When most of my clients first come to me, they’re unhappy in their current work and struggling to choose among possible career paths: Do they figure out how to improve their current job? Do they find a new career? Do they start their own thing? These are the questions that keep them awake late at night.

They want to get crystal clear as fast as possible, but they often don’t realize that their drive to get specific is slowing them down. Here’s why:

Before you can get clear about the work you’ll pursue, you first need to get clear about your core needs.

I’ll explain. Let’s start with some context:

In my first session with a new client, I invite them to envision the next horizon of their life. When I first started coaching, clients would often tell me they didn’t know what they wanted, and I wouldn’t push for an answer. Over time, though, I learned to wait patiently and reassure my clients that we were only looking for the puzzle pieces they were able to see. They didn’t need to know precisely what job they wanted. 

When my clients no longer feel pressured to know what specific job they want to do in what specific amount of time, they start talking. They surprise themselves, discovering elements of the life they long for that they hadn’t been aware of before. 

Envisioning their next horizon, my clients say things like:

  • I have a new job or role where I am using my skills to make more systemic change.
  • I am consistently earning enough to meet all my needs, save for retirement, and climb out of debt.
  • I have an office space that I love.
  • The tasks on my plate fit my plate. I stop working at the end of the day and take weekends off. 
  • I feel healthy, and I consistently devote time to movement, sleep, eating well, and meditation. 
  • I enjoy my connections with my kids, my partner, my family, and my friends.
  • I trust myself and choose decisively.
  • I am me everywhere I go.

If you take a look at this list, you’ll see that it articulates core needs not specific jobs. Your core needs are qualities or values that contribute to a sense of fulfillment and wholeness. They are things like connection, physical well-being, meaning, autonomy, and play. All of the elements on the list above are core needs. (Those of you who practice Nonviolent Communication will notice that what I call core needs are similar to the needs you’ll find on the NVC list of needs but a bit more specific.) 

You’ll notice that this list does not say precisely what type of job this person will pursue. Here’s why: Many career-recipes might meet your needs. 

At the beginning of a career transition, it’s important not to get attached to the idea of any particular job.

Many people get stuck because they think that they need to get clear about what job they’ll pursue before they take action. However, the reality is that we get clear by having conversations, doing small experiments, reflecting on what works, crafting our next steps in response to what we learn, updating our vision as we gather new information. It is impossible to know with certainty which possibilities will work until we take action.

However, to successfully make the journey to work you love, you need to be clear about— and fiercely committed to— your core needs. 

When you’re able to feel in your body and imagine in your mind’s eye what it will be like to meet your core needs, your vision is like a beacon that compels you forward, even when the going gets rough. By focusing on your core needs, it helps you to remain open to possible strategies for meeting them. 

If the Coronavirus is teaching us anything, it’s that no matter how much you or I might wish otherwise, we do not have complete control over the circumstances in our lives. Even when you do get clear on the career you want to pursue, events may arise that make that career very difficult to pursue. For example, I’ve worked with several yoga teachers over the years. Before the pandemic, they all taught in-person classes. But now that their clients can’t come to see them in person, many have shifted to teaching online. I have many other former clients who are bodyworkers. While they long to meet their financial needs by doing hands-on healing work, many are currently having to meet their needs through unemployment or receiving support from a loved one or depending on their savings. They’re all doing their best in a difficult situation to meet their needs with a different strategy. 

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to make light of a scary and challenging situation for many, many people. There may be times in which it is very difficult to meet our core needs. In those times, we must have compassion ourselves, take space to grieve, and do our best to get by. 

What I am saying is that it is crucial to stay focused on our core needs rather than clinging to a particular strategy that we hope will meet those needs. The more we can do that, the easier it becomes to imagine alternative possibilities for meeting our needs and notice unexpected opportunities that come our way.

I invite you to give yourself a moment to reflect on your next horizon now.

Grab a piece of paper and a pen. Get as centered as you can, honoring the parts of you who are having a hard time getting centered and not trying to force them to change. Then, set a timer for five minutes, and free-write in response to the following question: 

What do I know about what I want to be doing on the next horizon of my life?

If you find yourself saying that you don’t know what you want, acknowledge that you cannot see the entire puzzle. Let go of trying to see details you’re not able to see right now. For now, we’re just looking at what you need and want, identifying ingredients you need to feel truly fulfilled, gathering puzzle pieces that you long for in the next phase of your life. For now, you’re not trying to figure out precisely how you’ll meet your needs. 

With that in mind, ask yourself: Which puzzle pieces am I able to see? Write down every detail you can see. Keep asking yourself: Is there anything else? What else? Stop when the time is up, or give yourself more time until you feel complete.

If you’d like, write up the key ingredients that you landed on in the present-tense, as I wrote above, and keep it somewhere you have easy access to. As you continue to ponder your next steps, rather than getting attached to any particular destination, I invite you to hold your vision as a north star, guiding you forward in the direction of what you long for. 

And, if you’re needing a bit of musical inspiration, right now I invite you to listen to one of my favorite songs of all time: Cantares, the poetry of Antonio Machado put to music by Juan Manuel Serrat. As Serrat sings (in Spanish): We make the path by walking it.

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Much love,

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