The Pathfinder: How To Choose or Change Your Career

The Pathfinder
Bold, challenging and comprehensive, The Pathfinder is about as close as you’ll get to being coached without booking a session with a professional. And you’ll need some serious stamina to make it to the end. Natasha shares her thoughts on Nicholas Lore’s extensive book, and picks out its best lessons for your career change.

"You have never used a book like this before."

This is the opening line of Nicholas Lore’s The Pathfinder.

And what’s key about this bold opening is not so much the claim that he’s making, but the terminology he’s chosen. “Used”. You've never used a book like this before.

The Pathfinder is designed to take you through a clear process to define and move into a career you love. Many career-change books that I'm sure you've come across aim to do this through exercises and tick-boxes. Others take the 'inspiring quotations and feel-good ideas' approach. In The Pathfinder, Lore makes his intention very clear: that this book is the closest he could get to coaching you, in person, through your career change.

So what does that mean?

To be coached means opening yourself up to new ways of looking at things. It's about having someone there to call you out when you're letting yourself down. It's also often about being honest about what's really going on underneath the excuses and the fears and the uncertainties. And sometimes what's really going on isn't particularly savoury.

In most career-change books, you get the strong feeling that the author wants you to like them. They take a tone that combines expertise and authority with a super-chatty, friendly voice. Many, in my experience, will even go so far as to make your excuses for you.

Not with The Pathfinder.

Lore clearly respects his readers enough to be deeply straight about what has to be done in order to make a shift into a fulfilling career.

"You need to get clear enough about your commitment to the quality of your life that you can take potent and resourceful action to make your commitments become your reality… Don't just fit your career change into the cracks of your life. The quality of your life depends on the choices you make. You will get what you give."

I can't get enough of this approach, and as soon as I recognised it in his writing, I settled down excitedly for a marathon reading session.

The book is divided into four parts:

  1. Living A Life You Love
  2. How to Get From Here to There
  3. Design Your Career
  4. Marketing and Job Search

'Living A Life You Love' is a long and in-depth introduction to the rest of the book. Lore lays out the problems that most career-changers find themselves up against, the fundamental principles of a successful career-change mindset, and explains how to use the book (yes, use it) to your greatest advantage.

In 'How To Get From Here to There', Lore outlines the psychology and techniques of a career change, taking into account all the potential pitfalls that could get in the way of your success. It includes chapters like: 'Why You Don’t Get What You Want', 'Making Decisions', and 'When You Get Stuck'.

'Design Your Career' is essentially The Pathfinder workbook – the bit that most people will want to skip ahead to. This section takes the reader through the 3-step career design process used by the Rockport Institute (founded by Lore himself).

This is the part where my enthusiasm dropped off at an unsettling rate. Lore first dives into the Myers-Briggs personality types and other personality traits. Then comes the big old check-box grid of Values (that always, always makes my heart sink), and we’re told to make an inordinate number of lists. Analytical, systems-thinkers and people who love a good old 'research' session will thoroughly enjoy it. If, like me, you’re much more of a playground kid who wants to poke everything and experience your ideas, it'll probably send you to sleep.

Lore sets up this process as though you can do most of the work toward choosing your ideal career without ever having to leave your chair. All you need to do, it seems, is ask yourself enough searching questions and make enough lists, and you’ll be able to diagram your way to a final answer. This is diametrically opposed to what we believe at Careershifters, and it left me squirming a little in my seat.

The final section of the book is Lore's piece on 'Marketing and Job Search', a recently-added section to the new edition of the book. Unfortunately, it feels exactly like an afterthought. The shortest section of The Pathfinder, it covers topics such as how to network, how to get your foot in the door of 'closed industries', and what to do with rejection. It covers some important ideas, and yet it does so in a pretty half-hearted manner, after the rigour with which Lore explained all the previous concepts.

What really disappointed me, after being so enraptured by the first few sections of the book, were the closing pages: a list of careers that best 'fit' the different personality types previously discussed in the book. Pages and pages of job titles, organised below headers such as 'Maestro ENFP'. Lore goes to great lengths to explain that these are only suggestions and shouldn't be used literally. But after so much discussion of the complexities of career change in earlier chapters, this felt like a dirty secret hidden in the back pages – the standard, ten-a-penny copout approach that Lore had so boldly marked himself apart from in his opening words.

At 448 pages, the book is something of a tome. I'm a voracious reader, and it took me almost a week to work my way through it. Not simply because there's a lot to read, but also because there are so many challenging and thought-provoking ideas contained within its pages. Lore dives into psychology, neurology, philosophical debates and productivity principles, among a huge number of other topics.

For me, as a career-change professional with a passion for what makes people tick, it was a fascinating read. But I'm always conscious when diving into these books that there's a difference between what an author wants to talk about, and what a reader who's struggling with a problem needs and wants to know. Lore, unfortunately, missed that delicate balance by quite a distance.

If you make it through the whole book, you'll come out the other side far better prepared, on a mental level, for making a shift into work you love. The book's approach is bold, deep, and challenging, and there are concepts contained within its pages that you will likely want to revisit again and again. But you'll have to dig through a lot of other stuff to find them.

Top Takeaways

  • Get real about what you're committed to: "When your car breaks down, you don't just get out, walk away, and buy a new one. You are committed to keeping your car… You can easily tell what you're committed to. Just look at your life as it is now. That's exactly what you're committed to. If you're committed to something other than the way it is now, you will be in action consistent with that commitment. You get no points for "thinking about it"… The way you can tell if you're having a commitment problem is whether you are actively moving your career change forward. If someone says he is going to go to the store to get a bottle of orange juice, and hours later you find him still reading about the relative merits of different kinds of orange juice, it is fairly safe to say he is committed to something other than what he said." 
  • You get to choose your purpose in life: "A purpose is an ongoing commitment to a principle that becomes who you are. It is not a belief or a goal to be achieved, but a place to come from. It is not what you do, but who you are being. A person with the purpose of bringing a little sunshine into people's lives is never finished. Purpose becomes the organising principle of your life, or of a part of your life. Instead of checking in with your mood or your opinions to know what to do, you check in with your purpose. It does not descend on you from high above. You don't find or discover a purpose. The only way to have one is to choose one."
  • To gain access to a hard-to-enter sphere, you need to create "agreement": "A diamond is worth more than a grain of salt because we all agree that it is. Most cultures agree that uncommon things are more valuable than common things. There are also agreements about what's beautiful and what isn't. Agreement is one of the most powerful forces in the world, not only in shaping our culture but also in defining who we are, what we believe and how we behave… You gain admittance into any group, social or professional, by creating agreement. Whether you are seen as an insider or an outsider in any field is a matter of perception… Let's imagine you started to date a kayaker… You might go kayaking a few times, read some books, start to act like a kayaker, talk like one, look like one… then you would be included with the kayakers' sphere of agreement. They would think of you as an insider; an accepted member of the group."