Have you ever had that nagging feeling that there was something “missing” in your life or career? Maybe you’ve felt that your life or career could be more fulfilling or satisfying. Or, perhaps, there’s simply a certain palpable sense of dissatisfaction with the way things are now.
Whatever the case, for many, the status quo just isn’t “cutting it” any longer and they want something more – or at least different. However, like so many, we simply plod on through life day after day, year after year wishing things were different until one day we wake up and find out we’ve let our lives slip by without taking any steps towards meaningful change. Then we spend the rest of our days longingly wondering, “What if…?”
It doesn’t have to be that way. You really can have a life or career full of meaning, satisfaction and purpose. “But how?”, you may ask, “I’m too old” “too set in my ways” “too established” “I don’t have enough education” “not enough money” “not enough time” Nonsense! A wise friend of mine once said, “Excuses are nothing more than a lie with the skin of a reason around them.” So, you can spend your life making excuses why you can’t make substantial changes, or you can get busy taking small (or large) but decisive steps towards the life or career you desire. The choice is entirely yours.
Here are 25 practical and actionable ways to give yourself the “kick in the pants” you may need to finally “get in the game” of life and start achieving the life and / or career you really, really want.
We’ll begin by doing some genuine appraisal of our life and/or career – where we are now and where we want to be.
Part One: Get Real!
1. Begin with the “End” in mind. If you were writing your own eulogy, what would you most want people to remember about you and your life? Answering that basic question will give you a good idea about where you are now and where you want to go. Try it – even if it does seem a bit morbid.
2. Make the “To Do” list of a lifetime. For many, September 11, 2001 was a watershed moment in life. Events such as that can cause us to stop and reflect on the brevity of life and bring the really important into sharp focus. Make a list of 100 things you absolutely must do before you “exit” this life. Don’t be too linear or pragmatic about it either. Just let your imagination go wild. See how many things you can check off this year. Get a few friends and make a game of it.
3. Your mission, should you choose to accept it… Write down your life’s purpose in a Mission Statement. It doesn’t have to be long and elaborate – 25 words or less. Ask yourself, “What are my passions?” “How do I want to live my life?” “What drives (motivates) me most?” Your life mission statement becomes the “beacon” around which you begin to orient your life, choices, career, etc. Frame it and put it up where you can see it every day. Then SEE it every day.
4. Find out how you’re “wired”. Let’s face it; becoming a Professional bullfighter may not be the best career choice for you – especially if you’re the really compassionate or empathetic type. Take a temperament or personality assessment such as the Keirsey Temperament Sorter (www.keirsey.com) to find out what makes you “tick” and help you decide the types of interests or careers you’re best suited for.
5. Chronicle the “journey”. Yeah, I know what you may be thinking, “Oh no, not another ‘keep a journal’ thing.” Yep. Why? Because keeping a day-to-day or week-to-week account of your experiences along the way will help you make more sense of your life’s direction and purpose as well as giving you a clearer picture of where you’ve been – so maybe you won’t keep making the same mistakes over and over again.
Part Two: Get Help
6. Become transparent. Set aside some time to speak to your pastor, rabbi, counselor or other trusted friend. Share your deepest feelings, dreams and life goals with them. Also share your fears about making a change. It’s amazing how just hearing yourself say things out loud can bring a lot of clarity to your thinking.
7. Test the waters. If you’re thinking of a career change, try volunteering some time in your dream job first. For example, if you are thinking of becoming a teacher, contact your local school district or college and explain to them what you are doing and ask what volunteer opportunities they have. That gives you the chance to “sample” without fully making the leap.
8. Hire a Coach. Need someone to give you that gentle yet firm “push” towards your goals? A professionally trained coach is your objective partner who will ask you the tough questions, challenge and encourage you to take the necessary steps that will move you closer to your goals and dreams. Try 2 or 3 coaches before selecting the one that’s the best “fit” for you. Most coaches offer complimentary sessions via the telephone so you can get a feel for the process and the coach’s style without any risk.
9. Create an advisory board. Just like Presidents and other world leaders have counselors and advisors who represent an array of specialties and knowledge areas, individuals should also surround themselves with a group of trusted personal advisors. Select people whom you trust, respect, admire and whose opinions you value. Ask them if they would be willing to share their wisdom and counsel with you from time to time. Set aside time on a regular or impromptu basis to seek them out.
