I’ve started reading a book by Matt Haig called The Midnight Library. It’s about regret. The main character Nora has access to The Book of Regrets. Here she can see all the regrets she’s had over the years. She has the opportunity to test out different versions of her life as it could have been if she’d made different decisions. There are infinite possibilities. Maybe she’d kept up her swimming, maybe she’d treated her brother differently, maybe she’d pursued a music career.
Although I’ve only read the first few chapters, I’m already discovering that the life you thought might been better, having made different or better decisions, isn’t necessarily the case. Things might not have actually worked out better another way.
“It can drive you insane, thinking of all the other lives we don’t live.”
I’ll find out what the overriding moral of the story is when I get to the end. But for now what I’m taking from it is that there’s not too much point regretting the past – without doing something about it now. Day dreaming about time travel and doing things differently won’t change anything. But, we can start doing what we’ve always dreamed of, now. Maybe in a smaller, simpler way.
Or, remind ourselves that we’ve kept ourselves small. Or listened to others instead of to ourselves in the past. And that from now on we’ll be listening more closely to ourselves.
If you’d like my support with your career change, you can book a package of 3 x 1-hour coaching sessions with me. I’ll help you make a plan to move forwards. Find me on LinkedIn or email me at email@example.com.
I‘m currently reading Michelle Obama’s book Becoming. It’s taken me several attempts to get into it but now that I’m at the point where she’s finished her studies, entered the world of work and has met Barack – I’m loving it. And I’m pleased to discover that during Michelle’s pre-politics life she went through a major career change. We learn how she felt about it and how she went about making it happen.
She starts off her working life as a hot-shot lawyer, flourishing and doing really well. But over time she begins to wonder if it’s really right for her. She realises that community work might be more her thing.
“I was feeling another twinge, a quiet nudge toward what might be a whole different future from the one I’d planned for.” – Michelle Obama, Becoming
It’s amazing to see that someone like Michelle Obama might have gone through the same issues with career and identity that I and many, many others have done too. That feeling that the path you’ve chosen isn’t actually quite right for you. Wanting to do work that feels more you. In her case, work that would directly help people rather than working in some far away office doing work for work’s sake.
She talks about how she went about finding her next career. It’s solid career change advice; rather than seeking out the next job immediately, she tries to broaden her view of what is out there. She puts herself in front of people who might be able to help her, talking to them, taking advice, gathering information:
“The point was less to find a job than to widen my understanding of what was possible and how others had gone about it. I was realizing that the next phase of my journey would not simply unfold on its own, that my fancy academic degrees weren’t going to automatically lead me to fulfilling work.” – Michelle Obama, Becoming
She spoke to people who were out there doing interesting things and enjoying their work. She asked about opportunities, asked what a lawyer could do if they didn’t want to continue with legal work. Eventually, through meeting with acquaintances and seeking and learning from them, she is offered and accepts a job at Chicago city hall, as assistant to the mayor.
You can take career transition inspiration from anywhere. Knowing that someone else has been through a similar situation to you is comforting and can be motivating. It’s not just you. It’s not because there’s something wrong with you or that you just aren’t cut out to work. You just haven’t found the right thing yet.
Things change, your values change, your situation changes. And so your work needs to change.
Take inspiration from Michelle O – start talking to people, find out what they do, who they know, ask questions. You never know where it might lead you.
There’s a book I found helpful when I was in the exploratory phase of my career change. Otherwise known as the time when I read every possible book available on career change/how to decide what you really want to do/how to find your passion etc etc. It taught me about ‘possible selves’.
It’s called Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career, and it’s written by Herminia Ibarra.
“Possible selves are the ideas we all have about who we might want to become. Some are concrete and well-informed by experience; others are vague and fuzzy, nascent and untested. Some are realistic; others are pure fantasy. And, naturally, some appeal more to us than others.”
You’re not searching for The One
I love this idea. Because straight off, it takes the pressure off. You’re not searching for The One. You’re not searching for this one dream job that’s going to change your life, make everything better, make you happy.
