Book Learning, Career Paths

Thinking About Changing Careers? First, Figure Out Your Favorite Knowledge Areas

Shonda sez...
Shonda Rhimes, boob-tube titan.

One of my favorite TED Talks is this one, by Shonda Rhimes. In it, she introduces what she calls “the hum.” It’s a point in your career when you’re loving what you’re doing, on the broadest level. Maybe every detail isn’t perfect, but you don’t care, because your work is providing constant energy. It’s engaging, it’s exciting. It’s not easy (at all), but you wouldn’t have it any other way. Athletes or artists talk about “being in the zone,” and psychologists study “flow states,” but Shonda’s “hum” is bigger. An athlete or an artist might be in the zone for an hour or two, but a career hum can last for days, weeks, months, or years.

In the talk, Shonda shares how devastating it was for her when she lost her hum after years of success and increased responsibility. I’m no Shonda Rhimes. I was never responsible for every aspect of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of television programming shown in dozens of countries around the world. But I was responsible for every aspect of millions of dollars worth of educational programming taking place in 9 countries around the world, I loved every challenging moment of it, and I was humming. Then, very abruptly, there was turnover in the administration of the institution I worked for, and within weeks, it was like my hum was sealed up in an airtight room.

In the end, I resigned and started working my way through the book What Color Is Your Parachute, by Richard Bolles. It’s one of the best-selling career titles of all time—a massive book full of exercises and advice. Its premise, which seemed obvious, but takes months to implement, is that a job search needs to start with the person searching rather than with existing job listings. This will ring true to you if you’ve ever had a day when you thought, “I need to quit this job,” so you went on a job-listing site and couldn’t even begin to figure out which jobs you might zero in on. It can feel like bobbing for rotten apples, so what do you do? Close the browser. Resign yourself to sticking around for another year.

Having taken that option away from myself, I had no choice but to make progress. I was able to take one major step fairly easily: there’s a section of the book that addresses determining where you should live based on what you value in a city. I wrote a post about deciding to move to Los Angeles so that at least when I do look at job listings there aren’t thousands upon thousands scattered across the country, from beaches to deserts to wetlands to snow-capped peaks. That was only a small part of the work, though. I’d figured out that my next job would take place between desert and beach, but that was all I knew.

In order to narrow things down, there are seven areas of consideration that Bolles leads readers through:

1) What you know and what your favorite areas of knowledge are;
2) What kinds of people you most like working with and those you’d most like to help/serve in your work;
3) What you can do and your favorite functional transferable skills;
4) Working conditions – the environment in which you do your best work;
5) Preferred salary and level of responsibility;
6) Preferred geographical location/surroundings (check!);
7) Your goals or sense of mission and purpose in life.

This post focuses on the first in the list, favorite knowledge areas. Following Bolles’ advice, I considered every job I’ve had in my entire life, including volunteer positions, and made a list of every skill and area of knowledge that I’ve developed. Everything hit the piece of paper, from learning to organize and host literary readings as an intern when I was 20 years old to on-boarding staff at a large, complex organization when I was 36. I then went through the two hundred items that I ended up with and highlighted those that I enjoyed the most, finally producing the following short list that groups them into my favorite knowledge or skill areas:

  • Goal-setting and decision-making. I love looking at where myself and my team are at today and thinking about how we can develop, improve, and what we might achieve with some planning. I love actively shaping outcomes and helping others do the same.
  • Research, reading, note-taking, and writing based on research. I’m always researching something. Last year it was management techniques and data science. This blog is the outcome of this year’s career planning research. I have a couple of other research lines going at the moment as well. I love that we don’t have to make things up as we go along in life—no matter what I’m dealing with, others have dealt with it before, and they have information and ideas to offer.
  • Data can be beautiful.
    Data can be beautiful.

