Theme 1: Personal Audit

Assess your skills, strengths & experiences.

“Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished.”

Dan Gilbert

Why is this theme important?

No two escapes are the same. There is no silver bullet to finding fulfilling work, but there are clues to help you get there. The clues to your future are in your past.

Core Ideas

Understand the ingredients of fulfilling work.

There are tons of books dissecting the ingredients that make work fulfilling (we’ve read them all!) and each seems to deliver different cuts of similar themes. Here are a few:

In ‘Happiness By Design’, Peter Dolan says that it’s striking an equal balance on the pendulum of pleasure and purpose that gives people fulfillment and long-term happiness.

In ‘Drive’, Dan Pink says that being fulfilled at work requires us to have autonomy, mastery & purpose in our day-to-day.

In ‘How to Find Fulfilling Work’, Roman Krznaric says that it’s our overfixation on the money that gets us into this mess and stresses instead the importance of pursuing a Vocation – which Aristotle sums up to mean “where the needs of the world and your talents cross.”

In The Purpose Economy, Aaron Hurst takes it one step further, and says that true fulfilling work comes from doing good (having positive impact) while also doing well (personal growth, advancement and reward).

Mythologist Joseph Campbell suggests that maybe it’s a deeper problem in which the main symptom is that we’re failing to strive for our own unique potential. Maybe we feel a certain void in our work because we’re constantly trying to follow someone else’s path rather than seek out our own: “Where there is a way or path, it is someone else’s path. You are not on your own path. If you follow someone else’s way, you are not going to realise your potential.”

What seems to be a glaring similarity here is not what each book says constitutes fulfilling work, but what they do not say; we won’t find it by focusing on the money and aiming towards merely “making a living.”

“I think the person who takes a job in order to live – that is to say, for the money – has turned himself into a slave.” Joseph Campbell

We may have found our very first job simply because we were trying to find a job. Merely aiming at “finding a job” is what got us into this mess, but it will not get us out of it.

Understanding the ingredients of fulfilling work that are missing from your life – be it purpose, pleasure, autonomy, overall well-being – and being honest about the unhelpful ingredients you’ve stressed to-date in your career are good first steps towards diagnosing the problem and setting your course.

Search your past for clues to your future.

Even if you know that you lack purpose or mastery in your current work, a flood of new questions appear: what does purposeful work even look like? How do you go about finding your vocation? Where do you start and where do you go from here?

Trying to figure out what to do next can be so paralysing that we never start. Yet start we must. One key is to search your past for clues. Take stock of your past and current work and ask yourself:

  • What aspects about it did you like?
  • What aspects about it did you dislike?
  • In which situations did you feel strong and “in the zone”?
  • What would your friends, family and colleagues say are your ‘superpowers’?
  • In which situations do people come to you for help or advice?
  • You can take it one step further. Email 5 friends or colleagues and ask them: “What do you think are my unique strengths or ‘superpowers’?”

Gaining a better understanding your likes, dislikes, strengths and superpowers will help you form the beginnings of your Escape compass. This information alone isn’t going to lead you to an answer, but it is going to direct you towards the next actions you should take. Your past holds a treasure trove of clues that can help you make smart choices going forward.

Figure out what career problem you are solving.

Not all career changes are the same and no two “escapes” are identical.

Some people are actually in the right industry or role for them, it’s just the situational aspects of their job that need to change: the commute, the psychopathic boss, the “vampires” on your team who suck the life and fun out of you, or the toxic work environment. Whereas other people need a more fundamental change: the actual industry, role, day-to-day tasks, and a company culture that is not (and will never be) a fit.

Getting clear on what you need or want to change is an important part of your career change journey. Understanding your likes and dislikes, joys and frustrations from your current or past environment will inform your future decisions and the type of little or large changes you’ll need to make.

Don’t follow your passion.

It’s common to hear motivational talks urging you to ‘follow your passion.’ But we have a problem with this; not in theory, but in practice. It’s largely unhelpful and not instructive at all. How do you go about ‘following’ your passion? What if you don’t know what it is? Where do you find it? Where does it live? Are we stupid if we haven’t already found it?

The phrase paints the inaccurate picture that ‘your passion’ is a thing to be found at the end of some rainbow or a phenomenon that hits us upside the head in a lightning bolt strike moment.

The truth is that most people who ‘found their passion’ became passionate about their work. Yes, they were doing things they enjoyed and reached a certain level of fulfillment as they began their career – but as Cal Newport says in ‘So Good They Can’t Ignore You’, they cultivated their passion by doing the hard work necessary to get there:

“Here’s the key: there is no special passion waiting for you to discover. Passion is something that is cultivated. It can be cultivated in many, many different fields. Therefore, it doesn’t make sense to say, ‘I don’t know what my passion is.’ What does make sense is to say, ‘I haven’t yet cultivated a passion, I should really focus down on a small number of things and start this process.’”

If you’re unclear on your passions (or have convinced yourself that you have none), let this experience be the start of that process.

Focusing on a small number of projects, experiments and actions is something we’ll quickly move onto as we progress into later themes (specifically with Theme #7 – Experimentation & Projects). And what if you don’t know where to start? We’ll touch on some of this in Theme #3 – Values & Direction.

Be honest about the cost of your current path.

It’s normal to worry that if you change course in your career, you’ll sacrifice much of what you’ve spent so much time, energy and money building up. It may feel ‘ungrateful’ or ‘foolish’ to turn your back on these things, especially when you think about what your friends, family and colleagues around you will say.

It’s easy to listen to those voices. They sound rational. But the reality is that there are always sacrifices made on the road toward more fulfilling work. Most escapes we’ve witnessed involve taking some sort of step that feels and looks ‘backwards’. Many of us at Escape left well-paid corporate jobs in consulting, finance, market research and other fields to take a pay cut in order to start and build this business in our pursuit of more fulfilling work.

You must sometimes risk a backward step in favour of the possibility of moving forward in a direction and on a path that’s right for you.

Here’s another thought: what’s the cost of not changing? And what have you sacrificed so far on the path you are on? Instead of being concerned about the short-term cost over the next one, two, or three years if you make a big change — what about the next ten, twenty, or thirty years if you do not?

Every path has a cost. The cost to change appears high. But the cost of not changing may be higher.

Remind yourself: change is not easy.

It is scary to step out of your comfort zone. When you feel this discomfort, remind yourself that you have already undertaken significant life or career changes in the past. Take comfort in knowing that while it may feel new and daunting, in many ways, you’ve been here before. As we grow and expand, so do our challenges in their magnitude.

Be it leaving home, getting your first job, getting your second job, moving country, ending a relationship – you know what stepping into the unknown looks like. You know that, come good or bad, you are able to cope with change. After all, change is the only thing we’ve ever known.

“Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished. The person you are right now is as transient, as fleeting and as temporary as all the people you’ve ever been. The one constant in our life is change.” Dan Gilbert

Your Objectives
  • Identify the problem or problems you are trying to solve by making a career change.
  • Assess your life & career so far to extract information to guide you going forwards.
  • Get clear on the unique building blocks of what you have to offer to the world.
  • Map the different roles you currently play in your life (and the roles you want to play).

Useful Resources

Concepts, Tools and Frameworks

Books

  • Working Identity by Herminia Ibarra. A really good book for understanding the career change process – what works and what doesn’t – as well as great stuff on what career change does to your identity and how to act your way to clarity rather than analyse your way forwards.

Articles, Videos & Podcasts

  • Coming soon…
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