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Desperate To Switch Careers, But Stuck On What To Do Next?


"A paperclip can be a wonderous thing. More times than I can remember, one of these has gotten me out of a tight spot." - MacGyver

"I don't know what or where, but I do know it's neither this nor here."

That's how one of my clients recently described their ongoing career conundrum in perfect grammar. 

They'd captured a hurdle that many who desire a career change come up against – one that's often not about a lack of courage but a lack of ideas

We have vivid fantasies of how it'll feel once we escape the nine-to-five, make money doing what we love, set up side hustles, become entrepreneurs, and create more impact in the world. 

We might even have enough self-belief to know we can pull it off. 

But the question we invariably get stuck on is: DOING WHAT EXACTLY!? 

Once we try answering it, we’re soon confronted with two challenges: not having enough ideas and filtering our ideas too early. 

Indeed, we often struggle to think beyond the same few career options that keep bubbling up. 

Having already researched them to death, we then conclude they're either too hard, too expensive or too time-intensive to pursue. 

So, we stay stuck in our lane and continue to drive down a choked-up career highway. 

Meanwhile, we get envious of all the other drivers chugging along nicely in their beautiful traffic-free countryside lanes and wonder which bloody exit they got off at.

It's no wonder we're stuck, though.

We've probably skipped a crucial step – the ideation phase.

Having stayed so utterly focused on the career pathway laid out by our navigation app, we never bothered to familiarise ourselves with the landscape around us. 

As a result, we probably missed dozens of potential sliproads and alleys along the way – each heading towards exciting career destinations.  

In this newsletter, I'll teach you how to get better at career ideation and set out some practical steps to stop your inner censor from ruining great ideas too soon.

You'll also find a load of tips to help you generate way more career options, business ideas and inspiration. 

After all, when it comes to brainstorming, quantity counts – not quality.

Getting past your Inner Censor

We all have those 'yeah but' colleagues and friends. 

People who are pragmatic, down-to-earth and blessed with excellent judgment.

The kind of people you rely upon whenever you have a difficult choice to make and need some proper perspective. 

The first rule of ideation therefore is to avoid these people like the plague. 

Instead, I want you to reach out to those on the opposite side of the spectrum – the visionaries and the dreamers.

It's bad enough we have to contend with our own internal 'yeah but' housemate killing our best ideas before they've even had a chance to form fully.

You really don't need to seek out any other party poopers at this point. 

Author Julia Cameron, who wrote The Artist Way, often talks about our Inner Censor

On a good day, that censor will crank out a dozen sensible reasons for letting go of an idea. 

Catch it on a bad day, though, and it'll tell us we're too old, too dumb, too poor, too impatient, too ugly, too late or too unworthy to change careers. 

The way to bypass this inner censor is by entering… [cue harp music and parting clouds]... the dream room

This idea was first coined by Walt Disney, who developed a creative strategy based on moving around three consecutive rooms: the dream room, the realism room, and the spoiler room. 

Step into the dream room 

Each room requires you to show up wearing a different hat: first as the dreamer, then as the realist and only then as everyone's favourite – the spoiler

As the dreamer, your sole purpose is to let your imagination run absolutely wild and come up with as many ideas as you can. 

Whenever you're in this dream room, there are simply no bad ideas; you can allow yourself to go nuts. 

Think of it as the little universe you inhabited as a child where there was a perfect crossover between your Playmobil figures, He-Man, My Little Ponies and Barbies – all under the watchful eye of your Care Bears – everyone happy and fluffy even if they missed an eye or an arm. 

You might not have realised it back then, but what made this universe so magical is that you never questioned Barbie's exhibitionist streak at having no back walls in her dream home or your Lego people building an entire knight's castle despite having no thumbs. 

Indeed, through a psychological process called free association – something we often stop practising once we reach adulthood – we switched off that inner censor and allowed our childish mind to be as incoherent as it wanted to be. 

It's precisely this incoherence and non-linear way of thinking that I want you to switch back into when you’re brainstorming.

Acceptance is key in the dream room, so never judge or criticise ideas while you’re in there.

Instead, welcome the fact that to find the gold nuggets, you may have to dig your way through some rocks and earth first. 

Only once you start drowning in ideas (and be careful because most people will do this far too early) can you allow yourself to step into the realism room. 

This realism room is where you'll start to consider the resources needed to make each idea a reality and where you can start ranking them in terms of feasibility. 