10. Follow the leader. There have been many others who have “blazed the trail” of change before you. Learn from their example. Read books about others who have jump started their life or career. One really good book on this subject, written by veteran talk show host, Dennis Wholey is “The Miracle of Change: The Path to Self-Discovery and Spiritual Growth “ It contains the personal reflections of more than sixty individuals from well known celebrities to anonymous contributors.
Part 3: Get Inside
11. Question your motives. What is it about your life or career that seems to be impelling you towards change? Is there really something deep within motivating you or are you simply trying to avoid someone you can’t get along with? Change (especially major change) doesn’t come easily, so you’ll want to be certain about your motives before launching out into the “deep waters” and find that you don’t really want change as much as you thought you did. You may want to ask yourself, “What am I getting from making this change?” and “What am I giving up?”
12. The Sound of Silence. One surefire way to be able to do some deep introspection is to get away from all the noise and “clutter” of life. Try a silent retreat at a monastery. Most monasteries require complete silence or at least have time set aside for complete silence. Once you’re removed from all of the distractions, you will be better able to focus on your inner motives and gain some real clarity about what’s driving you. Even if you don’t want to go the completely silent route, a focused retreat with the intent of serious introspection may still accomplish the same outcomes You can find a list of monasteries or other retreat centers at http://www.retreatsintl.org
13. Take a hike. How you handle the demands and challenges of the wilderness can tell you a lot about how you cope with life’s changes and challenges. There are many outdoor “schools” that will not only challenge you, but will also teach you basic survival skills which will help prepare you to handle life’s challenges. Most programs run between 7 and 14 days in length, but some last up to 12 weeks for the truly adventurous. A few of them include: Outdoor Wilderness Leadership School, http://www.owlsadventures.com and the National Outdoor Leadership School, http://www.nols.edu.
14. Prepare for a “marathon” and not a “sprint”. Radical change can not only be difficult, it can also take lots of time to complete. There may be new skills you need to learn, you may have to relocate, and you may even have to sell off some of your material possessions in order to “lighten your load”. You must mentally prepare yourself for the journey ahead. Working with a Coach ort Mentor can help you establish short-term goals and milestones along the way and keep you mentally focused towards achieving your desired outcome.
15. Burn your ships. When the Spanish conquistador, Cortes, landed on the shores of modern-day Mexico to begin his conquest of that country, he immediately had all his ships burned. A pretty radical move, but by doing so, he had 100% commitment from his men to survive in this new land. Sometimes we fail because it’s so darned easy to quit and go back to our “comfort zones”. Don’t give yourself an easy way out. It may be very difficult to proceed, but make it impossible to regress.
As with any significant or meaningful change, life or career changers may involve the need for some additional education. Learning a new trade, going back to college and finishing that degree you started years ago, or even expanding your knowledge base in your current career are a few ways to get your “head” ready for a life change.
However, there are many forms of “education” out there, which may or may not take the more traditional route. Here are several possibilities to consider.
Part 4: Get Smart
16. Create a “roadmap” for learning. Perhaps you already have a good idea of the direction you want to go with your life or career change. Great! If not, it’s a good idea to get a sense of direction before launching out into the vast unknown. Some research suggests that over fifty percent of the people in the western world are in the wrong job. Part of the reason for this may be that much emphasis is placed on education, skills and training without considering a more holistic perspective.
In developing a roadmap for your learning, a good place to start may be to have any on several career assessments done to get a good sense of what may be the ideal situation for you. One such assessment tool is the Successful Career Planning assessment. You can see a sample report from the assessment here.
Yet another possibility is https://roadtripnation.com/edu/careerfinder, an Internet-based guidance solution from the collegeboard.com which assists young adults develop and explore a personal path to achieve educational and career goals.
17. Take the “road less traveled”. Who ever said that a career had to be conventional anyway? Why not consider an unusual endeavor? Careers for Nonconformists by Sandra Gurvis (Marlowe and Company, 1999) highlights 75 “colorful” careers ranging from Food Stylist to Tattoo Artist. She also includes tips on how to get started and thrive in a career as well as provides profiles of several people who’ve done just that.
