Feeling like your career change has hit a plateau? Got a few areas of interest, but no idea what to do next with them, or what they might look like in reality? Natasha shares 11 practical actions to help you find fresh inspiration, greater focus and deeper confidence in your career direction.
One of the key concepts I share with career changers about why they feel stuck in their shifts is this:
You can’t be what you can’t see.
You’re limited in your explorations for your future career by the things you’re aware are out there. Everything outside of your current field of vision is unavailable to you as an option.
It’s as though you’re walking around inside a bubble – a bubble of your reality – and inside it is everything you know well. Your industry, your career, your family and friends, your lifestyle, the ‘rules’ and expectations of your society, what other people do for work, your interests and hobbies and favourite things.
Outside your bubble, however, everything’s blurry to the point of invisibility. You don’t know what you don’t know – and you can’t see what you’ve never encountered.
And even the things you know you like – your interests and curiosities and desires – even they are limited by your experience of them thus far.
So when you’ve found a field or topic of interest that sparks excitement and intrigue, you might suddenly find yourself hitting a plateau.
You know this is something you like, but now what? You don’t know where to look, or how to go any deeper than you already have.
You’ll know you’re on one of these plateaus if you:
- Keep thinking about an area of interest, but you’re not doing much about it (because you wouldn’t know what to do)
- Go back and forward along the same track: thinking of the handful of jobs you know in that area, then throwing those ideas in the bin because they’re not viable options for you – and then picking them back up OUT of the bin again because you WISH they were options…
- Feel awkward and embarrassed when you talk about the areas you’re considering in your career change because they feel so vague, but you don’t know how to make them any more specific.
One of the most powerful ways to start moving into a new career is to immerse yourself in its world; to learn and experience as many elements of it as possible – to educate yourself about it, get your hands dirty in it, behave as though you’re already a part of it.
The more you can see where your interest shows up in the world, the more options you have for ways to get involved.
The more you know about what’s happening in your area of interest, the more confidently you can talk about it with people who could open doors for you.
And the more actions you take related to it, the more certainty you’ll develop about whether it’s right for you or not, and the more experience you can develop as proof points for potential employers.
But how do you make all this happen in practice? Where do you go? How do you start?
‘Springboard’ your interest
The key is to take your interest and use it as a springboard to explore outside your bubble.
Where does it show up in the world? Who’s already doing things with it – and in how many different ways (obvious ways and less-obvious)? What are the current trends and conversations people are having about it?
Rather than treating your interest as an end in itself, look at it as a starting point for further, more focused exploration.
Here are some practical approaches to get you going.
1. Thought leaders (and who they follow)
Who are the three most interesting people in the field you’re exploring?
Or if you’re not exploring a specific area, who are three people doing interesting work across a range of subjects?
Find them online – take a look at Twitter, Linkedin, Instagram, or wherever they tend to hang out. But as well as looking at what they’re saying and sharing, take a look at who they’re paying attention to.
Who do they follow? Whose posts do they comment on? Who do they collaborate with?
People you respect will be paying attention to people they respect – and thus can be excellent signposts to high-quality ideas and opportunities you wouldn’t have found on your own.
2. Twitter Advanced Search
Twitter can be a busy and overwhelming space, and it’s also an amazing source of real-time discussion and information sharing.
The key is to filter out the noise.
And to do this, the Advanced Search function is your friend. Use it to see what people are saying about your topic, setting up filters to focus your exploration tightly.
One of my favourite ways to use it is the ‘all of these words’ filter and turn on the button for ‘only share Tweets with links’.
Inserting two tangentially related words (‘play’ and ‘creativity’, for example, or ‘sustainability’ and ‘elderly’) will bring you hyper-focused results that don’t just show you what people have tweeted, but instead show you things people have created.
If you’re looking for things to get involved with, searching for your area of interest and ‘event’, ‘conference’ or ‘project’ will also flag up new opportunities to explore that aren’t just information.
3. Podcast Guests
New to podcasts?
A quick Google search for ‘best podcasts about X’ will give you a good starting point. And when you’re on the hunt to expand your understanding of a specific topic, you should be looking for interview-based podcasts specifically.
The podcast format where one person talks into a microphone for half an hour can be great IF you’re truly invested in the content of that person’s opinions. But to expand your view, you’re far better off focusing on the interview format.
And if you’re not much of an audiophile, don’t worry – you don’t actually even have to listen to the episodes themselves.
Scrolling through the episode list of interview-based podcasts is usually a goldmine: each episode will have a bio and summary of the person being interviewed, and often that’s all you’ll need for a gut-check on whether or not you’re inspired to find out more.