    Decision-making based on data. The era of data-availability that we live in is incredible. There are electronic touch-points to so much of what organizations and businesses do. As psychologists are known to grumble, “the plural of anecdote is not data.” I studied statistical computing, including learning the R language, so that I can take massive data sets and analyze them upside-down and sideways to identify trends, sticking points, and missed opportunities. Taking well-organized data into a meeting so that decisions can be made wisely is so. Much. Fun.

  • Various forms of creation…photography, poetry, drawing, graphic design. This spring, I added silicone mold-making and concrete casting to the list.
    Community-building. I’ve moved a number of times in my adult life, from Minneapolis to London to Estonia to San Diego to Hartford. It’s developed my ability to, and interest in, getting to know new people. Both in my work and personal lives, I enjoy getting to know people, connecting people with each other, and forming energetic groups around interests and goals.
  • Finance and budgeting. What can I say, I absolutely love budget projections, tracking transactions, and doing budget analysis. I even love doing my taxes.
  • Dog training. There is something magical about how they don’t seem to be getting it—sometimes for weeks they seem to be willfully ignoring every plea for them to change their idiotic little ways—and it seems completely hopeless, but I just keep at it anyway. And then, one day: BOOM. They’ve got it. Once they’ve got it, it sticks.

So that’s a start. I’ll address the other six knowledge areas in other posts. Hopefully in the end I’ll have a plan that helps me steer myself into a work situation that’s a great fit.

What About You?

What are your favorite skill sets and knowledge areas ever, going all the way back to high school?

Have you ever hummed? Are you humming now, and, if not, is there anything you can do about it?

Are you able to use your favorite skills and knowledge areas as often as you’d like? If not, can you do something to get them back into your life (even if that means taking up a hobby or a volunteer gig rather than changing your full time job)?

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About What-Nexting: In a nutshell, I resigned from my job in January 2016 without anything else lined up. Now I’m blogging about my process of trying to figure out what to do next…. More details can be found in this post.

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Living Boldly

How We Decided to Move to Los Angeles

“Change will lead to insight far more often than insight will lead to change.” – Milton Erickson

Palm Trees

As far as figuring out where to live goes, that quote turned out to contain great wisdom. Originally, my partner, Alex, and I figured I would do a national job search, after which we would go wherever I was able to find a great job. It seemed logical: with the whole country as the canvas for my search, surely I was going to be able to find a fantastic opportunity, and Alex is specialized and has mad skills, so he would be able to find work in pretty much any mid-to-large-sized city.

Over the course of my first week of unemployment, however, I was free to spend time imagining what our ideal future would look like. After doing so, and completing this online quiz that spits out city recommendations based on your answers to a zillion questions about lifestyle preferences, Alex and I sat down and had a conversation. We realized that our thinking had been backwards. Of course I need to figure out what I want to do, and then I need to find a great organization or business at which to do it, but, as far as quality of life goes, we should be in a place that has all of the elements necessary for us to be not just contented, but frequently delighted.

Los Angeles wins, because it has:

SoCal greyhound, living the life.

  • Affordable, high-quality fresh produce (and the weather that makes growing it in the region possible), as well as great (really, really great) ethnic food;
  • Dog parks and weather that would allow our favorite absurd, scrawny, bald breed of dog to enjoy being outside, whether its June or January;
  • So many great neighborhoods to choose from that we’ll surely be able to find an apartment, house, or tent that we love, even if it is smaller than we’re used to.


  • Alex, who loves hiking and laying on the beach, will be able to hike and lay on the beach.
  • I love art and theater, and I’ll have more art and theater options than I could possibly digest.
  • We’ll be surrounded by one of the greatest concentrations of creative intellectuals to be found anywhere on the planet.

I expect that the good mood that we will be in, having relocated, will help us land great jobs. When we walk in the door for an interview, we’ll carry with us the positive energy and confidence of people who took control of their lives, intentionally decided where to live, and made it happen.

