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Seeking Career Passion: The 10 Biggest Mistakes

(And How to Avoid Them)

Photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash
Photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash

“Your real job is to figure out why you’re here, and then get about the business of doing that. That’s it.”  ~ Oprah Winfrey

Career passion is more than a dream. It is possible at any age! I recently had the privilege to interview over 100 people about their successful reinvention journies to work that’s on-fire with purpose.

Drawing on their stories, and my 30 years experience as a coach guiding professionals to find and then fulfill their career calling, here are the 10 biggest ways people get STUCK seeking their career passion – sometimes for years. (I’ve made many of these “mistakes” in my own life and work, and include tips from my experience about what to do instead.)

Mistake #1: Deciding to Settle

“It’s too late after 40 because you’ve invested too much,” a commenter on a LinkedIn article about career change recently stated as cold fact. And it made me sad, because I’ve seen hundreds of people make exciting reinventions in their 40s, 50s, and 60s (even a few in their 70s.)

INSTEAD: Pay Attention to your Discontent

If there is something stirring deep in you that is calling for your work make a difference and feel more alive – listen to that. It’s a whisper from your truest Self. It will tell you when you’ve outgrown an old success and nudge you to begin seeking your next, more fulfilling, chapter.

Mistake #2: Do-It-Yourself

This is BIGGEST mistake I see. And a trap I’ve fallen into myself. If our health or relationship are in crisis, we seek help. But somehow we’ve gotten a message that career passion is something we should figure out on our own, maybe with a book for company. That’s CRAZY – and can add many months or even years to the process.

INSTEAD: Seek Support

Isolation is the enemy of reinvention. The bigger the change, the more critical support will be. Without question, hire a good coach. If that’s not possible, join a support team, create one, or (at the very least) team up with some friends who are also ready for a reinvention.

A calling is a co-creation, with support from the Universe. When you open yourself for support, you’ll be given signs and led to support that fits you. Say “Yes” to that support.

Mistake #3: Letting Fear Lead

Even when we know that a change is calling, it’s natural to deny, avoid, and ignore its truth. We distract ourselves; we rationalize… we get depressed. Basically, we’re afraid.

INSTEAD: Say “Yes” to the Growth Journey

Reinvention is a spiritual journey – inseparable from your growth as a person.  Fear is a natural part of this journey. By its very nature, you’re leaving known territory, challenging old messages, reassessing what’s important, and growing in vital ways. Accept this opportunity for growth, be kind to the scared parts, and tap spiritual practices and tools. Don’t let fear determine your future. Time is precious.

Mistake #4: Stuck in Your Head

Once you’re ready for change, you want an answer to ease the uncertainty. And, of course, you want it now. We all do. It’s common to immediately shoot down any new idea as impractical. So you try to figure it out – and often find yourself spinning in analysis paralysis – sorting through options, overwhelmed by possibilities, and assailed by doubt.

INSTEAD: Begin with WHY

Reinvention is a creative process, not an analytical problem. Let the heart lead. Rather than focusing on ideas and options – first find clarity about what’s important to you, the gifts that make you unique, and the purpose needed to fire fulfilling work – your personal “Why.” The brain is a helpful ally once we have a direction, yet certainty or “New Fire” are never found with the practical mind.

Mistake #5: Stalled in Waiting Mode

Waiting for Clarity. Waiting for Passion. Waiting for Safety.

Without passionate direction, you’re in limbo. While you know how to make things happen, what can you do without a clear dream to aim for? So you think and wait. And time goes by.

INSTEAD: Commit to Discovery

What you don’t know is actually the place to begin. Begin with curiosity. Commit yourself to an active discovery process to find the purpose and energy needed to chart your new path. Your readiness for clarity is the spark, and your questions are enough to begin. Become a student of your calling. Find a qualified guide, and commit yourself to discover anew what lights you up – and the satisfying difference you’d be thrilled to make.

Mistake #6: Questioning Yourself

“I must not have a Calling.” “I’m flawed (and now everyone will see it.)” “I’ve made mistakes and now I’m seriously off track.”

The internal critical voice is loud. In the midst of uncertainty, it’s common to turn the frustration on ourselves. Even if we’re normally confident and assured, we question ourselves. What used to work isn’t working anymore – and you wonder if YOU are the problem.

