"You're Getting Warmer" - Small Steps That Can Lead to Discovering the Right Career Path

As a child you most likely played a game called "You're Getting Warmer".  The objective of the game was to have a blindfolded person locate a hidden object or by directing them through clues.  As the person got closer to the object the other player(s) would say "You're Getting Warmer".  If the person moved further away the response was "You're Getting Colder".

That game is a useful analogy in thinking about how to find the path to the right career.  Most of the clients who come to me for career counseling or coaching are disheartened because they don't have a clear or passionate idea as to what their next career should be.  In fact, very few people are lucky enough to know that.  Most of us need to undertake a process of exploration in order to narrow options and help determine the right direction to pursue for a new career.  THIS IS NOT SOMETHING THAT CAN BE "FIGURED OUT"!  Nor is it something that career testing will reveal.  What is necessary is to undertake a series of small experiments, each of which will tell you whether you're "getting warmer" or colder.*  Small experiments are relatively easily undertaken and involve little or no risk.

What kind of experiments am I talking about?  Here are some examples:

- Enroll in a class.  If you have an interest in, for example,  opening a restaurant, or becoming a jewelry designer, a nurse, or a landscape architect, take or audit a class.  You're guaranteed to learn more about the field of interest, and that learning will either lead to a desire for more, or you will realize that it's not for you.

-Join a Meetup.com group.  Meetup.com lists 2,339 groups meeting within 25 miles of Washington D.C. The groups are made up of individuals with an interest in topics ranging from advertising to entrepreneurship to interior design to yoga.  This is an ideal way to find out more about an area of interest, as you'll be able to talk with numerous people who are in the field.

-Research.  The Internet is your road to a wealth of information about every conceivable career.  It can also point you to books and articles that will help you decide whether "you're getting warmer" or not.

-Volunteer / Internship.  Although not applicable to every area of potential interest, you can learn about many careers in this way.  Don't overlook industry associations.

-Talk to people already in the field. Even in today's highly challenging employment environment you may be surprised at how many people are willing to take the time to talk about their careers.  Be prepared going into these conversations with a list of specific questions (e.g. "How did you become intrested in...."; "What's the most challenging aspect of being a....."; "If you had all the time in the world what would you do to better prepare yourself to be a....."  LinkedIn is an ideal tool to locate these individuals.  Don't overlook people who spent time in the career but have subsequently left it.

-Attend an industry event (a trade show, lecture, workshop, or conference) and be sure to engage a number of people there in dialogue about what they do (see above).

-Call or stop by the industry association.  Chances are that here in Washington D.C. you'll find an association that covers just about any field imaginable.  Tell them you are interested in joining their profession or trade, and ask what material they have with which you could familiarize yourself with their field or, even better, if there is someone you could speak with for a few minutes (again, see above).

Whatever information you can gather will be of value either in deepening your knowledge or interest or passion or, alternatively, in helping you decide that what you thought might be right for you in fact isn't.  Warmer or colder, you only stand to benefit from the small steps outlined above.

*Keep in mind that, just like in the child's game, "You're getting colder" is almost as valuable a lue as "You're getting warmer."


Re-Energizing Yourself

I've previously suggested exercising, volunteering, and setting some short-term, achievable goals as important ways to re-energize.  Today, I want to write about a few others:

1) Give yourself a special treat!  If you're worried about your job/career prospects, chances are you've been scrimping.  You need to remember that you're worth treating well.  I'm not talking about a trip to Paris staying at the Ritz, but an upscale dinner, a new pair of shoes, a spa treatment or tickets to the Capitals game could give you a lift while at the same time reminding yourself that you're worthy of being pampered.

2) Read an uplifting, inspiring book, or attend an inspirational lecture/talk/sermon. I can heartily recommend books or CDs by Wayne Dyer ( www.drwaynedyer.com ), Marianne Williamson ( www.marianne.com), Tony Robbins, Steve Covey, Norman Vincent Peale, or a book like: "50 Self-Help Classics" by Tom Butler-Bowden.  If you attend a house of worship, you may find your clergyman inspirational.  Or search the local "Events" section of your newspaper to learn about who will be speaking wehre and when, an on what.  I myself am scheduled to give a talk to the Forty+Club here in DC next month.

3) Connect with nature.  A walk in the woods, a visit to the zoo, a trip to the beach - even in mid-Winter these activities can be inspirational and re-energizing.  Relatedly, unless you have a deeply imbedded dislike of children, spending time with kids can be truly valuable as you see the power of optimism and a sense of possibility play out in these young minds. 

4) Immerse yourself in a creative endeavor - singing is my personal favorite, but drawing, doodling, a crossword or jigsaw puzzle, a game (athletic or video) - anything that will give you a sense of capability or even mastery will help energize you.

5) PLAY!  This weekend a huge snowstorm hit the Mid-Atlantic, and DC was buried in 2 feet of snow.  As the snow tapered off, people emerged into the streets and began throwing snowballs at each other (hundreds of people participated in a giant snowball melee in Dupont Circle).  Life needs to have moments of levity and silliness - they keep us young and.....ENERGIZED!


