“How Do I Stop Shutting Down All My Ideas?”

In need of career headspace, Josh left his job and took time out to travel.  He’s returned with a list of ideas... and an even longer list of excuses not to explore them.  When you’re more comfortable with facts than uncertainty, how do you start searching for what could be a dream career?

What's your career history and current job?

I'm not currently working.

I originally studied Management Studies and Spanish at university. Part of my degree involved spending a year volunteering on an organic farm in Ecuador, which I really enjoyed.

After graduating, I did some more farming work, and then I taught English abroad for a while.

How do you feel about your work?

Studying for my degree made me realise that I didn't want to do a 'traditional' 9–5 office job.

I enjoyed working in outdoor education, because I didn't have to spend my days stuck behind a computer, staring at the same four walls.

It also meant a lot for me to make a positive impact on the lives of the young people I worked with, and I liked collaborating with a friendly team of like-minded people every day.

On the flip side, some of my work involved leading high-risk activities, and balancing contrasting expectations from parents, colleagues, and managers. I found all that stressful, but I felt I had to be upbeat and positive all the time for the sake of the children I taught, which was difficult on 'off' days.

It was also hard for me to feel properly valued, as outdoor work doesn't tend to pay well. I often felt dismissed by people with office jobs, because they didn't seem to consider my job as 'real' work.

My fiancée and I were both feeling disillusioned, so we made a decision to give up our jobs and go travelling for a few months. I hoped to return with some clarity about what I wanted to do next.

But unfortunately, that didn't happen.

What would you like to be doing instead?

It's very important to me that the work I do is personally fulfilling, worthwhile, and able to make a clear, positive difference to the world.

I know from experience that I need my job to involve a lot of physical activity, spending at least some of my time outdoors. If possible, I'd also like to find a career that could incorporate my Spanish language skills in some way.

I've had lots of different ideas, including organic farming or gardening, environmental work, an 'ethical watchdog'-type role, and teaching outdoor fitness.

What's the biggest obstacle in your way?

Every time I hit on a career idea that appeals to me, I then come up with a mental list of excuses not to explore it any further.

I'm either lacking the right skill set, I haven't got enough money to retrain, and then earn enough to support a family, or the work doesn't meet my strict moral and ethical standards.

I've never been very good at facing uncertainty. I prefer dealing in absolutes, using facts and evidence to help me carefully analyse the pros and cons of a course of action.

I'm realistic enough to understand that a 'dream' career; one that satisfies all of my criteria, probably doesn't exist. But I feel like I've reached a dead end, stuck with a huge pile of half-baked ideas that I can't take any further, because I'll always find a host of reasons to dismiss each one.

For example, I'll say that I can't teach outdoor fitness because that would mean turning a hobby into a job. That's something I've seen other people do before, only for them to end up resenting a hobby they once loved.

Then I worry that I could injure myself, and be out of action for weeks or months without earning anything. I'll then consider the limited amount of good I could do for the wider world just by teaching fitness, and before I know it, I've dismissed the idea completely.

I really don't want to fall back into the same work I was doing before. But I feel under-qualified to do anything else, and I don't know how to break free from my endless excuses.

How do I stop the negative self-talk, and start opening myself up to exploring new ideas?

Can you help Josh?
  • Have you been in a similar situation, or are you in the same boat right now?
  • How do you think Josh could move his shift forwards?
  • Do you know anyone he could talk to?

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