Changing Your Questions

The big question

Sometimes I find that when I'm stuck or I'm working with people who are stuck, what keeps us in the same place is that we're asking ourselves the wrong question. We don't realize we are asking this question, but we are. This is the question we're stuck in:

What's wrong with me? 

This post by Andrea Sher about her struggle with infertility reminded me of how often we can get stuck in this question for any part of our life that doesn't seem to be moving the way we want it to. This can keep us in a victim place that prevents us from really finding a way out. This is how Andrea describes the experience: 

I had a session with my life coach. And she said, “Okay. So there’s a lot of self-pity here. What about the anger? Where’s that? Aren’t you pissed off and frustrated? Where’s the ‘why-the-f***-hasn’t-it-happened-by-now?’ Aren’t you mad at God or your body or somebody?!”

And that’s when I got it. As I stepped into the anger (okay, rage) I felt my strength, my fierceness, my aliveness in addition to my longing. I also saw how little power there was in the self-pity. The victim place is just that– totally helpless and impotent. And I had been there a long time. As we explored the anger, I found my feet firmly planted on the ground. I practiced role playing with her. We pretended people were asking me how it was going, and instead of my usual “It’s so hard…” and crying almost immediately, I practiced saying, “It f***ing sucks!!! We’re f***ing frustrated!!!”

Andrea is talking about infertility, but honestly, this conversation with ourselves can happen for any part of our lives, including our work. We have to stop asking "what's wrong with me?" and start asking some different questions. 

Andrea suggests two that I think can be helpful:

How can I help myself? 

Where can I get support?

Questions that have helped me in this situation are:

What can I learn from where I am now? 

Where's the energy in my life right now and how can I follow that?

What do I want more of and how can I get it? 

It changes your sense of the issues when you recognize that underneath all the "stuckness" is the question "What's wrong with me?" Seeing that question and how it disempowers you, then finding new questions that give you strength and courage can make a huge difference. 

Try it. I promise that it works. 


Where Do You Find Career Inspiration?

inspire

Allison Jones has a great blog post today on places where she finds career inspiration. She says:

When it comes to career advice, it is very easy to focus on tactics: how to write a resumehow to use social media to find a jobhow to network.

However, in the time that I have been blogging about nonprofit careers, I have realized that while tactics are important, they make it too easy for us to ignore bigger questions about our careers: what are we good at? What are we willing to commit to? What do we value most in our work and our lives?

To that end, many of my favorite places for career advice, aren’t entirely career-tactic focused. Instead they focus on sharing powerful stories, asking compelling questions, and encouraging me to slow down.

Then she lists some of her favorite sources, including friends, children's books (love that one!) and going inward. 

Allison's post got me thinking about some of my own sources of inspiration that I wanted to share. 

Social media connections

Through social media (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, blogging, etc.) I'm connected to a lot of different people from all over the world working in a lot of different career areas. 

In fact, Allison's blog post came to me via Facebook:

Picture 66

I find that on any given day, someone, somewhere offers me a little nugget of gold that can spur my thinking. It might be an inspirational quote or a link to something interesting they're working on or even a complaint they have about their jobs. In some form or fashion, though, I get a little jolt that can keep me going--or at least gets me thinking. 

TEDTalks

One of the things that I can count on my social networks bringing to me are great TEDTalks. Some are oldies but goodies, while others are newly posted. Often the right talk comes to my attention at the right time--a little piece of serendipity that I try to notice and that boosts my day.

My Journals

 I keep two types of journals. Actually, three.

The first is a diary-type arrangement where I write about what's on my mind, from the personal to the professional. It's an emotional and mental dumping ground that helps me clear my thoughts. It's also a place where I take notes on books I'm reading, including recording key quotes that "speak" to me.

I also keep an art journal where I draw, paint, collage, make lists and generally express myself visually. This is can also a dumping ground of sorts, but it is more often a source of inspiration. And the process of art-making can get me in a good head space for dealing with a problem or seeing something in my life differently. The image below is from one of my visual journals. 

socialartistry

The third type of journal I keep are idea books. These tend to be more professionally focused and will contain all of my notes, thoughts, articles, etc. related to different project ideas I have. I'm very interested in the power of conversation right now, so I have one devoted to that. I also want to do more face-to-face retreats, so I have a book on that. Some of these idea journals are a mish mash of different smaller ideas, but others--like the Conversation project and the retreat stuff--merit their own book. 

