So Good They Can’t Ignore You, people cultivate their passion by doing the hard work necessary to get great at something:


“Here’s the key: there is no special passion waiting for you to discover. Passion is something that is cultivated. It can be cultivated in many, many different fields. Therefore, it doesn’t make sense to say, ‘I don’t know what my passion is.’ What does make sense is to say, ‘I haven’t yet cultivated a passion, I should really focus down on a small number of things and start this process.’"

Don’t feel bad if you haven’t “found” your passion(s). Instead, dedicate yourself to begin or continue cultivating one or many.

2. Chase your Curiosities

On the surface “chase your curiosities” sounds eerily like “follow your passion,” but there’s a clear distinction here. “Follow your passion” implies that you know exactly where you’re heading and how to get there. “Chasing your curiosities” doesn’t require this much from you. It doesn’t ask you to know where you’re going before you start. It just asks that you start. From where you are at in this very moment, with what you have available to you. It just asks that you let excitement and enthusiasm pull you forward.

It worked for Walt Disney:

“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.”

I like to think of chasing curiosities like the way a dog chases tennis balls. Let me explain...

If you throw a tennis ball with a dog beside you, what does the dog do? If it’s healthy, it 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. They 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. Tennis balls offer clues to your unique path.

Elizabeth Gilbert, popular TED speaker and author, puts it best:

"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."

Watch Elizabeth Gilbert (1 minute): “What is Curiosity?”

3. Go on an Artist Date.

Feeling super stuck and not even sure what your tennis balls are? It’s possible you’ve been jumping through other people’s hoops so long that you’ve lost touch with your own innate curiosities, excitement and interests.

Our prescription for that? The Artist Date.

The Artist Date, made popular in Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way, is a planned once-weekly, solo expedition to explore something that interests you. Your task with an Artist Date is to take yourself (and no one else) on a date. Your aim is to woo you. Artist Dates are assigned play; think curiosity, excitement, mischief.

When choosing how to spend your Artist Date, try asking yourself “what sounds fun?” — and then give yourself permission to go and do that. You may notice inner whispering like “walk into that craft shop” or “I’ve always wanted to visit that museum...” or “I wonder what Finsbury Park is like?”

Just as quickly, your mind will likely chime in: “That’s stupid. What’s the point? Don’t do it. You have too much to do!” On an Artist Date, your mind is not your friend. Don’t let it be the captain of your ship. Instead, let your inner voices be your guide.

The Artist Date is an exercise in starting down a path, not because you’re pushed down it or feel like you should or ought to go down it, but because you want to go down it. You’re curious about it.

My challenge to you: Take yourself on an Artist Date.

Take at least 2 hours, longer if you can manage it. Pay attention to your curiosities, the tennis balls that pull you. Give yourself permission to chase them. Leave your judgement at home.

If you'd like to find out more about changing your career, sign up here to find out more about the relaunch of The Escape School and our Career Change Accelerator.