Instead, you’re making a list of all those possible selves you think you might like to be.
There’s the you that carries on in a similar role, but with a different company. Another version of you that retrains as a teacher. A possible self that becomes an artist and lives by the sea. Another you that wants to work for XX company but doesn’t know how to get in the door. The one that stays in your current role but somehow, magically, it gets better and you enjoy working there again. The version that starts up a business selling cheesy snacks that get snapped up by Waitrose and John Lewis.
You’re having fun, you’re getting it all out of your head. The sensible ideas, the totally out there ideas. The ones you’re not sure about, the ones you’re extremely keen on.
The main thing is to not hold back. All of these possible selves are representing something in you. Maybe some are hinting at a creative you that’s feeling frustrated and trapped. Maybe there’s a part of you that wants autonomy and freedom. If you push these urges down and ignore them, you’re not going to deal with the feelings of frustration, they’re just going to build.
The next step is to start to explore these possible selves, as many as you can.
It could be that you explore a more creative self, where your main work is creating. You look into the reality of what you’d need to do every day, what you might get paid, how long it might take etc. You speak to someone who’s doing work in this area that you admire or that seems to enjoy it. And you realise that actually you wouldn’t really want to be an artist; trying to make money from it doesn’t sound fun.
But you realise you really do want to be a part of that industry, and that finding a role similar to your current one, but in that industry, just might be an idea. Or you realise instead that starting something artistic as a hobby will bring you a lot of joy and a chance to express yourself in a way you haven’t for a long time.
On the other hand it could be that you realise this is what you want to be doing. Therefore you need to make a plan. How can you make it happen? What have other people out there done to make it happen? How could you get started? Who could help you?
Nothing’s off limits
It’s important to give credibility to your ideas, don’t just dismiss them as silly. Part of the process is to make it as fun and interesting as possible, like a side project. Explore these ideas, see what you find out. Even if the result is that you definitely do not want to proceed in that direction, at least now you’re clear on that and you have a good idea of the reality.
It will help you to clarify what you want and sort through the muddle. And new ideas may appear.
I explored all sorts of possible selves. At first I considered staying in my role but working for another similar company. I tried out working as a tutor, a translator, a teaching assistant. Teaching English abroad, volunteering or working for a charity appealed, and I got close to going ahead. That even led me to do a teaching English as a foreign language (CELTA) qualification. I shadowed someone working in the foreign rights department of a publishing company. I started offering coaching sessions.
And I finally took a full-time role which tied in a lot the areas I’d been exploring. It was in the world of education, using skills I’d used in my former role such as sales and presenting, and for a company whose values mirrored mine.
Importantly, exploring possible selves helped me to shed my previous work identity, something Ibarra also writes about. I shed the constraints I’d been holding onto, this is what a good job looks like, this is what I can do, this is the world I have to work in. It helped me to be open to new opportunities that I previously would have dismissed as not possible, or not right for me.
It’s a journey, and it takes time. But if you’re at that point where you’re feeling stuck and frustrated, you know you need to make a change but you don’t know how, then it’s worth the work.
If you need help with your career change, you can contact me at LinkedIn or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
‘This year will be different‘. How many times have you told yourself this? On New Year’s Day? Your birthday? On your work anniversary? On a random rainy Tuesday morning as you’re bleakly staring out the bus window on your way to work (the last place you want to be heading towards)?
This is the year where I work out what on earth it is I want to do. The year I finally get a job I’m great at and that I enjoy. This is the year I stop doing what everyone else thinks I should be doing, and I go for what I’ve secretly been yearning to do.
This week I read an email sent by someone I’ve admired for a long time now, called Monika. She’s the author of a book called This Year Will Be Different. It’s a book I read at a time when I was desperate for change.
She’d written an email to thank the people who’d helped her when she got started as a freelancer. A few key people had taken a chance on her, given her advice, or seen something in her. These people had changed the way she thought and they supported her way of working.