Then, finally, you'll get a chance to let your spoiler loose on each idea and make a firm judgement on which ideas to pursue and which ones to drop. 

However, remember not to shelve any ideas until you've reached this final room. 

What to do when you’re stuck on ideas  

I hear you think: wait a minute, nice and well spending all that time in the dream room, but what if the ideas just ain't coming? 

What if my dream room looks more like a prison cell and less like a hoarder's bedroom?  

Most people fail to come up with new ideas because they spend too much time fishing in the same pond. 

They catch the occasional big carp, which they'll promptly release back into the water at the advice of their inner realist and spoiler – only to angle that same bloody fish over and over until they become so frustrated they eventually hang up their tackle. 

Indeed, if we want more and better ideas, we'll have to start fishing in different ponds. 

There's a simple formula you can follow: new inputs = new outputs. 

The more you expose yourself to novel ideas, experiences, concepts, professions, industries, people, discussions, and events, the more likely you'll fill that dream room with new and inspiring material to brainstorm. 

Different ponds = different and more exotic fish. 

Same room, but plenty of new material to work with.  

Besides, in the words of Marian Wright Edelman, who set up the Children's Defense Fund in the US: "You can't be what you don't see"

Indeed, dozens of roles might be a great fit for you, but you're not even aware they exist.  

From design ethicists and chief listening officers to data visualisation managers and privacy engineers, when you truly start digging, you'll come across an incredible wealth of impactful and engaging professions that pay the bills. 

And it's not just in tech that there's a proliferation of new roles. 

From high-rise window cleaners to esports coaches, professional handmodels, hostage negotiators, puppeteers, to bereavement coordinators, sommeliers, fire investigators and toxicologists – there are plenty of beautiful career paths and potential business ideas out there you may never have heard of.

How to get better at brainstorming  

We often think of brainstorming as a group activity, but it's perfectly possible to do it alone. 

So, here are 18 tips to help you open your mind and decorate your dream room. 

Tip #1: Don't panic 

If you're under pressure to leave your role or are desperate to bring in a salary, right now is probably not the best time to start brainstorming a career shift. Instead, stick to what you already know. Find a job in an area where you have existing career capital – even if you tell yourself you hate it. When it comes to switching careers, you’re going to need enough mental and financial bandwidth, so make sure you take care of your basic needs and those of your family first before making any drastic changes. 

Tip #2: Get it all out 

I could fill an entire newsletter with brilliant ideas and quips I came up with while I was in the shower. Usually, by the time I've towelled off, they're already lost to me forever. Note to self: write down every single idea that comes to you. Use a notepad or a visual tool like Conceptboard or Miro to keep track of any interesting role or idea that pops into your mind. Add some pictures, videos or quotes to help you stay inspired or generate more ideas. Keep that notepad close at all times because you never know when the muses might pay you a visit.

Tip #3: Warm up with free association exercise

Whenever you plan to actively think about what to do next career-wise, spend a few minutes switching into your right-brain creative mode first with some free association exercises. Initially developed by Sigmund Freud as a way to enter the subconscious, free association involves developing new ideas through a chain of very fast word associations, writing or saying whatever comes to your mind. It's a fun warm-up for awakening your imagination and creativity. 

Tip #4: Trust the slow hunch  

Great ideas often don't suddenly burst into consciousness. They may lie dormant and take their time to develop. Diffuse thinking plays a big role in idea generation. It's the opposite of focused thinking or conscious and deliberate thought. Diffuse thinking happens the moment your conscious mind stops concentrating on something, but your subconscious continues to ponder in the background. It explains why our best ideas often come to us while daydreaming in the shower or mind wandering while driving.

Tip #5: Embrace chaos  

Pondering your next career move or business idea by locking yourself in a hotel room for an afternoon with a flipchart and a bunch of Post-it notes is probably not going to cut it. When it comes to creativity and generating new ideas, you want to actively seek out chaos. There's a reason the average artist's studio looks like a bomb went off in it. Few things are more chaotic than an old-growth forest, and nothing more novel than a trip to a new city to help you feel inspired and go beyond your usual thinking patterns.

Tip #6: What might you fancy? 

Here's a tip from a former mentor I took to heart many years ago. Right before going to bed and/or immediately after waking up, ask yourself: 'What might I fancy?'. (To my American readers, just pretend you're Mary Poppins) Don't wait for an answer; simply start going about your day or go to sleep. With that simple phrase, you're instructing your subconscious mind to do some of that diffuse thinking by scanning for opportunities and ideas in the background.

