What is a goal without a dream?

At this time of year, we are usually bombarded with well-meaning advice on how to improve our lives.  Usually this advice is along the line of sticking to our resolutions, making very tangible goals that can be measured and so on.  This kind of practical activity has its place in creating a better future for ourselves and I wholly endorse it. There’s just one drawback, and it’s a big one: often these goals are build upon foundations of “shoulds”.  Not what we want, but what society or our friends or our family tell us we ought to want.  And when we build our goals on foundations of shoulds, we have a mighty hard time sticking to them.  Our plans look like oceans before us and we have no wind in our sails.  We find ourselves in the same place the next year, declaring the same resolutions all over again.

Today, let me humbly suggest that you forget tangible goals just for a little while.  Instead: dream.  What does your gut say you would love, love, to do or achieve?  Maybe this year.  Maybe next year.  Maybe twenty years down the road.

Finish these sentences:

  • I’ve always wanted to: ______________________________________.
  • I wish I could:_____________________________________________.
  • Someday, what I’d really love to do is: __________________________.
  • The person whose job I really covet is: __________________________.

If your stomach doesn’t clench, you aren’t digging deep enough or thinking big enough.  Keep going until you hit that spot.  What I’m talking about here is in the context of work, but this can really apply to any area of your life.

Many of the big dreams I’ve had for myself professionally have come true in the past year or two.  And, although there are certainly small steps which I’ve taken along the way, without recognizing and honoring my dreams, I would never have taken these steps.  I would have stayed on another path.

Soon enough, you can create a solid plan with timelines and milestones and checkmarks.  But for now, dream.

A New Year, A New You

We’re already a month into the new year. Where did the time go? I’ll bet you made a few resolutions. Have you broken them yet? Most of us make and break resolutions like clockwork. (I no longer make resolutions, I choose yearly themes, but that’s another blog.) When we break resolutions, we feel guilty, we fret, we beat ourselves up. Why? Because we make these great big resolutions, we decide this is the year that we become someone totally new, totally different, and need it be said — better. And it’s going to happen overnight! (Right?) December 31st – old you; January 1st – new you. We want to just flip a switch. But it doesn’t happen that way. And by February 1st, we have a resolution hangover.

This year, if you want to reinvent yourself, forget the big resolutions. And don’t give up just because you’ve already broken some. Instead: 1) clarify your vision of the new you, 2) determine what direction you must go to get there, and then 3) look at what small steps you can take in that direction. Baby steps. Baby steps are easy to take, easy to accomplish. But they can change your trajectory. In the beginning, you’re not in much of a different place. But over time, wow. Each month or each quarter, just take a look at that vision again, that direction again, and determine a few more baby steps you can take. If it’s a new career you’re angling for, you can start by learning more about the field, possibly online, or through a class, or by finding someone in the field and talking with them about their work. Find out what skills or knowledge you need to move into this type of work and plan your next baby steps around obtaining them. And so on. Just keep at it, all year, each year, and soon, you will look back and realize you’re in a really different place.
You will have reinvented yourself.

People in creative fields do it all the time, but as LLCoolJ said in a recent interview, “Reinvention is not just for celebrities…it is for all humanity.” The pity is that most of us give up too soon. So, plan your baby steps and pace yourself. You can get there from here!

Liz Dolan’s modern career

A number of years ago, I read an article in Fast Company (one of my very favorite magazines). It was about balance, that elusive devil. Liz Dolan had written an essay, reflecting on the all consuming nature of her job at Nike, as Vice President of Global Marketing, and how she had come to the decision to leave it. “Instead of having one big job, I now divide my work time into thirds: business consulting, public service, and creative projects,” she wrote at the time. One of those creative projects was the development of a talk-radio program. I had never heard of Liz Dolan at the time, but within a few years I had come to know very well who she was. That talk radio program turned out to be the Satellite Sisters, which became an award-winning show and led to exposure through the Oprah Winfrey media empire.

She made a difficult decision, and took a risk, jumping off the traditional career track. But she had a clear idea of why it was worth it to her at the time. And it seems to have paid very good dividends. She got to limit her clients as a consultant to a level she felt allowed her balance, she got to work with her sisters on an exciting creative venture that turned out to be one of the most successful radio talk shows for women and, just one year ago, she was offered an opportunity to go back into a more traditional corporate role – a Chief Marketing Officer position. She took it. Where? OWN – the Oprah Winfrey Network. Why? I don’t know and would love to ask her. But there is no doubt that this opportunity showed up on her path because she was willing to take a risk and do something different than what was expected, rather than in spite of that. In seeking balance, I think she found much more.

