You know that you want to love your career more than you currently do. You have several ideas that you're excited about, and some of them are a bit of a radical departure from where you are today. For example, I have clients who are considering:
Leaving teaching to become a matchmaker
Leaving law to become a nutritionist
Leaving the pharma industry to become a community organizer
Leaving corporate operations to become a goat farmer
Leaving aviation to become a biochemist
What radical career shifts are YOU considering, in the name of passion?
The inevitable question that always comes up with radical ideas like these is: “How can I tell if the career is a real possibility, or if it’s just a fantasy?”
Ah, the million dollar question.
Everyone’s situation is different and deserves real scrutiny with a coach or other professional, but in working with hundreds of clients over the years, I have found that there are a few warning signs that the career you're considering might be a fantasy.
Note: just because your idea has one or more of these red flags doesn’t mean it can’t be a viable option. It just means that you may need to do some research or make the changes in yourself, your current job, or your attitude in order to find out.
Here are 8 signs that your career idea might be a fantasy:
1. You think about it mostly when having a bad day at your current job.
If this is the case, consider that you career idea might just be an escape and not a true passion. For example, a scientist client of mine would fantasize about becoming a personal assistant every time one of her experiments failed. Organizing someone’s life seemed so much more straightforward than experiments that failed for no apparent reason. The thing is, when her experiments *were* working, she didn’t find personal assisting to be nearly as appealing.
If you are truly passionate about a career path, that excitement should follow you around throughout the week, like background music that's always playing in your ear. Whether you're having a good day or a bad day at work, that music is still there. That's how you know that your idea isn’t just a knee-jerk reaction to your current job.
2. You like it as a hobby, but haven’t spent much time at it.
It's tempting to think that something you like as a hobby could make a great career. But I've found that doing something for a living feels very different than doing it as a hobby. It's a bit like the difference between playing with someone else’s kids and having kids of your own.
For example, I love gardening and sustainable agriculture, and at one point considered starting an organic farm with friends. But through volunteering with a local farm, I quickly saw that the daily realities of keeping a farm running were much more grueling and unforgiving than tinkering with my little garden patch.
3. You find yourself thinking it will make your whole life better.
When I considered working for an NGO in Eastern Africa, I reasoned that I would finally find a community that felt right for me, meet the man of my dreams, and lose 10 pounds with the local diet. Sure, all of these things might have happened in Eastern Africa, but the truth is that I really just needed to work on my community, love life, and body in my current location of Cambridge, Massachusetts.
4. You're jealous of others who have that job.
This is a subtle one. Sure, it's great to admire people who have jobs you admire. But jealousy has a negative energy that actually will keep you from getting that job. It’s like saying “You have that job, but I could never have it, and so I am jealous!” Much better instead to be inspired by people who have that job, not jealous.
5. You have never gotten to know anyone who has that job.
Doing something as a full-time job often requires skills and tolerances that you would never guess. The best way to figure out these less-obvious skill requirements is to get to know people who have that job and learn what it's actually like.
For example, I was considering becoming a university career counselor because I love advising people in their careers (go figure). When I interviewed a few counselors, they explained that a lot of their job was having one-off meetings with students who they wouldn’t hear from ever again. This was a key insight for me, because I realized that I wanted to have a relationship with the people I was advising.
6. You haven’t shared this idea with anyone.
Ever heard the saying that insanity thrives in silence? Well, the same is true of fantasy job options. If you aren’t sharing your ideas with anyone, ask yourself why not. Is it because you are embarrassed? Because you think they won’t understand? Because you secretly doubt it will work? By sharing your ideas with others, you will be forced to face all of your doubts and insecurities and deal with them.
7. Truth be told, you are unwilling to do what it takes to get this job.
A friend of mine would dream about being a doctor, and I do think she would be excellent at it. But the truth is that she's in her early 40s and is simply unwilling to do the amount of work that it would take to go through med school. Once she told the truth about that, she was able to let the fantasy dream go and focus on other jobs that were more viable contenders.
8. Your main reason for liking this job is that you want to make more of an impact.
Many clients come to me with this dream. After all, we all want to feel like we matter, and are making a difference with all of our hard work, right? Applications to NGO positions have skyrocketed recently despite the lower salaries they offer, in part because people see those jobs as making a difference. The thing is, you don’t need to work at an NGO in order to make an impact.
Even in a large corporation, there are many things you could be doing to make a difference with your coworkers, your division, or your end consumer. Instead of leaving “the system,” how could you make more of an impact within the system? Can you imagine what the typical corporate workplace would look like if everyone had this goal?
Which ones on this list apply to the job ideas that you are considering?
Remember that just because you hit a couple of these items doesn’t mean that your idea isn’t feasible. I work with my clients to explore each item to really understand what needs to be learned or explored for each one. It can be tricky and requires some deep soul-searching, but the end result is that you gather a list of ideas that are real, exciting, and fully possible. Then you just need to pick!
What action will you take to explore your fantasy career idea?