Hop online and look at the website of the interviewee, their project or business, and you’re off (and don’t forget to look at who they’re following, too, to set your ‘following the leader’ people-chain in motion).
4. Substack and other regular newsletter platforms
Nobody wants an inbox clogged with newsletters.
But a few, carefully curated bulletins can keep you connected to a topic or industry and shine a light on what’s happening in real-time in your areas of interest.
Search Substack by category, and check out the quality of newsletters that catch your eye using the ‘Let Me Read It First’ option.
You’ll notice you can subscribe to a lot of the newsletters on a paid basis, which is a great way to support the writers. And before subscribing, you can read most of their back catalogues, which are rich sources of information in and of themselves.
One of my favourite parts of my week is a Saturday morning, when I make a cup of tea and spend half an hour exploring all my favourite weekly round-ups from interesting places on the web.
While deep-diving into newsletters and websites on a specific subject is deeply satisfying, finding a few people who share a range of high-quality links to a variety of other sources is a weekly goldmine of interest-expansion – they’ve done the work for you.
I’ve built a small collection of sites that I love, whose main aim is to gather together diverse and interesting things I’d never have come across on my own (Kottke, BrainPint and Swiss Miss’s Friday Link Pack are three of my favourites, spanning design, politics, art and business.)
Some of the items they share aren’t of direct interest to me, or even connected to the subjects I’m most engaged with. But they all broaden my world-view, balance my opinions, and there’s always at least one thing included that delights and inspires.
As with everything else, I’ve chosen only the curators that consistently excite, educate and interest me, filtering out a lot of other options that don’t always deliver.
One of the key concepts I share with career changers who are looking for people to connect with in their areas of interest is the idea of seeking out bumblebees and watering holes.
Bumblebees are people who have a wide range of friends and acquaintances. They tend to be extroverts and love to cross-pollinate between different areas of their lives, so they’re the perfect people to ask ‘who should I be talking to?’.
Watering holes are where all the animals come together to get their fix of something important – and therefore where all the people associated with your topic, industry, or area of interest hang out.
Conferences, festivals, conventions and large events are watering holes (and will often be full of bumblebees). And there is a conference for everything.
Plus, since large in-person events are currently off the table, many conferences have moved online, making these festivals and conventions accessible to huge numbers of us that never would have been otherwise able to attend.
If you attend one of these events, they’re amazing ways to learn about new elements of things that interest you, and to connect directly with others who share your curiosity.
But, just like scanning a list of podcast interviewees, you can also use the websites of these events to discover who the big players are in the industry right now.
Check out the speaker lists and the names of people running workshops or seminars within the event, and either reach out to connect or simply check out what they’re up to.
7. Informational Interviews
A core technique for accelerating your shift into fulfilling work is conversation – specifically, curiosity-driven conversation with people on the edges of your reality bubble.
Informational interviews are a powerful mechanism for learning the reality of a job role, industry, or career path from people who are already in it.
They’re also possibly the fastest way to get a personally curated set of recommendations about where you should be looking to explore next if you want to expand your interest.
Any time you find yourself connecting with someone who has more knowledge about a topic or subject area than you, ask the question:
“What should I go and investigate next?”
“Who’s doing the most exciting / interesting things in this area?”
“Where would you recommend someone new to this go, if they want to learn more?”
The beauty of this approach is that not only are you getting insights and ideas from people better-informed than you, you’re also getting those recommendations from someone who now has a sense of who you are and what you’re like.
And while Google is (sometimes frighteningly) good at getting to know you and your preferences, it’s still no replacement for a real human being.
8. Wikipedia reference links
Wikipedia is a great source of information on subjects that interest you, and for many people, it’s a go-to starting point for any kind of investigation.
But one part of Wikipedia that’s enormously under-used is the chunk at the bottom of each article, after the ‘meat’ of the piece.
Here you’ll find primary source material, research, further reading, and on many articles, the ‘External Links’ section, which can serve as another springboard.
The ‘See Also’ section offers links to Wikipedia articles on subjects that are either directly or tangentially linked to your search topic, often highlighting phrases, concepts or ideas that you might not have known about.
9. Workshops and events
Information will only get you so far – the best data and opportunity for learning comes from experiences.
So make sure to build in some ‘doing’ to your explorations.
I especially like the ‘Today’ search function on Eventbrite.
Forcing yourself to choose something to take part in today, no matter what, is a great way to end up engaging with topics you’d never have sought out intentionally, and thus expand your bubble in unexpected directions.
