The office can be an overwhelming and tricky landscape. To help you navigate the often uncertain terrain of work-life, we’ve tapped a panel of experts to answer your trickiest questions. In this new weekly series, we'll find answers to any dilemma you throw at us—from how to get people to notice your fledgling business to the best way to handle a difficult boss or ethical grey area and anything in between.
Our first reader question is from R. Ale of San Francisco, and is answered by a psychologist and a leadership coach:
When I started out my career, I was incredibly passionate and had a burning desire to succeed. But as I’ve entered into my 30s, I’ve accomplished all the goals I set out to do and am having a hard time finding that desire and passion for the things I want to do next.
How do I map out the next chapter of my life and maintain the drive to keep going onto the next stages of my career?
First off, congratulations on your success! Your initial dedication and perseverance have paid off.
Given the way you described your situation, though, I’m not surprised that you are feeling unmotivated now. Psychologists have found that the more satisfied a person is with what they have achieved, the less motivated they are to advance, and vice versa.
If you want to advance but need a jumpstart of motivation, start thinking about what you haven’t accomplished yet.
To help you explore your options, I recommend the technique of looking back to look forward.
Studies on regret show that, when people in their 70s and 80s look back on their life, they often regret things they didn’t do (like never learning to salsa dance or playing a musical instrument) rather than mistakes they made or ventures that failed. You can use a little mental time travel to think about what you might regret.
This perspective often helps bring to light other dreams that you can pursue as you move forward.
Once you set your sights on a new goal, it is time to generate a specific plan to get there. A common thing that holds people back from really committing to make a significant career contribution is that the path isn’t clear because their career goals phrased abstractly. In order to get there you need to take specific actions.
Abstract goals can’t engage your brain’s motivational system directly, so you may feel unmotivated by them.
Instead, you need to focus on actions that you can take on a daily and weekly basis that will move you forward in your goal.
Finally, as you enter your 30s, you have hit a great age for picking up some new skills. If you want to completely change your perspective on work, or start an entirely new career, consider a master’s degree.
Even if you don’t want to go to graduate school, consider what other skills you want to build. I recently read an article about parkour enthusiasts. These individuals have learned to navigate urban environments by leaping over obstacles and climbing walls. The people interviewed talked about how their growing skills helped them to see handholds and footholds that were invisible to them before. Similarly, the expertise by expanding your skillset will help you to see opportunities that lie dormant in your world.
Congratulations, you should be really proud!
Finding the next step is not an easy one, especially if you had an incredible passion and now you have to cultivate it all over again. The first step is letting go of your expectations and trusting what you may uncover in the next phase of your journey.
The road to connecting with your passion and desire begins with going inward—slowing down, tuning in, and spending time with yourself.
It means you literally have to shut off your mind so you can hear your heart speak and find the things that bring you meaning.
Here are some starting places as you plan your next move:
The mind keeps us going in circles, saying the same thing over and over again. We need new feelings to get us to the next adventure in our lives. When we make time to tune in we can pay attention to any and all feelings.
To help you tune in, reflect on these questions:
- What gives me great energy?
- What makes me happy?
- What do I love most about myself?
Watch your surroundings and the people in your life. Look for clues in everything you do and every place you go. A song on the radio, conversation with a friend—anything may give you an indication of those things that will lead you to your passions. Life is always giving us clues, but we don’t always make the time to notice them.
As you observe your surroundings, ask yourself these questions:
- Do I make the time for new things, adventures, and people?
- Am I doing all I can with myself to move forward?
- Where can I go that I have not gone yet?
Your process will be unique to you. You are different and distinct from everyone else. Reflecting on what makes you special, through your own perspective or that of a friend, a coach, or mentor, will help you with the next adventure in your life.
These questions can help you determine what makes you different:
- What talents do I have?
- What do people come to me for advice about?
- What are my strong points?
Read about the career paths of people you admire for inspiration on how they did it. There is also a wealth of courses and coaches to help you find your inspiration and tackle any confusion you might have—which is the most detrimental feeling of all.
Seek inspiration by asking yourself:
- What did I do today that inspired me?
- What book have I read lately that sparked me?
- Who is out there doing work I admire?
Once you’ve done your homework, it’s time to start doing something that interests you. When you don’t know what to do for sure, try something that you think might be on the right track.
Take a risk and step out to try something new. By challenging your fear with action, you'll not only raise your self-esteem, you'll expand your comfort zone. If you're not sure of what to do, do something. Enlist a friend, take a chance.
Remember that life happens when you’re in action. By trying something new even if you're not sure of the outcome, you may discover a passionate interest by accident.
It’s all a process of discovery, about yourself and what you want. It’s not simple. It’s all trial and error.
We’ve been taught that we should have it all figured out, but that’s unfair. It is natural to feel frustrated. Committing to the next step can be quite daunting, but taking small steps each day inward can help you take giant steps outward.
If you have a dilemma you’d like our panel of experts to answer, send your questions to AskFC@fastcompany.com or Tweet us a question using #AskFC.
[Image: Flickr user Michael Pollak]