Being a researcher at heart, I love to explore key trends that reflect the deepest challenges professionals face. And if I can, I like to distill down to the bare essentials the vital lessons that successful professionals and career changers have gleaned from their respective journeys. People who have built amazing careers and work-lives of significance that they love, and who find their livelihoods immensely rewarding both emotionally and financially — have a lot to teach us.
Those lessons include how to avoid the four most limiting actions that so often lead to unfulfilling or even disastrous job and career moves. Successful professionals avoid these four moves:
Attaching to the expectation that your new direction should guarantee happiness for your entire lifetime.
People get so stuck and confused – and take the wrong steps – when they operate with the hope or expectation that the next move has to meet their needs and wants until the day they die. Forget about that. If you’re like me and the vast majority of people I’ve ever met, you will change and grow so much in the next 20 years, that you won’t even recognize yourself. It’s completely unrealistic (and crazy-making) to wait until you think you’ve found the one move that will make you happy for the next 50 years.
As an example, the very things I strove so hard to achieve in my 20’s and 30’s – trying to gain more and more responsibility and higher levels of corporate success — are completely unappealing to me now. I’m so much happier, healthier and more fulfilled (and earn more money) in my own business, developing my own programs and services, and marketing resources that I feel have a genuine impact, rather than supporting corporate objectives that felt meaningless (or worse) to me.
Successful people who love their work focus on making the one move that will create the most happiness and reward now and in the next chapter (say, for five years). Go for that direction with gusto, and give it your all. If you continually commit to doing what you need to do in order thrive today, while also planting the seeds for your future self, you’ll head in the right direction.
Tip: Determine your true, authentic action style, and focus on career moves that will help you leverage and honor that style and your deepest values. That’s the pathway to success, if you do it in the right way.
Always going for the “safe” thing, not the thrilling thing.
Passion has somehow because a dirty word in our professional world, but I disagree with that wholeheartedly, and so do the thousands of people who live for their work, see great significance and value in its impact, and love it every day. Passion is what you need to weather the harsh challenges. Passion is what will drive you to succeed against all odds, and keep you going when all else fails you.
Passion (the kind that is aligned with your authentic values and beliefs) looks like this: thrill + commitment = impact.
“Safe” career moves, on the other hand, almost never get you where you really want to be in the long run, for two core reasons:
1. Nothing outside of you is truly “safe.” No job, employer, organization, direction, etc. is foolproof or change-resistant. Your industry or your job function can literally disappear overnight or in a few short years, even though you were sure it was “safe.” I learned that first-hand after the tragedies of 9/11. A huge part of the business I worked for was focused on travel, and it was instantly flattened.
2. Safe doesn’t allow for growth, and growth towards our highest potential is what makes us happiest and most fulfilled. Yes, stretching out of our comfort zones is scary. But I’ve found there are two types of stretching – one that leaves you disappointed and one that brings you higher:
• Doing something “scary” that conventional society expects of you (like asking for a big promotion, or taking a more senior “desk job” because it’s the “responsible” path)
• Doing the one brave thing that thrills and scares you to expect of yourself
Do the latter and your career moves will keep pointing you in the right direction.
The most profoundly impactful, productive and inspiring contributors and professionals have braved up in a big way,
and continually pursue what they authentically believe is their own highest peak, not someone else’s. They don’t worry about conventional thinking and “brules.” They go for what thrills their hearts, minds and spirits.
Tip: Identify the three most thrilling and juicy directions, then research thoroughly what it would take to assume the professional identity required of these directions. Don’t leave one stone unturned. Research, shadow, intern, volunteer, contribute, run a project – try it on in every way possible, like a suit of clothes. Understand deeply what these directions would mean and demand of you. Then choose the one that fits the best with who you are and what you value, need and desire.
Asking the absolute wrong people for advice.