I wanted things to change
I got a bit misty-eyed reading it. Because her books have had a big, positive influence on me and inspired me so much. When I read This Year Will Be Different it was exactly what I needed at the time. I wanted things to change and I didn’t want a repeat of the previous year, and the years before that.
In This Year Will Be Different Monika interviewed women who were doing interesting work, living unconventional lifestyles. Freelancers, women with portfolio careers (doing a few different jobs), designers, travelling translators. They talked about personal branding, finances, working for themselves, their life philosophy.
You can’t be what you can’t see
That was far from my reality, working for a big corporation, shlepping into an office every day, doing work I didn’t care about. I’d vaguely dreamed of having this kind of lifestyle, feeling freedom, having a portfolio career, travelling, working for myself. Not going to an office.
Reading this book was a massive dose of inspiration. Hearing these women’s stories lifted me. I saw that you can choose to work and live in a way that really suits you. They had worked out what they enjoyed doing and were being paid to do it. They all had lifestyles that suited them. If they could do it, why couldn’t I? Why can’t you?
There’s a saying – you can’t be what you can’t see. It’s important to find your own inspiration. Examples of people who are working and living in a way that excites you and inspires you and makes you feel happy.
I hope you find something that touches you in the same way, and inspires you to make the changes you want.
If you liked this post, I’ve written more about surrounding yourself with inspiration here: The One Habit.
If you’d like to find out about life coaching sessions with me, email me at email@example.com.
Reading this book, for the first time in my life I started to consider a life where you don’t have to put up with being chained to a desk doing work you don’t want to do.
I was going through a particularly bad patch in my previous job, in around 2007. At this time, my favourite running joke with a friend on my team was that I was digging an escape tunnel under my desk, à la The Shawshank Redemption.
Just about every lunch break I’d go for a walk, feeling desperate, head to the nearby Waterstone’s bookshop on Oxford Street, and scan through the books to somehow try to find answers to the questions I had whirling around in my head. What am I doing with my life? Why do I feel miserable? What can I do to make it better? The title jumped off the shelf at me.
I’d pop in again and again to read a bit more each day. One day I finally made the purchase – one of the best decisions I’ve made. I still refer to this book, a decade later.
Tim was one of the first to write about ‘lifestyle design’, shunning the typical idea of working 9-5 in an office doing a job you don’t like and waiting until you retire to do all the fun stuff you dream of – and instead finding ways to incorporate these things (learning, travel, adventure, entrepreneurship) into your present day.
How did it help me?
It inspired me to dream of a life where I’m not wishing my time away until my next holiday, where I decide what I want to do, how I want to live my life, and then find a way to make that a reality. To not put off dreams until later in life, dreams such as living abroad and learning a new language. I’d previously lived in France, and promised myself that I’d live abroad again, one day. See what happened here.
Tim has written several other books, all great, but this is definitely my favourite. He also has an amazing podcast, the Tim Ferriss Show, where he interviews seriously impressive guests (Tony Robbins, Richard Branson, Seth Godin) about their ‘tactics, tools and routines’ for being mega successful – I’m obsessed.
How To Stop Worrying And Start Living by Dale Carnegie
King of self-help, Dale Carnegie, wrote back in the 40s and 50s about implementing small habits and behaviours that improve your life. As someone who had always considered myself ‘a worrier’, this is a book I looked to for reassurance. (I found it on my parent’s bookshelf one day.) Perfect title! It was exactly what I needed at the time, constantly worrying about what I was doing with my life and not knowing what to do about it.
In this book Dale teaches us how to face worry head on, providing different techniques for handling it. For example focussing on today’s actions rather than worrying about tomorrow’s; analysing your worry by getting all your facts together about a situation, writing them down, then analysing them impartially, coming up with several solutions, and then making a clear decision and taking action.
How did it help me?
Amongst many other tips he gave me the realisation that your optimum state should be to be as relaxed and calm as a sleeping kitten. Feeling tired, tense, and anxious, is a habit. Relaxing is a habit.
