Path to Purpose Part 3: Execution

In Parts 1 and 2, we were inspired to take the path to purpose and we explored to find at least one target field to pursue. Now it’s time to execute our plan for continuing down the path. This is where the rubber hits the road, and many people sadly let their dreams fade away, sidelined by excuses and fears.

But not us! Pamela Mitchell is back to provide some much-needed guidance through her book, The Ten Laws of Career Reinvention. Here are three of those laws that will help in the execution stage of the path to purpose.

Law 5: You’ve Got the Tools in Your Toolbox

One myth of career reinvention is that our previous careers were a waste of time and effort. You’ll be happy to learn that, in reality, your current skills are portable to your new field. They simply need to be repurposed:

“Repurposing your old skills – identifying the ones you used in your old field and converting them for use in a new career – is part of the definition of reinvention. It sums up the basic strategy that will help you thrive in this era: Reinventors continually use the tools that are already in their toolbox in creative new ways to build and broaden opportunities.”

Make a list of your current duties and responsibilities, and those from prior jobs, and of your job successes. If you do volunteer work, include that also. Then break down your duties and successes into the skills it takes to perform them:

“If you’re thinking about what you’ve done only in terms of job function, your toolbox for reinvention will look pretty empty. When you start thinking about what you’ve done in terms of the skills it took to perform the tasks, you’ll see that you have plenty of tools at your disposal to help build a bridge to a new career.”

Once you’ve listed your skills, find out which ones are valued in your target field and compare them with what’s in your toolbox. For me, skills from my very first career (teaching) and volunteer work turned out to be key. Look at job listings in your area of interest and see what skills are prioritized:

“There will also be times when you analyze the tools in your toolbox and realize that you do need to add a few more. This usually happens when the case you make isn’t quite strong enough to convince your target to give you a shot. Now you will need to go a step further and gain experience or learn something new that adds another skill to your toolbox.”

New skills can be gained in a variety of ways. Online courses abound these days, including the New York Times Knowledge Network (which is how I learned about blogging). Volunteering in your target field is another great way to pick up the new tools you need (which is what I’m doing to pick up some additional skills that I’ll need for my Peace Corps assignment).

Law 8: They Won’t “Get” You Until You Speak Their Language

When your path to purpose involves moving into a new industry, it’s critical to learn the “language” that’s spoken there and reframe your background accordingly:

“This Law – learning to speak the language so that those in your new career understand you – is at the heart of the reinvention process. Don’t underestimate its importance. Since you are the one who wants a shot at something new, it’s up to you to be bilingual and help others understand what you have to offer.”

In Law 7, Mitchell explains the crucial step of meeting and talking with people in your prospective new field or, as she calls it, “speaking to a native.” There are plenty of resources for that these days, including Twitter, blogs and Google. (Hey, if semi-Amish me can do these things, anyone can.) Taking these steps allows you to learn not only the language but also the culture of your chosen field:

“Tossing off an impressive phrase or two won’t cut it. The Natives in your new career will immediately see through that ruse, because speaking a language is also about understanding the unspoken nuances associated with that world. It’s these nuances that help build rapport and solidify relationships; that help you ‘fit.’”

Once you know what skills are needed in your target field and you’ve learned to speak their language, it’s time to “redraft your resume or bio, describing your skills, talents, background, and accomplishments in the language of the new industry.” Mitchell’s book provides solid suggestions for converting a typical resumé into a Reinvention Resumé.

Law 9: It Takes The Time That It Takes

At the inspiration stage, T.D. Jakes cautioned against impatience on the path to purpose. Mitchell reminds us of this again during the execution stage:

“Reinvention takes the time it takes. Like trying to harvest a garden four weeks after planting the seeds, or inducing birth five months after conception instead of the usual nine, forcing an artificial timeline on a natural process courts disaster.”

Because the journey down the path to purpose isn’t an overnight trip, Mitchell advises building up a Reinvention Fund. That might mean, like it does for me, staying in your current job, downsizing and saving as much money as possible while taking steps on the side toward your new career. On many a morning, the only thing that gets me to work is knowing that it’s the source of cash for my Reinvention Fund.

To keep the momentum going, Mitchell suggests creating a list of tasks we can perform to help us move into our target field:

“Like most tactical plans, it begins with goals; I recommend setting monthly ones that are practical, realistic, and doable…. Don’t try to tackle the ‘big picture’ every day (e.g., goal for today: reinventing my career) – you’ll feel overwhelmed. Instead, pace yourself (e.g., goal for today: I’ll make three phone calls, write two letters, and find a new industry newsletter to read). Settiing smaller objectives will increase your chance of completing them.”

Put The Big Rocks In First

Once you’ve created your tactical plan, an indispensable resource for moving through your “to do” list in an effective fashion is Steven Covey’s book, First Things First. Here are some of the key lessons I gleaned from its pages:

  • Focus first on the most important tasks that can have the greatest positive impact. These are the “big rocks” that won’t fit in the jar of your life unless you put them in first, before you fill it up with smaller rocks and pebbles. A recent “big rock” for me was selling my condo. Not only did it increase my Reinvention Fund, but it gave me the financial freedom to pursue being a Peace Corps volunteer.
  • What are the smaller rocks and pebbles? Things that are far less important, or not really important at all. They may seem “urgent” at the time but don’t substitute the artificial high of an urgency or “busy-ness” fix keep you from the deep satisfaction of achieving a task or goal that truly matters. I nearly let a small rock (a previously scheduled home-service appointment) get in the way of a big rock (my first Peace Corps interview). Thanks to Covey, I knew the big rock had to go in first, so I called the small rock (i.e., the service provider) and rescheduled.
  • As you focus on a particular goal, be willing to suffer short-term imbalances in other areas of your life when your inner wisdom suggests that it’s necessary. For me, that means less time to work out and hang out with friends as I deal with moving and the Peace Corps process. I know I’ll rebalance soon and the temporary sacrifice is well worth it.

Finally, we have to be willing to revise our execution plans as things unfold, and let go of our attachment to a particular outcome. Case in point: When I was transitioning from law-firm practice to an in-house career, I set my sights on a particular job and was crushed when I didn’t get it. The employer? Lehman Brothers.

Like Katy Perry sings in “Firework”: “Maybe you’re reason why all the doors are closed, so you could open one that leads you to the perfect road.” If we follow our purpose and do the hard work to move down that perfect road, we will end up where we’re meant to go, even if the destination is different than we planned.

One thought on “Path to Purpose Part 3: Execution

  1. Pingback: Tough Love 3: You Can’t Change And Stay The Same | A Rainbow In The Clouds

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