Updated: Jan 11, 2021
I knew from my first year of teaching that it wasn’t going to be a life-long profession for me. It may have been intuition or simply knowing that the parts of my job I hated would eventually outweigh the parts I didn’t. Whatever it was, I put my heart and soul into the job for 16 years while always thinking about what was next. Before I eventually retired, I read a lot of books about finding your life purpose and discovering the job of your dreams. There are plenty of great books out there if you are interested in a career change. This one, though, has a unique twist on the subject while also being very simple.
Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans is an easy read about finding your ideal career. The book comes out of the authors’ Stanford classes in which they show college kids how to design their own lives. Essentially they teach them to get clear on who they are and what they want from life (personally, not just financially) in order to find their most fulfilling careers. The content is ideal for young people still trying to figure out who they are and how to find a job beyond the standard categories of “engineer,” “lawyer,” “teacher,” or “businessperson." The basics, though, are helpful for any of us trying to rethink our lives and chart a new course. Theoretically you can apply their ideas to any part of your life, but we’ll stick with the career focus for now.
What I enjoyed about this book, aside from its simplicity (honestly, it’s an easy 2-day read), is how it opens you up to a whole new world of the kinds of jobs that are out there. It seems so dumb to even say that, but the truth is that most people work from those standard categories mentioned before and really have no idea what else is available. We often don’t realize that there is an entire world of jobs out there that never make it to the “101 Careers” books or even to the job posting sites. Do you like travel, art, photography, and have a really good sense of smell? Well, there just might be someone out there looking for that particular combo of skills for their business. They’d never be able to put that post on Monster Jobs, but if they know someone who had those skills, they’d be thrilled to hire them. I know that when I was searching for my next career, none of the books I read had suggestions for a person who has my particular assortment of skills other than the basic teacher, librarian, or consultant. Simply knowing that there are other options out there in the world is tremendously helpful when designing a career that fits your passions and skills.
The second thing I found helpful is that the authors don’t just suggest you dream up exciting new jobs for yourself but that you go out and try on some of those jobs before actually switching your career (or going back to school, or paying for an expensive training, etc.). Sometimes a career seems amazing from the outside and then once you get an insider view you realize it simply isn’t for you. (My $800 course to learn to be an indexer was an excellent introduction into all the reasons why that would not be my next career.) Also, trying on a career or job interest is a way to learn about some of the sub-specialties or strange job combos that actually exist, such as marketing careers for skateboard enthusiasts. “Trying on” a new job might look like volunteering, researching, part-time jobs, side hustles, or internships. My favorite suggestion, though, is the life design interview.
In the life design interview you go out and look for someone doing something that you think seems awesome and then you contact them and ask them to talk to you about their work. So you are looking for a real person doing a real job that you find interesting. You call them or email them to express interest in their work and ask for 30 minutes to talk to them about what they do. During that time you ask them anything you can think of about what their job is really like, what they love and don’t love, and what they think of it. That’s it. It is so easy it seems silly. It is, however, an amazing way to get a behind-the-scenes look at a job/profession/career that you might possibly be interested in. Along the way you hopefully get insight into what that job actually involves and what the opportunities are.
So after reading this book I tried the life design interview and it was fantastic. I contacted some other people in the field of energy work and had some incredible conversations. They answered questions I didn’t know I had. They gave me suggestions for where to get more info. They shared struggles and joys with me. I came away inspired and motivated to try new things. I think the part that surprised me most is not just that I could contact complete strangers to ask them about their lives but that they were perfectly happy to spend time giving me ideas and advice. How amazing is that?
So, why am I dedicating a blog post on this? Well, of course I recommend the book if you wish to take time to read it. But more importantly, if you are feeling stuck and have no idea how to move forward with changing your job or getting a job, then try on a new life for a while. Make a list of all the things you are passionate about and then get creative about what kind of jobs might fit your interests and skills. Know that there are tons of wild jobs out there that don’t fit into the general “salesperson,” “nurse,” or “accountant” categories. If you like math, gardening, and planning events, then there is probably a job out there that works for you. You’ll just have to be a little bit more innovative about how you get there. Life design interviews are a great way to start that process as are many of the other suggestions in the book. Don’t give up just because you don’t like anything you know about. Keep digging, keep exploring yourself and the world out there and something will come up.
Also, know that your job or career is just one (important) piece of your life’s purpose. You’ll never find your dream job if you don’t take time to explore what brings you joy and satisfaction. Just as in every other area of your life, your job should be something that brings more love into the world and fulfills your purpose for being there. It’s not about the money you make or the fame you achieve. It’s about the world needing you to be who you are supposed to be. You might need to fulfill your purpose by being a barista on a cruise ship who also tap dances in the evening shows. Only you know your particular blend of talents, joys, purpose, and needs. If your future isn’t obvious (I always envy those people who know what they are going to be by the time they are 6), then you’ll have to do a little more work to find your way. So go try on some new possible lives and experiment your way into the job of your dreams. Who knows what you’ll find?