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Too few choices: advice on identifying post-break options

I’ve already talked about how we can get stuck when we see too many options. You may be experiencing the opposite problem – not being able
to think of any exciting and realistic options at all. Are you still searching for your (elusive) passion? Or are you not quite ready to let go of your old work identity and create a new one?

Maybe with time away from the workplace, you have realised that you drifted into your career but never really enjoyed it that much, and now you want to find a role you love. One client said to me recently “After working for many years without much fulfilment I’d like to follow my passion now … but I just don’t know what my passion is!” Career change advice to find your passion or your ‘dream job’ can be more harmful than helpful.  The reality is that we all have a number of possible paths we can take that could lead to satisfying and fulfilling work. Herminia Ibarra*, a professor at INSEAD who has studied many professionals and managers in career transition, suggests that the biggest mistake we can make is to delay taking a first step until we have settled on a destination.  She advises that the best way to move towards a satisfying new career is to learn by doing: try out a variety of things that appeal to you to any extent and say yes to opportunities that come your way to find out about new areas and create new networks (a project for an ex-colleague or a friend, volunteer work, a short course, …). See it as a journey of exploration, be open-minded, and you may well find a role that inspires you along the way.

Or maybe you did enjoy your pre-break career but it was in an area where you can’t see any interesting possibilities that could fit with your life today. You might
have been an investment banker or a brand marketing director and loved the excitement
of the job but can’t contemplate the 60+ hour weeks you’d need to sign up for
if you went back. However your work identity is so entwined with your old role that it’s hard to think of any interesting alternatives.

In this situation, a useful exercise is to create your ‘Ideal Work Day’. Think of all the activities you did in your previous
roles, regular and occasional. These might include meeting with
clients, developing new ideas, analysing data, recruiting, coaching, writing, researching, presenting, etc. Now choose the activities you most enjoyed and would include in your ideal day. This gives you
a starting point to think creatively about where you could find these aspects in another more
flexible role, either employed or self-employed. For example Marian recognised that she’d most enjoyed the relationship building
and presenting aspects of her consumer goods marketing roles which eventually led her into corporate fundraising. Acknowledge the sadness you may feel in letting go of your old professional identity and then focus on what aspects you can take forward into your new working life.
* Ibarra has written an excellent book for career changers “Working Identity”
Posted by Julianne