18. Study with a master. A more formal and structured way to learn about a career is by becoming an apprentice. There are apprentice programs for more than 825 occupations, according to the US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training. You can learn more at their web site, http://www.dol.gov/dol/topic/training/apprenticeship.htm.
19. Stop doing and start teaching. Instead of doing something completely different, why not begin teaching others to do what you’re doing now? Are you an Accountant who’s tired of simply “bean counting”? Maybe you would really thrive if you were teaching math to High School students. Educational institutions at all levels are desperate for qualified teachers. It may not take as much additional education as you might think either – life and work experience count for a lot. The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education publishes a guide to programs in teacher preparation – http://www.ncate.org.
20. Keep learning. Learning doesn’t necessarily mean stopping your life to go back to school. There are tons of adult continuing education courses at local colleges and universities that meet one or two days or evenings a week for a few weeks. There are also a number of “virtual” learning opportunities via the Internet that require no travel (except to your computer desk) and, many times, they are set up so that you can learn at your own pace.
“The man who starts out going nowhere, generally gets there.”
– Dale Carnegie
However, there are many forms of “education” out there, which may or may not take the more traditional route. Here are several possibilities to consider.
I’d like to add one or two more thoughts to Mr. Carnegie’s wise words; if you never start, you’ll get right where you are now, and if you don’t remain focused on where you’re going, you may end up someplace you don’t want to be.
Over the past several weeks, I’ve shared with you several practical and easily actionable ways to begin the process of getting the life and or career you really want. Now, you must begin. And once begun, you must stay focused on your goal and persevere. In this final part, are my ideas on how you can do exactly that.
Part 5: Get Going!
21. Go out on a limb. One of the primary reasons why so many people fail to keep (or even begin) their New Year’s resolutions is that they leave themselves too much of a way out of keeping them.
When you’re ready to commit to a plan, tell at least 5 of your closest friends what you are going to do. Then ask them to check in with you on a regular basis and specifically ask you about your progress. Give them permission to challenge you to continue on the journey as well as to congratulate you for the steps you take. The act of making your commitment public is a powerful motivator.
22. Create a compelling reason to continue. Any change, and especially any significant change will take time, energy and maximum commitment. The road WILL get tough some days and you WILL feel like quitting – get ready for it. Before that time comes, write down several really compelling reasons why you MUST continue to press forward. Ask yourself, “Why did I begin this journey in the first place?” and “What will I be giving up if I quit?” and “What’s the payoff for me if I continue?” Post your reason(s) in a conspicuous place and read them daily.
23. Find a champion in search of a cause. One of the best ways to combat self-doubt is to have someone “in your corner” who believes in you maybe even more than you do. He or she will be there to celebrate your accomplishments with you, shove you back out into the ring when you feel like “throwing in the towel”, and help tend to your cuts and bruises when life really gets in a few good hits. A really devoted friend, a Professional Coach or a mentor are great champions.
24. “Life is a journey. Enjoy the ride.” This is one of my favorite advertising slogans and although it is used to promote Nissan automobiles, it contains much wisdom in our arena as well. Face it; you’re not going to stick with anything that you don’t enjoy very long. And even if you do stick with it, your effort will be half-hearted at best – and your results will match.
One way to “enjoy the ride” is to build in rewards for yourself along the way. A tangible pat on the back will go a long way to keeping you going. A very important thing to remember about rewards is to reward effort and not just results.
25. If not now, when? It may be somewhat clicheish, but still a valid question. There are few guarantees in life – most importantly, our next breath and heartbeat. I refer you back to step number 1, “Begin with the ‘end’ in mind.” If you were writing your own eulogy, what would you want it to say about you and your life? Author, Davis Maister is quoted as saying, “I don’t want my tombstone to read, ‘He did tolerable stuff for tolerable people because they paid him.’ “ Me either. How about you?
I began this part with a quote, so I’ll end with one:
“It is not because things are difficult we dare not venture. It is because we dare not venture they are difficult.” – Seneca
Monty J. Sharp is a Professional Coach, Certified Professional Behavioral Analyst and President of Vision to Venture, LLC.
Copyright © 2003 Vision to Venture, LLC All rights reserved.