Are you putting pressure on yourself to find ‘the answer'? Lack of clarity keeping you stuck? Louise Fitzbaxter shares the straightforward (but deeply effective) approach that took her shift from confusion to confidence.
How did you end up here?
You've worked hard, followed the rules, even reaped some rewards, but still the voice in your head keeps asking: "Is this it?"
You're desperate to get out of the rut you're in, but you just don't know what to do.
"I don't have any passions," says the voice in your head. "I'm not good enough at anything else".
Worse still, after going around in circles it often just feels too difficult and you ask yourself: "What's the point?"
Six months ago, that was me.
Night after night I would come home too exhausted by work and frustrated with myself to do anything other than lie on the sofa and watch reality TV. I had withdrawn from life and was just getting through the days.
Well-meaning friends and family told me I could do anything, if I put my mind to it. "What do you want to do?" they would ask, the frustration obvious in their voices. But I didn't know. I couldn't find the answer. So I stayed on the sofa and told myself that when I figured it out, things would get better.
Fast forward six months and I still don't have the answer. Yet my life is dramatically different. The old me would not recognise me now. I'm on the way to shifting my career and excited about the future. So what's changed?
Put simply, I'm curious. Every day. I've stopped focusing on finding 'the one' – that elusive perfect job that would solve all my problems – and instead I practise curiosity.
Supported by the High Flyers Programme at Careershifters, I've introduced a proactive process of inquiry into my life. And I'm so grateful for how this has changed me that I'm writing about it now.
But this isn't about me. It's about you.
Anyone can get curious. If you start to approach the world with curiosity, if you keep exploring, you'll see possibilities unfold and you'll reach places you can't imagine yet.
Practising curiosity gives you permission to play
Right now you're most likely thinking that this all sounds a bit too good to be true.
You're finding a million reasons why this won't work for you and you're checking what's on TV tonight – the sofa is calling.
But you didn't always feel like this, right?
However far back you have to go, there was a time where you were curious too.
As kids, we're programmed to be curious as we make sense of the world around us. We explore things that capture our interest and we ask questions all the time. We have fun while we're doing it.
But soon we're told that curiosity killed the cat. Hard work, talent and intelligence replace curiosity as the markers for future success and happiness. We don't have time for new experiences any more, unless they're helping to pay the bills.
When I started my career shift, I had three firmly held beliefs that were stopping me from getting up off the sofa and out of the rut I was in (see if you can recognise them in your own life):
- I have to know what I'm going to do before I go and do it
- I have to be good at what I want to do before I start
- I can't talk to anyone if I don't know where I'm headed
Learning to be curious meant I could park these beliefs and approach my career shift as a big experiment.
I started to follow my heart when it told me that I'd like to know more about something or someone. I'm still doing that now.
Curiosity gives you permission to play and explore. It stops you putting limitations on yourself. You become a little more courageous. You get to enjoy the process. And inspiration can come from the most unexpected of places.
In his Stanford commencement speech, Steve Jobs told the story of how, when he dropped out of college, he started dropping in on calligraphy classes, first because he was curious and then because he loved it.
Years later, what he had learned in those classes helped to shape how Apple designed the Mac.
We're not all Steve Jobs, but we do all have the opportunity to let new experiences into our lives, without having to know where they're taking us. If you can make space for even just one hour a week, you have time to be curious.
What could you do in that time to start practising curiosity?
For me, it started by trying to have fun: looking for something, anything that was better than sitting on the sofa, even just one night a week.
Taking a salsa class with my husband was not going to forge me a new career as a professional dancer. But it did help me take things a little less seriously, to remember what it feels like to experiment and have fun.
"So what?" you're probably thinking. "I'm not here for fun. I need to make a career change now and I need to know that it's going to work." That's how I felt too. But the wonderful thing about curiosity is that it feeds curiosity.
Once you open up to new possibilities, you're opening the door to what is outside the realm of your current experience.
That's critical to making any change in your life, especially a career shift. If you stay where you are and within the confines of what you already know, real change simply isn't possible. It's hard to understand and to act on this when you're in a rut, but practising curiosity can help you to start to dig your way out.
Taking the dance class showed me that the voice in my head isn't always right.
I was convinced I'd be rubbish at dancing and hate it. Experience showed me otherwise. And this gave me confidence to try out other ideas when that voice told me I wasn't going to be 'good enough'.
A career change is not something that will happen to you.
It won't be handed to you on a plate. It must be something that you create. And curiosity is the best way I know to break down that seemingly impossible task.
"We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing things because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths." – Walt Disney
Practising curiosity helps you follow your gut
Is the voice in your head still telling you that this is fine for other people, but not for you?
If so, it probably also tells you to think through every opportunity before you do anything about it. You're not alone.
Everyone in my Careershifters group was stuck in this trap of head over gut. We'd spend hours every week inside our own heads trying to plan exactly how our career change was going to work. When we got together to discuss progress the common complaint was: "I just don't know where this is taking me!"
