Most of the time my parents got it right. But everything I learned about achieving career bliss, I learned by actually ignoring my well-meaning but cautious parents. In fact, if you aspire to find work that you truly love, some of what your parents taught you could actually work against you.
Here are three childhood lessons every adult career changer should ignore, as well as some exercises to help you achieve your goal.
Your Parents Said: Grow Up
Better Advice: Reconnect With Childhood
If you were still throwing tantrums at 12, be thankful your parents told you to “grow up.” But if you want to recapture the experience of getting deliriously lost in a favorite pastime, grow- ing up isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Lots of people, director Ste- ven Spielberg among them, knew from a young age what they wanted to do when they grew up. Your own childhood may well contain clues to a new career direction.
Make a list of all the things you were really into as a kid. Did you love to build forts? Sing? Compete in science fairs? Draw? Do magic tricks? Learn about dinosaurs? Tell jokes? Watch scary movies? Play sports? Play dress-up? Play video games? Play school? What do your answers tell you? Think about how you might build on these childhood interests today.
Your Parents Said: Follow the Straight and Narrow Road
Better Advice: Wind Your Way to Happiness
You probably got the message growing up to always follow the straight and narrow road. That’s good advice for staying on the right side of authority, but no help in coming up with outside- the-box career options. Often it’s the wide road that has lots of winding detours that lead to the most interesting places. Say you wanted to turn your childhood love of astronomy into your vocation. What career destination would you most likely wind up at, if, vocationally speaking, you took the straight and narrow road? Astronomer, right? A fine occupation, but it is just one of many options.
Here’s where what Patrick Combs calls his “Super-Simple, Unique & Weird Job Idea Jogger” can help. Even though his book, Major In Success, is aimed at college students, his ideajogging exercise can help anyone looking to chart a new course.
To start, fill in the blanks in the following sentence: A great job would be [verb] in the [your interest] field. The astronomy-lover who also enjoys reading would write: A great job would be reading in the astronomy field. This might lead to such off-thebeaten- path careers as editor of an astronomy magazine, NASA researcher, or author of books about the latest astronomy developments. Change the verb to drawing, says Combs, and see what other ideas get jogged. You could illustrate astrono- my books, design observatories, map star systems, or create science-fiction paintings, murals or coloring books.
Your Parents Said: Never Talk to Strangers
Better Advice: Talk to Lots and Lots of Them
“Never talk to strangers” is good advice for kids, or if you’re ap- proached in a dark alley, but it’s bad advice if you need encour- agement to quit your programming job to become a park ranger. In fact, if the choice is to seek out support from a group of total strangers or from your own family, go with the strangers. The reason, says career counselor Barbara Sher, is that “almost any stranger would respect your dreams more easily than our family does.” To prove it, try this assignment from her book, I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was.
Tell a group of strangers the most offbeat dream you can think of—like raising Dalmatians in the Himalayas. Tell them, however, that you don’t yet have any contacts in Tibet. Not only will they be interested, says Sher, but “they’ll even try to solve your problem.”
Now, she says, try the same experiment with your family. Announce that you’re going to quit your corporate job and sign on as crew on a clam boat off Rhode Island (or the reverse). Observe whether they “drop their forks before or after they scramble to talk you out of your ‘folly.’”
If you’re ready for a big career change, maybe it’s time you actually do get bigger than your career-confining britches. Doing this can be as simple as re-igniting your childhood passions, exploring a more creative career search path, and seeking out the right people to encourage your dreams. And those people might just be strangers.
One last thing: Wearing clean underwear in case you’re ever in an accident? Your mom was right about that.
This article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #30.
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