Open your arms wide. As wide as they can go. Now imagine a thousand paths shooting out from your core in 180+ degrees. Where do they lead? What do they mean to you? How do you choose just one?
Five months ago, I stood with my arms wide open imagining all these paths as career opportunities. Entering the work world after five months on maternity leave, the possibilities for what to do next felt endless. Find a position in an organization that shares my values. Continue to work for myself. Go back to my old position. Change career focus altogether. Be a stay-at home mom (that lasted all of 2 seconds). And on and on. Being in a position to have dozens of options comes with huge freedom but also a lot of bewilderment and overwhelm.
Luckily a few tools and methods helped me break down these potential paths and uncover the route that I was most energized about and ready to take on.
3 Activities + 2 Hours
If you find yourself wondering, “What do I want to do with my life?”, here are 3 activities I used and found to be helpful in answering that daunting question. All it takes is 2 hours, which is the time spent watching 2 episodes of Game of Thrones (no spoiler alerts here) or 4 episodes of Veep. I recommend performing them in the following order, but you can switch up the order and do what feels right to you.
*Note: for all of these activities, I recommend finding a blank wall, glass doors, or whiteboard where you can stick post-its and draw big. Put away your devices (except for the timer portion) and connect through writing and drawing by hand.
Use this to evaluate your previous work and see what you’ve gotten out of it.
Time: 45 minutes (or more, depending on your body of work)
Supplies: sticky notes, markers or pens, blank wall/flipchart/whiteboard, project list, timer
- Set a timer for 45 minutes and push ‘start.’
- Begin by making a sticky note for each project you’ve ever worked on. Put these up on a wall in a row, column, or constellation pattern. This could be built work, articles, essays, graphic design work, websites, feasibility projects, etc. If you’re a student, these could be assignments, essays, studio projects, art projects, etc.
- Then determine 3-5 things you want to discover about each project. Start with your favorite projects first and use sticky notes to put your responses near the project. Some ideas are:
- What skills did you use?
- What was the project budget?
- Who did you work with?
- What did you learn?
- What did you create, i.e. report, building, presentation, etc.?
- What issues or topics did you focus on?
- What question or hypothesis were you looking to answer or test through this project?
- Once you have all the sticky notes up, take a step back and read through it.
- What are the patterns emerging?
- Is there anything that you want to do more of?
- Anything that’s catching your attention?
- Anything you’d like to move away from?
- Once you feel you’ve exhausted your review (or the timer has ended), take a photo of your board and then you can use your sticky notes for the following activities. Or you can begin organizing the post-its to use for a portfolio, personal website, or proposal.
4 Circle Diagram
Use this to evaluate the skills, issues, and topics that interest you most and how you relate to them in regards to career.
Time: 30 minutes
Supplies: sticky notes, markers or pens, blank wall/flipchart/whiteboard, timer
- Set the timer to 30 minutes and push ‘start.’
- Draw the diagram (above) onto flipchart paper, whiteboard, or some large surface (which can be removed when you finish!)
- Begin filling it in using the sticky notes from the previous exercise (project review) or fill it in with new sticky notes. I started with the 4 outside circles (great at it, love it, world needs it, paid for it), then moved relevant sticky notes into the overlapping areas (passion, mission, vocation, profession).
- You might also begin to put some sticky notes together or create new ideas for the overlapping areas, and potentially even the center.
- Once you feel you’ve exhausted your ideas (or the timer has ended), take a photo of your diagram and then you can use your sticky notes for the next activity.
Personal Business Model Canvas
Use this to look at people who you work with (or want to work with) and how your skills, interests, and income streams relate to one another. This will begin to paint a comprehensive picture of career opportunities.
Time: 45 minutes
Supplies: sticky notes, markers or pens, blank wall/whiteboard/large print of personal business model canvas (click here to download the PDF, available in 11 languages)
- Set the timer to 45 minutes and push ‘start.’
- Begin in the box you feel most comfortable (easy wins first!) I like to start with partners and customers, as this is the one area the previous two activities didn’t address.
- Use the canvas questions to prompt your responses. Write these on sticky notes and fill in every box. I use 2 different colored sticky notes when doing this activity – one color for past and current responses and one for future and “like to.” This will help to determine where you are now and where you’d like to go.
- Once you’ve filled out all the boxes, you can then prioritize which ones you’d like to focus on and where you might have some gaps or need to look further.
- After you’ve exhausted your ideas (or the timer has ended), take a photo of your business model to keep on hand.
By the end of these 3 exercises, I hope you have found clarity in your work and discovered ideas on what you’d like to do next. If you’ve done one of these exercises, I’d love to hear one insight you gained by commenting in the box below and clicking “post comment.” And, if you have an extra minute, where did you struggle? Or what made you stop?
Image sources: Katie Crepeau, Gabriel Toro/Flickr, LinkedIn, MethodKit.com