At various times in our careers, we may feel directionless. This is particularly true when our skills are rendered obsolete or industries have died.
In my case, it was when I made a career pivot to being a high school math teacher, teaching Algebra I and II, in an inner-city school in 2004. I pursued this after a near fatal bicycle accident created a moment of clarity for me.
I taught for 2 years and was highly successful. The reality was I could not be a successful school teacher AND stay healthy. The experience drained me of my strength and sparked multiple bouts of depression.
I left teaching after the fall semester of my 2nd year drained but, more importantly, directionless.
When Directionless – Do Something
As an engineer by training and I am pretty darn good at solving problems. Heck, I taught problem determination classes at IBM. What I learned from my problem-solving experience was when you do not know what to do, just do something.
After leaving teaching without a plan, I was completely directionless. Six months of not knowing what to do, getting depressed, and feeling pretty miserable, I started to network. Like I said earlier, I am an engineer by training, therefore, I started to put together a process. You can read more about my process in the post, Strategic Networking Playbook – Who, How and When!
I have a large need to help people, which is why I had spent so much of my career in training. The non-profit sector seemed to be a worthwhile target to investigate. I created a plan to interview every educational non-profit in Austin. Notice that I was to interview them and not vice versa. This process helped me determine that there were a lot of dysfunctional organizations which did not work together. Most problems were created by how these organizations were funded. They were funded largely through public and private grants that completely tied their hands on how the money was spent. This was eye-opening!
Pick a Direction
I picked the direction of finding a fundraising position for a non-profit.
Why this direction?
I chose a direction to go rather than sitting and doing nothing.
What did I do?
- Attended a large, non-profit conference in Austin.
- Researched which non-profits would be sending people and who they planned to send.
- Arrived early, scanned the sessions, reviewed the attendee list, and made my plans.
- Met five key leaders at this event.
To make a long story short, I met the head of local Jewish Community Center, where I was a member, and within a month I was hired as a junior-level, fundraiser responsible for building a corporate funding-raising program.
Was it a great fit? No.
The funny thing about this job is I am not Jewish. I like to joke that being a non-Jew and being the “face” of a Jewish organization was …. interesting.
This position lasted one year. Was I happy I took the position? Yes! I was paid to network for a year! That experience has changed me forever.
Just Do It!
Sometimes you have to follow the Nike slogan Just Do It! I will probably never go work for a non-profit again. Having served on multiple non-profit boards I know I cannot work in these organizations. The slow pace of decision making drives me nuts.
The lessons learned was invaluable, and I credit the path I am on now to that experience.
I give the same advice to young people who tell me they do not know what they want to do. Just try something.
There have been a number of times in my career that I have felt directionless. Each time that I chose a direction and just did it, I was happy I did. I did not always choose the right direction but I was better off doing something rather than nothing.
What did you do when you were directionless?