INSTEAD: Re-Claim Your Brilliance

A crisis in confidence is central to every big reinvention. A caterpillar in its cocoon dissolves before it can take a glorious new form. Our old identity is stripped away before we can step into being fully who we are now. As you begin an active calling quest and your discoveries unfold, you’ll find a new strength in knowing beyond doubt that who you are and what you stand for are of unique value. You’re getting ready to shine brighter than ever!

Mistake #7: Jump at an Escape

Sick of uncertainty, we think “action will fix this,” and jump at a dramatic change:

Go Back to School.  –  Start a Business.  –  Make a Lateral Job Change.

While action can be hugely positive, the problem is when it’s really just a way OUT of what doesn’t fit, rather than a new direction inspired by renewed purpose and aliveness. I’ve seen people invest time, energy and lots of money on a degree program, or a business idea – only for this to be a very expensive way of figuring out that path wasn’t a good fit.

INSTEAD: Rediscovery Precedes Reinvention

Discovery is the real work our life is asking of us at the threshold of a new chapter. It’s time to dig deep and to get clear about who you are now. If you have a hands-on learning style, action can be a big part of this. But it needs to be action that opens a door to discovery, such as experiments and passion projects, rather than rushing toward a possible solution. When you’re clear what you “can’t not do” then you’ll have a sure compass to guide big leaps and inspired action.

Mistake #8: Take an Assessment

So you take an assessment (there are some good ones out there) and it’s pretty accurate. Yet you’re ultimately disappointed – because it doesn’t provide an answer. A little insight, some accurate info even (that you kind of already knew), but no answer. And nothing even close to clarity about your passionate calling. So now what?

INSTEAD: Go Beyond Assessment

Most of us love assessments. I’m certified in several of them myself. But I’ve never met someone for whom an assessment was the turning point. While an assessment is one good starting place, it mainly speaks to the head. For a simple job search, that may be enough. But for a reinvention, assessment and data aren’t what’s most needed.

You’re in a process of claiming and valuing your giftedness, your essential needs, and your purpose. So a discovery process must go beyond the head – to involve your heart, your gut, and your wisest/wildest self.​

Mistake #9: Buy a Workbook

To be fair, this is the most positive and proactive of our 10 “mistakes.” By the time you buy a book, read it, and even work some exercises, you are finally serious about figuring this change out.  So bravo! Yet it’s also often a big source of frustration. You’ve read the book, you’ve done some exercises, and you still don’t have an inspired career direction. I’ve known people who ultimately threw that book across the room!

INSTEAD: Go On a Quest

I’m a BIG book person, and there is a step-by-step calling discovery process – but it can’t be done well using a book. Because the book approach is just the most popular form of Mistake #2 – DIY–  trapped in the limits of self-assessment.

Rather than a quick fix, an effective Calling Quest takes a special quality of time, focus, and support. With these conditions (rare in the rush of our lives), clarity about your calling can be reliably found in 7-10 intensive days or with 12-weeks of structured support. Without those conditions, your calling is a just a precious seed waiting for fertile soil.

Mistake #10: All or Nothing

It’s a catch 22.  The current career path, that you know isn’t enough anymore, takes a great deal of time and energy yet provides needed income. You’d love to give attention and energy to getting clear about a new direction – but both are in short supply. If money wasn’t a factor, it would be a relief to just take a time-out for your calling quest.  Stay for the money, or take a leap that puts financial pressure on the process?

INSTEAD: Create a Launchpad

When the old work still has demands yet a discovery process calls for your attention, you may need a “Launchpad” – a temporary solution that allows you to pay the bills and free up attention for your calling quest.

Good news: your current job may be that launchpad – as long as it doesn’t dominate your attention and sap every ounce of your energy. Framing your current work as a temporary funding source for discovering your calling, can reduce stress and give that job new purpose. Other times, to provide the balance of stability and discovery needed at this stage, it’s necessary to renegotiate a current job or to make a more dramatic (but temporary) change that feels “great-for-now.”

There is a Way Forward

Photo by Pablo Heimplatz on Unsplash

These mistakes are not fatal or irreversible. Most are natural. Some are even positive initial steps. Do take an assessment, do buy a book, do daydream and play with ideas – be in motion!

Just don’t stop there. Hold to your desire for fulfilling work. Commit yourself to a calling quest, and reach out for the support to begin.

And be kind to yourself in the growth process.

There is a way forward. I guarantee it will be scary, but it will also lead to a most worthwhile destination – to a work that lights-you-up, lets your gifts shine, and makes a difference you care about.

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