I used to Google career change ideas until my eyes went square.
Surely, SURELY, if I spent enough time searching, researching and mentally trying to shoehorn myself into anything that felt like an acceptable work alternative, there would be a career change idea that would click?
Surely, if I just looked at enough well-known careers, I would see one that didn’t need 5 years’ retraining, a Master’s degree, and another 5 years’ experience to break into at a decent enough salary level?
There would be an AHA moment, a thunderclap, possibly a chorus of angels singing ‘Hallelujah’.
And I would smile serenely as the heaviness of my career change lifted deliciously from my shoulders.
Except it NEVER happened.
Every career change idea I had felt like a big SUCKY dead end.
I was interested in running my own business, but every ready-made business franchise I came across came with a huge starting price tag, a helluva lot of risk, and a nagging doubt that I wasn’t really sure it was for me anyway.
I liked the thought of publishing, but I KNEW I’d never be able to match my salary and that I’d have a lot of painful years working my way up in an industry that didn’t rate my experience. Besides I was SURE there were very few opportunities outside of London.
There were other careers that seemed like a better fit in terms of my experience, and where the money wasn’t too awful, but I could almost feel my intuition sagging at the thought of a working life frittered away on work that felt so unashamedly DULL, so insignificant in terms of the real and lasting impact it made on other people’s lives.
Every career change idea came with an ALMIGHTY ‘Yeah, BUT’…
And I would have to throw it out, frustratedly, and start from scratch again.
If I could just find a point B to aim for, I could get the hell outta my sucky point A and have a chance at making this career change thing WORK.
So weary eyed and bleary, I would open another internet browser tab, and off I’d go with Google again.
I know how it feels to be stuck for career change ideas.
Or when the ideas you have feel either underwhelming, or impossibly out of reach.
If my story is resonating, you’re not alone. I see this with the career changers I work with EVERY WEEK.
One of the problems that is VERY likely to be causing your stuckness is this.
You’re pre-judging your ideas.
Writing them off.
Discarding them as dead ends.
BEFORE you’ve got what you need from them
Let me explain.
You’re hard-wired to KNOW then DO.
One of the things that I really get a bee in my bonnet about in the career change space is that so many practitioners and programmes do very little to actually tackle the problems in HOW you let yourself think about your ideas.
I don’t blame them, and I’m not having a go, but the problem is that they speak to a traditional career methodology that got you into this mess, and sure as hell isn’t going to get you out.
At school you’re taught that you have to choose a likely career path, based on what you’re good at, starting at a tender 14 years old, when you know literally ZERO things about what you like, because chances are that you doing your damned best to be as similar to everybody else around you as you can.
Your choices progress and become bigger as you move through your teenage years. GCSEs, A-Levels, university choices.
And while you might get a token week’s work experience somewhere, or a part-time job somewhere doing something pretty menial, you learn along the way that you don’t start the work until you’re told you have permission. Until you have a range of pieces of paper that tell you you are now allowed to enter the workplace.
We study. We qualify. We do.
So it’s entirely natural, that when it comes to career change, you fall back on those processes to move into new work, processes that the education system fully instilled in you.
You’re hardwired to KNOW, then DO.
This creates TWO unique problems when it comes to career change…
1.Whenever you perceive a potential barrier to the knowing, you feel that it prevents the doing.
“I can’t do that job without 3 years experience”
“I can’t afford to start again at the bottom of the ladder.”
“They’d want X qualification, to let me in”
2. You make incredible assumptions about the doing, sometimes without even realising, based on what you THINK you know.
“The only way to break into marketing would be to get a Master’s degree, and that would be way too expensive”
“The only way I can work 1:1 with people on their problems is if I get a psychology degree and train for years to become a licensed psychologist.”
The result is that you ‘pre-filter’ ALL your ideas, through either 1), 2) or both.
While you might have one or two ideas left over, the likelihood is that they don’t feel especially inspiring, or that you doubt your process for coming up with them at all.
You make judgements about what careers would require, be like, or feel like, without having much at all in the way of real-world evidence to back up your case.
And you act on the judgement as if it’s 100% accurate, chucking out the idea before it’s even had a chance to bear fruit.
You’re accelerating and braking at the same time
One HUGE mistake that I see people in the career change space making over and over again is that they often expect their clients to simply ‘come up with ideas’ in a rapid timeframe, and then whittle them down almost immediately.
Like accelerating AND braking, at virtually the SAME time.
But the problem is, the processes involved in coming up with ideas, and narrowing them down, require completely different brain resources.
