Last week, I introduced you to the Next Horizon exercise and guided you through a process of imagining the future you long for.

When I guide my clients through this visioning process, they sometimes conjure a precise picture of the career they want to pursue. For example, they might know they want to publish a book or open their own business or find a job in a certain type of organization. 

Other times, my clients know a lot of the elements that they’d want in a career (like, they want to be learning, part of a team, or working toward a greater purpose), but they don’t quite know what kind of work would match these core desires.

You may see yourself in one of these two groups or somewhere in between. This article is for you if you are in the second group: you’re not entirely clear about what career path would match your core desires.

The Breaths of Design: Divergence, Emergence, Convergence.

When my clients struggle to imagine what type of work they want to do, they get stuck because they think they should get specific sooner than benefits them. They try to figure out what type of work they want before they consider all the possibilities, and they wind up not finding anything they’re excited about. They don’t realize that before we narrow our focus, we need to widen our lens. I’m going to share with you a map I share with my clients to help them understand the importance of imagining all the possibilities.

Several years ago, I attended a workshop on the Art of Hosting, where the facilitators shared the “breaths of design.” This model depicts the importance and rhythm of widening the lens of possibility and narrowing your focus. In this map, there is divergence, emergence, and convergence. Let me explain:

  1. First, we diverge: Divergence is about coming up with as many different possibilities as possible, getting all your ideas out on the table, and expanding your options. The inhale is divergence.
  2. Next, we emerge: Emergence is where you take action, conduct experiments, follow the breadcrumbs, and gather information with each step you take. Emergence is often referred to as the “groan zone.” It can feel uncomfortable and messy, and solutions sometimes feel unreachable just before they emerge. 
  3. Finally, we converge. Convergence is about making decisions. You take the information you’ve gathered, evaluate alternatives, hone your vision, make a decision, and say “no” of potential paths.

Just like with physical breathing, with the breaths of design, you don’t inhale and exhale once. Instead, you must inhale and exhale over and over again along the path toward living your calling.

Where People Get Stuck

Some people struggle with divergence. They feel uncomfortable with the open-ended, undefined work of imagination, and they want to move forward as quickly as possible. During brainstorming sessions, they say, “Let’s cut to the chase already!” But if you try to converge (make a decision) too quickly, you can make a decision before you’ve got all your options out on the table and miss out on pursuing possibilities that you never considered. You might also feel unexcited about any of the options you see.

Other people struggle with convergence. They’re afraid of making the wrong decision, so they put off making any decision at all. They don’t know how to identify when they’ve gathered enough information, and they get bogged down by analysis paralysis. They are skilled at coming up with new ideas, but they struggle to put them into action. It can be painful to decide because it means letting go of options you wish you could pursue.

Some people struggle with both.

Divergence and convergence are skills. No matter which one you’re currently more comfortable with, you can develop the ability to do the other. 

For now, I’m going to invite you to diverge.

If you’re in a place where you’re contemplating your next career steps forward and don’t know which path to take, this is for you.

Exercise: Imagine the Possibilities

Grab a pen and a piece of paper. Then, set a timer for three minutes, and as fast as you can, free-write a list of all the possible career and life paths you can think of. Don’t censor yourself. Include both “reasonable options” (paths you’re not excited about but could live with) and more “out there” ideas (paths you have no intention of pursuing but make you laugh to consider).

When you’ve written down all of the ideas you can think of, read through this list of work/life recipes. As you go, write down all possibilities that occur to you as you read this list:

  • The work you have now. Although, with a different perspective and approach.
  • A new job within the same field.
  • A completely different career.
  • Side projects. Where you can develop new skills and/or make money alongside your steady job.
  • Starting your own business, organization, or social endeavor.
  • Sub-contracting, freelancing, advising, or other temporary assignments.
  • Living within your means. Drastically decreasing your living expenses so that you can work fewer hours and invest more time in non-paid pursuits.
  • Being an employee. Full-time, part-time, or job share.
  • Doing a paid or unpaid internship or volunteer job.
  • Going back to school or participating in new training.
  • Systems leadership. Working within a system (such as education, health care, public sector) to create change from the inside, regardless of your official position. 
  • Small (nested) change. Focusing on a small piece of the system you want to change while in relationship with others attending to other parts of the puzzle.
  • The “Group Hug Approach.” This term is from Emilie Wapnick. In How to Be Everything, Wapnick defines this approach as having one multifaceted job or business that encompasses many interests. To take the “group hug approach,” you may start your own business, add variety to an existing job, find work within an open-minded organization, or specialize in an interdisciplinary field. 
  • A “Slash Career.” This term is from Marci Alboher, who named the slash career in her book, One Person / Multiple Careers. The slash career entails having two or more part-time jobs or businesses at a time, with each job offering various amounts of meaning and money. Together, they fulfill your many needs. Some people I know with slash careers include lawyer/psychic/nonprofit director, lawyer/writer, farmer/consultant, coach/activist.
  • The “Good Enough Job.” A good enough job is great for people who have a passion or calling that they can’t figure out how to get paid for or who don’t even want to get paid for their work. For example, I’m just as passionate about organizing my community as I am about helping my clients live their callings. However, I do not want to be paid for my organizing work. Working as a career coach provides the financial security that I need to organize. Being self-employed offers me the freedom and flexibility to choose my schedule and dedicate time to organizing outside of work.

I’m so curious to see your list! If you feel inspired, feel free to share it in the comments below. 

Please know that imagination is just part of the design process. We start by diverging, as we just did. Next week, I will teach you a practice to help you converge. For now, I invite you to give yourself permission to hang out in imagination a bit longer. Enjoy!

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Much love,

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