I was talking with a friend of mine last week about a midlife career change.
She was feeling overwhelmed.
She has been a successful accountant for many years. She works in a lucrative part of the accounting industry and has a good roster of clients that have been with her for a long time.
But she wants out.
She needs to work for financial reasons, for sure, but that is no longer what drives her. She wants to do something she loves. That aligns with her values in life. But a midlife career change feels enormous. Where to begin? What to do? When you can pick, well, anything, what do you choose?
And then you have to commit to it.
She knows what she doesn’t like but can’t pin down what she loves. And she feels that it’s such a big task that she can’t seem to even start figuring it out. Instead she sits in her accounting office, unhappy, trying to talk herself through each day.
Flash forward to a few days later. I am snowshoeing with my dog, Rosie, and listening to a podcast. It was an interview with the writer, Elizabeth Gilbert. In it she says (this is an excerpt from her blog on the same topic):
We are constantly being told to pursue our passions in life, but there are times when passion is a TALL ORDER, and really hard to reach. But curiosity, I have found, is always within reach.
Passion is a tower of flame, but curiosity is a tiny tap on the shoulder — a little whisper in the ear that says, “Hey, that’s kind of interesting…”
Curiosity is therefore a lot easier to reach at times than full-on passion — and the stakes are lower, easier to manage.
The trick is to just follow your small moments of curiosity. It doesn’t take a massive effort. Just turn your head an inch. Pause for an instant. Respond to what has caught your attention. Look into it a bit. Is there something there for you? A piece of information?
I literally stopped in my tracks.
This is where I stopped.
Liz Gilbert was referring to creative projects. But how much does this resonate for all of us?
It’s all the rage to seek out our side hustle, our passion project. A goal that we keep our eyes toward with a single-minded purpose until we get there, by any means necessary. And if we don’t have a passion, our lives are lacking; two dimensional.
But doesn’t that feel like a lot of pressure? Especially for those of us who are perfectionists.
The need to pick exactly the right thing can sometimes keep us from picking anything. Or, we need to mull over a few options while we work on our mindset. Because we realize that our passion might not align with other people’s values, or their vision of us. So we need to work up to passion. We can’t get there right from the beginning.
And there are other people who love to dabble in three or four projects at once. It’s the diversity and uniqueness of each one that fuels them. They enjoy a lot of different things, and that roster keeps changing. The constant change helps to keep them engaged. But they feel ashamed that they can’t pick one passion that rises above them all.
Then there’s the vast majority of us, who have no idea what our passion is at all.
Let’s all reframe the conversation. As Liz Gilbert says, let’s step away from the Tall Order of passion. Let’s focus on what makes us curious.
Curiosity doesn’t need commitment. It doesn’t need you to “hustle” or compromise other areas of your life. You can’t fail when all you’re trying to do is be curious. Curious is not black or white, all or nothing. Curious is one small step forward. And you can be curious about several things at once, no harm no foul.
At one time I was curious about a company in my town that takes dogs for hikes. They pick up your dog, load them up in their van, take them for a two-hour hike, and bring them home, rinsed and happy. I love dogs and I love hiking. So, I was curious.
I met with the owners, I hiked a bunch of dogs. I loved it. But I also realized how much physical labor is required. And the potential risk of dogs who don’t get along. Or dogs who like to hunt. You’re hiking with four dogs at a time, alone in the woods. Praying they don’t all see a deer and go after it at full speed, dragging you down the trail.
I told the owners they had an incredible business and wished them luck. I enjoyed the experience and was ready to try something else. Nothing wrong with that. I didn’t fail at a commitment I made to myself. I didn’t take my eyes off the prize. I pursued one avenue and then became curious about something else.
I found my passion — writing — but I was curious about a lot of other things first.
So, the next time I see my friend, I want to tell her to be curious. What does she like about her current job? What interests her? Music, or non-profits, or healthcare? She doesn’t have to pick one. Or commit to any. She has to think about what she enjoys. What she wants to know more about. And go from there.
Deb Knobelman is a PhD neuroscientist who spent many years on Wall Street and as a C-suite executive at public and private biotech companies. She writes about the intersection of mindset, productivity, and how to reach goals. She is a Top Writer on Medium, and has been featured in The Startup, The Ascent, Thrive Global, Thoughtcatalog.com, Lifehack.org, and more. When she isn’t writing or consulting for startup companies, Deb enjoys spending time with her husband and two young sons, hiking, and reading fiction novels about time travel. Learn more at www.debknobelman.com.
Image courtesy of Freddy Marschall.