According to a recent study by The Conference Board, more than half of Americans are dissatisfied in their current careers. That is eight to ten hours of our day and the bulk of our energy dedicated to doing things that we neither love nor enjoy! Why, you ask? Simple -- we have given up on pursuing the joy we once dreamt of and settled for "Plan B."
"Plan A" was to be happy at work. Before we were steered by 401ks and benefit packages, we dreamt of growing up to do something we loved, something that felt good to us deep down in our souls. While, the exact title of that dream job may have changed from year to year, the feeling that we followed was always joy.
We planned for a life of happiness. Then, as often happens, we were exposed to feelings of "failure," and began to fear them. We internalized the criticisms of others and our self-confidence lessened. We believed the statistics that screamed "low success odds in this field" and we gave up. We convinced ourselves to be "more realistic." Others compelled us to be "more responsible." We got scared. Our priorities changed and before we knew it, we were chasing security instead of joy.
After all, that is how and why we developed "Plan B," isn't it? It was safer, more reasonable -- ordinary, with a greater likelihood of stability. It gave us a quicker sense of validation: consistent pay checks, nods of approval from family members, more predictable schedules. So we thought, "why not pour all of our attention, buy-in and investment into "Plan B" and just let "Plan A" become a distant memory; a childhood fantasy?" It seemed like a solid way to go, right? And so it went.
The problem is that if you are anything like me, you've come to discover that "Plan B" is not only less scary than Plan A, it is also far less satisfying. It does not compare to the fulfillment of loving what you do. Those feelings of purpose, drive and joyfulness are unparalleled; the exquisite excitement that lives within us when we actually live the joy we have always dreamt of living.
So, if you've tried "Plan B," and still long for the joy of living your dreams? Here are five steps to get you started working toward "Plan A" right away:
1. COMMIT -- Be steadfast and patient in your quest for joy. Throughout the process, you will be haunted by the ghosts of "Plan B" -- all of those voices that initially convinced you to give up on "Plan A." Learn to challenge any thoughts that are not helpful. Here are some counter-thoughts to start you off:
a. Thought -- I can't make a living doing this.
Challenge -- There is someone who has already succeeded in this; proving that it can be done. If he/she can, there is no substantial reason to believe that I cannot not.
b. Thought -- I don't deserve to be happy at this point. I have made too many mistakes.
Challenge -- I deserve every opportunity to be joyful in my day-to-day. My past is not an indication of my potential, but of my choices. I can always choose differently.
c. Thought -- I'm not good enough to succeed at this.
Challenge -- Not only am I good enough, I bring something to this that no one else can which makes me great in my own right.
2. RECONNECT -- Engage in those activities that you most enjoyed as a child. See what still speaks to you. If your childhood interests no longer bring you to that place of peace and excitement, find what does. Remember, Plan A is to choose joy. Ask yourself:
a. What inspires me?
b. When do I feel the most alive?
c. What do I find interesting?
Use these questions to help navigate you toward fields of interest. Then research relevant jobs.
3. EXPLORE -- Turn your interests into hobbies. This will give you an opportunity to feel them out more fully before pursuing them as full-fledged careers.
a. Take a class at a local college.
b. Volunteer at a place that specializes in these things (even if all you do at first is answer phones).
c. Attend a relevant conference and sit in on workshops.
4. BUILD -- Look for ways to gain knowledge, expertise and friends in the field.
a. Read books -- Try doing a web search for course syllabi in the field and read what students of the craft are reading.
b. Attend trainings -- Community organizations, colleges, and government agencies conduct trainings in everything from cognitive behavioral therapy to carpentry. Sign yourself up for one. Many even have certification possibilities that can help to professionalize you in the field.
c. Build relationships -- Find mentors and other professionals who can share some trade secrets over a cup of tea. You'll be surprised at how helpful people will be. Don't be afraid to reach out.
5. NEST 0- Many people believe they are too financially pressured to pursue their dreams. If this concern resonates with you, try a little nesting:
a. Reduce expenses -- Most of us, even those living "check to check," can reduce their expenses in some way: clipping coupons, packing lunch, building better boundaries around money with some of the people we support.
b. Start a savings plan dedicated specifically to this dream -- Even $1/day (the cost of a coffee or candy bar) will go a long way toward paying for a class, covering the cost of supplies or registering you for a conference.
Once you've gotten through the above five steps, you will be well on your way to pursuing "Plan A." Just remember not to lose the joy in what you are doing. After all, a life of joy should be your only plan.
Cheng, B., Kan, M., Levanon, G. & Ray, R. (2014). Job Satisfaction: 2014 Edition. New York, NY: The Conference Board.