Tip #7: Forget about THE BIG IDEA

Instead, keep coming up with the next idea. And then the next. And the next. Once you remove the pressure of dreaming up great ideas, you create space for playfulness and innovation. At this point, you're mining as much material as possible to sift out the gold nuggets later, so even if an idea turns out objectively ludicrous in one of the next rooms, it might open the door to a slightly less ridiculous idea. 

Tip #8: More more more, how do you like it?  

Brainstorming in your dream room should feel like walking in on an all-you-can-eat street food buffet after a three-day juice cleanse. As per tip #7, you're looking for the next idea, so you go for quantity, not quality. Set yourself a numerical goal, or have a pack of Post-its and keep brainstorming until you've written at least one idea on each of them. 

Tip #9: Yes, what I like about that idea is...

As you might already have picked up, I've recently become obsessed with improv theatre. One of the basic rules in improv is never to 'block' your stage partner by saying 'no' or 'but' to an idea they bring into a scene. Applying this to career brainstorming, if an option excites you but feels a little too 'out there', add it to your list regardless. Also, write down what you like about that option because that might stimulate further ideas. 

Tip #10: Pick the right brainstorming partner(s) 

Two brains are often better than one, but be mindful of who you pick. Most of us are naturally critical 'yeah, but' people, so if you want to make a big career move, pick carefully who you disclose to and when. Find a creative, non-judgemental soul to jam with and clearly explain the dream room ground rules to them before you start. Better even, why not work with a professional coach? As coaches, we can offer an objective sounding board, new perspectives and plenty of tools and frameworks to stimulate new outputs.

Tip #11: Spot patterns 

Take stock of your hobbies and activities that make you feel alive and joyful. What can you tell by the magazines you read, the shows you watch, or who you like spending time with? Which tasks keep you engaged at work? What topics would you love to learn more about? What long-held dreams did you park when people told you you were being too frivolous? Note your answers in your dream notepad, which will probably stimulate other thoughts and ideas.  

Tip #12: Combine existing ideas in new ways

Once you have plenty of ideas on paper, start making random connections between them and see what else comes up. For example, see what happens when you connect dog walking with being a secondary school teacher. The two have nothing in common at first glance, except that they might stimulate the thought of becoming a dog trainer or an equine therapist. Use this technique to keep looking for the next idea rather than the big idea. 

Tip #13: Focus on the adjacent possible

So far, I've encouraged you to go big and wild in the dream room, but you'll also want to include any adjacent roles. Author Steven Johnson calls this the adjacent possible. This contains the different paths your life could take if you only made minor changes to your circumstances. Remember to look at what might be right in front of you or sideways, for example, by shifting industries, geographical locations or employers.

Tip #14: Build a habit of seeking out novelty

New inputs = new outputs, so regularly expose yourself to new ideas. In The Artist Way, Julia Cameron recommends weekly 'artist dates', where you take yourself to a new environment and explore something creative. Why not agree to take yourself on a weekly career date, where you shadow a particular role, attend professional events or job fairs, and allow yourself to feel inspired again about your future?  


Conclusion: Step into your inner MacGyver

I’m usually a little more up-to-date with my cultural references, but for those who don’t get it, MacGyver was the title character in one of my favourite childhood TV series. 

A 1980s Rennaissance Man with a mullet to die for, he could escape any sticky situation thanks to his endless creativity and a Swiss army knife. 

Although I'm not sure how good his interior design skills were, I'm hoping these tips will help you tap into your internal MacGyver so you can decorate your dream room brimming with curiosity and inspiration.

Remember that creativity thrives on chaos and novelty. So, allow yourself an incubation period that could last several weeks or months, during which you consistently expose yourself to new inputs and influences with a focus on quantity, not realism.

There will be plenty of time for 'yeah but' later.

Want to shift careers but have no idea what or how? Get in touch to see if we could work together. 

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Before you bow out

Sorry to interrupt, but

I send out one short email at the end of each month with a few practical tips on how to develop a more meaningful and exciting life and career.

You'll also be the first to find out about my next group coaching programme and upcoming retreats.

I send out one short email at the end of each month with a few practical tips on how to develop a more meaningful and exciting life and career.

You'll also be the first to find out about my next group coaching programme and upcoming retreats.