Path to Purpose Part 2: Exploration

Now that T.D. Jakes has provided inspiration, it’s time to do some exploration to find our passion and purpose and begin moving toward it. Pursuing life’s purpose may require reinventing ourselves – either a little or a lot – which can be done at any age and any stage of our careers. I’m doing it on the cusp of 50, more than 20 years into my career as a lawyer. That’s not to say it’s easy. Nothing worthwhile is. The key is to invest the time and energy necessary to develop a good reinvention plan. Pamela Mitchell can help.

In The Ten Laws of Career Reinvention, Mitchell provides strategies for exploring and navigating the full arc of career change between different fields. Mitchell developed her expertise in career reinvention through the school of hard knocks. She started working on Wall Street but quit when she realized she was bored to tears:

“The white shirts were blinding me, the cigar smoke was choking me, and the conversation was boring me. Enough with basis points. I wanted to talk about something else for a change.

(Could’ve written those sentences myself!) Mitchell transitioned to a successful, 15-year career in the entertainment industry before giving that up to become a life coach and launch The Reinvention Institute.

The Ten Laws of Career Reinvention “is about using vision and creative thinking to repurpose your skills and find new outlets for your abilities without having to depend on the job listings du jour.” The book is divided into ten lessons, with in-depth profiles of people who reinvented themselves in a new career, together with concrete advice and exercises to put each law into action. Here are three laws from Mitchell’s book that are part of the exploration stage.

Law 1: It Starts With A Vision For Your Life

Mitchell explains that you need a clear image of your desired life first, and you can then calculate backward to design career options that will deliver that life:

“Career reinvention starts with a vision for your life because careers and jobs are delivery devices for the kind of life you hope to lead. They are a conduit for becoming the kind of person you want to be, experiencing the things you want to experience, having the things you want to have. Happiness in your career is directly tied to how much your work brings richness to your world. In order to be truly happy, your career must serve your life, and not vice versa.”

I like how Stephen Covey describes the power of vision in his book, First Things First:

“Vision is the best manifestation of creative imagination and the primary motivation of human action. It’s the ability to see beyond our present reality, to create, to invent what does not yet exist, to become what we not yet are. It gives us the capacity to live out of our imagination instead of our memory.”

Creating a vision for your life is a critical step on the path to purpose. A fun online tool for creating your vision is Pinterest, a website that lets you create multiple virtual mood boards and “pin” images to them from across the Web. My vision took shape on a large white poster board from Target (after a particularly bad encounter with “Dragon Lady” at work). On side one, I wrote the elements of the kind of life I wanted to lead. On side two, I wrote action steps to take in the coming months to move toward that life. It sounds simple, but its effects have been profound. On my worst days, I tap into the vision I created and it pulls me forward.

Mitchell provides exercises to brainstorm career ideas and get your creative juices flowing, such as focusing on “flow” activities (things that make you lose track of time), “inexhaustible interests” (things that spark an unending sense of curiosity), and tasks you gravitate toward in your current career. She also emphasizes the importance of allowing yourself to change and go after your passion and purpose, giving yourself “a permission slip to pursue a different and bigger life.”

Law 3: Progress Begins When You Stop Making Excuses

People generate an endless stream of excuses to avoid the effort and risk of pursuing their life’s purpose:

“It’s simple, really. Excuses are a manifestation of fear. There are few guarantees in your reinvention journey, but this I promise you: You will come face-to-face on a regular basis with fear. …. Fear is a healthy sign that you are venturing beyond your comfort zone, which you must do repeatedly if you want to move closer to your goal.”

“Many people never muster the courage to begin a career reinvention, so deep is their terror. They continually reach for the bottle of excuses to dull the pain of their fear. But until you master this Law and break yourself of the excuse habit, progress will be intermittent, and lasting change will be elusive. The moment you move past your fear and give up your excuses, you leave the shadows of your life and swim into an ocean of opportunity.”

Mitchell supplies strategies and exercises to help us release our excuses, to feel the fear and pursue our reinvention anyway. The “excuses” I had to release center around the false belief that I should focus on provision (i.e., money) rather than purpose. It’s taken me a few years to realize that an expensive home and closets full of purses and shoes don’t mean much without a purpose-driven life..

