Several years ago, in the middle of my cross-country drive from Texas to Ohio to begin a new life as a music grad student, I began to experience a sinking feeling that I just couldn’t seem to shake. A small voice whispered, “What if this isn’t really what I’m meant to do?” I’d been playing the clarinet for nearly 15 years at that point. I was a fierce competitor. I’d received hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarship money to attend some of the finest music schools across the country...and for the better part of my life, I knew that I wanted to be a professional orchestra musician...but there was that little tiny voice asking, “what if…”
And every day from that point on, it grew louder and louder.
After attempting to ignore the voice for several months, I had to face the music (pun intended…) I had no choice but to consider that perhaps this perfect little vision I’d created for my life might not ever come true. Not because I wasn’t talented enough to make it happen….but because it wasn’t what I truly wanted.
My problem then became figuring out what the heck to do next. I’d never previously imagined I’d do anything other than pursue a career as an artist. In college I’d been groomed to be a performer and had been taught little else about life outside of the classical music bubble. The task of deciding exactly which direction to go from here brought on bouts of crippling anxiety…”What if I chose the wrong thing?” For a long while I felt paralyzed in my attempt to make a new move. I was so caught up in figuring out the perfect next step that I stayed stuck for many years. It was only when I began approaching my situation with a bit of strategic thinking that I found my way.
Have you ever found yourself wondering “I don’t know what I want, but I know this isn’t it?”
If so, you’re not alone. You’d be surprised at the number of people I speak with who feel detached from their current careers, but aren’t quite sure exactly what to do next. Perhaps you’re experiencing burn-out in your current situation but don’t know how to pivot to something new. Maybe you’ve been at it for years and just feel as though you have no room for growth, but the thought of completely overhauling your career is frightening. Or maybe you’re like me and you’ve dedicated tons of time, effort, and money grooming yourself for a niche career...only to find it’s not truly what you want...but you don’t know how to do anything else.
Once you’ve decided that it’s time to make a new move (which is a big deal in and of itself...so congratulations), it can be cripplingly difficult to decide exactly where to go or what to do next. Instead of spinning your wheels for ages like I did, try these 4 strategies to get going in the right direction.
#1 Focus on who you want to be, not what you want to do
We are human beings. Not human “doings.” When you’re having trouble figuring out your next move, don’t worry about making the daunting choice of what to do next. At least not initially. Instead, spend some time considering who you really wish to be. What sort of lifestyle do you want? What interests and passions do you wish to lean into? How do you want to feel?
It was only when I intentionally carved out time to focus on the big picture that I began to get clarity around my next career move. You’ll never be able to choose the right things to “do” until you have a clear idea of who you want to “be.”
Try this: One of the best ways to jumpstart your career change is through a series of self assessments. These can help you get past surface questions like “what should I do next?” and help you get to the core of who you are, what you want, and what will help you be most fulfilled. One of my absolute favorite books for this type of self-assessment is I Don’t Know What I Want, But I Know It’s Not This by Julie Jansen. This book is a must read for anyone who’s unsure of their next move and offers so much great content, I can’t recommend it enough! Julie’s book is full of workbook style exercises and assessments so I’d opt for a hard-copy instead of an electronic version on this one.
#2 Own your “non-negotiables”
My first big career move after leaving the classical music scene was into corporate marketing. I had dabbled here and there building credibility in the industry while finishing my master’s degree at the conservatory and landed a job at an agency shortly thereafter. I was amazed at how happy I was in this new field, but I quickly discovered I felt out of place in the straight-laced corporate environment of my new job. While I loved helping clients improve their marketing impact, I hated dressing up and being chained to a desk in a sea of cubicles. I didn’t know it then, but the reason for my unhappiness stemmed from the fact that my core values weren’t being honored in that environment.
When you’re unsure of your next move, make sure you know what your core values are. I like to think of core values as the things that are “non-negotiable” for you in terms of identity...or the values that must be honored in order for you to feel like a true version of yourself. My values of Authenticity, Freedom, Change and Variety were absent from my marketing agency job. Many times we compromise our non-negotiables in order to get a better pay-check, to fit in with societal norms, or to please other people, but confidently “owning” these values can help us avoid making a step in the wrong direction.
Try this: There are numerous exercises you can find with a quick google search that will help you identify your core values, but if you want to get really deep, just head over to my contact page and get in touch! I offer a tried-and-true values discovery exercise based in years of neuroscience research by the smart folks at the Neuroleadership Institute that you're sure to love.
#3 Hire A Coach
Have you ever tried to put your makeup on without a mirror? Or tried to back out of a parking spot without using the rear-view? Not too easy is it? The same can be said for navigating the twists and turns of a career change. A coach can be your much needed mirror and provide the support and insight you need to tap into the fierce, successful, badass that already lives inside of you.
After leaving my agency for a tech startup, and being laid off shortly thereafter, I decided it was time to hire a coach of my own. In the 6 months following, I started a new job as a career and business strategist at a non-profit, and expanded my own “side-hustle” so much that it began generating enough income to cover my living expenses. In the short time I’ve worked with my coach, I’ve accelerated many of my goals so quickly that I’m having a hard time keeping up and setting new ones. Hiring a coach is an investment for sure, but the ROI speaks for itself. If you want to go far and go fast...consider finding a coach to support you on your journey.
Try this: Coaches come in all shapes and sizes. They have a variety of specialties and niches, so your best bet is to find someone who does work that you resonate with and sign up for a quick intro consultation to see if coaching is right for you. When I hired my first coach, I went with Colleen at Rowan Coaching and it was definitely a smart investment! And of course, If you resonate with the advice in this blog and are looking to make some changes in your own career, I encourage you to sign up for a free - no strings attached - intro consult with me!
#4 Take a small step
When you’re unsure of your next move, taking a step in a new direction can be overwhelming and scary. Instead of giving into paralysis by analysis, try taking a small a step in the direction your heart leads, and trust that whatever move you make will bring you closer to your ultimate purpose. The trick here is embracing small, actionable steps. As the saying goes, “When eating an elephant, take one bite at a time.” So, instead of completely overhauling your life, you might simply start by going to a networking event centered around one of your new interests. Perhaps you take on a small new project at work that better aligns with your values, or do some pro-bono work in a new field to build your confidence before making more drastic moves.
When I wanted to transition into the marketing field, I volunteered on the marketing team of a chamber music ensemble and an opera company before landing a corporate marketing job. When I wanted to become a career coach, I started out by doing mock interviews and writing resumes for my friends which later blossomed into a successful business. Follow your intuition and take one small step. It may very well be the inspiration you need to make your next big move.
Try this: Write down one simple, actionable step you can take in the next 7 days that will help you explore a new interest. Avoid making this a compound step...keep it incredibly simple and easy to accomplish. For example, avoid action steps like “Build a website.” That activity will require several steps before completion. Instead commit to something like “attend the adult coding workshop offered at my local library next week.” Identify a deadline by which you will accomplish your action step, and for an added layer of accountability, share your action step with a trusted friend.
It took me over 5 years to land on something that I felt as strongly about as being a musician, but every thing in the middle….all the disappointments, all the experiments in different fields, and all the do-overs were incredibly valuable. I would never trade them for the world. What I regret the most aren’t the missteps, stumbles, and retries...but the moments when I let my anxiety keep me from taking any steps at all. So I encourage you to put away doubt and move in the direction your heart leads. Whether you fall or you fly you’ll be one step closer to uncovering what is truly right for you.
Go Forth. Be Brilliant.