Friday, April 11th, 2014
Have you ever asked yourself, ‘What am I going to do with my life?’ Oh, good. Then we all have something in common. This new book, by a brilliant author, helps you answer this question. Finally. For real.
The book is called Springboard: Launching Your Personal Search for Success. The author, G. Richard Shell, turns your world upside down to help you answer your questions and find meaning and purpose in whatever it is you are doing–or want to do. The paperback will be released this month.
First and foremost: You’re not too old to make your dreams come true right now. Shell spent his 20s unemployed and didn’t start his career until age 37. Today, he is a professor at Wharton, consultant to the Navy SEALS and creator of the Success Course.
You’ve got to read his great book and the Q&A with him below. He will tell you how to see success differently: He says, “The people who are able to unplug from professional life, spend time with the people they love, and gather new, inspiring ideas about what to do next with their lives, may be every bit as “successful” as those who stay on the “track” of an advancing career without asking themselves what they are really accomplishing.
He also gives tips on how to get started on a new path if that’s the direction you want to go. His advice applies to SAHMs just as much as high-profile lawyers. Read my Q&A with him below:
KK: Why do women tend to question themselves and what they’ll do with their lives right after they have kids?
RS: Of course, let’s first note that not all women feel this way. Many are absorbed with raising their children and have no regrets whatever that they have made the choice to focus on the family aspect of social life. But most of us take our perceptions of what it means to be “successful” from our surrounding culture and, for better or worse, our society does not publicly celebrate being a “mom” as much as it does being a celebrity, high-status professional or high-tech entrepreneur. When a woman who has been socialized to aspire to status-based success finds herself spending all her time changing diapers and going to the playground with her kids, she may naturally question if she is on the right path. She loves her children and is ready to sacrifice for them – but it feels like a “sacrifice” exactly because she is thinking about all the other women who appear to be racing ahead on the “fast track” to professional success while she is not. It is much harder for her to imagine the feelings of regret and frustration that high-status professional women sometimes feel about either not having a family at all – or allowing hired help to do the heavy lifting of caring for their kids day-to-day. You need to remember that, from the outside, most people look like they have life all figured out when, from the inside, they actually have significant doubts, bad days and feelings of inadequacy.
KK: How do we get back on track or on a new track of being successful after a break from office life?
RS: Just the way this question is asked contains an assumption I would like to challenge. The people who are able to unplug from professional life, spend time with the people they love, and gather new, inspiring ideas about what to do next with their lives, may be every bit as “successful” as those who stay on the “track” of an advancing career without asking themselves what they are really accomplishing. When people really sit down to think about what a successful life actually consists of, they often conclude that it feature three things: good health, meaningful work and love. If a break from the office routine can help you make progress toward one of more of those three targets, it is time well spent!
Assuming you are going back to work you find interesting and challenging, however, you may need to give yourself some time to make the transition back to the pace of an office job. That is really about energy – so you should be sure to get exercise, sleep and “down time” whenever possible so your battery does not run too low too fast in the first few months of a transition to the office routine. Also, it is very important to seek out some assignments that spark your imagination so you get your motivation locked in. Finally, you’ll need to make time engage with the people around you – not just the tasks. The better your social support system, the more likely you will be able to bounce back quickly when you have the inevitable setbacks and frustrations that come with office politics, people who do not deliver what they promised, and the biases that always seem to creep out to bite you just when you get your confidence back.
KK: How can moms figure out what they want to do?
RS: Moms are no different from anyone else when it comes to figuring out what they should do next. Think of people coming back to the civilian workforce from being in the military or someone who has just had a serious illness or accident that makes it necessary for them to change direction in life. They may face major transitions that feel as daunting as climbing Mt. Everest. But everyone who is urgently asking “What’s next for me?” needs to follow a very similar path in terms of their planning process. In many ways, these are just the people I wrote Springboard for – and the books lays out step-by-step guidance for thinking this question through.
You need to start by surveying your genuine capabilities – what do you do better than most people around you? Can you write, cook, engage with children or young people or organize social events? There are substantial careers in each of these areas of competence (indeed in every single area of competence you can imagine) – from helping people write their resumes to starting your own wedding or event planning service. Target work that uses your talents – at a realistic level for someone just starting out.
Next, you need to think back and re-connect with your sources of self confidence. Go talk to people who believe in you. Think back to times when you have overcome obstacles and lived to fight another day. With your confidence renewed, set up interviews with people who are successful doing whatever you think might be fun or exciting to do yourself. People are often very, very generous in helping others think about how to get started in their professional area. Maybe you’ll need to go to school or get specialized training. Maybe you’ll need to apprentice to a skilled person for a time. The most important thing is to start doing things related to the area you are targeting. Once you are in motion, good things happen. You meet people who know other people. You gain experience. You can get a “lucky” break.
Basically, after that, it is a question of trial-and-error. You need to learn from what happens, adjust, and keep moving… Be humble. Be willing to learn. But be persistent.
KK: It’s fascinating that you started your career at 37. What advice do you have for those of us who think we’re too old to aspire toward a new dream?
RS: The first half of Springboard is designed to help you get over the idea that you are “too old” or “too young” or “too ordinary” to have an interesting life. Indeed, as the saying goes, tomorrow is always the first day of the rest of your life. If you have a “beginner’s mind” about everything you do, then no job is too menial or too basic to get started in a new direction that excites you. The main thing is to pay attention to your inner sense of excitement and fun. I have been a restaurant waiter, a social worker, an improvisational actor, a house painter and a university professor. I love what I do now, but I am using a lot of what I have learned about at earlier stages of my life. And I would probably feel the same way if I reversed the order of my working life. There is a great book called How Starbucks Saved My Life by a guy who went from being a high-status professional to working at Starbucks serving coffee – and he actually got more out of his Starbucks job in terms of personal fulfillment and satisfaction than he did when he had a corner office in a high-rise office building. If you learn to think about life from the inside-out – applying your own true measures of what “success” really means to you, you’ll be amazed at the opportunities that come along compared with living a life in which you let others (or the media) define success for you.