Andrew was on vacation. Temporarily chilled out and lying in the sun it hit him – he didn’t want to go back to his old job and old routine. He hadn’t been happy for a while but he didn’t know what to do next. The day before he and Anne had caught up with Steve and Mel – old friends they hadn’t seen for years. Steve and Mel seemed so successful. Anne was sitting next to Andrew and he could feel her mentally ticking off the things the friends had been up to that were still only dreams for her and Andrew after 20 years together. Regular overseas holidays, children’s university educations paid for, late model cars parked in the driveway. Briefly Andrew consoled himself with the ‘money isn’t everything’ mantra – but Steve and Mel were just so darn contented as well. What was Anne thinking? That she had backed the wrong horse? Her career was taking off again after she took some time out when the kids were young. But Andrew? Mr Grumpy was going nowhere fast and he felt like his best years were behind him.
So now Mr Grumpy was Mr Decisive. He was going to find a new job and prove to Anne that he could deliver a lifestyle that was off the chart. Nagging at him was the realisation that he had a similar epiphany last year. After a few fumbled job applications and doomed resolutions about assertiveness with his boss Andrew had rapidly slid back into the rut he had tried to climb out of.
There are hundreds and thousands of Andrew’s out there wanting something new but unsure how to go about it. On vacation it all seems so clear but back in the hectic routines of life we are easily swept away by the same old same old.
When coaching people on career steps it is good to start with the big picture (the dream) and work our way down to the practical strategies that will help us achieve it. If you are feeling like a bit like Andrew then here are some questions that I would ask you based on what I have seen others go through (including me).
Big Picture Stuff
1. If you won the lottery tomorrow what would you do with your time? (what gets you out of bed if you didn’t have to get out of bed?)
2. Forgetting money, job availability and qualifications – what would be your dream job? (what do you really want to do?)
3. What excites you most about your current role? (focus on the positives)
4. Outside of work what are your hobbies and interests? (what really excites you)
5. If you could change three things about your work performance what would they be? (where could you improve?)
6. When you were younger what did you want to be? (that is young adult you not the junior superhero phase you)
Choosing a Dream
Based on your big picture answers there should be a few themes that can be crystallised into a dream. The important thing to remember from here on is that NOTHING IS GOING TO HAPPEN UNTIL YOU MAKE IT HAPPEN. Unless you want to find yourself in a years time doing the deja vu thing over again then it is time to act. There is a limited window of opportunity here and you need to jump through it into a world of possibility instead of staying in the world of regret.
Most of us only read about head-hunters in castaway novels. They certainly don’t ring us up out of the blue with a great job offer. For us to land a role that fits with our dreams we have to negotiate a tricky job market. It might have been several years since we were last in the recruitment zone. Things have changed. The gatekeepers have a check-sheet of ‘must have’ qualifications, skills and experience. If you don’t meet the mark then there is not point throwing yourself at prospective employers.
If you have a partner find the time to talk to them about what their hopes and dreams are. Often both partners can make assumptions about what the other one thinks without really taking the time to communicate with each other. It could be that what you think they want is something quite different to what they really want.
Chasing the Dream
If you are short in qualifications how are you going to get what you need? It may not need to be ditching the job and going back to school while the family suffers the hardship now for possible future gain. It may be as simple about talking to our current employers about personal development opportunities that might be able to be paid for or subsidised.
It is often good to go out and talk to people who are doing your dream job now. How did they get it? What path did they follow? What tips can they give you about tactics and marketing yourself. This type of informal mentoring can end up opening doors a lot sooner than we think. The degree we thought we needed might only be a diploma with further study once we are in the role.
Believe in ourselves again. It is easy to focus on the negatives and perceived lack of success. It can be seriously empowering if we park the negative thoughts and think through all the things we have done that have gone well. After we have tipped the balance of our thoughts to the positive side it would be a great time to revise our CV with the dream job in mind. Lose the detail of what was done way back in the mists of time and don’t be afraid to summarise the key achievements of the past in a way that supports our more recent achievements.
Just like getting fit and losing weight – achieving our goals requires effort and sweat. But if we are prepared to keep our eyes on the goal it will help get us through the hard times. Only a small percentage of us will have the courage to follow our dreams. If it was easy everyone would be doing it. But if you are serious about escaping from an Andrew-like rut in you career and life then there is no time like the present to set your future in motion.