To come up with ideas, you need to be able to think broadly, quickly; you need your brain to put out mental feelers into all your filed away experiences, knowledge and memories, to seek matches to the problem you’ve presented it with. You need to brainstorm, capturing your ideas quickly and lightly, keeping an open mind. Your thinking is DIVERGENT. But in order to be divergent, your brain has to be constrained by NOTHING.
Only once there’s enough to work with, then the ideas can be mined for patterns, synchronicities, themes, areas of focus. You can start to narrow your vision powerfully, using CONVERGENT thinking. That’s when things start to get juicy, as well as deeply making sense.
But you can’t do the two things at the same time.
If you do, you’ll end up going round in circles with the same handful of ideas, getting more frustrated and stuck the longer it goes on.
You’ll feel pulled to applying for more jobs that are just like the one you’re trying to get away from, because it just feels easier.
And you’ll feel like your career change is just a ridiculous pipe dream.
So if pre-filtering doesn’t work, what do you do instead?
1. Collect your ideas WITHOUT judgement
In case you needed it, consider this you’ll full and unfettered permission to capture your ideas without judging them.
Find somewhere to keep your ideas safe: whether that’s a notebook, your phone, a file on your computer, a box full of clippings and post-its, or a cork board.
Allow yourself to add ANYTHING that feels even vaguely exciting that you come across, even if it’s not a 100% fit.
Fully fledged career ideas (marketing account management for social enterprise), half-formed notions (something to do with animals), key features (allows work from home at least once per week), or love-to-haves (a dynamic, creative culture).
Catch them all. In one place.
And don’t edit a damn thing.
Shut down your ‘Yeah, buts’
Every item you add has value, and feeds into a bigger picture.
2. Make a deal to keep the baby AND the bathwater (for now)
Even if you can see problems with some of the things you’re adding, it doesn’t matter at this stage.
We’re looking for volume, and for a sense of excitement, in some way, about everything you add.
Know that these are not meant to be perfect, fully formed ideas.
Allow yourself to generate ideas without restriction, without screening, without judgement.
3. Go big and crazy
When I was 10 I desperately wanted to be an acrobat.
This was NOT a realistic career option.
I do not want to work in a circus.
My knees have been a bit dodgy since I was 27.
I am terrified of heights.
However, this is exactly what I would be adding to my ideas pot if I was going through this process now.
Because the juice of the idea is not necessarily on its surface.
Yes, it would be completely ridiculous for me to contemplate being an acrobat.
But I LOVE the sense of flying free, even if only metaphorically.
Of being unfettered by the idea of traditional career.
I love feeling strong and nimble, and relying on my own smarts.
THAT’s the juice.
So even if something feels a bit mad, or totally unrealistic.
Add it anyway.
Even if something feels like a pipe dream and ridiculously unachievable.
Add it anyway.
The mining for insights bit comes LATER.
4. Practise saying ‘I wonder’ instead of ‘but’.
The language we use is powerful.
And when you use the word ‘but’ it has the uncanny ability to override everything that goes before it.
“I like that dress, but I don’t think it would suit me.”
“I’d love to travel more, but I’d miss home too much.”
“I’m excited by this opportunity, but I don’t know if it’d be right for me.”
Try switching out your ‘but’ for an ‘I wonder’ instead.
“I like that dress. I wonder if it would suit me?”
“I’d love to travel more. I wonder if I’d miss home?”
“I’m excited by this opportunity. I wonder if it’d be right for me?”
Hear the difference?
You acknowledge your concerns, but instead of using them to shut down the positive statement that’s gone before, you use curiosity to create the conditions for exploration and experimentation.
You create the conditions to test whether your concern is true.
It might be true. It might not.
But if you assume it is from the get go, you’ll never find out if there’s another way.
All of a sudden you start to play with your ideas, instead of writing them off.
And by starting HERE. By framing your observations in this way, you put yourself in a much more powerful place to conduct your career change from.
5. Travel light
When you don’t have to shoehorn every passing whisper of an idea about your career change into a sensible, viable career path, you’ll free up your sense of fun.
And it’s by playing with your ideas, getting curious, and exploring the connections between the things that light you up, that you’ll start to make connections about who you really are.
The getting focused, naming job roles, figuring out a pathway, that all comes LATER.
Your only task right now is to notice and capture ANYTHING that gives you a flutter of excitement.
Have fun. Get curious. Play.
Have you been making the mistake of pre-filtering with your career change ideas? Let me know in the comments.
And if you need more help with coming up with your career change ideas, take my FREE mini-course, ‘How to generate 20 exciting ideas for your career change in 5 days’. Click here for more information and to sign up.