B is for Backwards.

“By far the biggest mistake people make when trying to change careers is to delay taking the first step until they have settled on a destination.”

~ Herminia Ibarra in Working Identity.

True story of my friend’s brother: he decided at a young age he wanted to be a doctor. He went to college, took all the right classes, went to med school, started doing his residency, and realized: Ugh! I don’t want to do this! What I really like is woodwork. Maybe I should be a carpenter.


Many of us have it backwards

We think the “right” way to do career is to figure out what we want to be, then do the training and get the experience we need to move into that role.

The challenge is: how can you figure out if you’d like a career without test-driving it first? But how can you test-drive if you don’t have the training? How can you decide you’d like to be a criminal investigator if you’ve never tried it, and the only exposure you’ve had is what you’ve seen on TV?


Here are some ways to do upfront exploration

  • Reading – online articles or books
  • Job shadowing
  • Attending meetings / conferences
  • Informational interviews with people doing that work
  • Volunteering
  • Exploring educational programs


But what if you don’t have a specific endpoint in mind?

While it may feel daunting, the reality is: that’s fine! We can work with it. That’s the place many of my clients find themselves.

Instead of having a specific career in mind, they have (or together we come up with) general ideas of what they like: animals, music, technology, social justice. True: there is no magic career that pops up and says: this is it! But what we do is start working with areas of high interest and see where that takes us. We may brainstorm: how can you combine animals with technology? Music with social justice?

Then clients start “doing:” finding ways to go deeper using one of the techniques above (e.g., volunteering, informational interviews.)


And here’s what happens:

As you do more of the upfront exploration, you get clearer on the direction you want to go. And as you get clearer on the direction, this helps clarify where you want to do more upfront exploration. The “means” helps clarify the “end,” and the “end” helps clarify the “means.”

And all the while, you’re gaining experience and expanding your network and moving closer and more successfully into a role that feels right for you.


Can’t see what’s down the road? Can’t see where to get started?

If you want help figuring out what you can’t quite see yet, please email me or call me at 612-922-4952.

PS – If you liked B is for Backwards, check out my earlier blog:

A is for Anxiety.


Best —

career coaching with Freda Marver

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