Imagine walking past a furniture store that carries quite an inventory of handsome couches.
You decide to walk in and browse around. As you look at the array of possibilities, no doubt you’re thinking about how this one here or that one there might look in your living room. That is, the living room you have today. Not the living room you might have someday when you have a different house. Because, really, what’s the point of that? And, how do you imagine the way a couch might fit in a room you don’t even have, right?
I use this ridiculous example to demonstrate one limiting thought process many people practice, and they’re not even aware of it.
My work today involves consulting with individuals to help improve their career situation. One thing I often explore with my clients is their vision for themselves. What they want to achieve in their careers, what career success means to them, who they want to become, and such like.
Often, my clients respond with an idea that’s rooted in, or in the context of their current environment, i.e., their current job or career. They provide me with a career vision that is somehow linked to, or based upon, the place (or industry) where they currently work.
This is understandable.
It’s easier to use the context of our current world as the framework with which to imagine our future.
We think about climbing the ladder we’re on today. We plan around how to get promoted within the organizational structure of our current place of employment. We consider the perceived next step as whatever is the generally accepted one within our current trade or industry.
To the extent that your current corner of the professional world IS the place where you want to grow and make an impact, then please by all means, plow ahead.
Sometimes though, applying the same rationale for buying a couch for today’s family room, isn’t the right approach.
For some, formulating a vision that fits within your current walls may be limiting and potentially short-sighted.
A Real Life Example
An old friend of mine worked so hard for so long, to get admitted to the partnership at the law firm where he’d worked since graduating from university. It was the one career goal he had. There was no other option to consider; he wanted nothing but.
Two years after making partner, he quit the firm and went into teaching.
He told me that while he was pursuing the partnership, he really wasn't thinking about the life he actually wanted to live beyond the four walls of his (then) company.
He didn’t attempt to imagine doing anything outside the trajectory of his career. He limited himself to that which he saw others around him accomplishing, and figured he must want to do the same thing.
He doesn’t regret anything, he told me. He’s simply grateful he had the opportunity (and the courage, I would add) to redirect his career when he realized it wasn’t what he wanted after all.
How To Avoid The Trap
Here’s the thing: Our careers should support the life we want to live–not the other way around.
Said differently, we shouldn’t be adjusting our lives to suit our careers. Ideally, we are instead fashioning a career based on how we want to live.
Adopting and practicing this perspective changes the priority and automatically pushes us to think beyond our current jobs. It places a different kind of carrot in front of the horse, so to speak. Instead of looking at advancing within our current plane, we begin to consider other possibilities that support our desired life, without regard to where or how we may be working today.
This mindset–having a career that supports the life you want to live–may very well be a given and just plain common sense. But undoubtedly, more difficult to practice in reality.
So, here are 3 steps you can practice to help further instill this perspective:
1- Find a role model, someone you admire, who works outside your current industry.
Better yet, find a mentor from a different line of work. This will help expand your horizon. It will help you focus on what you aspire, beyond, and without the limitations of, your current world.
By the way, this step automatically disqualifies your boss, which is a good thing for purposes of opening your mind to your possibilities.
2- Think in terms of desired impact, not desired job titles.
Who would you like to be able to help, through your work? And in what way would you like to be able to help them?
3- List 5 career achievements that you would be proud to be able to claim one day.
The operative phrase here is “you would be proud”.
What kinds of things would you take pride in having done in your career? What results would you like to be able to produce, such that you could imagine seeing yourself smiling ear to ear when you achieve them? What career achievements would be in line with your personal values?
These steps do not presume that you’ll end up wanting a different career. In fact, these steps may very well confirm that you’re on the right track. That’s always a good thing.
Alternatively, these steps may help you conclude that you would like to apply yourself and your talents differently. That your definition of career success leads you away from your current path.
If so, what better time to understand this than now.
About The Author: Lou Blaser is a change strategist focused on helping men and women create their best careers. You can find her at Second Breaks.