Taking Responsibility for What You Love
Physician, Heal Thyself

How To Move When You Don't Know Where to Go

Autumn walk

Long-time readers of this blog know that I am a fervent advocate of the "Act/Reflect" cycle of career and professional development. And I know that failure to deal with both sides of this equation is one of your surest routes to stuck

Yesterday I stumbled across this article on the Harvard Business Review Blog on what to do when you don't know what to do. Boy, did it resonate!

Career change is all about dealing with career uncertainty. We know we want something different, but we aren't sure what is going to happen if we pursue it. The future is a scary thing and standing still feels safer than moving if we aren't sure what will happen next. 

Here's one thing I know for sure about standing still though. You don't actually get anywhere when you do that. If life is a journey (and I think it is), then standing still is the best way for you to miss what your life has to offer. At the end, all you'll be able to say is that you stood your ground. 

So back to that HBR article, which points to a method for moving forward that will sound familiar if you've been playing along here on The Bamboo Project: 

1. Start with desire. You find/think of something you want. You don't need a lot of passion, you only need sufficient desire to get started. ("I really want to start a restaurant, but I haven't a clue if I will ever be able to open one.")

2. Take a smart step as quickly as you can toward your goal. What's a smart step? It's one where you act quickly with the means at hand. What you know, who you know, and anything else that's available. ("I know a great chef, and if I beg all my family and friends to back me, I might have enough money to open a place.") You make sure that step is never going to cost more than it would be acceptable to you to lose should things not work out. And you bring others along to acquire more resources, spread the risk and confirm the quality of your idea.

3. Reflect and build on what you have learned from taking that step. You need to do that because every time you act, reality changes. Sometimes the step you take gets you nearer to what you want ("I should be able to afford something just outside of downtown"); sometimes what you want changes ("It looks likes there are an awful lot of Italian restaurants nearby. We are going to have to rethink our menu.") If you pay attention, you always learn something. So after you act, ask: Did those actions get you closer to your goal? ("Yes. It looks like I will be able to open a restaurant.") Do you need additional resources to draw even closer? ("Yes. I'll need to find another chef. The one I know can only do Italian.") Do you still want to obtain your objective? ("Yes.")

4. Repeat.

Act. Learn. Build. Repeat. This is how successful serial entrepreneurs conquer uncertainty. What works for them will work for all of us.

A couple of points. . . 
  • First, notice that your desire doesn't have to be a burning passion. It just needs to be enough to get you moving. Quit spending time worrying about finding that EXACT THING that is going to be your be-all/end-all. Let curiosity be your guide. You need just enough desire to care to do something--and no more than that. Think of these steps as sparks that may or may not ignite a fire. Remember that you can't build a roaring blaze without igniting the kindling first. 
  • That "smart step" you take--notice that you take it with what you have at hand. You don't wait until conditions are perfect or you have every possible bit of information. That's a good way to stand still. Work with what you have and see where that takes you. And notice that you should bring others along with you. That's a good role for your positive peer network
  • Do not--DO NOT--skip the reflection step. You need it, to catch your breath and to figure out where to go next and how to get there. At the same time, don't get stuck there. Don't use it as an excuse to stop moving again. Make sure you go to step 4--the Repeat step. 
Believe me, I get that careers are scary, uncertain things these days. But life is scary and uncertain. We can choose to meet it and move forward or we can sit down on the path and refuse to go anywhere. I vote for keeping it moving. . . 



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