Barbara Sher’s book, I Could Do Anything, If I Only Knew What it Was, is a great read. Sher takes the time to she reveals how to “recapture long lost goals, overcome the blocks that inhibit your success, decide what you want to be, and live your dreams.” Sher has a formula for deciding what you really want to do (which may or may not be related to what you’re doing now.) Then she helps you plan steps to get there.
She writes that most people have a hard time pursuing meaningful and fascinating work because they are afraid to finally and fully commit to a career change. She says that your inability to commit often means that luck passes you by; you’re not able to recognize opportunities when you see them. “The amount of good luck that comes your way depends on your willingness to act.”
Sher is a firm believer in what she calls “acting as if;” it’s her version of “fake it until you make it.” Act as if you already have the skills to do the new job; act as if you are sure you’ll succeed. Taking action builds confidence as nothing else can, she says.
Sher’s formula for deciding on your perfect job delighted me because it’s a version of the method I’ve used for years to make decisions when I don’t really know what I prefer. I put my options on pieces of paper and draw one from a hat. When I open the paper and read my choice, I listen carefully to my gut – my intuition. My very first reaction will tell me whether I’m delighted or disappointed. If I’m delighted, I go with that option. If I’m disappointed, I choose the other. You’d be surprised how well the system works; sometimes your intuition has been working on the issue much harder – and to more effect – than your rational brain.
Sher’s method for deciding on your dream job is as follows:
- Describe your Job from Heaven. What would you be doing? What’s your schedule? Where do you work? How do you make money?
- Part two: Describe your Job from Hell. Sher says that most people, even if they have trouble describing their Job from Heaven, can describe what they don’t want in great and specific detail. Somehow, it’s just easier for most of us. Sher says that there’s a purpose behind this exercise, which often results in a kind of perverse glee as you describe the most awful tasks imaginable. “Now that you have described Hell, the side of you that is stubbornly refusing to cooperate with ‘pie in the sky’ [ideas]…will be able to relax and use your energies elsewhere.”
- If you couldn’t produce a dream job, but were able to produce a nightmare job in detail, Sher says that all you need to do now is to flip your ideas. Take every nightmare scenario you wrote and write the opposite. “I work alone in a dark, gloomy office in a bad neighborhood” becomes “I work with a team in a nice modern office in the best part of the city.” You get the idea.
- Now comes the hard part. Sher’s next step is to totally and firmly commit to that dream job as you described it. You must promise that you will do whatever it takes to get that job – for an hour.
How did reading that last sentence feel? Terrifying? Exhilarating? Part of what you’re feeling is what tells you if you’re on the right track (like my options exercise above.) Sher wants you to commit to making some calls, doing some research and really exploring your dream job for an hour.
The last step, Sher says, is to record all the resistance you felt while you researched for an hour. The entire exercise is designed to get your resistance out into the open. It’s been there all along, but now you can deal with the real reasons you don’t pursue your dream job. And that, she says, is the true start of doing what you’ve always wanted to do.