Paralysed by the idea of a major change? Unable to find the answers you need? Sometimes, you have to come at big questions from unexpected angles. And the more you can enjoy the process, the quicker you'll move. Natasha shares four playful ways to make consistent, meaningful progress towards work you love.
Finding fulfilling work can feel like squeezing a wet bar of soap: the harder you try to grip onto it, the more it slips away from you.
There are so many moving parts and unknown quantities – things that seem evident at the start and then disappear in the space of a conversation, and other things that are slowly revealed over time.
And there's no 1, 2, 3, step-by-step 'To Do' list.
At Careershifters, we teach career changers to approach the process from unusual angles.
Sometimes the only way to make progress is to come at the problem sideways – to take actions that don't seem directly related to your end goal, but that get you moving forwards anyway.
These four games might seem, on the surface, to be flimsy and insubstantial.
But they're actually great ways to start making progress with your career change.
- They're fun. The heavier and more meaningful your career change appears, and the more pressure you put on yourself to get every action you take right, the slower you're going to move. But by playing games – actions that don't feel too significant, and that you can't get 'wrong' – you open yourself up to curious, exploratory behaviours that allow you to experiment and learn about yourself, your skills, and where you want to go, much faster.
- They train you in practising the habits of successful career changers. Each of these games lets you play with a behaviour that we've seen really supports the process of a shift. Over the past ten years we've worked with thousands of career changers, and there are some key elements to the way successful shifters go about their lives which make finding fulfilling work much easier and faster. These games will get you forming habits that support your shift in micro ways, every single day.
- You might actually do them. I'm under no illusions about the value of online articles on this topic – I spent months reading career change advice on the internet and doing absolutely nothing with it. And I also know that even one small action can give you enough of a reward to keep the ball rolling and get you into motion with your career change. If you play one of these games even once after reading this article, it could mark the turning point between thinking and action in your shift. And that, my friends, is priceless.
So, what are these games?
Let's take a look:
1. The Game Of Remarkable Things
This is a game I originally invented to play with kids on long car journeys – but it's actually an incredible (and really enjoyable) tool for:
- Broadening your world, and
- Noticing your 'automatic pulls' – the things you're unconsciously, and yet unavoidably, drawn to.
The game is simple: as you go about your day, make a point of looking for remarkable things.
A 'remarkable' thing could be anything: an interesting detail on the outside of a building, a sweet act of kindness between strangers, the size of a tree, the way a Tube map is designed… whatever you can spot that feels worth remarking upon. Sometimes these things will be obvious, other times you'll need to choose something and really think about what makes it remarkable.
This is a fun game to play with your friends, your partner, your kids – and it's worth playing alone, too. Play it as much as you can.
The effects are twofold.
We've all had those moments when we've got home at the end of a familiar drive with absolutely no memory of the journey itself. You're carrying out a familiar task; your mind wanders. And I'll bet there are huge swathes of your day when you're going about your business with virtually no awareness of what's around you.
Which is fine, except you're missing out on thousands of inputs that could spark the tiny seed of a new career idea. Making a point of noticing your surroundings, however non-career-related the objects might be, changes the water you're swimming in. And even if all that gets sparked is the smallest beginning of an "I wonder...", those tiny threads are where all great ideas begin.
And second: as you make a habit of seeking the remarkable, you'll begin to notice patterns in the things you're enchanted by.
I've played The Game of Remarkable Things with lots of different people, and no two people bring the same angle to the process. Some are always commenting on elements of the natural world they can see around them: "How remarkable that this tree has probably been here longer than you and I have. How remarkable that the clouds are making that pattern." Others can't help but come up with people-behaviour-centric comments, or highlighting feats of engineering…
What you find remarkable (or what you choose to remark upon) is a reflection of the things you're naturally drawn to. And sometimes, those things aren't the things you realised you were naturally drawn to, until you start to play…
2. Switch Of The Week
People say that change is scary.
It's not scary.
What's scary is the thought that you might not be able to do it – or handle the consequences.
And in career change, there are a lot of those thoughts, because there are a lot of elements to a shift that you might have to change.
Your lifestyle and spending, perhaps.
The way you talk about who you are and what you do.
The things you read and listen to, the things you wear, the places you hang out…
What if you just can't do it?
The Switch of the Week is a seven-day challenge to prove to yourself you're capable of all kinds of change – from minor silly switches to more significant ones.
Each week, you'll choose an element of your life to change, and mark it off on a calendar every day you maintain the shift.
For example, you might start out by taking a different mode of transport to work: cycling instead of the train.
Then, the next week, you'll eat breakfast every day when you'd normally skip it. Or maybe you'll introduce yourself to everyone you meet as someone who's changing career, instead of leading with your job title.
Then the week after that, you'll live on half your usual budget, just to see if you can do it.
These changes might seem insignificant at first, but as you achieve them, your self-confidence will grow. You'll learn that if you're capable of these changes, you might be capable of bigger ones. You'll start to see 'change' as a fun thing to play with instead of a cliff looming on the horizon.
Zaira started making a number of changes to the way she operated on a day-to-day basis when she took part in our Career Change Launch Pad. And although she wasn't explicitly focused on building her sense of self-confidence, it happened anyway:
"I feel so much more powerful and excited than I did four weeks ago.
