Me: What do you want to be when you grow up?
My five-year-old daughter: I want to be a doctor, police officer, firefighter, artist, ballet dancer, farmer, the president, and...hmm.
No matter where you are in your career, there comes a time when you wonder if a change is necessary. You may consider changing organizations, seeking a different role, or leaping into a different profession altogether. This condition of wonderment was on full display for me as I recently participated in a panel discussion for a class of educational leadership doctoral students. The course was full of mid-career educators and administrators pursuing a doctorate to open doors in their career. Toward the end of the panel discussion one of the educators posed the question, 'How do you know when to take the next move in your career?'. My response may have surprised a few students, although I don’t believe it was profound. It was merely based on nearly two decades of seeking the same answer for myself.Consequently, I believe that I have finally arrived at a response that guides my career moves and keeps me fulfilled. I think that before we seek a new career opportunity, we should stop trying to “follow our passion” and depending so much on our jobs for fulfillment. It doesn’t matter what career move you make if you seek opportunities to arrive at a “professional nirvana,” you may find yourself looking for new jobs far too often. After all, we don't find our passion, we develop it over time. In fact, we can have more than one passion at the same time, and they can change. Also, not all passions manifest themselves into livable wages. These realities shouldn’t preclude anyone from looking for growth opportunities, but it should frame one’s approach to the question, 'How do you know when to take the next move in your career?'. To this end, the way I believe we should approach the question should be very similar to the way young children respond to the question, 'what do you want to do when you grow up?'. Why children? The truth is, young people, like my five-year-old daughter, are open-minded about their interests, and they are filled with unfiltered, unapologetic, curiosity. Here are three approaches to exploring career change options that I have learned from working with children.
Explore all of your interests
At a young age, children begin to consider what careers intrigue them. Ask any child what they want to do when they grow up, and they will describe or name jobs that seem cool to them at that moment. Even if those careers choices seem divergent, depending on the age of the child, each one appeals to a part of who they are as a person at that moment in time. Interestingly, this highlights how children at some level are in touch with what interests them. Likewise, we as adults should explore what appeals to all of our interests. Just imagine what we may pursue if we are open to all tapping into all aspects of our personal interests. Dig deeper into what interests you and why, and don't hold back. The most important thing is that you don’t automatically shut down something before mining it for all possible jewels of knowledge and skills.
Embrace the power to change your mind
Another key lesson we can pick up from children is to stop acting like you can't change your mind. Children don't seem to understand the word 'no' when it comes to envisioning what they would like to do in life. There is power and beauty in this simplistic view. It is empowering for each of us take on a mindset that allows us to change our mind about what career paths interests. We should avoid limiting ourselves with self-imposed constraints. There are no rules against having multiple areas of interest or changing interests, and we owe it to ourselves to allow our acquired knowledge and skills to continue to mold and shape our attention.
Don’t worry about what others think
We sometimes muffle our career options by being overly concerned with what others consider is successful. Your success is not determined by titles or the approval of others. By now I am confident that we are all aware of this truth, but for some reason, it doesn’t stop us from being weighed down by what other people may or may not be thinking about our career. So we need to get better at tuning out or minimizing the mental pressure we put on ourselves. The reality is that everyone has an opinion, but what matters most is that you can stay true yourself and your family.So, the next time you find yourself in a job not feeling fulfilled and wondering what is next for you to pursue, just remember how children approach the question, 'what do you want to be when you grow up?'. More specifically apply the three lessons from children (1) Acknowledge all of Your Interest; (2) Embrace the Power to Change Your Mind; (3) Don’t Worry about What Others Think. With this approach, you will gain clarity as you choose a career path that brings you joy and satisfaction.