In the last three weeks, I’ve had three conversations with three different female friends who want to leave their long-time jobs, or change out of the careers they’ve worked so hard to build, but they don’t know what they want to do next.
The idea of starting something new is daunting. It doesn’t have to be. I am constantly re-evaluating what I really want to be when I “grow up” and I find it is actually fun to step back and re-evaluate and dream. I use the three steps I am going to share with you below, to figure out the answer every time.
Sometimes changing the status quo means starting with yourself.
I will confess right up front, you are about to take advice from a person who hasn’t had a full-time job in over 10 years. Who early in post-college life bartended, worked at an airport and bused tables. Who had a career in advertising for more than 15 years, became a partner at her firm and then switched to the “other side” to run marketing in-house for a health and wellness retail concept for four years, which then went under in the fallout of the Great Recession. And who started a radio show and podcast out of curiosity and has held that as her “job” for nearly 10 years. I only ever wanted to be a CEO if it was for my own company. I never wanted to work my way up the ladder, unless it was on my terms. And I definitely never wanted to devote my entire life to work, when there is so much more to experience—food and travel, and spending time with my kids, my extended family and my friends, to name a few.
But we have to make a living, and in the best case scenario, also get a lot of joy and satisfaction from our work. Still, we live in a world that values goal-setting, milestones and metrics. That is how business gets done. So, how do you set those goals for yourself? How do you measure success for yourself? How do you factor in the joy? Where do you start to make change? If you find that you are unsatisfied, unfulfilled or the company you work for is merging with its biggest competitor, it may be really easy to know what you don’t want to do, but how do you figure out what you do want to do, when it’s time to make a change?
I will share the advice that was given to me by my business-savvy uncle, and that I tell everyone I know who is trying to figure out what they want to do, and where they want to go with their careers. I use this technique with some frequency and it works every time. Sometimes it reaffirms that I am doing exactly what I want to be doing—several times for me, it was staying in advertising. In a few cases, it has led to great change—leaving advertising, and going to an internal marketing position, then starting a radio show and podcast. Are you ready? Because whether you are trying to figure out your first move, or your next, this will change your life.
Step one: Make lists.
Sit down with yourself in a quiet spot and make a list of your skills. Literally write down what you are really good at. It could be anything: motivating teams, writing, managing projects, etc. When I had had enough of advertising—too much travel, too little time with my family, and one too many layoffs at the firm (always wondering, who would be next?)—my “good at” list included distilling big ideas into simple concepts, bringing optimism to difficult situations and getting to the heart of the problem to identify a solution.
Then, next to your “good at” list, make another list of what you really enjoy doing. Mine included reading, spending time with people I like, coming up with creative ideas and doing yoga.
Note that I did not write down anything about a job title or money on either list. Those things will come later. (Unless, of course, making money is something you are good at and enjoy doing. Then by all means, write it down.)
Step two: Turn those lists into potential job ideas.
Once you’ve written down what you are good at and what you enjoy doing, think about how you could put those two columns together, and write that down. And it doesn’t have to be a job that you know exists. In my case, it was as simple as “work for a company that is giving back to the world,” “cares about my well-being” and “has a challenging and invigorating environment with great people.”
Then ask yourself, does this describe the company you are with now? Or is there another firm you’d like to work for? Or do you want to start your own business? It could even lead you to decide you want to move to a new city. When it was time for me to leave advertising, I was committed to staying in the Bay Area for many reasons–my husband had a good job, my young children had an easy commute to pre-school, and we had bought a house we loved (and still do!).
Step three: Put it out there.
This is a huge piece of the puzzle: Start telling everyone you know what it is you like to do, what you want to do and where you want to do it. (Caveat: If you don’t want your current employer to know you’re looking around, be discreet and think carefully about whom you tell.) Inevitably, once you start sharing what you want to spend your time doing, it will come back to you in the most positive possible way, either through an introduction, a business idea or an encouraging word. In my case, when I wanted to leave advertising, I told two friends, and they told two friends and so on. Ultimately, a friend of a friend introduced me to a recruiter (who had just made her own career change, by the way) and she connected me to what would become my new job: VP of Marketing for a retail startup whose mission was focused on “making it fun to be healthy.” After four years on the job, the company eventually succumbed to the financial crisis and had to close their doors. But, I was prepared to evaluate what I wanted to do next, and I made my list again. And that list led me to starting my own podcast and radio show. Plus, I still do marketing strategy because I find it fun and challenging and rewarding. I’m telling you, putting it out there works!
The best way to express this three-step process may be found in the words of Simone Marean, who has been a guest on my show Inflection Point. Her mission for her organization, Girls Leadership is: “Know who you are, what you believe and how to express it. This is how you will make change in your world.”
Now that you know how to decide what you want to do when you grow up, go get it. And let me know how it worked for you.
A version of this article first appeared on Forbes.com.