"Nothing I've done has been life-changing in and of itself, but all these individual actions and changes have built up to make me feel like actually yes, I can do this.
"I've discovered I'm much more capable than I ever gave myself credit for before. And even the things I'm not sure I can do to begin with… once I start, I can always find a way." – Zaira, Career Change Launch Pad participant
3. Shift Sneak
If you've been a part of our community at Careershifters for a while, this one might be familiar to you.
The aim of Shift Sneak is to bring your career change alive through conversations.
Try to 'sneak' the topic of finding work you love into conversation with at least three people every day.
Again, there are no hard-and-fast rules, and you're not trying to turn it into an explicit job-hunt.
You could talk to a recruiter about it, sure. But you could also tell your hairdresser about the mission you're on to change career. Your local newsagent. The busker outside your favourite coffee shop. The woman sitting next to you on the bus. Your uncle, your next-door neighbour's new girlfriend, the owner of the pet shop…
Talk about the urge you're feeling to find something more meaningful to you. Talk about the ideas you've had, the dreams you're harbouring, the questions you've got. Ask them about what they do for a living. Gather fresh perspectives, new ideas, and more connections from unlikely (or likely) sources.
Challenge yourself to talk about the search for work you love at least three times every single day.
What you'll likely start to discover is that yes, some people will be less supportive about the idea. But most will be on your side. And they'll have ideas you don't have, perspectives and insights you can't see, thoughts you've not considered. They might know someone you could talk to. When you're stuck in the whirlwind of a busy career-change brain, and you're trying to manage it all alone, an unexpected nugget of information from someone unexpected can feel like the most perfect gift.
Whatever they have to bring to the conversation, the more you talk, the more you'll begin to build – and, vitally, feel – a community around you.
And the community element of a career change? It's just about the most powerful accelerator you have access to.
"I've surprised myself with how much I've been engaging with people today. It seems that lots of people really like to be talked to. In fact I began wondering if everyone was playing the same game!
"It was a fun day and I'm staggered by how a small shift in my outlook can have such a big effect. I found this tough to begin with, but the more I do it, the easier it gets." – Jennifer, Career Change Launch Pad participant
4. The Love Blaster
In our final year of university, as a distraction from our dissertations, my housemate and I decided to run an experiment.
We made a list of 20 well-known brands and companies who made products we used, at least sometimes, and we wrote to them.
My housemate wrote letters of complaint.
I wrote them love letters.
And we waited to see who would get the most free stuff.
Don't get me wrong; the Love Blaster game is not about getting free stuff. But it does relate to my dissertation-procrastination experiment of 2007.
Because what we discovered was that a love letter makes someone's week. We received freebies, sure, but what excited us most were the effervescent emails and letters that accompanied them. People loved receiving a message designed purely to celebrate what they were doing in the world.
A simple expression of acknowledgement for someone's work – a note of appreciation, celebration, recognition – is a powerful thing.
In the Love Blaster game, you'll make a practice of writing a love letter, to someone whose work you admire, every week.
They could be well-known business people, scientists, entrepreneurs, dancers… whomever you can think of whose work inspires you.
And if you can't think of anyone, then your first task is to find someone who's doing something inspiring in the world.
Now, spreading good feelings is always a lovely thing to do, but the Love Blaster has a range of other wonderful side effects.
Firstly, it gets you actively noticing people and organisations that are up to inspiring stuff. And (as with the Game of Remarkable Things), as you practise noticing what you're inspired by, you'll learn more about who you are and what you're attracted to.
Plus, it starts connecting you to these inspiring people. Sometimes you won't hear back from them. Sometimes you will. Sometimes it'll spark a conversation. Other times it'll lead to something more.
But the point isn't to get anywhere in particular with these love letters. It's just to get into the habit of finding people, and reaching out, and discovering the magic that can happen when you do.
Here's what happened when Emma, who took part in our High Flyers' programme, reached out to one of her idols:
"I'm going to be honest, I felt like I was in the 'totally crazy' category. I had never reached out to someone like this before, let alone someone like Sir David Attenborough!
"I had always wanted to know what he thought of the precarious position the planet is currently in, and would always say that Sir David Attenborough was one of my three people I would invite to a mythical dinner party if I could invite anyone. So I took the plunge and just reached out to him.
"I couldn't believe it when I opened my mail box (admittedly at midnight on a Friday after a few drinks) and there was his letter! It felt utterly amazing. I read and re-read it many times and went a bit hyperactive in my living room! I'm going to treasure that letter forever, for what it is and what it stands for.
"The fact that Sir David Attenborough, a famous and extremely busy broadcaster and naturalist, at over 90 years old, took the time out of his busy schedule to hand-write me a reply was so astounding. But if he can take the time to connect with someone who was being genuine, then anyone potentially might! Just reaching out and daring is the biggest hurdle.
"For anyone else who's thinking of reaching out to inspiring people, take the time to really think through what you are asking of the person you would like to connect with and how you can make it really easy for them to respond to you.
I asked just a couple of questions (when I could have asked thousands) and I put a stamped and addressed envelope in my card to him, so he didn't need to pay to reply to me. I was fully prepared to not get a reply and was shocked when I did in just one week! Dare to reach out as you just might be blown away by what happens!"
Which of these games are you most excited about trying out? Let me know in the comments below.