Over the last few days, I found myself doing something that I don’t usually do and don’t usually want to do.
As a coach, I have learnt that giving advice or telling people what to do is a big No-No. We are supposed to let people discover their answers themselves, to dive deep into their inner resources and emerge with powerful insights about the next steps.
However people love to give and yes, even receive advice. Sometimes suggestions from someone who is experienced and has your interests at heart is actually valuable. I gave advice to my seventeen year old daughter who is going through the ‘What do I do with my life’ stage. In this case, it was selecting her majors and the colleges she wanted to apply to. Telling her that she can be anything she wants and do whatever she wants is not enough. Despite or maybe because of the vast quantity of information on the subject, she has reached a stage of confusion where she was actually willing to listen to her mother.
I also gave some liberal advice to a friend who wanted to know if she should look for a part time job or go back to the corporate world. Another wondered if she should go all out to start her own venture or just ‘enjoy life’ for the time being.
At a recent conference for women who wanted to restart work, I volunteered to be a Career guide. I spoke to several women who wanted to know how to figure out what they could do next and what kind of jobs to look for. What options are there? As I explained my 4 point formula which is advice without actually advising, they brightened up and went away with more clarity and confidence.
So now I am ready to give some advice, especially to women who are wondering ‘What should I do now?’ If you are asking this question, it means that you are lucky enough to have options. First recognize that as a privilege you have been given. Then this will not seem like a nebulous fog that you are lost in but a simple decision point where you need to calmly evaluate the options in front of you. This is not as easy as it sounds because every option has its pros and cons.
Using some simple guiding principles makes this process much simpler. The advice here is intended to reduce apprehension without diminishing your accountability or autonomy for your own actions. You will still need to make that decision choice but you can do it from a place of choice rather than compulsion or confusion.
If we do not have an idea about our priorities, everything seems urgent and important. Every day we are subconsciously prioritizing something over another. TV time over family time, spending on a holiday instead of saving for a rainy day. If we prioritize consciously rather than whimsically, we can make decisions without the post purchase dissonance that usually accompanies impulsive actions.
A good way of prioritizing is to list down the priorities including values and needs. Then force yourself to rank these in order of importance. Ask yourself, does this really matter? If so, why does it matter so much. Once you rank them, question yourself again, and again. Till you feel reasonably sure about your list.
My daughter had initially listed weather/climate as a priority for the place where she wanted to study. When we probed further, we realized that she did enjoy the Delhi winters and with central heating, the cold weather it wouldn’t make such a difference to her wellbeing. Sunny days are great but not a critical priority for a life changing decision.
Our priorities change depending upon life stages. Earning a ton of money and climbing the corporate ladder with fierce ambition makes sense for a twenty year old. A thirty year old may want flexible work options that give enough time for young children. Women over forty may be looking to give back and consolidate their experience or break barriers and go for entirely new career shifts.
List your priorities with a clear dispassionate eye and then look at your passions.
Not everyone is passionately interested in something. If you were, you would throw yourself into it without much doubt. However, we ignore passion’s milder sibling- Interest and it’s second cousin-Liking. We should be doing things that we like or feel strongly about. Generations in our country have been pushed into engineering or medicine or government services for lack of any other viable options. Now, most of us have enough information and some experience to figure out what we dislike and do not want to do. That is a good start.
A young law student I met was confused about her options. When I asked her what she felt strongly about, she confessed a desire to help women and children. Making a lot of money was not that important. Family Law seemed like a better option than corporate law.
Many women who have taken a break from corporate work are finding new passions to explore. Pottery, baking, designing clothes, organic farming- these are some areas that women I know have ventured into out of passion or interest. If you don’t have one abiding passion, spend a break exploring anything that sounds interesting. New experiences, like internships, open new possibilities.
Ask yourself, will I enjoy doing this for at least 6 hours a day? Does this give me energy or drain me? Will it sustain me or suffocate me?
Elizabeth Gilbert in her course on creativity talks about the distinction between Job, Career, Hobby and Vocation. Each is distinct in its promise. Not everyone will find a vocation that fulfils them and pays handsomely. Maybe we would then settle for a job to pay the bills and find creative fulfilment through a hobby.
During my research, I realized that Colleges have personalities. One college attracts compassionate do-gooders, another wants fiercely competitive students while yet another is a great party place. While colleges do value diversity, they also select prospective students based on ‘fit.’ Just as organizational cultures allow some employees to thrive and force others to quit.
It is important to understand ourselves better and play to our advantages. Marcus Buckingham, the proponent of the strength based management system, says that organizations should focus on talent, values and personality and work around weaknesses to get the best out of their employees.
An outgoing extroverted person will be better suited to a people facing job rather than data entry. A soft spoken analytical young girl will have a higher chance of success doing research. A fierce debater will enjoy litigation rather than drafting policies. This does not mean we cannot learn new skills or acquire new traits. But it makes sense to set ourselves up for success rather than an uphill climb. Many people sacrifice strengths for status or prestige. This makes sense only if you are very determined and ambitious enough to learn to do something that is against your true nature.
Understand your demonstrated strengths and your personality type. If you don’t know, ask your family and friends for an honest opinion. Then match this with what your job or college looks for. Choose an option that allows you to bloom and grow rather than struggle and stumble.
A lady I was coaching initially insisted on a work from home option to pursue her interest in education. She wanted to do content writing since it allowed her to be at home. Further questioning revealed that she enjoyed teaching, going out and meeting people more than writing. She also wanted to be at home when the children came back from school. Understanding that her priority was to be a hands on mother for her children and her desire was to build connections with people gave her more options to explore.
Research, ranking and surveys are all great. However, the last step can be the most challenging. This is to get yourself off that cozy chair and actually get cracking. Commit to that final college list. Spruce up that resume and send it out. Line up those interviews. Sign up for that class.
Sometimes, we do need to lie fallow and allow for space and inspiration. However, there is a time to stop wallowing and start acting. Trust your instincts. Push yourself out of the comfort zone. As the famous Nike ad says Just do it. No one has 100% clarity. No outcome can be predicted with 100% accuracy. You will miss 100% of the chances you don’t take.
If you have made an informed choice that aligns your priorities, passion and personality, the chances are that you will have a decision that you will be accountable for, that you are excited about and willing to commit to. That is a great beginning on the journey to success and satisfaction.
A version of this article first appeared here