Law 4: What You Seek Is On The Road Less Traveled

Once you’ve created your life’s vision, faced your fears and stopped making excuses, you’re ready to choose which paths to explore. As Mitchell emphasizes, it’s critical to think outside of the box and try something new, your own road less traveled:

“The old thinking was that the well-traveled path had to be ‘right’ and the alternatives were necessarily riskier. This no longer holds true. In practice, what you’ll usually find on the road less traveled is simply more opportunity. The less obvious path – in addition to possibly being a better fit – forces you to think outside the box and therefore generate new ideas.”

“Force yourself to look at and think about other careers that are far outside the ‘safe’ confines of your current box. Imagine what you might do elsewhere, in other environments or scenarios, just for the fun of it. If you’re in finance, visualize yourself running a wellness center; if you’re a lawyer, imagine yourself as a chef. The point of this mental exercise is to force you to look at connections in a new way, stimulating your creativity.”

Mitchell offers suggestions for identifying and exploring unobvious career options, and for guarding against voices (inside your own head or from friends and family) that want you to stay inside the box where they’re comfortable seeing you. For me, journaling has been another way to contemplate unique career options and to deal with the voices that whisper, “Stay in the box. It’s safe in there.” The more time we spend beyond our usual boundaries, the more new opportunities will open up to us.

Exploring Entrepreneurship

If your passion and purpose might involve having your own business, your exploration should also include The Entrepreneur Equation, by Carol Roth. This book lives up to its promises to help readers:

  • Understand what’s truly involved in running a business.
  • Define what a business is (as well as a “jobbie” and “job-business”) and the risks and benefits of each.
  • Evaluate your motivations behind your drive to start a business.
  • Assess if now is the right time to think about starting a business based on your finances, experience, obligations and other circumstances.
  • Gauge if your personality is well-suited for business ownership.
  • Measure potential risks and rewards of particular business opportunities and entrepreneurship in general.
  • Decide, based on these factors, if you should move forward with entrepreneurship or pursue a different possibility.

The Entrepreneur Equation and The Ten Laws of Career Reinvention have proven to be invaluable tools in the exploration phase of my career reinvention, and I hope they can serve that role for you as well. In Part 3 of Path to Purpose, we’ll move forward from inspiration and exploration to the execution stage of living life on purpose.

Start Something That Matters

I stumbled across Blake Mycoskie’s book, Start Something That Matters, in a profile about him in the Sunday New York Times. Mycoskie is the founder of TOMS shoes, a company that gives a pair of shoes to a person in need for every pair of shoes that it sells. More recently, he started TOMS sunglasses, which give a pair of glasses or an eye medical treatment or surgery to someone in need for every pair that it sells. Start Something That Matters tells the story of TOMS and other businesses that operate on a “one for one” model.

Reading about companies that have adopted this new approach is a breath of fresh air. The old-school corporate mindset of “greed is good” is no longer cutting it for many of us. As Mycoskie explains:

“People are hungry for success—that’s nothing new. What’s changed is the definition of that success. Increasingly, the quest for success is not the same as the quest for status and money. The definition has broadened to include contributing something to the world and living and working on one’s own terms.”

My Experience

Start Something That Matters contains lots of tips for anyone who may want to start a “one for one” business of their own. For those of us who aren’t entrepreneurs, the book provides inspiration and practical advice about giving back to the world and finding your true self in the process. One thing that particularly struck a chord with me is Mycoskie’s story about moving from a loft apartment to a 200-square-foot sailboat. The much smaller living space required Mycoskie to give away most of his belongings, and he now advises people to “own as little as you can get away with”:

“Seriously—how much do you need? The fact is, the more you have, the more effort and money you have to spend taking care of it, which distracts you from enjoying it. People tend to buy lots of luxury goods, thinking it will give them a better lifestyle, but what they really create is a drain for their time and energy as well as their savings.”

As someone with much more stuff than I really need, I had an “Aha!” moment when I read this part of Mycoskie’s story. It inspired me to go through my things and donate a good amount to charity. (More on that in next week’s post….)

Your Turn

Regardless of your circumstances, you’ll find some nuggets of wisdom in Start Something That Matters:

“Even if you’re not going to start a company that matters, you can still start something small that can be built into something that matters in a very big way. Whoever you are and whatever you do, giving is important. Start now. Start by helping other people—anyone you can. Do something simple. You don’t have to start a business or big initiative right away—you can begin just by changing your mindset. Commit to seeing the world though the lens of how you can initiate meaningful change.”

You can download Start Something That Matters on your Kindle or Ipad, or get a “regular” copy of the book. For every copy sold, a new book is provided to a child in need. To learn more about Start Something That Matters and Mycoskie, click here.