What to do When the Job Outlook is Grim

Ten per cent unemployment. Dozens of applicants for every job.  Superbly qualified people willing to take huge compensation cuts in order to regain employment.  In the face of these phenomena, it’s no wonder that countless numbers of Americans have either stopped looking for work altogether, or are so depressed by their presumed prospects that their job hunting efforts are half-hearted.  Half-hearted efforts aren’t going to fix the problem.  Even in the highly unlikely chance that a job should “fall into your lap” through networking or just plain dumb luck, you need to have an upbeat, energetic attitude and demeanor to guarantee that your performance will be top-notch, and that your job will last,.  Some of the things you can do to turn around your frame of mind:

1) Exercise!  Whether it’s training for a triathalon or just walking a couple of times around the block, physical movement generates a sense of momentum and possibility.  Part of this is chemical (the release of endorphins), and part of this is psychological (setting a goal and achieving it).  Of course you’re probably not going to feel like exercising when you’re down in the dumps, but try to push yourself through that resistance.  After all, you probably don’t feel like brushing your teeth a lot of the time, but you do it because you know you need to.  YOU NEED TO EXERCISE!

2) Volunteer!  Being unemployed or partially employed means many, many hours of free time.  Don’t waste them watching reality TV or the Shopping Channel.  Find a cause or organization you have a passion, or even some sympathy, for and call tor e-mail to determine what opportunities there are to be of service.  Volunteering gives you a place to go, something of a schedule to follow, the opportunity to interact with other people, and the chance to make a difference.  You may even make a connection that could lead to a job!  And again you’ll experience a sense of achievement .

3) Set some achievable short-term goals!  Perhaps the surest way to develop a sense of achievement is to set yourself some goals that can be attained relatively quickly and with relatively little effort (or perhaps even some enjoyment).  Clean out a closet.  Go through a box of old photographs.  Bake a cake.  Plant some radishes.  Compliment three people.  Knit a scarf.  Organize your tool kit.  The project itself is less important than identifying it, embarking on it, and completing it.  So make sure it’s a project that you can be reasonably confident of completing.


More on how to re-energize yourself next week.



When the Political Outlook Seems Bleak

Last night the President gave his State of the Union address, so today I am writing about politics.  Living in Washington D.C. I find that many of my clients, (whether they are seeing me as a life consultant, a psychotherapist, or a life coach) are connected with the world of politics.  I also find that most of these clients share a greater-than-average passion for the work they do.  That’s the good part.  The not-so-good part is that this passion can often lead to despair.  Despair enters when developments take a turn contrary to their passionately held beliefs.  For example, when President Obama was elected by a larger-than-expected majority, my conservative clients were despondent.  More recently, the outcome of the Massachusetts election to fill Senator Kennedy's seat has my liberal clients depressed.  The emotional roller coaster my politically passionate clients share is amplified by the increasingly splintered news outlets, which are constantly projecting grave implications from every event, no matter how insignificant.  After all, that’s how they get viewers to stay tuned.  Please remember that despair, despondency, and depression lead to another emotional “d”: deadening.  If the tide appears to be turning against you (in politics or in any other realm of life - particularly in the career arena),  try to view it as a signal to reenergize yourself.  There are various techniques you can employ to do this, which I’ll blog about this weekend.  Remember, the only impact you can have on a situation comes from actions that you take, and when you’re deadened inaction is generally the outcome.


"Experience is not what happens to you. It is what you do with what happens to you."

In the last 24 hours I've seen three excellent movies (after all, I am in L.A.): The Last Station, An Education, and A Single Man.  Each is a sharply visioned depiction of the ecstasy and pain of love.  In "A Single Man" the main character recites the Aldous Huxley quote cited above.  "A Single Man" is very much about that quote, but the words also beautifully summarize my take on the way to lead a happier life.  Namely, that we divorce our experiences from "objective reality" and instead focus on the subjective nature of experience.  The meaning we make of our experiences, and thus what we do with them, is entirely within our control, at least theoretically.  Through consistent practice, we can exercise & strengthen that subjective lens.

By the way, for those of you who have difficulty accepting the notion that there are limits to the accuracy of "objective reality", I recommend that you read a bit about quantum physics.  "The Quantum World: quantum physics for everyone" by Kenneth W. Ford and Diane Goldstein.  It's quantum theory made very accessible.  An important conclusion of quantum physics is that the observer has a measurable impact on what is being observed.  Said another way, one often sees what one expects to see, as opposed to simply "what is there", as there are many possible "theres" there.  But, if you don't want to go to the trouble of reading about quantum physics, notice how your perception changes when someone says to you "Look how run-down this neighborhood is" as opposed to another person who might point out all of the recent visible improvements in the area.  The prescriptions each of these people will have for addressing neighborhood planning will most likely diverge pretty widely. Or watch what happens when you decide to pay attention to the number of, say, red cars on the road.  They assume much greater visibility than they would ordinarily. In the world of politics, just think about the many differences between how Conservatives and Progressives view the world.  Each group takes a certain set of objective facts and projects from them a reality.  The issue with doing this is twofold: 1) Are the facts used all-encompassing, or do they tell only part of the story; 2) Is the projection made from the facts indeed the only one possible?

To take this into the realm of personal experience, imagine yourself walking into a cocktail party of 50 people where you know virtually all the guests, and only two acknowledge you (a fact).  You might then conclude that you are unlikable (a projection).  However, you didn't notice the 3 people who tried to get your attention (perhaps they were blocked by other guests, or your anxiety about fitting into the group caused you to focus more on the guests who didn't look at you than on those who did), nor did you notice the four who intended to go up to you as soon as they finished the conversations they were engaged in.  Turns out your facts were incomplete, and from those incomplete facts you drew an erroneous conclusion.

Victor Frankl, a prisoner of Auschwitz, summed up the lesson he learned about the power of the meaning we make of objective facts with the words: "Everything can be taken from a man but one thing - the freedom to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances".  Practice choosing yours!  Please see my blog of January 21, 2010, for more on this very important issue.