Making this decision also focuses our job searches. I no longer have to to bounce around between listings in San Diego, New York, Boston, and Spokane. Alex also doesn’t have to wait until I figure out where I will be employed to start eye-balling job opportunities. It’s a tremendous relief to focus on one metro area, and it’s also exciting! I think that the day we land there, move into our apartment, and then go out for our first dinner in our new neighborhood will be one of the most joyful of our lives.

Of course, we reserve the right to change our minds and decide to move to Fargo, but for now we plan to move to LA this summer. In the meantime, I have a lot of work to do here in Connecticut!

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About What-Nexting: In a nutshell, I resigned from my job in January 2016 without anything else lined up. Now I’m blogging about my process of trying to figure out what to do next…. More details can be found in this post.

Career Paths, Inspiration, Living Boldly

What I’ve Learned from Abe Lincoln & Strippers Dressed Like Star Wars Characters

“If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.” -Stephen Covey

When your career ladder is leaning against the wrong wall…

When he was in his 20s, Abraham Lincoln worked as a boatman. And then a store clerk. After that, he spent time as a surveyor. Then he volunteered for the military. In between those pursuits, he was unemployed multiple times, including after he bought a general store, which subsequently went under. He then became a lawyer (without law school, by studying legal books on his own) and successfully pursued a license to practice in Illinois. Around the same time, he ran for state legislature, hoping that the steady salary would help him pay off debt related to his failed business and numerous stints of unemployment. The rest is history.

Lincoln Just Moved On

When a career path didn’t work out, Lincoln was willing to grab his ladder and move on quickly, even if it meant starting over in some other line of work. There’s wisdom in that. Because of it, by the time he was 30, he had a well-established political career. He found his way of changing the world, but only because he was willing to turn his back on things that didn’t work in order to find a new direction.

If something isn’t working in your life, move on. Don’t let fear cripple you, and don’t believe that there is nothing better out there. There are countless things you could be doing with your time. So many, in fact, that you wouldn’t be able to try them all in 100 lifetimes! Pick one out of the mass of possibilities, and go for it.

Lincoln Pivoted Fearlessly

Don’t be afraid to try something radically different from what you’ve been doing. Just because you’ve been a crewman on a boat for ten years doesn’t mean you can’t move on and start staging Star Wars-themed burlesque shows.

Last weekend, I was wandering around with my own ladder, looking for a new wall to prop it up against, when I came across a great job description. It was for the position of “THE CREATOR” at a lighting design company that manufactures and sells lamps and wall art. Everything about the job seems fun to me…choosing design elements, reviewing designs produced by engineers and suggesting aesthetic improvements, managing the production process and timeline to keep things on schedule. My interest seems a little out of left field, in the sense that I’ve been in higher education for years, and I’ve never done anything remotely like it before, professionally. But it falls well within my interests, if I consider what I love to do in my free time instead of what I’ve been doing for my career.

I designed and built this pendant lamp fixture to go above our dining room table. It solved the problem of our 20-foot ceilings making it very difficult to hang a ceiling light:



I sourced the wire, hardware, and shades from separate venders and then hard-wired the lamps myself. It was the only way to be able to pass the wire through the narrow pipe, which matches all those already running across the ceiling, but is cantilevered out from the loft railing.

I don’t know why it never really occurred to me that there are jobs doing these kinds of things out there…but of course there are. It suggests another area for informational interviewing. I hardly know how to begin becoming THE CREATOR, but, who knows, maybe I’m already on my way.

If anyone reading this happens to work in product design and/or manufacturing, or knows someone how does, let me know! I would love to hear all about it.

Join the Journey

Sign up to receive occasional What-Nexting update emails. I’ll only email the list when something especially insightful, entertaining, or interesting has been posted.

About What-Nexting: In a nutshell, I resigned from my job in January 2016 without anything else lined up. Now I’m blogging about my process of trying to figure out what to do next…. More details can be found in this post.