Reflection

Key to my journal-keeping is a regular practice of reflection on my journals. I will set aside time to go back through what I've written, which often leads me to see themes that have been happening for awhile across my personal and professional spheres that I've done nothing (or very little) to address. Although I find it relaxing and helpful to dump things in my journal, what is even more helpful is having a regular practice of reviewing and reflecting. At a minimum, it shows me where my blind spots and ongoing dreams are. When the process works really well, it will spur me to action. 

Conversations 

While I love time to think and reflect, I find that talking to other people can be a powerful source of inspiration too. Sometimes narrating what's going on with me gives me a way to hear myself say things that I didn't realize I was thinking.

I also enjoy hearing what's happening with other people. I like asking them what they want MORE of in their work, which often helps me further refine what I like and don't like. I also like finding out what problems and issues people grapple with, as this sometimes gives me ideas for things I might be able to do to help fill in the gaps. For example, last year's end-of-year women's retreat was partially the result of conversations I was having with different women in my life who expressed a need for reflection and connection time. This spurred me to put together a weekend retreat that gave all of us space to do that together. 

Reading

I am a voracious and eclectic reader. I have business books, novels, psychology texts,  New Age chakra books and art collections littering my bedside. My Kindle is an equally weird conglomeration of whatever captures my interest at the moment. What I love is that eventually (always!), there will be some strange coming-together of ideas from two disparate sources that somehow spark my thinking. Plus I'm usually able to pull something from my reading that I can use in conversations (see above) to further inspire discussion.

Retreats

In the past few years, I've gotten in the more regular habit of going away on weekend retreats to give myself time and space for reflection and conversation, often for a particular reason.  I already mentioned the end-of-year women's retreat I did last December, which I plan to do again this year. That retreat was all about transitioning from 2011 to 2012.

This past weekend my husband and I went away to a little cabin in the Poconos where we both worked on some of our creative projects. We returned home, thinking of some projects we want to work on together, as well as feeling renewed in our relationship and in our sense of what we want to be working towards in our lives. 

Picture 68

For me, retreats are a critical inspirational experience. I try to enter into them with intention (What aspects of my life do I want to work on? What do I want and need to experience to feel renewed?). I give myself time for both quiet reflection and writing time as well as for conversations and connection because I find that both are needed for me to feel truly inspired and clear about where to go next. I've never been disappointed and I'm now becoming more purposeful in planning them. (BTW--West Coast friends--check out Christine Martell's upcoming Women Unplugged Retreat if you're feeling the need to go away!) 

So these are my major sources of inspiration. . . let's keep the ball rolling. What are your sources of inspiration? 

 


Intuition as Your Career Way-Finder

Euphoria

I've found that figuring out what you want to do in life is both a science and an art. 

The "science" part is the practical stuff, the step-by-step, "research this, try out that, reflect on what you discover" approach. And there's something to be said for researching occupational and work trends to get an idea of where the demand for your skills may be and what kind of education and experience you need. This is information you need to sell yourself and to get on the road toward that new career. 

But before that is the decision to DO something to change. And that's where the "art" piece of it comes in. Because art, at it's heart, is about following some voice inside of you to create what it is you want, whether it's a painting or a career. Art is fueled by intuition--we might call it "the muse"-- and it is the muse that breathes life into every act of creation we take. But we have to listen to it first. 

One thing I've found in myself and through working with others is that in our quietest moments, we KNOW the right next step. Our intution has been whispering to us about this for awhile. And when we don't listen to the whispers, it starts screaming.  "TIME TO QUIT," it will say. Or "YOU SHOULD BE USING YOUR TALENTS THIS WAY!" Or "IF I HAVE TO DO THIS ONE MORE DAY I WILL LOSE IT!"