10. Connection apps
For the socially adventurous among you, AI-generated networking apps are a fun way to meet and have conversations with people you never otherwise would have met.
Lunchclub is a firm favourite – tell the app about yourself and what you’re interested in, and it will match you with someone aligned with your goals to meet for a 45-minute chat. And other connection apps are on the rise – even Bumble, the dating app, has developed a career connection space.
The beauty of this is that it’s a mutually desired, totally serendipitous experience. You’ll speak to someone with whom you share interests, but who’s so far out of your day-to-day experience that they’re sure to expand it in exciting ways.
11. Our Retraining Directory
For something that’s really close to home, have a scroll through our Retraining Directory.
The idea of going back to school might feel unimaginable, but you don’t have to actually retrain to get the benefit of inspiration (and with training courses included that actually pay you to take part, returning to study might not be so bad, after all).
Take a look at the categories that connect with your interests, and see what’s available. Dig into the websites of training providers and take note of what catches your eye. What are people learning about in these areas? What conversations are people having?
And what do those things show you about where you might explore next?
While discovering new things, following your Little Yeses and expanding your reality bubble is a key stage of making a career change, it’s also a risky one.
I’m familiar with the danger zone even now; as I seek out new topics to write and speak and teach on, I can lose entire days following my nose and tumbling down rabbit holes of information.
And while it can be exciting, it also dilutes my learning and makes it harder for me to remember the things I’m discovering.
So don’t go overboard subscribing to hundreds of new podcasts, newsletters and mailing lists – drowning yourself in information is never the answer.
Three things will help you expand your view of your interests, while still keeping your feet on the ground.
1. Stay connected with your reason for exploring
Before you open your internet browser or head out to the library, ask yourself:
What’s your specific goal, today?
Do you want to learn one new thing about a topic that interests you?
Find one new person to connect with?
Discover three new activities you can try out for the first time?
Actively choose a purpose before you dive in, and stop when you’re done.
2. Collect for later
The world is full to bursting with amazing, interesting people and ideas and events and tidbits of possibility.
And while there will always be more to explore, sometimes the worry that you’ll ‘miss out’ on something important if you stop is strong.
In those moments, save the few highest-potential items you’ve found for later.
There are lots of ways to do this; online organising tools like Pocket or Evernote are great, as are old faithfuls like an Excel spreadsheet. I like to pop links in my calendar as 15-minute Events that I can read with my morning coffee – it feels like receiving a little gift from a past version of myself.
3. Choose quality over quantity
One of the greatest things about modern life is the accessibility of information, and the opportunity we all have to share our knowledge with others.
The flip side of that coin, unfortunately, is that there’s also a lot of noise being generated by people who don’t necessarily have the knowledge or rigour to share high-quality content.
The purpose of this whole process is to discover things that are new, interesting, and outside your current field of vision, not to swamp your mind with anything and everything being said online.
Nick DeWilde, who runs a newsletter called the Jungle Gym, recommends rating the sources you discover on a scale of 1-10 by insight quality, and throwing out anything that rates lower than a 7.
It’ll feel risky and spark all your FOMO alarms, but it’ll save you time and energy in the long run.
Don’t get lost in the dopamine
Discovering new, exciting things feels really, really good.
On a neurological level, it activates the SN/VS (substantia nigra / ventral segmental) part of the brain, which is our ‘novelty centre’, and also releases a hit of dopamine.
Now, dopamine is often talked about as a reward hormone – a feel-good chemical that we relate to as a treat. But in fact it’s actually just as closely related to our motivation to seek rewards as to being a reward itself.
What this means is that every time you discover something new, not only does it feel great (because your novelty centre has been tickled), it also motivates you to go looking for more new things (hello, dopamine).
Which is great. And it’s also risky.
It’s all too easy to ride the dopamine train right into Nowheretown, emerging from your laptop several months from now with lots of knowledge about interesting things happening in the world, but absolutely no progress made on your career change.
Career change doesn’t happen in one big burst.
And it definitely doesn’t happen inside your head.
Every new topic or space you explore should be a springboard for action – and so the question of how you can use what you’re discovering to interact with the world in a new way should be front of mind all the time.
They don’t have to be huge actions, either – remember the concept of Micro Shifts to keep everything feeling achievable. With one tiny, real-world interaction a day, your levels of clarity and confidence will increase faster in one week than in a whole month of passive knowledge-gobbling.
What other practical ways have you found to explore vague ideas? Share yours in the comments below.