New Career? Average to Epic in Four Super Steps

Olivia, the General Manager, came to me for career coaching. 

She seemed tired. I hadn't met her before but, as a coach, I've developed a good radar for low or no mojo, exhaustion, and certainly a lack of interest in work and home life. Let's be honest, not many of us call a coach or therapist because life is amazing. Olivia didn't look too enthused, to put it lightly, and the baggy eyes and wringing hands indicated she was far from her ideals. I held my thoughts, and after the practicalities of the coaching arrangement, began with my usual how can I help?

I think I'm depressed. It's my current role. It's shit. The malaise has been rising over the last couple of years, and I think it's probably boredom. I need to talk out what I really want to do. I'm unsure. I also probably need a push to actually just do something. My partner has tried pushing me for the last six months, but I haven't done much, and he's sick of it. Frankly, so am I. Is this the sort of thing you do? 

Yes, it is the sort of thing I do. Most weeks.

Olivia had tried finding some simple advice, but it hadn't worked. She was more confused than ever. She'd tried the interweb, but we all know this reeks of one-minute-magic career and life advice: Silver bullet quizzes that promise your future, but provide little more than narrowed possibilities of basically, well, everything. Career advice can be overwhelming at times. I value simplicity. 

When someone like Olivia comes to see me for career coaching, I use a framework of four simple steps that I've developed from both research and experience. Think of them as focus areas, for designing and delivering yourself the ideal working life:

1. Dreaming.

2. Scheming.

3. Believing.

4. Achieving.

These phases have a linearity to them, but they aren't always sequential. In fact the process is probably more organic: We start out doing something we thought was right. Re-correct. Adjust. Work harder. Meltdown. Start again. Slowly we come to a clarity of our ideals, the specifics of exactly what it is that we want for ourselves; how we might go about getting that; finding some will and blind courage to go get it; before finally, shipping the goods. 

The four stages in detail (sorry, no silver bullets here, folks):

1. Dreaming (open the fire hydrant on your ultimate life).

Instead of what do you want to be when you grow up, how about what do you want for yourself, now?

What's your ideal? A human being is lost, and arguably not up to much, without ideals (and, ideally, their own). Yes, this is the part where you really open up a can of whip-ass on what you really want. 

What do you love? What do you enjoy? What do you want to do more of? Who have you met, what have you seen that gets you curious? When are you in the flow? Come on, seriously, what gets you in a frenzy and leaves you at the bar rambling for hours?

Yeah but, I'm not sure I know what I want.

You probably aren't sure. That's ok. That's probably standard.

But here's two common reasons why, and two common solutions: 

One, you're like Olivia and down in the dumps about where you've ended up. So, start with what you don't want and flip that on its head. 

Olivia didn't want boredom and an ever-growing sense of malaise and meaningless. We all have days like this, yes. But she was at the six-month mark, and that was time to recalibrate and restart. She dreamed of challenge, creativity, mastery and something purposeful. 

What do you dream of? Or, what is your nightmare?

Two, you have no real idea of the opportunities out there in the world. 

You've lead a sheltered or narrowed-in-one-direction existence thanks to ma, pa, 'that' teacher, boyfriend, ex, the system, whatever. Dramas to boot. Yup. We all have 'em. All bother. No bother. Your fervour for learning and change should only be the greater. It's time to stretch your legs friendo, and seek out the possibles. Do the therapy, work through your issues, then head for the open road.

Practically speaking? 

  • Become a kid again. Kids don't seek permission for dreaming. Forget the shoulds, money and manners. Substitute with draw, paint, write, yell, find, explore, feel and ponder: What could be, for me?
  • Find the people you really envy (as well as admire or aspire to be like or follow). Envy provides us with a compass, although we don't like to admit it. We envy those with more freedom, more cash, more meaning, more sense of self, more friendships, more health, more courage to dream, and less care for what others think. And rightly so. Envy has its place in evolution. It kicks our pity parties into overdrive and we climb into the heaving hierarchy of betterment. 

What do you envy and how does it tell you more about what you want?

Dreams are free. Make sure you help yourself.

2. Scheming (find out about real world things and create a plan).

Scheme? Plan, design or programme of action to be followed; a project.

The best scheme developers have the best and most information to hand in making them. What do you know about what you want? How might you know more? How and what does it look like and involve?

Scheming involves understanding how to hover between naively optimistic, on the one hand, and ravingly cynical, on the other. The answers lie somewhere in between. And, of course, you can enlist all sorts of help. There's planning gurus aplenty. And, ideally, a mentor waiting to wise you to winning.

Practically speaking? 

  • Forecast the future as much as possible, in practical terms, knowing that such a thing is pretty much impossible. The real trick? Find out how and what others have done in the past, to get to where you want to be. Let's face it, your dream may be unique but it's not wholly original. Steal, beg, borrow, copy and model from someone who has already learned the harder lessons. Get them to help you. Accept there will be awesome times and average ones and scheme for them.
  • Get practically super specific on what things will be required (courses, reflection, coaching, training, effort, dollars, guides and time), and where you will get the assistance from to begin the implementation.

