It shouldn’t be surprising that people who hire career coaches are struggling in theirs. Sometimes they are looking for some fine-tuning, but the majority are seeking advice on how to change their careers, and their lives, because things just aren’t working. Of course, everyone’s situation is unique, but over the years of coaching professionals I have found that there are common traps that people fall into when looking for new opportunities, whether in their careers or in their wider lives.
I’m intrigued by the idea, or the ideal, that we should live our lives as a work of art. That is, we should aspire to make our lives into something unique, interesting and beautiful, and, if we’re lucky, create a life-of-art that inspires others to make the world more beautiful. I find that many of my clients are unwitting or unconscious artists in their approach to life and career, but unfortunately some of them are going about it in the wrong way. Let’s use this life-as-art approach to reveal three traps to avoid when considering a career change.
Trap 1: Aiming for Photo-Realistic Perfection
Sometimes my clients have painted with their mind’s eye a very precise portrait of the career they want. Every detail has been imagined with precise, photorealistic detail, as if their desired future were a painting by Johannes Vermeer or Arinze Stanley. The problem is that it’s next to impossible that we’ll find a slice of reality to match such a precise vision. When we do this, we’ll find ourselves walking right by open doors that would provide us with a chance to move towards the future we want. When we let go of this perfect and already-completed image we can better see the opportunity that was right there all along or we often attract one that better meets our needs.
Trap 2: The Blank Canvas
Some of my clients have the opposite problem—a blank canvas. Where the first group find themselves on a near-impossible search to find a scene in life that matches their vision, in this trap our life-artists haven’t managed to paint even an outline of what they want. They haven’t clarified their guiding values or imagined a bigger purpose. You say you want to write a book, move to another province, change your field of work, but you haven’t dug deeper to explore why you want those things and how they may move you closer to your vision. When we don’t have a strong Why, we don’t take steps to move in a direction. The canvass stays empty and the dream dissipates. While artists like Gianni Motti have become famous for hanging blank canvases in galleries, ours needs some visible brush strokes if we want to make meaningful changes in our careers.
Trap 3: Too Much Info
If the first two traps are characterized by too much order on the one hand or a complete lack of content on the other, the third trap is sprung when we find ourselves in a chaos of too much information. When we ask everyone around us what we should do next, how should we solve this problem, or how to get out of our rut, we often end up gathering so much information that we end up lost in a maze. There is nothing wrong with exploring and weighing different options. What doesn’t seem to work is focusing so intently on the problem and looking for a solution that we become agitated or paralyzed.
Information overload can lead us to constantly change our expectations and vision of the future. When this happens and we can’t seem to settle on what it is we really want, we’re likely to end up in a life-sized Jackson Pollack painting or Julie Mehretu drawing. While such a vision is surely entrancing to look upon, it might lead to a life that is more messy and chaotic than is good for us.
In short, we need a clear vision of what our future life might look like when we begin planning a career change, or have one thrust upon us. But it shouldn’t be so precise that it blinds us to interesting possibilities that may present themselves unexpectedly. Prepare to be surprised! But don’t leave yourself so open that your canvas is blank or available for anything that might happen to randomly land on it.
Have you been through a career change? What approached worked for you? Please share your wisdom!