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The Often Illogical Process of Career Transition

Are you wondering if it’s time to switch careers? Perhaps you realize that you haven’t looked forward to most of the work you do in years. Or some significant life event has occurred that causes you to shift your perspective and priorities (e.g. The birth of a child or a serious illness).  Or you’re “burned out” (as I became after almost 20 years in the fast-paced, high stress world of advertising). Or you’re yearning to do work that impacts your community or even the world in some positive way.

BUT you don’t know how to discover where that that new career path lies.

This is the dilemma with which many of my clients are struggling. Often they have taken career tests (e.g. MAPP), personality assessments (e.g. Myers-Briggs) or personal inventories (e.g. StrengthsFinder) but have discovered that the tests shed little new light on which paths to pursue. Frequently these exercises tend to reveal what they already know about themselves, or suggest directions that are unappealing.

The main reason that the kind of tests cited above often fail to answer the “what’s the right new career” question is that they rely on linear processes: straight line connections between thoughts. If you test strongly as a communicator, then you should go into a career involving writing or presenting. If you score high in empathy, be a therapist.  Analytical? Consider forensic accounting. Unfortunately, most of these career ideas have usually been considered and rejected for a variety of reasons. What's needed is a leap of thought, an inspiration, not an extension.

“We tend to think of problem solving as the implementation of logical steps toward an answer that is predetermined and inevitable.”* (At least to a great degree). “Analytical thinking and logical thinking, is all about the exclusion and critiquing of ideas so that the brain can become a guided laser that operates with surgical precision. Analytical thinking is ideal for weighing options in a well-defined problem, but that power is also its weakness: it is antithetical to inspiration.”*

Inspiration often comes from connecting seemingly unrelated dots. To quote Albert Einstein: “A new idea comes suddenly and in a rather intuitive way. That means it is not reached by conscious logical conclusions. But, thinking it through afterwards, you can always discover the reasons which have led you unconsciously to your guess and you will find a logical way to justify it. Intuition is nothing but the outcome of earlier intellectual experience."

So what do I recommend as tools to consider in helping to chart a promising new path? A combination of:

1. (Day) dreaming - When we dream the mind is freed from the constraints of logic and current reality. All kinds of crazy combinations of characters and situations appear. Allow yourself to daydream, to free associate. Make time in your schedule to do nothing rather than check Facebook for the 6th time that day.

2. Conversations - Talk with people you admire and hear about their paths to career satisfaction. Even if they’re in a field that holds absolutely no interest for you, valuable tidbits can emerge (e.g. About analogous starting points, processes, and sources of inspiration, be they people or podcasts).

3. Structured Exercises  - Open-ended exercises such as those that appear in my current favorite career book, “Roadmap” (by Roadmap Nation) can generate lots of new avenues of thinking, far more than the closed-ended multiple choice format of most career tests.

4. Professional Guidance - I’ve worked with hundreds of people to discover new goals based on existing likes, strengths, skills, and values. A particularly valuable function that I serve is to consistently support the process of exploration by providing MOTIVATION and ACCOUNTABILITY, both of which are often required to see the process through. Another is that, based on my breadth of experience, I make suggestions derived from other client experiences that may be applicable.

*From the book “Solitude” by Michael Harris

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