The catch-cry of phase two is fail to plan? You're planning to fail. Olivia's idea of leaning on her partner, big salary and current role for too long hadn't worked out. She needed a dream, as well a new scheme.

3. Believing (get real clear on what you think and feel about change).

No, I don't mean with perfect white teeth and an arrogant cinematic gusto, streaks ahead of reality (but this may well assist you). I mean a good sense of self and what you just might be capable of. I mean, if you don't believe it, can you really be capable of it? Ask yourself: What do I really believe about myself and this dream of mine?

The complimentary Lululemon bag I received on purchase of my short new running shorts says: Your outlook on life is a direct reflection of how much you like yourself. Hmm, provocative? Yes. True? No. Better? Your outlook on life is a direct reflection on how you're feeling in that moment.

Believing? It's not a complete lack of anxiety. Perhaps quite the opposite.

More often than not, it's simply: F*** it, I really have no idea, but here goes.

In fact, it would be more usual for many of my rather successful business, creative, sporting and parenting clients (especially the honest life-experienced ones) to say I really am not sure I have the skills n talent for this, nor the belief in myself, but let's go anyway.  And great things occur. Eventually.

Forget about relying on your PE teacher to shower you with praise for your Olympic level coordination. Only you can woman up for this one, Olivia.

Tough start in life? Cue Fitting Analogy: 

The final scene of David Fincher's modern classic, Seven, has Morgan Freeman's character, Detective Somerset, state sombrely: Ernest Hemingway once wrote - The world is a fine place, and worth fighting for - I agree with the second part.

Believing is about the second part, the fight. And sometimes it is about acknowledging that the events leading to your believing, have not been fine. But that doesn't mean something isn't worth fighting for. How much fight have you got in you?

Practically speaking? 

  • Take a serious look at the emotional, mental and physical or material costs of not doing something. What are you going to miss out on? Perhaps it isn't much? Perhaps changing isn't really worth it? But what if you believed it was?
  • Look carefully at what we might call your 'belief history'. We all get knocked back. Life's filled with disappointment. Scar tissue gets tough, it loses its sensitivity, loses its ability to grow and stretch. Find a new role model, a skin transplant specialist, to help you with believing better things. What would you like to believe? And, at a gut level, what would you like to feel excited or enthused about, if you really let yourself? Perhaps most importantly, who else are you recruiting to believe in you, too?  

If we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with (Jim Rohn), are you happy with your average? Cull out your non-believers. 

Still confused? Read The Crossroads of Should and Must.  Belief is not about confidence, but rather about knowing what you simply must do.

 4. Achieving (start doing stuff, and start now).

Just do it. You can do all the Dreaming, Scheming and Believing in the world, but at some point you will have to get off the couch. Although Dreaming and Scheming about riding a bike, and Believing you can ride a bike, might assist in the end, the only way you're going to learn is by doing it (and probably not doing it very well, in the beginning).

If in doubt, or a hurry, leap to this fourth stage. You're more likely to be drawn forward in your career (or any part of your life, frankly) by the doing stuff phase. The small-print exception? Repeating the same thing and hoping for new results (generally we don't consider this Achieving).

Call that possible future boss. Resign from your painful one. Write that short story. Get that bank loan and spanking office. Start that degree. Pick up that camera. Call that therapist. Do your MBA. Do 10 press-ups. Re-write your resume (again). Cold-call that start-up (again). Head to South America with your 1950s desert racer. Go on.

The one thing I see in this phase that tends to disappoint? Biting off too bigger chunk, and then getting disappointed when the grind hits. If you've got a big dream, it's going to take ages. Why not start small, with just a little step today? Create and build a lifelong craft. Not one big thing. And leave the anxiety of not creating your lifelong legacy by the weekend, on the side of the road, as you Tortoise past it.

Practically speaking? 

  • Break down your Dream and Scheme into the most micro of tasks, and begin those tasks this afternoon, slowly building momentum to systematically smash tens and tens out of the park.
  • Find someone to be accountable to. Ideally this person will be different to your personality. Yes, they'll push you around and make you prickle, but comfort is the enemy of learning and the best teams (even our internal voices team) are made of diverse personalities. 

Extra for Experts?

My final tip.

In my experience, and going on personality research too, some of you are going to love the first two phases (Dreaming and Scheming), and some of you will tend toward the second two (Believing and Achieving).  Some of us dream and scheme, and don't take enough action. Some of us dive in, without checking the water first. Balance it out pal. Yes, use your strengths, but lean into your weaknesses - you'll learn more from them.

Olivia did, and Olivia and her partner are a whole lot better for it.