Those who have tremendous success and joy in their work surround themselves with the right supporters, advisers, advocates and ambassadors who lift them up. Countless other professionals try to get help in their careers, but often ask the wrong people. They ask their spouses, their friends, bosses, family members, even mentors whom they think will aid them. But many of these individuals turn out not to be the best advisors. Why? Because they haven’t taken the right steps in their own lives and careers to reach their highest potential, and don’t know how to advise you correctly toward reaching your visions.
Here’s how to know who to ask for help:
1. Are they thrilled with what they’re personally doing?
2. Can they offer advice that isn’t just about how they did it, but that will help you (with your unique style) become the best version of yourself?
3. Can they get behind what you’re trying to do, even if they have fears and judgments about it?
4. Do you feel they know and respect the real you (not just the public facade you present)?
Many family members and friends are threatened by a huge shake-up in the status quo. They may be intimated by or even jealous of what you’re trying to do, and so they offer advice (subconsciously) aimed to keep you playing smaller than you dream to.
Tip: Find five mentors who are doing what you dream to do, whom you admire, not only for what they’re doing, but how they’re doing it. Ask if you can connect with them and learn more about their trajectories, and what they did that was bold and scary, to get there. Look at the “power gaps” they’ve overcome. But don’t reach out to a total stranger – follow these key steps to finding the right kind of mentors, advocates and sponsors who are already in your sphere. If you have no one in your immediate world who fits that bill, expand your horizons and grow your community.
Leaping to another direction to heal your wounds.
Successful people who adore their work and are amply rewarded in it don’t just “arrive” there. All through their lives and their professional journeys, they’ve been brave enough to recognize their internal demons, and jumped in the cage with them, facing them head on.
This past year, I had a revelation – I saw that a full one fifth of my Amazing Career Project course members who are struggling in their careers have had experiences in childhood that severely damaged their self-esteem. Those who’ve suffered at the hands of narcissistic parents are particularly vulnerable, and need a different kind of support to fulfill their career and life dreams. I’ve started working with a larger number of adult children of narcissists who’ve suddenly learned that the challenges they’re experiencing at work are stemming directly from the dysfunction, hurt, pain and damaged self-confidence they suffered at the hands of narcissistic parents. This is a stunningly painful discovery — that the bad stuff you thought was happening “to” you randomly is actually something that you’ve unconsciously and repeatedly attracted into your life and career.
I’ve discovered too what I call The Pendulum Effect – the experience of getting to a point where you simply can’t stand your work one more minute, so – like a pendulum – you swing to what you think is the farthest point away from what you’re doing now.
I lived the Pendulum Effect. After a brutal layoff in the days following 9/11, I was sick and tired of feeling terrible, and I ran away from corporate life and earned a Master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy and launched a practice as a therapist. It was a life-changing experience and I’m so very grateful I did it, and I use every one of the skills I learned in my work today. But, in the end, living the life of a therapist wasn’t my ideal professional role and was very challenging in a number of critical ways. (I didn’t know then about the need to research and “try on” a new direction as fully as possible, to ensure it’s a great fit before you put all your eggs in that basket.)
After pivoting once again and pursuing running my own business as a coach/consultant/trainer, I’ve found the ultimate path for me. The mistake I made was thinking that being a therapist would magically solve all my problems and heal all the personal and professional pain from the past. It couldn’t and it didn’t. Sadly, the same toxic challenges I had faced in corporate life re-emerged five years later in my new profession, until I finally figured it out.
Tip: Look at what you dislike most in your work, and endeavor to change it now. Most folks don’t want to hear that – they just want to run so the pain will vanish. I promise,
if you run away, you’ll find yourself staring directly in the face of the same problems that made you flee.
Take a good long look at what’s happening – at the patterns you’re recreating, the toxic relationships you’re hooking into, the boring work you can’t escape, the bad boss who devalues you every day, the customers and clients who treat you poorly, the money you can’t seem to make, etc. — and make a dramatic change in yourself so you operate differently in the world. When you do, these damaging experiences need never happen again. Finally, your work success and reward will grow without limit.
To build the best, happiest career for you, join my online course The Amazing Career Project (enrollment ends Sept. 23!).