But we repress that voice, tell it to shut up, to be more "practical."  We argue with it and tell it all the ways that it's foolish, irresponsible and a "dreamer." We push it down and keep plowing ahead on this other course we're on, until we simply can't take it anymore. Or sometimes the decision is made for us, when we are laid off or fired or a big contract comes to an end. 

Sometimes the best place to start in our career explorations is with the things we DON'T want to hear or acknowledge, the elephant in the room we keep trying to ignore.  What keeps going through our minds on a repetitive loop that we've managed to tone down to a dull roar? That's our intuitive voice, telling us what we need to hear, but that we don't want to listen to.

Intuition can be our best teacher, when we stop repressing it.  

What wisdom is your intuition trying to share with you?  Maybe it's time to start acting on that. . . 


Using the Present to Enact Your Future

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Jessica Hagy of Indexed fame has an excellent illustrated post on Forbes--20 Ways to Find Your Calling.  Number one on the list is Ignore the future, deal with the present

The question, “What should I be when I grow up?” is wrong. Ask instead, “What is next today?” People become fat one bite at a time, and we become adults one hour at a time, so what we do today matters.

One of the things I observe with career clients is how potential futures can pull people away from what they are doing in the present. They spend a lot of time crafting a vision, but much less time paying attention to what's happening in front of them.

While it's important to have a vision for the future--and this is something I notice many people lack--at the same time, we have to pay attention to what we are doing right now, today. What choices are we making about where we spend our time and put our priorities? What unconscious habits have we adopted that may actually be moving us further from our future dreams? How are we putting one foot in front of the other and how is this carrying us toward what we want, rather than further into what we don't want? 

Like overeaters, we may find that one bite at a time, we are headed down a road that is unsustainable. Suddenly, we look up, after years of thinking about a future we do nothing to enact, and realize that this future is actually our past. Then we scramble to fix what we subconsciously created. 

I'm a big fan of mindfulness--although not always so great at walking the talk. I think Jessica's reminder that we need to pay attention to what we are doing in the present is a good one.

So how do we use our present to create our future?

Ask Yourself Some Questions

Start by asking some hard questions. 

  • What is going on around me that I need to pay attention to? What trends are happening in my job, my company/organization and in the larger world that will impact my future? 
  • How am I making choices today that take me closer to what I want in the future? How are my choices taking me further away? 
  • How am I prioritizing my time and my resources? If I keep doing what I'm doing, where is this going to lead? 
  • What is the elephant in the room? What is right in front of me that I don't want to acknowledge? How is this influencing my choices? 

Try journaling about these questions and using them to change what you're doing in the present. 

Build 1-Minute Reflections Into Your Day

It helps to build more reflection into your day. I tell people to pay attention to how energy is flowing for them. Set your watch to do a 1-minute check-in every hour or two. Is your energy up or down? What have you been doing and how does this seem to impact your energy level? Keep a log and start looking for trends. As much as possible, focus on those activities and people that bring you energy, not those that drain it. If your entire day is an energy drain, start taking steps to make bigger changes. 

Use Your First Hour to Set the Stage

How are you spending your first hour? This sets the stage for the rest of the day. Create the right intentions at the beginning of your day and you are more likely to take present actions that support your future. 

Change Your Habits

Habitsflowchart

The chart above is from Charles Duhigg's  The Power of Habit in which he argues that much of what we do in any given day is driven more by habit than by any thoughtful or intentional process. To live in the present means to recognize the extent to which our lives are merely a series of habits strung together by cues and rewards. To change the habit, we must become aware of what triggers us, what reward we get and then find ways to insert new, more positive routines between our cue and reward. 

Use Your Present to Shape Your Future

Ultimately, doing the right things today that are in alignment with what we want in our careers is the most potent tool we have for shaping the future we want. Being clear about where we want to go can be helpful, but if we don't take actions today that are in alignment with that future, we will never get where we want to go. 


Positive Professional Development Tool: Career Stepping Stones

Stepping Stones

In our ongoing career and professional development, there are times when it's helpful to look at our past. It may be that we're bored and contemplating a change. We may have been laid off and had change thrust upon us. Even as part of our ongoing reflective practice, mining our past experiences can give us great fodder for the future. 