Career Paths, Inspiration

Nick Cave on Mortality, Small Ideas, and Taking Action

20000 Days On Earth
The following clip is from the Nick Cave documentary, 20,000 Days On Earth. I apologize for the crummy phone-recorded quality. If you like Nick Cave, or poignant and artsy documentaries in general, you should track it down. I thought it was worth it just for the two scenes in which he discusses what it was like to play a show with Nina Simone, but there’s so much more to it than that, as you can see here….

The message in a nutshell: all of our days are numbered. We cannot afford to be idle. If you have an idea, act on it, because its worth will only become apparent once you do.

I suppose it’s a typical mid-life quandary to realize that the days don’t stretch out endlessly ahead. It’s probably also only in mid-life that people begin to read the New York Times obituaries every week, as I do . I’ve noticed two things:

Plastic Screw-PlugsFirst of all, women and men who accomplish great things rarely do so before the age of 30, and most are 40, 50, 60, or older by the time their work takes flight. Certain fields tend to hold the exceptions (competitive athletics, the entertainment industry, and ballet, for example), but, for most of us, it usually takes somewhere between 1/2 and 2/3s of a lifetime to gain the knowledge and experience we need to make a serious difference in the world. Take Artur Fischer, for example. He invented those plastic screw-plugs that make it possible to mount things into drywall. He was 39 when he came up with that idea. “What Bill Gates was to the personal computer, Artur Fischer is to do-it-yourself home repair,” wrote Der Spiegal. By the time he died, Fischer held more patents than Thomas Edison. 14,000,000 of his wall plugs are still produced every year.

Secondly, time is short. Some people, like Fischer, live to be 96 years old. If I’m so fortunate, I have 60 years left to live. Even then, I’d want to spend those years wisely. But others, like journalist Michael Brick, who, based on his skills as a writer and varied interests as a journalist, might have written any number of fascinating books in his lifetime, died at the age of 41. That would give me only five more years. If I want to make a difference in the world (and I do!), I need to seek out energized, supportive work environments, where I’m surrounded by other people who want to change the world and have the capacity to do it. I’m not talking about achieving world peace or resolving the issue of global warming. Everyone can change the world in some way. Whether that happens to be globally, nationally, locally, or in their own home doesn’t matter so much. Of course, if the person with the potential to resolve global warming is working in a job that is going to stop them from moving forward with that goal, let’s hope they get the message that it’s time to move on.

Grand ambitions aside, the important thing is that people, at the end of their lives, feel that they’ve made a difference and at least come close to meeting their full potential. Certainly that’s what I want for myself and those that I love.

Let’s act on our small ideas, whatever they may be. If one man’s small idea made it possible for a generation to hang their velvet Elvises anywhere they wanted, studs be damned, than anything is possible.

Career Paths, Informational Interviews

Informational Interviewing: Three Seeds for the Garden

2016.02.07_Zoop-ZoopYesterday I hopped in my Mazda3, which has gigantic gouges and scratches on both sides, because I suck at parking (I’ve ruled out becoming a valet), and headed to Northampton, Massachusetts, where I had lunch with a mentor from grad school, Marilyn Chin. Marilyn is one of our most famous living poets, which, of course, means that most people who don’t read poetry have never heard of her. But she’s famous among those who do read poetry, because she writes things like this:

I plucked out three white pubic hairs and they turned into

                 flying monkeys

Her poetry is steeped in tradition and wisdom, but it’s contemporary as all hell. Overall, she would make a great character in a Quentin Tarantino film, and time spent with her is always entertaining. Our lunch wasn’t intended to be part of my journey to figure out what’s next in my career, but as I forked through my salad, pushing the greens aside to gobble up hunks of cheese, I explained to her that I’m going to be doing informational interviews this spring. I shared the types of people I’m hoping to talk to: people who work at foundations that fund in the arts, humanities, or international stuff…people who own beautiful properties and rent them out…people who run businesses selling co2 canisters…people who sell plants that look like human hair…. And she said, “I’m on the board at Yaddo,” and then agreed to put me in touch with someone there.

