Article of the month - October 2004|
Five Steps to Vocational Passion:
A Disciplined Plan for Major Mid-life Changes
By Craig Nathanson, The Vocational Coach™
There’s a famous song lyric that asks: “Is that all there is?” Every seven seconds, an American turns 50 years old. So there’s a good chance that song is running through some of their heads.
The question captures the ennui that many people feel in mid-life. They look up at the clock, see it ticking, and begin counting in their heads all the mountains not climbed, the poems not written, and the songs not sung.
It’s time to stop asking the question idly. It’s time to apply some analytical thinking to your life and plan how to move from the vocational “death grip” to vocational passion. Can you throw the trappings of “success” aside and pursue a lifelong dream of opening a bookstore, or becoming a teacher, an organic farmer, a fishing guide, a cabaret singer or a freelance writer?
I’m offering five initial steps that you can take to evaluate your situation. Begin the transition away from a meaningless grind toward a new life that provides you with energy and fulfillment. This is not an overnight process. But it’s a process you can begin today.
Step One: Evaluate
Lots of people settle for jobs that pay the bills but leave them feeling empty. If you want to break out of this trap and find another kind of life, you need to evaluate where you’d like to go. Examine where your passions lie. What are your dreams? When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up? What would you love to do in your spare time if you had it?
Vocational passion is an alignment of your abilities and interests in a role that gives you unlimited energy and happiness. On a scale of 1-10, where are you when it comes to vocational passion? A “1” is a living drudgery where you force yourself to your desk every morning and dream about the end of the day. A “10” is a perfect alignment between interests and livelihood. Too many of us are closer to “1” than “10”. Anything lower than a “5” suggests your working life may be feeding your family, but at the expense of starving your soul.
Step Two: Envision Your Future
You may have seen the U.S. Navy ad that asks: “If someone wrote a book about your life, would anyone want to read it?”
Here’s your chance to write that book - or at least the outline. Sit down and write a short biography that describes who you are five years from now. Describe exactly the life you wish to lead, doing work that you love. You will know you’re done with the exercise when your heart races with excitement.
Then imagine and write down your vision of a perfect vocational day.
It’s difficult to achieve something that you have not clearly envisioned. Make sure your vision has clarity. Then document it and pull it out regularly, to refresh your desire to achieve that vision.
Step Three: Tune Out Negative Feedback
Understand this: The moment you announce plans to make a radical change in your life, many people will find the move threatening and they will not wish you well. They will try to talk you out of it and tell you what a big mistake you’re about to make. Never let the naysayers dictate your life. People who listen to negative voices end up with the status quo.
Step Four: Shore Up Your Support Network
Anyone making a change needs supportive friends, and lots of them. I suggest a three-tiered model for analyzing your personal support network. This will help you analyze who will be there for you, emotionally and materially, when you make the leap to pursue your vocational passion.
The bottom tier is made up of the “interested.” This tier includes people who take interest in your work and who tend to encourage and follow up with you. These are supportive but not always directly helpful friends.
The second tier - the “supporters” - includes those who not only take interest in your work, but who come up with creative ideas to help you move forward. These are friends put energy into helping you.
Tier one - the “believers” - includes your most active supporters. These people provide tangible assistance, by handing out your materials or simply by telling others about your work. Tier one people will send you new opportunities.
Make your lists now. Examine whom you have in your support network and rank them according to these tiers. Focus on networking with your tier-one supporters, while trying to move those in tiers two and three up the ladder.
Step Five: Assess Your Risk
When taking action to follow one's passion, people trying to change their life by pursuing their passion fall into one of four categories. Each requires a different strategy.
Category One: Plenty of money and plenty of time. People in this category have a high tolerance for risk based on their relatively young age and solid financial means. The best strategy for people in this category is to travel, meet, and talk to new people who do what you aspire to do. Category one mid-lifers should develop plans, experiment, and take big risks.
Category Two: Plenty of money and little time. Because of failing health and/or advancing age, those in category two have some risk tolerance. But they probably lack a solid support network, since most friends will advise against change because they are “too old” or “too sick.” People in this category have no time to delay. They must throw themselves into doing what they love. If you are in this category, get moving. It can only improve your health and your perception of aging.
Category Three: Little time and little money. I define “little money” as having less than six months of cash flow in the bank. Risk tolerance is low in this category, and supporters are probably hard to come by. Most people are in this category.
The best approach is to develop new plans, as well as back-up plans, and take some calculated risks now. For some, downsizing to a smaller house and cashing in the IRA might seem like a good way to jumpstart the plan. For others, taking smaller steps works. Go back to school to learn new skills, or switch to an area where the people you’ll work with are more aligned with what you love.
Category Four: No money and no time. I define “no money” as less then three months cash flow in the bank. Anyone is this position will have a very low risk tolerance. They will find little support to help them move toward doing what they love.
The best course for this category is to find something immediately that gets you closer to your passion. For example: Say you love animals but you work as a software engineer. You could go work in a pet store and take a drastic interim cut to your standard of living. If this doesn't fit for you, you could take a job at a pet-related company or industry. In the short term, the move puts you around people who are more likely to share your interests and values.
What's the worst that can happen?
Remember this: You won't die or become homeless if you pursue what you love. You may, however, find that your relationship to your money will change. You’ll respect money more, and you’ll find that you can manage on less of it. Also understand that pursuing vocational passion doesn’t always mean making less money. But it does mean that money is not the only consideration - or even the most important consideration - in choosing your new vocational path.
Give yourself permission to move toward your passion now. Realize that your current relationships may be tested. You should be prepared for a number of obstacles. Don’t let your progress stall. Life is too special.
If you don't act to pursue your vocational passion, then every seven seconds someone else will come along and ask themselves: “Is that all there is?” Many of them will answer, “No,” and will do something about it. You can be one of the doers.
Craig Nathanson, The Vocational Coach, is the author of “P Is For Perfect: Your Perfect Vocational Day,” by Book Coach Press. He publishes the free monthly e-zine, “Vocational Passion in Mid-life.” Craig believes the world works a little better when we do the work we love. He helps those in mid-life carry this out. Visit his online community at http://www.thevocationalcoach.com where you can sign up for his next Tele-class coming up November 17.
Craig Nathanson © 2004
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