One way to look at your past is to use a technique pioneered by Ira Progoff as part of his Intensive Journaling process called "Stepping Stones." This process allows you to create a sort of career timeline that can give you greater insight into current career dilemmas and possibilities for new directions. 

What Are Stepping Stones?

Stepping stones are "the significant points of movement along the road of an individual's life." A stepping stone is  an event, image, sensation, a thought, or milestone of your life that comes to mind when you review your life from the beginning to the present.

Stepping stones aren't tied to fixed periods of time. One stepping stone may last a few months and the next may last several years.  To give you an idea of what I'm talking about, here are my career stepping stones.

  1.  What Will I Be When I Grow Up?
  2. I'm going to be a lawyer
  3. College teaches me that I'd HATE being a lawyer.
  4. HR Manager 
  5. Kids make careers complicated
  6. Government work
  7. Turning my job into self-employment
  8. My Slash Career
  9. What's Next? 

Stepping Stone 4 lasted a couple of years, but Stepping Stone 7 was about 7 years; you can see that time isn't really how you define a stepping stone. It's more about a phase of life that hangs together naturally. 

Finding Your Stepping Stones

To find your Stepping Stones, follow this procedure:

  1. Find a quiet space where you'll have between 10-15 minutes to yourself.
  2. Sit back and breathe deeply for a few minutes, letting your mind play over your life and various career experiences. Keep in mind that sometimes your career isn't about working. Notice that in my example, there was that period of exploration that covered childhood and college, times before I was working but when I was still thinking about what I wanted to do when I grew up. I also had a period when I was home with my children, but I still consider it part of my overall career trajectory. 
  3. In a few words or phrases, capture the essence of a particular stepping stone by writing it down in a journal or career notebook. You may find these in chronological order or they may show up in chunks. When I did this, I actually started with my last stepping stone and then went back to the beginning to trace to the present. 

Don't spend a lot of time evaluating and thinking about this. Usually your stepping stones will appear relatively easily and should fall into place without a lot of critical analysis. 

Working with Your Stepping Stones

Once you have a list of your stepping stones, it's time to work with them. You can do this  in a few sessions or in one marathon session where you go through all of them. I've found that it's better to take them in chunks--maybe 2-3 at a time. 

To start the work, first read through your entire list, trying to keep a neutral frame of mind. Suspend judgment if you can help it. Look for patterns or themes. Is there something that ties together two or more of your stepping stones? How do you feel looking at your list? Do some of the items evoke particularly positive or negative reactions? I've found that it's helpful to write down these general observations and reactions before I move into working with individual stepping stones.  

Once you've looked at your overall list, you then want to turn your attention to individual stepping stones, describing them in greater detail. Some questions to consider: 

  • What was happening in your career at that point? How were you feeling about your career?
  • What else was going on in your life? 
  • How did your career and life fit together during that time?
  • What kinds of questions and issues were you dealing with then? 
  • Were there any roads not traveled? 
  • What relationships were important during this time? Were there bosses, colleagues and/or mentors who were particularly important? How did those relationships impact your career? 
  • What lessons did you learn during this period? What did this time of life teach you about yourself and what you did/didn't want in your career? 

A good way to begin your description is with the phrase "It was a time when. . . " This can be an excellent springboard into the memories and feelings of that period of your career. 

Using Your Stepping Stones

Once you've described your stepping stones in greater detail, there are many ways you can use the information. 

Usually particular patterns or themes will emerge that you can use in decision-making and growth. For example, you may notice that the more postiive, growth-filled points in your career coincided with the times when you had a mentor to guide you. Or you may notice that you tend to get bored and need a change after somewhat predictable periods of time. 

Something I noticed in my stepping stones is that every 3-4 years I need to find a new challenge--some new skill to master or some new area of research to immerse myself in. Recognizing this helped me to better understand that this is a theme for me, something I can anticipate and actively nurture. Some people have seen a pattern of foregoing career dreams in favor of the "practical" approach, while others have found that they repeatedly sacrificed their own career goals to help someone else. 