The Foundation

YaddoIf you don’t know who our country’s most famous living poets are, there’s a good chance that you also don’t know that Yaddo is a famous foundation and retreat center that a small number of writers have the privilege of spending a few weeks at once or twice in their lifetimes. You have to apply, spots are scarce, and the acceptance committee is discerning. Being accepted is about as easy as winning the Tour de France seven times without using performance-enhancing drugs. 71 Pulitzer prize winners have penned their work there. You will have heard of, and most likely read, a lot of them: Sylvia Plath, Langston Hughes, and Truman Capote, to name a few.

So I’m going to follow up with Marilyn, and sometime in the next couple of months, I hope to go and speak with someone who works for this national literary treasure.

The Store

After chatting with Marilyn about pubic monkeys, retreat centers, and software-developing boyfriends, I wandered through the town’s many wonderful shops. There’s one in particular, called Kestrel, that I first visited about two years ago. I was behind on my 2015 Christmas shopping, and I had this place in mind to pick something up for one of my best friends (who is not herself behind on her Christmas shopping, resulting in tremendous guilt on my part).

I walked into Kestrel, and, as I was admiring a display of strangely long, elegant and thin wooden spoons, I thought, “maybe I want to sell spoons.” I asked the woman behind the counter if she was the owner. Although I was fondling a pitch-black linen apron in a way that was probably a little alarming, she admitted that she was.

I explained that I loved her store so much that I had delayed getting a friend a Christmas gift until February, because I knew that I would find the perfect thing…just as soon as I got around to making the trip to Northampton. I explained about leaving my job and then nervously asked if I could buy her coffee some time and learn about the ins and outs of owning a store. After all, there’s something very noble about a small place that stands proudly against our national trend of propagating mountains of low-quality products that hardly last a month before breaking or starting to look so crappy that you want to replace them.

She agreed and gave me her business card. Soon I should be hearing about all the glories and pitfalls of shop ownership.

The Property

There’s one final career that’s currently under active consideration. In 2007, I spent January in Tepoztlán, Mexico, participating in a poetry workshop. One of the other poets, who I’ve stayed in touch with over the years, owns stunning property in Mexico that she leases out. Also, the father of a friend owns property (in fact, I live in an old factory building that he renovated beautifully to create both residential and retail space in a neighborhood that was, and is, very much in need of this sort of revitalization). I hope to speak with them and get a sense of whether land-lording is something that I might be interested in….

So the information-gathering has begun! It’s exciting, and I’m very grateful to these people who are offering to help me out along the way.

Coming Up Next…

Probably the post about small ideas that I said was coming up next last time. But I’m my own boss in all this, so we’ll see….

Inspiration, Living Boldly

Major Life Changes: On the Importance of Preparation

“If I had six hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first four hours sharpening the ax.”

–Abe Lincoln

I left my job without another one lined up for a number of reasons, but one of the most important was that I needed time to do some work to figure out what I want to do next. My job was extremely demanding, and it was also exciting and engaging. It simply wasn’t possible to work 60-70 hours each week and, at the same time, do the soul-searching and career exploration necessary to be wise and intentional about my next move. At the same time, I’m not the sort of person who can dial it down and give less than 100%, so staying and working fewer hours wasn’t an option. And so I’ve chosen to spend some time unemployed. I believe that if I use this time well, good things will come of it.

Speaking of using time well, last year I came across a fable that I’ve thought about a few times over the past month, as I made this decision. It’s a simple tale, but it’s relevant to many life situations.

The Magical Four-Leaf Clover

Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 9.28.27 AMA long time ago, a kingdom’s many knights were called together and told that, in exactly seven days, a magical four-leaf clover would grow in an enchanted forest nearby. Whoever found the clover would have endless good luck, but the forest spanned thousands of acres, and no one knew where it would grow. Most of the knights were discouraged by the size of the task and the unlikelihood of success. Believing it to be a fool’s errand, they refused to try—out of all the knights, only two decided to search for the magical clover.

