You don’t have to turn your life upside down to follow your dreams. When you were a kid making wishes on shooting stars, what profession did you want to work in? Did you want to be an astronaut?; actress?; veterinarian?; teacher?
Did you follow that shooting star to your present-day job? Unfortunately, almost half of U.S. women are dissatisfied with their current career, according to a recent survey conducted by the University of Chicago. Why are women settling for mediocre career paths, and at what point did they give up their quest to follow their bliss?
Ask any practical-minded woman, and you’ll get a slew of very reasonable and grown-up answers: bills, family obligations, the job market, starting from the bottom, education requirements — the list is endless. You might be thinking: following your dreams is a nice sentiment, but with the everyday realities of life not many of us can up and ditch our job and head for the construction site, Peter Gibbons-style.
But believe it or not, you can follow your dream to the career you want, and do it thoughtfully and sensibly. All it takes is a little motivation, some soul searching, a plan of attack and a whole lot of patience.
Before you can start reinventing your career path, because some of the reasons noted above are genuine concerns, you have to know where to start your journey. Also, amid all of our daily responsibilities and life hiccups, some of us can’t even remember what our ideal career is anymore. You know you aren’t satisfied with the current career choice, but have no idea what to do about it. A good idea is to start from the beginning. What aspirations got packed away with your hope chest and high school yearbooks?
So Princess Leia isn’t a viable option anymore, but think about your original “true loves” before your psyche was bombarded with all of the practicalities and realties of life. What did you excel in as a child? Was there an activity that you enjoyed growing up that you lost somewhere along the way? Childhood dreams are not always exact indications of our adult dreams, but they are a good place to start to get the juices flowing.
Write a List
In “The Artists Way at Work: Riding the Dragon,” Mark Bryan offered some useful exercises to help people reconnect with their passions. In his tool, “Imaginary Lives,” Bryan encourages potential career changers to go to a quiet place and let go of all those sensible and practical thoughts. Take a blank sheet of paper and start writing. Come up with a list of five “other lives” you would enjoy if money, responsibilities, education and training were not factors: biologist, brain surgeon, psychologist, architect? Don’t let those little voices sensor your thoughts. Write down whatever comes to mind and run with it.
You can also try another helpful exercise. Take a step back and look at your younger self (and older self) through another’s eyes. What talents were you complimented on when growing up? Did teachers continually point out a certain exceptional skill? What subjects and activities did you enjoy the most? Do you still enjoy these activities? What careers incorporate these skills?
In the classic, bestselling career guide, “What Color is your Parachute?” Richard Nelson Bolles helps people figure out which careers correspond with their favorite fancies. If you know what you enjoy, but are having a hard time lumping them all together and putting a job title on it, consider taking a look at Bolles’ book or consult a career counselor who can help you pinpoint specific job descriptions that fit.
Make a Move
Once you figure out what you want to do, take action while the motivation is still fresh. Are you an advertising account executive whose true passion is animals? Volunteer at an animal shelter once a week. Perhaps you are a real estate agent who longs to be a graphic designer. Consider taking a class at your community college or even an online course.
Assess your current job situation. If you are a lawyer longing to be a trapeze artist, there probably isn’t much overlap. However, if you’re a marketing assistant longing to be a writer, a graphic artist with a secret passion for photography, or a teacher wanting to transition into event planning, there is correlation, and the old job could benefit the new one, possibly helping you get hired.
Whatever your calling may be, take a baby step toward this goal. Position yourself among other people working in your “field of dreams” and do something to learn or refresh your skills. Remember, it’s not about changing your life overnight; it is simply about getting started down the right path.
Unless you are one of those lucky folks who don’t have to worry about money, you’re probably stuck in your current job until you can land that dream gig. But if there are projects of interest to you outside of your job description, ask to play a role in them. Your boss will appreciate your enthusiasm and you will naturally be more engaged in your work because you are doing something that interests you.
Some of us feel like as though when leave our 9 to 5’s, it is only to go home to a second job: be it family, social engagements, house chores or other obligations. Many of us are stretched pretty thin already. However, if you really want to follow your bliss to your dream career, you will need to make time to devote to your new pursuit.
A great way to get your feet wet, if you already have some experience, is to do it on the side for a while. This way, if it doesn’t fly, you still have your salary and benefits to fall back on while you reassess your situation and look for your next adventure. Think of your day job as a way to fund your real passions for the time being. In the book “The Anti 9-5,” Michelle Goodman wrote: “The beauty of moonlighting is that you get to keep your paycheck while trying your hand at a new craft, social enterprise, start-up business or career path.”
However, this takes discipline to make it really work. You have to make your dream a priority and that may mean not giving into that all-day “Grey’s Anatomy” marathon.
Goodman suggests trying an exercise called, “Timesuck Target Practice.” Keep a small notebook and document how you spend your nonworking time for two weeks. At the end of the two weeks evaluate this record to see where your biggest black holes of time were. This will give you an idea of where you can cut back — even if only to fit an extra two hours into your week for your pet project.
Take Baby Steps
Start small as to not overwhelm yourself. If you are someone who appreciates milestones, draft a rough timeline but be very generous with your goals. It may take nine weeks, months or years to get to your goal.
However, propelling yourself toward your passion, even in piece meal, will give you satisfaction and make you a happier person and better at your current job.
It sounds cliche, but the old adage about it not being about the destination as much as the journey is completely and utterly true. Believe in yourself and your ability to move yourself toward career happiness, but do it with gentleness and care. No one is punching a clock. Take one baby step today, no matter how small, to get the ball rolling and watch the energy grow.
Sara Schapmann is a freelance writer specializing in self-help, DIY and health articles.