Vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need. 

—Frederick Buechner

When my clients come to work with me, many have dreamed of making a big change in their careers for a long time. But they’ve shared their ideas with hardly anyone. They’ve gone back and forth about what to do in their own mind, feeling scared to put their raw ideas into the world. What they don’t realize is that part of why they’re stuck is the assumption that they’re supposed to get clear on their own.

Meanwhile, many career coaches propagate the notion that clarity is solely an inside job. They guide their clients through a slew of inward-looking exercises without ever prompting them to ask potential clients, employers, or collaborators what they need or want.

Granted, I spend a lot of time helping my clients learn to look inside themselves for answers, and you do need to understand what you want to get clear about what’s next. But the inside view won’t give you the full picture. 

To make good decisions, you need the inside view and the outside view.

In 2002, psychologist Daniel Kahneman won the Nobel prize for his insights into how humans make decisions in the face of uncertainty. One of his many insights was that to make good decisions, we need to get the “outside view.” Getting the outside view means gathering information about what other people pursuing similar paths have experienced. 

Here are some examples of what it looks like to get the outside view:

  • If you’re thinking about changing careers, read the Department of Labor’s statistics on job growth and pay scales for the sector you’re considering. 
  • If you’re thinking about starting a new business, read industry reports on growth rates and average profit margins from industry-related associations or the Ibis reports. 
  • Before pursuing a significant endeavor in an unfamiliar area, speak with people who have experience in that field.

“Get out of the building!”

One of my all-time favorite quotes is from Steve Blank, author of The Startup Owner’s’ Manual, a textbook often found in entrepreneurial classes at business schools such as Columbia, Berkeley, and Stanford. Blank is known for the words you can find on the first page of his book: “Get out of the building!”

Blank writes that the number one reason startup businesses fail is that entrepreneurs have great ideas they think will sell, but they don’t test out their ideas or get feedback from their potential clients before trying to sell them. 

Following a calling is about being of service, and you can only really be of service if you’re in conversation with the people you want to serve. To create something that future clients want, to position yourself in a way that inspires new employers to hire you, to inspire new people to join a movement, you need to understand what they want. Before you create anything in an attempt to be of service, have multiple conversations with the people you feel called to serve, listening for what they’re truly longing for. 

Who do you need to talk with / learn from?

With that in mind, I invite you to consider a new project you’re thinking of launching. This might be a career change or a new business or a social justice campaign. Then think about who might have insights that might help inform your path forward.

Here are some ideas of people you might want to interview:

  • People who work at companies, organizations, or sectors you’re interested in.
  • Practitioners who serve the clientele you want to serve. They’ll likely have a lot of helpful insights, and once they know, like, and trust you, they may be able to refer clients to you.
  • People whose work you admire, even if it is only tangentially related to what you might want to do. 
  • People who are a few steps ahead of you on their career paths. They’re easier to access than folks with celebrity status, and more likely to have information that can help you immediately.
  • Past managers or mentors and people they suggest you speak with.
  • Friends and family members who are happy to help. They can introduce you to people they know.
  • In addition to meeting with people individually, you might want to host a group conversation of friends, clients, or coworkers.

To come up with a few names of people who you might want to interview, I invite you to ask yourself the following questions and write down the names that come to mind:

  • Who might I want to serve with the project I’m considering?
  • Who do I know from this group of people?
  • Who do I know who knows this group well?
  • Who else has taken on an endeavor similar to the one I’m considering?
  • Who is doing work that I admire? 
  • Whose professional story would I like to learn more about?

I invite you to keep a running list, and to continue to add people you might someday want to interview. You might also want to ask friends to help you think of people you might want to talk to who you might not consider or know. 

Inside View. Outside View. Action. Reflection.

From now on, whenever you consider starting a new project or are trying to make a big decision, keep the following steps in mind: Inside View. Outside View. Action. Reflection. 

  1. Look inside yourself for what you want and need. Listen to what your gut, heart, and head are telling you.
  2. Look outside yourself for information that informs your path. Listen closely to what the people you feel called to serve are struggling with and longing for.
  3. Take action. Conduct small experiments and have conversations to test out your ideas.
  4. Reflect on what you learned. Use the new insights to inform your steps as you begin this cycle again.

If you stick with this rhythm, it will be almost impossible to get stuck. Each step will bring more information, which will inform the next step, and onward in a virtuous cycle to clarity.

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Much love,

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