Too Many Career Possibilities? In the Grip of Indecision.

Sometimes, we don’t have enough lifetimes to fit in everything that we want to try, accomplish, experience, be – ideas are simply spilling over.Too many ideas swirling overhead

In the book Designing Your Life, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans write,

You are legion. Each of us is many. This life that you’re living is one of many lives you will live. Now, we are not talking about reincarnation or anything with religious implications. The plain and simple truth is that you will live many different lives in this lifetime.

I often meet people when they’re paralyzed, standing at a crossroads and struggling to confine themselves to just one path. What often happens is that they end up doing nothing – they come to a screeching halt – because they don’t want to leave any part of themselves behind.

The question of how you reconcile the parts of yourself that you’ve left behind is a vital one, especially as we age. It can feel like doors are closing, and we’re losing parts of our identity that matter deeply to us. Grief and loss can figure prominently here.

So, what’s the solution? Here are some possibilities:

  • Recognize that as you release ideas, you gain commitment and forward momentum. If you’re always in the “pause and deliberate” phase of designing your career, you’re stagnant, and you give up ALL of the possible versions of yourself except for the aimless one.
  • Seek to integrate and combine. What’s at the heart of the versions of yourself that feel lost to you? For example, if you’ve always wanted to be a university professor – what part of that appeals to you? Is it being in the world of ideas around others who love to discuss them? Mentoring rising generations? Some autonomy about the projects you pursue? Identify those core ingredients and ask yourself how you can create those conditions in one of your other possible paths.
  • Allow yourself to grieve. You know what? I’m not going to be an Olympic athlete. That ship has sailed. Currently, I’m in my 50s, and I don’t think I’m going to be the next Dara Torres (besides, she was shockingly in her 40s at the London games, her final one). Some things really are gone. How can you honor that part of yourself and release it?
  • Harvest your ideas to access later. It may be that some of your parallel lives will loop back to meet you in a few years. Keep a list of your possibilities (I have mine on Evernote), so that you can revisit them periodically and decide whether their time has come. You might categorize them (for example: Moon Shots, After Kids Have Graduated, When $ Isn’t an Issue) and list details that are important for you to capture now. Some people like to use art (vision board, for example) to express themselves.

As I work with people on crafting their next career steps, we use many of these activities and paradigms, so we’ll build on these ideas even further in our work together.