Those two knights hopped on their horses immediately, traveled to the forest, and parted ways to search for a place where the clover would be likely to grow. On the first day, each happened across a gnome, who told them both the same thing: it was impossible for a four-leaf clover to grow anywhere in the forest, because the soilNo_Clover_No_How wouldn’t support it. The soil was so bad that no clover had ever grown in the forest. In the days that followed, they talked to other forest creatures, and all offered discouraging news. There wasn’t enough water. There wasn’t enough sunlight. There were too many stones in the earth. Everyone the knights came across told them that there was no chance that a four-leaf clover would grow in the forest.

One of the knights gave up and left the forest in anger, thinking that he had been lied to, and there would be no magical four-leaf clover. But the other knight listened to everything that the creatures of the forest told him, and he learned from it. He brought rich soil from outside the forest and made a garden. He dug a trough from a lake to provide water. He removed all of the stones from the area. He cleared dead branches from the trees overhead to provide light. The work took days, and at the end of each, the knight fell asleep quickly, tired from his labor, but satisfied with what he had accomplished. Finally, on the exact day that the knights been told the clover would appear, clover seeds fell throughout the forest. Billions of them landed in harsh, dry soil where they couldn’t possibly grow—but hundreds landed in the small garden that the knight had carefully prepared, and each of them sprouted a magical four-leaf clover. The knight later learned that the magical seeds regularly fell throughout the forest, and had forever, but they’d never taken root before, because no one had bothered to create a garden with the right conditions.

So that’s what I’m up to these days.I’ve decided to be a knight who takes action and goes looking for the clover (in this case, a work life that is a truly great fit with my skills, passions, and philosophies). I’m taking the time to pay attention to the soil, the light, and the water. I’m figuring out what my career needs in order to thrive.  

I’m also trying to recover from what appears to be tuberculosis or pneumonia. It seems that any time I go through a stressful patch in life, I get sick as soon as I have a chance to relax a bit. But hey, at least I don’t have to worry about calling in sick and falling behind at work!

If you like the fable, I strongly recommend the book that I found it in: Good Luck: Create the Conditions for Success in Life and Business, by Alex Rovira and Fernando Trias de Bes.

Coming Up Next…

It turns out that alterna-rock oddball Nick Cave has interesting thoughts concerning the power of small ideas.

Book Learning

Know Your Career Type: Are You a Pioneer, a Thinker, a Defender, or a Drifter?

“You are what you settle for.” -Janis Joplin

IMG_5380I’m on day two of my unemployment odyssey, having left my full time job with no idea what I’m going to do next. I have occasional waves of anxiety, but they pass. I think some of them aren’t even my response to being unemployed—they’re my body’s panicked reaction to a brain that hasn’t yet fully realized that I don’t have work email that I need to keep up with, and if a bunch of terrorists attack Paris again, I’m not going to get the emergency phone calls about it.

For a long time, resigning from my job without another one in place seemed inconceivable to me. Although I’ve left two jobs before, both times I did so because of a great opportunity (who wouldn’t want to move to Estonia for a year?? Or study poetry in San Diego for three years?? I’m in!). Certainly entering a period of unemployment wasn’t a financially comfortable option, but that wasn’t the reason that I didn’t resign sooner. My partner had been pointing out for more than six months that we could make it work if I needed to leave.

The book Risk/Reward: Why Intelligent Leaps and Daring Choices Are the Best Career Moves You Can Make was one of the major catalysts for change. On a Saturday afternoon, I happened across it, by chance, in the “new books” section at my public library. By the time I went to the office on Monday I had finished reading it, and it was dawning on me that I needed to quit my job…and soon. Risk/Reward helped me realize why I continued to stay, no matter how bad things became, and in spite of the fact that finances weren’t a major issue. The book also changed my perspective dramatically by informing me that approximately 1 out of every 10 Americans would consider STAYING inconceivable, were they to find themselves in the same situation I was in. Here I was, thinking that leaving was impossible, and it turns out the world is full of people who would have found  it impossible to stay!

