Try a ‘radical sabbatical’ instead of handing in your notice as you attempt to make a dream reality
Even the leader of the free world has done it: Barack Obama in the most tense moments of his presidency apparently fantasised about selling T-shirts from a beach shack in Hawaii.
But if, on a well-earned summer break, you find yourself looking at the restaurateur or scuba-diving instructor with career envy, might there be a way to harness this yearning for a different way of life?
Nicola Bunting, an executive coach who works with both private and public sector clients, says most people come to her because they have had “a call to adventure” — either because of an opportunity for change or promotion, or because of an internal appetite for a more fulfilling working life and what she calls “a disconcerting sense of unrest”. Ignoring the call can result, she warns, in feeling stuck, and in energy and happiness draining away.
The trick, advises Ms Bunting, is to come up with both a vision of how you would like to transform your work and detailed steps of how to get there: “Don’t dream, have a plan.”
Roman Krznaric, author of How to Find Fulfilling Work, emphasises the need to rediscover that spirit of adventure that can end up lost, as we push through the briars of the workaday world. Rather than being fixated on high achievement, he recommends becoming a wide achiever — expanding across traditional work boundaries and being inspired by the creativity and inventiveness of figures in art and science who “grew their own vocation”.
“We need to have an experimental attitude and explore who we are by trying new jobs,” he says. “There comes a time when thinking more about making a change doesn’t help.”
His steps to making the dream a reality include building a financial safety net, then making the ambition public: “By openly telling friends and family that we are about to change career, we may begin to shift our own expectations and give ourselves more courage to act.”
Ms Bunting transformed herself from English professor to international coach, and Mr Krznaric pursues different interests at the same time. “We have been constantly told in career development and in education that we have to become specialists in narrow fields,” he says, “but many of us want to be lots of different people.”
He recommends a three-strand strategy to explore career options, drawing on the extensive research on career change by Herminia Ibarra, the Insead professor who also believes in experimenting with multiple working “selves” to find the best route to a transformation.
The most drastic option involves a “radical sabbatical”, taking leave or using holiday to shadow or try out a different career. Another route is to branch out and develop something new as a sideline; the least risky is to talk to people outside your usual social circle or colleagues in detail about their work.
Taking action of this kind need not be daunting, and is a better route to successful change than suddenly handing in your notice — however tempting that beach shack looks.
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