What we figured out together was to stop thinking and start acting! Week after week we now see the progress that happens when one of us goes with our gut and explores something that feels right.
Stuck for ideas to get started? What do you do at the moment when you're killing time or trying to escape from work?
I was spending a lot of time at my desk reading blogs about health and finding recipes to cook when I got home. That voice in my head would tell me that I couldn't cook to save my life, so where was that going to get me?
But when I went with my gut, I got up off the sofa and spent time exploring the thing I was curious about. I grew to realise how much I loved it.
My love of food and health grew into a desire to learn more.
I went to a college open day to find out about studying nutrition. While I was there, I had a go at a tea workshop. It was completely on the spur of the moment and just because I was curious. That unplanned experience inspired me to study naturopathy, not just nutrition.
Practising curiosity means looking out for these opportunities to learn and do, however random, whenever and wherever you can. You don't have to feel passionate about something to start with. If you're curious, this opens up opportunities to learn, practise different things and over time develop a passion – or find an unexpected link to something else you love.
If you're still struggling to find your starter idea, ask friends and family for some inspiration. What do they see you being drawn to?
Remember, you're going with your gut. Don't overthink it or expect change overnight. You're going to be training your curiosity muscle. Like any kind of training, this takes time and effort, but it will create results.
"I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious." – Albert Einstein
Practising curiosity connects you with others
If you're still sitting on the sofa at this point, then the idea of reaching out to people is probably enough to make you want to use that remote in your hand and tune out.
I get that.
I was not only stuck in a rut, but as an introvert living overseas, I had what I thought was a really limited network of people to talk to.
And even that was before you took into account the fact that I couldn't include colleagues on this list; and before the voice in my head told me I couldn't possibly ask someone I didn't know to talk to me.
But what if I told you that this whole article was inspired by a conversation with a stranger?
Having never met before, we talked for an hour about all the interests that we shared – everything from social entrepreneurship and food, to Delhi and Sydney. His advice to me, as someone who had completed a successful career shift, was to "hang onto all of my threads": in other words, to stay curious!
This was one of more than 20 conversations I've had with people ranging from friends of friends to complete strangers over the past few months.
Inspired by the Careershifters programme, I've grown to love the process of reaching out to and interviewing all kinds of people. Every single conversation has opened up new ideas and opportunities, and moved me closer to creating the work and life I want.
I've come to understand that I'm passionate about helping people to tell their stories and this, in turn, is helping me to seek out new career paths. Suddenly, those reality TV shows don't seem such a random waste of time, either!
Sometimes other people can help you to uncover your career shift path. Debbie Sterling created Goldieblox, the top selling girls' construction and storybook toy start-up, after a conversation with a friend at an 'ideas brunch'. Having felt out of place in engineering herself, it wasn't until her friend said that she thought girls needed construction toys of their own that Debbie found her passion.
In a world where we're supposedly so connected, reaching out to talk to people can be a daunting prospect. But, as with any curiosity practice, treat it as an experiment, have fun and go with your gut.
Everyone has the ability to be curious
- Get inspired: Read an article or a book, listen to a podcast, watch a video. Pick something completely random or follow up on an idea. It doesn't matter where you start. I use my commute – making time before or after work to focus on me and learn something new.
- Take action: Sign up for a workshop, volunteer, go to an event, or do a course. Just have a go! Try something out and connect with like-minded people. Feeling nervous? Ask a friend to go with you. Even if you hate it, you've learnt something about yourself that can help your career shift.
- Connect: Start to have conversations with people who do something that appeals to you. Ask your friends and family for contacts first and take it from there.
- Keep track: Our brains are wired to look for patterns, but don't make that the aim right now. Collect your experiences. Keep track of them, however works for you. Then, after a while, you can start to connect the dots.
Curiosity is your superpower
I'm not saying it will be easy.
Practising curiosity is not a shortcut to more meaningful work.
It's a way of approaching life, a choice that requires effort and commitment.
Even now, I have days where I just don't know what I'm doing. I'm ready to throw it all in and go back to a conventional role where someone else will tell me what to do, and pay me for it.
But then my fellow Careershifters remind me to trust the process. Because practising curiosity can help you learn to embrace and thrive in change. It can help you to suspend judgements and keep allowing new ideas to surface. And it's fun!
"The start of any journey is always a bit nerve-racking. But curiosity gives you power. […] It's a cumulative power. Curiosity is power for real people; it's power for people who don't have superpowers." – Brian Grazer, A Curious Mind
We're at our best when we see the world through the eyes of our child self.
We learn and we grow and we get to experience all sorts of cool stuff. By hanging on to all of these threads we can create a life that is full of interest and passion. You don't have to have all of the answers now.
By practising curiosity you'll continue to stretch yourself, to grow professionally and personally, and create the life you want as a continuing process, well beyond a single career shift.
So hopefully, by this point, the sofa is not looking quite as appealing.
What could you do to start practising curiosity this week? Let us know in the comments below!