So here’s the deal. According to Kreamer, most people fall into one of four categories when it comes to their career tendencies. We are either pioneers, thinkers, defenders, or drifters. We can have some traits of two or three of these types—and I certainly feel that I do myself—but everyone tends to have an “anchor” type that drives their decision-making. It was recognizing my own anchor type that lead me to understand exactly why I wasn’t leaving my job.


10% of people are pioneers. These are the people who would think that I would be crazy to even consider staying in a job situation that wasn’t working for me. They’re those “you only live once” people. They’re driven by gut instincts. Which isn’t entirely unwise, because apparently the research has been done, and gut instincts are scientifically valid!

Pioneers also understand that they need to thoroughly refresh themselves occasionally. According to Kreamer’s research, pioneers are the only people who are able to periodically do NOTHING AT ALL. Thinkers, defenders, and drifters all report that they have difficulty disconnecting and turning off.

One of the most important traits of pioneers is that of optimism. 90% of them say that if the worst happened, they figure they would still land on their feet in the end. This gives them the confidence to make bold choices.


40% of people are thinkers. This is the group into which most people fall, and it’s definitely my own anchor group. Thinkers are hard-working and reliable, and they like making major changes only if they have a carefully hedged “plan b” in place. They don’t share the pioneer’s blind faith that something better will come along.

Thinkers also have a lot of grit. Apparently that’s an official term, and there’s even a test so you can figure out how gritty you are: As it turns out, I’m extremely gritty. Grittier, in fact, than 85% of the people who have taken the test. That means that I like to stick things out and finish what I started, which is exactly why, in my mind, leaving a job abruptly seemed about as possible as changing a baby’s diaper on a moving roller-coaster.


36% of people are defenders. They like the status quo, whatever that happens to be. They tend to view work as a means to an end, not a calling. They just want to show up, do the job, and get paid. That’s simplifying it a bit—they also want things to be in careful order, so they make great accountants, middle-administrators, and clerical workers. Defenders are prone to believing that, because they’ve “invested” years in a job, it would be foolish to leave, and they also despise uncertainty. Even if presented with another job that seems objectively better, they are prone not to take it. After all, the devil you know…. At the same time, most defenders, unlike pioneers and thinkers, unhesitatingly report that they would quit their jobs immediately if they won the lottery.


14% of people are drifters. I’ve marveled my entire life at my friends who are drifters. I used to find their decision-making processes entirely opaque. Now, however, I’m starting to see the wisdom in their ways. Kreamer identifies two types of drifters: intentional and unintentional. Intentional drifters consciously choose a free-form, improvisational approach to their career. They often choose part time work over full time, and they tend to believe that the journey is the destination. They usually aren’t chasing specific career goals.

Unintentional drifters are those who end up in unsatisfying jobs because of circumstances that are difficult for them to control (socio-economics, for example).

…deep down in my thinker-soul, there was a pioneering intuition wielding a little bullhorn, trying to be heard

Reading about these career types, I felt like I was being awakened by a bank of stadium lights at close range: “One out of ten people would think I’m an idiot for sticking around another minute, and I think they’re right. I need to just leave!” It scared the hell out of me (it still does), but deep down in my thinker-soul, there was a pioneering intuition wielding a little bullhorn, trying to be heard. I did hear, in part thanks to the happy accident of coming across Kreamer’s book at just the right time

I believe that even a staunch defender should be able to occasionally, over the course of a lifetime, say, “you know what, in this situation, even though it’s going to be incredibly uncomfortable for me, I’m going to do what a pioneer would do.” It’s just a matter of remembering that what we believe to be the only logical response to a situation might be the exact opposite of what someone else believes to be the only logical response. Sometimes that other person’s response might be the one that would be best for us.

