When you’re not sure what you want out of your career

Over the course of 31 stops in 11 different cities for the Bossed Up Book Tour, I ran into a question from the audience that came up time and time again: what do I do if I don’t know what I want to do?

Follow Ladders on Flipboard!

Follow Ladders’ magazines on Flipboard covering Happiness, Productivity, Job Satisfaction, Neuroscience, and more!

This is a major reason why women choose to join me at Bossed Up Bootcamp, our weekend for women navigating career transition. While I write and speak a lot about how to achieve your goals in a strategic and sustainable way, half the battle is figuring out what you’re striving towards!

What if you don’t know what your goals are? What if you’re feeling lost, stuck, and unclear about your career?

Embrace the Discomfort

It’s easy to ignore the gaping hole in your heart when your passion and purpose feel unfulfilled. That existential dread is easily blanketed over with drinking, sex, food, drugs, constant travel, or any of your preferred forms of self-soothing.

Don’t distract yourself from the career crisis at hand – dive into it.

Be honest with yourself about what’s not working. What do you feel is lacking? Whose careers make you feel a pang of jealousy? What are you longing for? Write it out if you need to get clear on what feels amiss.

This is not an easy or glamorous process. It can bring up feelings of inadequacy, shame, and anxiety, especially if you don’t know how to solve the problem yet. Bring self-compassion to this exploration. As I say in the Bossed Up Manifesto, “forgive yourself now for the less-than-perfect decisions you’ll make.”

Because before you can figure out how to get there, you have to get clear on what you’re gettin’ after. I write about this concept in the Bossed Up Book in even greater detail: often as we hone our analytical, critical-thinking skills through formal education, we accidentally lose our imagination along the way. We stop focusing on what we’d love and start limiting our view to what seems practical, possible, and reasonable. That can easily lead you to a hollow sense of success. You can build a career that’s great for someone, but not great for you.

Make it Playful

If you know what you don’t want, but still find it difficult to imagine what you do want for your career, experiment with lower stakes. Career planning can easily become a very stuffy and formal conversation – and that kills your creativity! Don’t take yourself so seriously.

Turn your exploration into a playful imagination game by asking your best friend to daydream with you:

What would you do if you won the lottery tomorrow?

If you knew the world would end in 10 years?

If you were writing a postcard from yourself 5 years into the future to your present self?

Play with it. Swirl your vision around in the your wine glass with pals. Bounce the idea around in between deep breathes on a jog together. Try your best to suspend the TO DO list making part of your brain that wants to dive into the doing and just play with dreaming.

Devote Time to Exploration

Here’s the hardest part about living in the discomfort of career transition: this stuff doesn’t go away overnight. It takes time to shift the course of your entire career. It takes dedication, consistency, and faith in your vision to make it a reality.

Many Bossed Up Bootcamp alums leave our powerful weekend together with a newfound sense of direction and confidence, but that ‘ish doesn’t manifest overnight! That’s why it’s so important for me to keep in touch with those alums for years to come, so I can hear how things are going for them – and share their incredible career transformation stories (like this one from Maggie or this one from Kerriann) to inspire even more!

Make sure you’re carving out dedicated time – monthly, weekly, and daily – to devote to exploring what’s next for you. Whether you find written reflection or talking it out with friends more productive for you, make sure you’re consistently creating the space you need to explore.

Hang with People Who Inspire You

Finally, when you’re devoting time to explore your deepest-held desires and career ambitions, make sure you’re sharing your experience with the kind of people who are worthy of it.

Sharing your hopes and dreams is a vulnerable act – and not everyone’s worthy of your vulnerability. Brene Brown actually listed out six different kinds of people who aren’t worthy of your vulnerability when talking with Oprah on Super Soul Sunday:

Surround yourself with the people who build you up, who contribute to your creative brainstorm, who can inspire you to dream bigger, to go for it, and to throw your hat into the ring.

And if you find yourself searching for that kind of a courage community and coming up short, know that the Bossed Up Courage Community on Facebook is here for you.

Join me LIVE to do this together

Navigating uncertainty, feeling stuck, and not knowing what’s next for your life and career is not an easy place to be. But you don’t have to go it alone.

Join me at an upcoming Bossed Up Bootcamp for research-driven training presented by industry experts, and you’ll be surrounded by like-minded women who are all striving to find their own version of a happy, healthy, and sustainable career path, too.

Our next Bootcamp weekend is coming up July 27 & 28 in Chicago. Learn more and register to join me now at bossedup.org/bootcamp.

This article first appeared on Bossed Up.