Posted On 7th July 2011

Part One of Three: How to Find Out What You Want To Do

I’ve just had an email from an old colleague from many years ago. Her message read “It is SO lovely to see how much you’re enjoying your new venture – it springs off the page every time I get a LinkedIn update how much more “you” this is!!”

She’s right.  I am enjoying it.  Hugely.

At the same time I spoke a few weeks ago to another ex-colleague who isn’t having much fun at all. He’s starting his own business up, just as I am.  As far as I can tell it’s going about as well as Richmond Solutions is – so pretty well and with good client feedback.

I’m happy.  He’s not. Why?

Last year I had to do something that was long overdue. I had to ask myself what I really wanted to do with the second half of my life and what mattered to me the most. That can be a very scary question to ask, and I’m not even sure many people are capable of the degree of self-honesty it requires to find the answer.

There are companies that charge a lot of money to help you with this process but in truth your own common sense can get you most of the way there.  The method is pretty simple.

Basically it requires you to stop lying to yourself, and indeed everyone else, about what things you like to do and are any good at. That’s hard.  It’s like taking a brick out of a fragile wall with your boot and hoping the whole thing doesn’t collapse. It can leave you in pieces.

It’s also pretty scary because it’s highly unlikely the answers you will come up with only relate to work. Work is an integral part of life, not an experience utterly separate from it. I think you have to face this. Changing your career may well involve some very radical changes in the way you live your life.

Finally, you have to pray that the answers that come back when you find the courage to ask those questions are actually capable of practical implementation. You are not a day old. You are unlikely to be a billionaire. You may not, secretly, be superman.

So, ruthless honesty, bravery and a bit of luck. Ask yourself what you truly wish to achieve. Stop pretending you love doing things you don’t, even if they pay desperately well. Then hope the answers you come up with are actually feasible. Are you willing to pay the necessary personal price? Can you afford what you want to do?

It sounds easy but it’s not. I think the two main pitfalls are not asking yourself genuinely open questions rather than leading ones, and allowing honest answers to come back, no matter how fundamental a challenge they pose to your current existence.

The sad part for my friend is that he is only being partially honest with himself about the answers, and the implementation of his plan is only semi-feasible. He was always more of a big company lover than he pretended to be and the very scary, even precarious life of a small business person isn’t really for him. His self-image as an extraordinary sales person was only partially true. He was good but needed a machine behind him – wanted and needed truth to tell.

So he’s still at least partially trying to be something he’s not. I on the other hand, am where I should be.

Obviously it’s been a financial and career gamble.  I used to manage a big team, sit on a Board, and spend a lot of time travelling all over the place going to meetings, pitches, and seminars, whatever. I’ve lost contact with a lot of people I liked and also managed to ruin my relationship with a close family member.  I have a few regrets and miss a few things, but I am happier now than I have been in 15 years.

Are you ready to ask yourself if you are too?

Next Week: How to identify opportunities to do what you want to do.

David Welsh [contact-form-7 id="4" title="Contact Page Form"]