This path – traditional corporate to entrepreneurial, creative back to traditional – is an illustration of the modern career. Few of us, from Gen X on, will experience the lifetime employment with one company that our parents and grandparents experienced. And that has the potential to be a really good thing. (For me personally, it’s a huge relief – I can hardly imagine anything more dreadful). But how good or how bad it will be for each of us has to do with how actively we are willing to drive and direct our transitions. As long as we are driving that bus ourselves, not sitting in the backseat, just along for the ride, we can create a challenging and rewarding career.

Your Career Vision

One thing successful artists have in common is “vision”. Having a vision is absolutely essential to an artistic career because it’s generally such a self-directed endeavor. Successful artists know exactly how they want the music to sound, what the painting should look like, how the dance should make it’s audience feel. Because they see or hear it themselves in their head. They feel it in their gut. I recently saw the movie This Is It. No matter what you think about Michael Jackson, he was an artist with a vision. He knew what he wanted his audience to experience. He shared that vision with his collaborators, using language that had a visceral quality, so they could help him make the vision come to life. “Let it simmer,” he said of one measure, instead of saying “hold that a beat longer”. He could see it. He could feel it. And, as a result, others could too.

Artists do not have the luxury of having a nice, neat corporate career path laid out for them. You do, but is that really the best thing for you? If you follow that path, will you look back in a few (or many) years and realize you have a skill and knowledge set that is someone else’s dream (for you or for themselves) instead of your dream? Do not get lulled into this. That is not to say that there are not fulfilling, long-term careers in the corporate world. There are. But the most fulfilling ones are those that are self-directed.

Do you have a career vision? Do you know what kind of work you want to do next month? Next year? Now, at year-end, when we take stock and make resolutions – this is a good time to spend some time thinking about our career vision, and what we can do over the next year to live that vision, or at least move toward it. And perhaps even writing these things down. It’s amazing the power putting something in writing has. Even if you are not (yet) ready to share it with anyone else.

Start today. Remember, you are the author, the painter, the choreographer of your own career.

Parallel careers

Is the idea of a career path dead?  Not yet, but for some of us who talk with people in transition every day, it sometimes seems so. 

There are still people who will begin their career in a carefully chosen field or profession and slowly work their way up the ranks, earning promotions, greater responsibility and higher pay.  The difference today vs. yesteryear is that you can no longer count on this certain future.  To many people, having to veer off the predictable path is a scary prospect.  But there are some to whom the idea of staying on one path their whole lives is less appealing than snacking on a handful of crushed glass.

A colleague of mine recently spoke on the topic of generations in the workplace.  She described a concept on the rise in the employment market being led by Gen Y: parallel careers.  As a part of Gen X, I always expected to have multiple employers and multiple jobs, but in succession, not at the same time.  Simply put, parallel careers means having more than one job at a time.  

Now, there have always been people who have more than one job at a time out of necessity.  What we’re talking about here are most often young professionals who also run businesses on the side.  In many cases these are busineses made possible by the Internet.  The barriers to entry for microbusiness are lower than ever now thanks to the web, smartphones, social networking tools and other advances that did not exist a decade ago.  This generation is a creative, entreprenerial generation that sees no advantage in putting all their eggs in one basket just to have the basket taken away suddenly in a corporate reorg.   My friend Jason Alba blogs about the idea of personal income security instead of job security on his website  Check it out on my blogroll.  It’s a perfect example of the way the younger generation is thinking now (though I confess I don’t know if he’s Gen Y or Gen X.)

The cool thing is that Gen Y may be leading the way but they are not alone.  Other generations are getting on the bandwagon.  More Baby Boomers are taking advantage of the financial freedom that comes with having a liveable nest egg, cutting back on big corporate jobs, and starting businesses.  They are finding they value the same things the younger generations do – quality of worklife and more freedom and control over their future.  

Imagine that – together the youngest workers and the oldest workers are changing the face of the employment landscape and the idea of career path as we know it.