One day you might quit a job without another job lined up and need help to decide your next career move. While it’s commonly accepted best practice that it’s better to quit only when you have that next job, sometimes there are exceptions (I share a 10-question checklist to assess whether you’re an exception in my Forbes column).
Below are three exercises to help you decide your next career move. You can do these without having to quit your job, but if you have already quit, you should definitely do these exercises now, sooner than later, even if you want to take time off completely from your job search. These exercises are fun, will get your creative juices flowing, and may even prompt you to get your search started sooner than you plan. Starting sooner than later is always a good idea, since your next career move make take longer than you think.
Exercise 1 – 100 Dreams
I devoted a whole blog post to 100 Dreams because this is an exercise that you can do to jumpstart your inspiration overall, even if you’re not sure about your next move, career or otherwise. I even have a 100 Dreams post devoted specifically to travel! The gist of 100 Dreams is that we all have many interests, and this exercise challenges you to list out 100 of them. List 100 things you have always wanted to do, have, be and achieve. Include big goals like traveling to all seven continents and small, discrete goals like hearing a live concert of Handel’s Messiah (these are actual dreams from people who have done this exercise).
The 100 Dreams exercise flexes your passion muscles, especially important if you’re feeling demotivated in your current situation. You may be so burnt out by your current job that you don’t have a working compass to point to your next career move. You may be so negative that you have forgotten what it is like to enjoy something. This exercise helps you to focus on enjoyment, not of career activities specifically, but of any and all activities. In so doing, you get back in touch with what makes you feel good so you can make more informed career decisions going forward.
Exercise 2 – Peak Experiences
This exercise is another way to get more clarity on what you enjoy but more specifically in a work context. For this exercise, you look into previous activities, and list out your favorites. You don’t only need to look at work activities – extra-curricular, volunteer, school projects, even hobbies are all fair game. However, when you list something, remember as many specifics as possible. If you do list a hobby, say playing the piano, pick a specific recital you did or piece that you tackled. This is about specific experiences, not general activities.
Use your resume to remind you of the different periods in your life. Once you have at least 12 peak experiences, pick your top half from that list. Then pick the top half from the short list, and on and on, until you get to your top 3-5 peak experiences. Do they show a pattern? Maybe you’re doing a specific type of activity (music-related if we continue the piano example). Or maybe you are working solo in all your favorite activities. Or you’re focusing on a complex project for a long period of time. Peak Experiences is an exercise to help you discern patterns in work and projects you enjoy. You can then look for similar activities and environments in your next career move.
Exercise 3 – Table of Contents of Interest
This exercise is named after the main activity you will be doing – scanning the Table of Contents of as many business and trade publications as you can. Similar to Peak Experiences, this exercise is also about finding patterns, but patterns in your interests. Skim a Table of Contents: which articles do you want to read? Are specific companies featured? Specific industries? Specific business issues? You can go a step further and actually read the articles once you narrow down your areas of interest to see if you are truly interested, or maybe these are nice to know about but you don’t want to go that deep, much less work there!
Table of Contents is not a substitute for more exhaustive research, but when you’re just starting out and need an inkling of what areas to look into, Table of Contents is a quick and easy way to get started. Quick and easy is critical when you’re starting because you don’t want to get discouraged by the enormity and difficulty of your first steps. The best exercises in the beginning get you started. Activity creates more momentum and more activity. I used to recommend Table of Contents as a first exercise before 100 Dreams (because 100 of anything looms large) and before Peak Experiences (because recollecting all that detail can be intimidating). However, Table of Contents is work-specific and therefore less fun than 100 Dreams. It also requires access to many publications (and perhaps a trip to a business library), so it’s harder than Peak Experiences, which can be done wherever you are and whenever you feel like putting in the time. In this way, it comes last – a quick and easy exercise, after you have a bit of momentum from the others.
Do you have go-to exercises to help you decide your next career move? What has worked for you?