How Curiosity Can Fuel Your Career Change
We seem to be in an era of passion overload. There are dozens of books about finding or following your:
While I like to incorporate some of these concepts into the career coaching work I do - helping people identify what a sense of meaning or fulfillment looks like and how to build that into their lives—sometimes I think the cultural pressure to follow your bliss is a bit overrated.
I've had some clients share a feeling of panic or disappointment at not having figured out their "passion," which feels especially challenging now that they're 10 or 20 years into their careers. They're frustrated they haven't been able to find their passion yet when it seems like everyone else has. Or they feel pulled in so many directions that they don't know where to go—or are afraid of cutting off opportunities if they do commit to something.
I've had friends who knew they wanted to be pediatricians, or historians, or engineers for as long as they could remember, or at least they knew what kind of stuff they loved doing from a young age. In high school and college, I noticed many of my peers had a much clearer sense of what they were great at and what they enjoyed—while I struggled to find what made me excited.
While I was in college, I found myself flitting around, doing what seemed to be a random collection of things: volunteering for the campus crisis hotline, connecting with prospective students in the admissions office, being an RA in the dorm, working in a neighborhood elementary school as a teacher's assistant. All the while trying out different majors, eventually settling on history because it was interesting enough. But I was lost about what I thought my purpose or passion should be.
What helped alleviate that panicky feeling was taking some action, even if I wasn't sure it was the right action. So I started following what I had tried out and enjoyed—interning at a few nonprofits—knowing I wanted to have a job that had a deeper meaning for me and allowed me to contribute to positive change in the world.
Once I got an actual job at a nonprofit, I paid attention to what I liked about it and what I didn't. And the next opportunity I pursued was more in line with what I wanted. Then I looked for other interesting roles or skills I wanted to learn, and I advocated for opportunities to take those on and get mentoring.
Taking action to follow what sparked my interest or curiosity has been fundamental to my career journey—eventually evolving to the place where my strengths and varied experience are at their highest and best use. I use the word evolving intentionally because in some ways, it's taken more than 20 years of exploration for things to work out this way.
For my coaching clients, though, it won't take 20 years to "find their passion" because we work together to follow their curiosity and develop real options to pursue in the short term.
In the last month, I've shared this video of Elizabeth Gilbert at least twice a week because I think she beautifully articulates the experience I've had of following my curiosity. It's like the concept of "collecting the dots" that Seth Godin talks about (with the caution to avoid collecting to infinity…). Once you're able to collect the dots, you need to connect the dots and see what kind of picture emerges from all the beautiful exploration you've done in your life. (This is where coaching comes in!)
Coincidentally, or divinely, this collecting and connecting the dots is the piece of coaching that connects my own personal dots: wanting to have an impact (nonprofit internships), supporting people through their journey (RA, teacher's assistant), active listening (crisis hotline), synthesizing information and critical thinking (history classes and papers), knowledge of career options (recruiting and HR).
It might look like a random collection of dots at first, but the connections and the way these things from my life work together tell a story and have shown me the path forward.