Of course, on the flip side, pioneers risk leaping too soon, too often. If you’re a pioneering type, you would do well to consider the thinker’s perspective before making major decisions. In any case, awareness of these biases is the first step toward correcting for them. I’m certainly glad that I made the decision that I did, and I’ve consciously chosen to adopt some of the pioneer’s confidence that somehow it’s all going to work out.

Coming Up Tomorrow…

A nice, instructive fable about two knights searching a forest for a magical four-leaf clover.


Living Boldly

“I QUIT!”: How I Left My Job with No Idea What’s Next

“You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the waterslide, overthinking it. You have to go down the chute.” – Tina Fey

For 4.5 years (until three days ago), I worked at a prestigious college on the east coast. From the outside, my position seemed perfect. I had a beautiful office in an old victorian house on one of those campuses that makes you feel like you’re in a movie (as if, at any moment, Robin Williams might lean out of one of one of the victorian-gothic windows and call you in for a rousing discussion of A Midsummer Night’s Dream). My co-workers were wonderful, dedicated people. I traveled to amazing places like Rome, Paris, Panama, London…. Then, exactly two weeks ago, I walked into a meeting with the deans of the college, and I told them I would be gone at the end of the month. It went a lot like this:

I don’t have another job lined up, and I have no idea what I’ll do next, but here’s the simple truth: my perfect-seeming job was eating away at my health, my integrity, and my relationships. I want my work life to be aligned with my ethics. I also want it to provide me with the support that I need to constantly learn and improve, to innovate and drive positive change, to build relationships and manage an energized team, and to use my data-geek skills to inform wise decision-making. I know it is possible to find A Great Job.

But in the meantime, here I am. I’m 36 years old, and I’m unemployed. I haven’t even applied for any jobs, because I’m not sure what I want to do. I’m not even sure where I want to live. It’s 6:00am, the apartment smells like coffee, the two dogs we’re fostering have been walked and fed and are burping contentedly on the sofa. I’m listening to an online radio station from Senegal, and here’s something that I do know: most of the people who listen to that station in Senegal wouldn’t consider what I’m going through as an unemployed person in the United States to be “hardship.” I hope I can keep that in mind as the days go by and I find myself unable to purchase all the whosits and whatsits that I happen to desire.

What in the world will I do next? I have the luxury of taking the spring to figure it out, for which I am incredibly grateful. I’m going to read books, set up informational interviews, and determine which skills and passions I must use in my work, if I’m to be happy doing it, and what type of organization or business is most suited to my interests. Where and how can I best make both a living and a difference? My hope is that the outcome of all this supports my theory that when you remove things that aren’t working from your life, space opens up to be filled with things that do work. The job that I just left behind took up a tremendous amount of space, so heaven knows there’s now plenty of room for goodness to pour into!

Yesterday’s Accomplishments and Insights

Stew for the unemployed.

  • I went to the gym for the first time in months. The manager was happy to see me again, because my credit card expired in October and he wanted the back-fees paid. I was happy to see him, because I badly needed to do some pull-ups and spend some time on the rowing machine.
  • I went shopping at a time when I would usually have been at my desk, trying to keep up with email, or processing bills (probably while thinking about all of the higher-level tasks that I couldn’t find time for). Then I made a delicious, healthy beef stew—the apartment was filled with the scent of it all afternoon. For hours and hours, life smelled like a childhood winter.
  • I reached out to a mentor who I haven’t talked to in years (she responded to my resignation announcement on Facebook to say she’s in the area this spring and we should get together).
  • I meditated. Only for 6 minutes and 30 seconds, but, hey, it’s better than nothing.
  • I started this blog…because I have a lot of what-nexting to do!

Coming up Tomorrow…

I’m going to share some insights from the book Risk/Reward: Why Intelligent Leaps and Daring Choices Are the Best Career Moves You Can Make, by Anne Kreamer. I came across it by chance at the public library back in December. It helped me put a few things in perspective, and it’s time to revisit it as I begin to figure out what’s next.