Lower Your Standards (Or, How Golden Unicorns Are Ruining Your Career Change)

Image of gold unicorn

Newly Updated

Image: Nastya Dulhiier

Feeling trapped and in paralysis? No idea what you want to do next with your career? Natasha doesn't buy it. Here, she explains a key 'ideas' distinction keeping you stuck, and shares a simple way to start making progress, no matter how uncertain you feel.

There you are, waiting patiently for a good idea to strike so you can finally take some action.

If only you had a good idea, you could start looking for jobs.

If only you had a good idea, you could try networking and meeting people in the industry.

If only you had a good idea, you could practise and develop your skills, build a portfolio, do some market research…

And until you have a good idea, it feels like you have nothing to explore, nothing to research, nothing to work on…

But the thing is, you do have ideas.

You do have something to work on.

It's just that you haven't acknowledged the ideas you have, because you don't think they're any good.

'No ideas' is not the same as 'no good ideas'

Trying to come up with possibilities for your future career can feel like a real all-or-nothing situation.

Either you've got one, or you don't.

But actually, there are many different categories of career idea, each of which has its own shape, qualities, level of clarity…

I've listed a few below (do you recognise any of these?):

A Golden Unicorn: This is The Idea. You're really excited and inspired by it. It uses your existing skill-set, it pays regularly and well, and you know you'll be stretched and challenged in all the right ways. Plus, it's part of an industry teeming with companies who would be willing to hire you on the spot.

A Mountain Top: A possibility you're really excited about, that you have to retrain for, develop yourself, and work towards over time. It's aspirational and powerful, and probably a little heavier in terms of the time and money you'd have to invest, but you're reasonably sure that it'll be worth it in the end.

A Mysterious Glow: Something you think you'd probably be excited about, but you don't yet know enough about it to be sure. Mysterious Glows are fairly pretentious beings – they're more like an 'atmosphere' or a 'concept' than anything you can actually touch or describe. They float around you wearing an enigmatic smile, and they leave you feeling a bit frustrated and thick. So you ignore them.

An Underdog: These poor souls are deeply, horribly misunderstood. They could be the perfect idea for you – and you have a sneaking suspicion, deep down, that they might be. But you've heard so many bad rumours about them, and you have so little faith in your ability to make it work, that you won't even hang around long enough to fully hear what they have to say. As soon as you get a whiff of them, you whack them with a hammer and dust them back into the recesses of your brain.

A Beeping Egg: A little kernel of an idea that keeps popping back into your head. You can't quite figure out what it is, and you definitely don't have any clarity about where it could take you, but it just… won’t… stop… beeping at you…

You might not have the right idea yet. You might not even have a good idea yet. But if you've got anything resembling even one of the types of ideas I've listed above, you've got enough to work with.

Lower your standards

There’s a 'good idea', and then there's 'good enough'.

You can wait for a Golden Unicorn to land on your laptop.

Or you can choose an idea that you decide is 'good enough' to warrant further exploration and action.

If you'll only take action when you've found a Golden Unicorn, you're setting yourself up for failure.

You'll spend an inordinate amount of time searching hopelessly in all the wrong places (because who really knows where Golden Unicorns hang out?), feel terrible when you don't find one, and then spend weeks or even months in a depressive slump.

But if you're willing to suspend your judgements and take an Underdog seriously, you immediately have the world at your fingertips.

And, actually, most people are surrounded by Beeping Eggs. You've probably got a few in your own back pocket. You've just trained yourself to ignore the noise they make.

Stop waiting, start doing

Need some ideas on how to take action in exploring your Mysterious Glow, or another idea you've decided is 'good enough'?

Check out our guidance on how to take your shift from a theoretical dream to a real-world project:

What kind of idea would be 'good enough' for you to take some action on and explore? Let me know in the comments.

Natasha Stanley's picture

Natasha Stanley is head coach, writer, and experience designer for Careershifters. When she's not working, you'll find her listening to neuroscience podcasts, learning pottery, and dreaming up her next adventure.