How to figure out your next career when the world doesn’t seem to be waiting for you.


“Be of good cheer. Do not think of today’s failures, but of the success that may come tomorrow. You have set yourselves a difficult task, but you will succeed if you persevere; and you will find a joy in overcoming obstacles. Remember, no effort that we make to attain something beautiful is ever lost.”  Helen Keller.

So you have reached the end of your interest in the job you’ve been doing. It’s been good – but you’ve decided to move on to something else. You feel sure that you have the goods – but what’s it to be? You just can’t choose between the many options that you see out there. And besides you have the sneaking suspicion – which is probably absolutely spot on – that the world is not waiting for you with open arms ready to solve your dilemma.

There is no magic wand to help you figure out what you want to do next. There are no easy answers. There is no grand theoretical plan. But there are a thousand small steps you can take that together will create the energy and the focus for what it takes. If you’re starting your own thing and can handle the ramp-up time and risk – then go ahead, build that macramé app, or start the high-end cheetah walking business you always dreamed of.

But if you want someone else to give you a gig, then you will probably want to demonstrate relevance to their business with carefully curated stories of your successes to date.

Your objective will be to find the sweet spot between your back-story of skills, experience and successes; your hopes and dreams; and the realities of what employers and clients will pay for. So you have to work on defining each of these three fronts.

Here are some small, simple steps to get you started.

Part one: Your back-story: Think all the way back to when you were a pup and note the successes that you were proud of. They may be big or small. Wrack your brain and remember those triumphs that you had long ago forgotten. Write them up as a bragging list and see your triumphant back-story start to take shape.

Part two: Your hopes and dreams: Make a list of all the jobs you ever thought looked like fun and the hobbies or interests that you love but didn’t think were part of a career. Keep all ideas on the table and dive into research: go online to dig into industries and sectors and trends and companies. Talk to people who work in the specialties and companies you find interesting and find out what they do all day and what are the challenges and opportunities. Well managed, each of these explorations will lead to several more conversations – and your head should start exploding. This is good! Work with all this new information and pick some areas for a deeper dive.

Part three: What employers want: While you have been researching you should also be looking at what people want from two directions – look at actual job vacancies and exploit the research you have been doing to predict where things are headed in your areas of interest. Find out who are the key players, with your research you can connect with them on an intelligent level – not as a job supplicant – and you’ll be on their mind when they have an opening.

All these three pieces can be going on concurrently – each will inform the other. Don’t forget you are looking for the sweet spot where they intersect. Keep it up – this is not a one-time project – this will take time as you plough the fields and cultivate the opportunities. It is work. This is what work is.

But most important – even though you have been triaging and making choices – you must – repeat must – keep an open mind for things to pop up that you never dreamed of. Because the more effort you make – the more likely some idea or opportunity will come and grab you when you least expect it, and you want to be alert and paying attention when it does. So do the work, stay alert and be open to being surprised.

And do go back to the top of this article again and re-read the wonderful words from Helen Keller.  And when your progress seems to be slow – go back and read them again.