Imagine picking up a sleeping kitten, they’re all soft and floppy. Like a crumpled sock. That’s how your body should feel. Soft, relaxed, calm. First reading this at a time when my back and neck were constantly tense and uncomfortable due to feeling stressed and sitting at a computer screen all day, this was a revelation. And something I try to remember.
Be Your Own Life Coach by Fiona Harrold
I also found this book on a bookshelf at my Mum and Dad’s, I still have no idea how it got there. The cover is kind of cheesy. But I love it. It’s full of little pink post-it notes highlighting the pages I like to refer to.
Fiona starts off talking about not going through your life with regrets, about doing the things you dream of. She talks about how your beliefs and outlook effect the rest of your life, and you need to make subtle shifts in your thinking if you want to make changes. It’s all about creating your ideal life, and building your confidence to make it happen.
Fiona encourages you to take control of your life, don’t put up with a so-so life, strive for more. It’s as though you have this person to hold your hand saying, “You can do this. You are absolutely equipped to deal with anything that comes your way.”
How did it help me?
It’s a really reassuring read, with case studies showing how people have transformed their lives by learning to follow their intuition, believe in themselves, and give something new a try. It encouraged me to stop making excuses and aim to live the life I want. The focus on building self-reliance and self-worth is inspiring, especially as someone who had lost confidence in my abilities.
Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers
This is one of those books I’d pick up in the library when I was feeling totally lost and needed all the help and reassurance I could get.
It’s all about taking action to get rid of the feeling of fear, rather than letting it fester and grow. Everyone’s scared of different things, all the time, and that’s not going to change. But you can practise facing the fear, doing whatever it is you are scared of that is stopping you from living your life as you want to.
It’s like building a muscle, the more often you face your fears, the easier it gets. You get used to getting out of your comfort zone, and dealing with whatever comes your way.
How did it help me?
The stand-out point for me is on tackling indecision and paralysis. When making a decision, you can take path A or path B – both are the best path to take. You’ll never be able to 100% predict the outcome. Deliberating, hesitating, over-analysing and not making a decision, all comes down to fear, and stopping yourself from taking action.
Take path A and great things can happen. Take B and great things can happen. There is no wrong decision. Even if the path you take doesn’t pan out as you had hoped, you can correct your path as you go.
Working Identity by Herminia Ibarra
I read this book around the time I left my previous job. The book focuses on the commonalities will all have in career change.
You will go through a potentially tricky transition period. Read more about it here.
You don’t have to immediately move on to the job you’ll have for the rest of your life. Take the pressure off.
Test the next thing out, staying open-minded. It’s all part of the process.
You’re shedding the skin of your previous work identity, maybe you’ll have to shed another one before you find something that fits.
How did it help me?
It was comforting reading about high achieving MBA types and rather than feeling inferior, taking comfort that we’re all the same, we all go through the same issues.
Herminia’s words are encouraging; if you change career there will be a transitional period, it won’t always be smooth, but if you can accept that and just keep moving forwards, you’ll do ok.
This Year Will Be Different by Monika Kanokova
I read this book a few months after I had left my job of 10 years and was figuring out what I wanted to do next. One thing I knew was that I wanted to work differently. I didn’t want to work in a corporate environment or in a big office anymore. And I wanted to do work I was actually interested in.
I love this book as it’s basically a series of case studies where the author interviews interesting women who are doing interesting work, mainly freelance or have started their own businesses.
The ones that really caught my eye were location independent. As someone who loves languages and has lived abroad before, I found this book so inspiring, reading about women from around the world, living where they want, finding a way in which to work to support this.
To read the details of how someone makes this kind of lifestyle work for them was truly inspiring. And surprise surprise, my work is now location independent, working either from home, a co-work space, cafes or at my parent’s when I’m back to the UK visiting.
How did it help me?
Reading about people who are living their lives in a way that interested me was an eye-opener. Having spent my whole working life up until then working in offices, this opened up a world of different possibilities.
I started to imagine myself doing something similar. From there, I started to figure out how I could do the same, and look out for opportunities which would allow me to live in this way. Seeing what is possible is the first step.
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