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:

  • Passion
  • Purpose
  • Joy
  • Meaning
  • Soul Signature…
  • Inner Fire!

While I like to incorporate some of these concepts into the career coaching work I do – helping people to 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 a number of clients share with me 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, that they knew what kind of stuff they loved doing from a young age. In high school and college, I noticed a lot of my peers had a much clearer sense of what they were great at, what they enjoyed – while I struggled to find what I was excited about.

Especially 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 my passion, should be. 

What helped alleviate that panicky feeling was taking some action – even if I wasn’t sure it was the right action. 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, an ability to have an impact on some problems in the world.

Once I got an actual job at a nonprofit, I paid attention to what I liked about that, and what I really didn’t. And the next opportunity I pursued was more in line with what I wanted. Then I looked for other things that seemed interesting, or skills I wanted to learn, and advocated for opportunities to take those on and get mentoring as well. 

Taking action to follow what sparked my interest or curiosity has been fundamental to my own career journey, in 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 them 20 years to “find their passion” – because we work together to follow their curiosity and come up with 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 – which is like the concept of “collecting the dots” that Seth Godin talks about (with the caution to avoid collecting to infinity…).

Once you are able to collect the dots, then 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!)

And coincidentally, or divinely, this collecting and connecting the dots is the piece of coaching that connects my own 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.

What do you think?

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