The process of detailing your stepping stones can remind you of long-buried bits of yourself--interests you used to have or skills you haven't used in years. Once revealed to you, these can become nuggets to build on for the future. 

Looking at your career life as a series of stepping stones can be a powerful way to mine your past for insight that you can use for your future. It can help you uncover long-lost career dreams as well as patterns of self-sabotage or "playing it small." 

The point of the stepping stone exercise is to help you place your current circumstances and career issues in a longer timeframe. You are where you are in part because of decisions and experiences from your past. Exploring your stepping stones can help you put your present into context and give you new ideas for moving forward.  


The Hunger for Conversation

Cafe society, Valetta

One of my current projects involves managing an online community of practice for professionals who help people with disabilities find employment. For the past year we've struggled to get folks engaged. Often it feels like I'm throwing information into a digital abyss. 

This is a grant-funded project and I'm in the last year of the grant, so decided that we needed to try something different. Going for broke, as it were. So I proposed to the funders that we begin experimenting with face-to-face conversations, what we're calling "Connecting Coffees." These are one hour networking events at local coffee houses that combine networking with conversation on professional development topics. 

Earlier this week I put out an announcement about our plan. Since then, there's been more discussion in the group than we've probably had in the last 6 months combined!

What it made me realize (again) is how hungry we all are for opportunities to connect in the real world. To sit down and have real conversations about topics that matter to us. The digital world and social media can help us find each other and connect when we aren't able to be together face-to-face, but in the end, we are human and we long for that opportunity to sit around a table, break bread together and just talk. 

We need to find more time for this, recognize and accept the importance of informal conversations in the larger world of our work. We need to intentionally build more of these into our practice. They are major drivers for learning, development and growth.  We want connection and we need to support this where ever we can. 


Stop Asking the Wrong Questions

Question 1

To me, the most energizing questions are those that involve people's values, hopes and ideals--questions that relate to something that's larger than them where they can connect and contribute. People don't have a lot of energy around questions that are about removing pain."

                                --Verna Allee

A lot of the work I do with people ends up being around removing pain. There's a problem to be solved or something to be improved or they are at a career crossroads and need to get out--NOW!

What I find most challenging in these situations is helping people find the energy to actually do something about the issues they are facing. It's easy to sink into the morass and lethargy that problems seem to generate. Negativity breeds complacency I've found and a kind of learned helplessness that is difficult to escape. 

One of the reasons that I've been working so much on asking more powerful questions is because I've seen what happens when we can shift from questions that remove pain to questions that generate possibilities and connection. What we focus on grows, so the more we can ask questions that engage our hopes, dreams and values, the more likely we are to create forward movement. The more I can engage around hopes and possibilities, the better my ability to move toward what I want. 

But our world seems to be geared toward pain removal, so it is a daily battle to ask ourselves different questions. Two strategies I've found that help are these.

  1.  Follow the energy. The surest route to the right questions is monitoring my own responses and how others seem to be responding as well. If a question is asked and you can feel the collective (usually silent) groan, then you know that most likely you are in a "pain removal" situation. I also find that when the answers or follow-up questions seem to focus on irrelevant details or more complaints, this is another sign that we're focusing on pain, not possibility. 
  2. Ask yourself "Is this a pain removal question?"--The more direct route is to evaluate questions and ask yourself if they are about removing pain. This is particularly helpful in the career change realm where I've found that people are likely to focus on how they can escape from a bad situation rather than run toward a good one.  Pain questions are about escape, not possibility. Pay attention to how your question points you toward a positive future rather than away from a bad present. Don't ask "How can I get out of this?" Do ask, "What do I want to move toward?" 

I'm finding that the more vigilant I am about the questions I'm asking, the better my outcomes. When I feel stuck, often it's because I'm asking the wrong questions--questions that focus on removing pain. I can generate forward movement again if I go back to reframing what I'm asking. 


