It was 1991. I was sitting in the graduate student offices at the University of California, Santa Cruz and also sitting at a crossroads — I knew what I didn’t want to do … but not what I wanted to do. I watched my classmates speaking energetically about their late nights in the library and other typical research-student activities and felt that moment of disconnection, that I needed a new direction. If you are feeling that way as well, let me tell you a story and suggest a strategy to finding a new path.
I began a long process of self-reflection and insight that launched me on a career direction that I didn’t even know existed at the start. I was not looking for a tweak in my direction or advancement in a field — but a whole new Blue Ocean for me to explore. There are tons of books, sites, and tools that promise you results, and many are fine. I certainly made use of a couple of them. I found, however, that none of them worked for me until I was able to deconstruct who I was and what I liked and focused on putting those pieces back together in new ways. I had to move away from “jobs” I thought I would like to “tasks” that would be fulfilling.
" I was not looking for a tweak in my direction or advancement in a field — but a whole new Blue Ocean for me to explore. "
To create that collection, I created lists about what I liked about what I was studying (developmental psychology) and why I was drawn to it in the beginning:
● curious about people and how they think and learn
● like to know what happens “behind the scenes” — what makes it work
● drawn to intellectual challenges
● interested in the collaborative aspect of research
I added to the list from things I liked to do and why I liked to do them:
● the creativity of cooking
● the puzzle of a mystery book
● the achievement of solving puzzles and challenges
Being a list-geek, I also prioritized these things. For me, the challenge of problem-solving and helping people were core to my personal satisfaction. Unfortunately, those are not words that show up in most position descriptions, so another step was needed.
Then, I went looking for areas of work that incorporated these attributes. I looked in places like books of careers and things like that, but most helpful was talking to colleagues, friends, family and so on. Ultimately, I went in the direction of museum education which currently lands me in higher education and online course design. Along the way, I was able to apply the theories I learned at UCSC to creating exhibits, teaching small kids, and creating engaging online courses.
When written here it sounds simple and direct — but, for me, the process took a year and a lot of exploration and openness to new ideas and possibilities. That, if nothing else, is what I would like to share with you.