Being Honest With Yourself and Starting from Where You Are

Blinded by truth

A post from Chris Brogan has me thinking this morning: 

Jacqueline brought me iced coffee a few weeks ago, and I commented that it tasted especially delicious. She said, “I used two sugars instead of one or none, the way you usually say you like it.” As is often the case with me, I ended up thinking about a bit more than how many sugars I take in my coffee. The truth is, I wasn’t really being honest with myself.

I can say I prefer my coffee black, but what I was really saying was, “I know that I’m supposed to have it black.” I prefer my coffee with two sugars. It’s much nicer that way. Healthier? No. But I have to be where I am. Maybe it’s a matter of having it sometimes with sugar and sometimes black.

One thing I've noticed in myself and in the people I work with is how often we lie to ourselves. In Chris's case, he was telling himself that he "prefers" black coffee, when the reality is that he prefers sugar; he just thinks he should prefer black coffee because it's better for him. 

One way we lie to ourselves is through our "shoulds." I should be happy with my work, so I will ignore the reality that I'm not. As if denying reality is an effective method for dealing with our lives. 

Another way we lie to ourselves is by saying that something is beyond our power to change. I hear this all the time. "I can't quit my job" or "I can't take that responsibility."  That's not true. Just about everything is within our power to change. The bigger issue is whether or not we can or want to live with the consequences of those changes. There's a big difference between saying "I can't do something" and "I choose not do something because I don't want to experience what I think are the likely consequences." The former makes us a victim. The latter says we are making an informed choice. 

One of the reasons we lie to ourselves is because we don't want to be kind to ourselves. We find reality unacceptable, so the it feels like the easiest way to deal with an unacceptable reality is to deny it. But denying reality is one of the best ways for us to stay stuck. We'd be better off exploring and accepting our reality and learning how to be kind to ourselves in the process. No need to start berating ourselves for being whereever we find ourselves. Just accept that we are here and figure out the next step to move forward. 

One sure way to explore reality and stop telling ourselves lies is to allow ourselves to feel the emotions that go with our experiences. If I allow myself to feel my responses to what I'm experiencing at work, my emotions can start to help me better understand the reality of where I'm at. At the least I can get clearer about how I'm responding to what's going on, which is half the battle in starting to tell ourselves the truth of our lives. 

I know that for me, I deny reality when I want to protect myself from having to make painful or difficult decisions. I don't want to take risks or I don't want to deal with the potential fall out of changed circumstances.  But all that denial does is prolong the inevitable. Eventually, reality will intrude, often in huge ways that force my hand and have far greater consequences than if I'd just accepted reality earlier and done what I needed to do to address it. 

I think that part of effectively managing our careers is starting to be scrupulously honest with ourselves. Where are the places that we need to stop denying the reality? What would happen if we stopped doing this?

It can be hard to stop lying to ourselves, but ultimately it's liberating. Even if the changes you have to make are difficult or challenging, you also feel a peculiar energy because deep down you know you are dealing with what is, not what you wish it would be. Your body and mind know when you've finally given in and are working from truth. 

So what lies do you need to stop telling yourself? How do your options change when you start telling the truth? 

 


Physician, Heal Thyself

Doctor Smurf

For the past several months, I've been advising  the clients I work with to use a career journal to record and explore their ideas about the work they are doing, what inspires and drives them and what they want to experiment with in their work lives. 

I've also been telling people to quit thinking and start doing--to experiment and then reflect on what happens. And then devise new experiments to keep moving forward. 

Other advice I've given: 

  • Use positive questions to explore what you want more of, rather than negative questions designed to "solve problems." 
  • Make new connections and have new conversations as a way of fertilizing career seeds. 

I'm sure there's more, but these are the ones that come to mind. 

Last night, I was feeling a little adrift about where I want to go next--where to focus my attention. And I realized that all this advice I've been giving? I haven't been taking it myself. And (surprise!) now I'm feeling a little lost. 

There's an adage in counseling that says that when you hear yourself giving advice to someone else, often that's the very advice you need to be taking yourself. Basically, physician, heal thyself. 

So this blog post serves two purposes--one, to remind me that my career works best when I'm taking my own advice. And two, to remind you that when you hear yourself telling other people what to do, you might want to start asking if this is advice that you yourself should be taking. . . 


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. . .