Getting out of a rut

I’ve been reading Getting from College to Career, the classic career guidebook by Lindsey Pollak (a longtime friend of this blog — click on that link for a guest post), which was reissued last week. The book is packed with very practical advice for the modern world. Get a good headshot (what do you think you’re going to use on your LinkedIn profile?) If you’re volunteering as a way to gain experience, make sure you generate some result you can point to. Make a portfolio of your work. Don’t sit next to the bathroom if you meet someone for an informational interview at a coffee shop (point taken!)

But what I found most entertaining, and useful for anyone trying to make a change in life, was Lindsey’s tale of finding herself in a post college “what am I doing with my life?” kind of rut. She’d just come back from studying abroad and was overwhelmed with figuring out what to do.

“So I did the only natural thing: I froze,” she writes. “For about four months I lived at home with my parents and spent hours on the computer typing phrases like ‘writer’ and ‘international experience’ into a jobs website and hoping my dream career would pop up on the screen. I’m sorry to report that didn’t happen, and it never does. Jobs just don’t come to you. Career plans don’t grow on trees. And well-meaning parents and friends can only do so much to help…

“In a nutshell, my scientific diagnosis of my post-Australia situation is that it totally sucked…There were some bad days when I sent one semiproductive email in the morning and then watched TV all day and ate nothing but frozen yogurt. And there were some very bad days when I felt I was a miserable failure with my best years behind me, and I spent the entire day under the covers…

“Eventually, at some point, perhaps from sheer boredom or a need to go out and buy more frozen yogurt, I began to leave the house, pick up the phone, and take little bits of action. I called a few people I’d worked with at the nonprofit organization where I had my summer internship in college. I called some people I had met through that local Rotary Club and asked to attend a meeting. I signed up for a few sessions with a career coach I started to make lists of my interests and my contacts and my life goals. My mom took me to buy a suit. Every few days I did a little something more, and slowly, painfully slowly, momentum started to build….

“Action always yields rewards.”

That’s pretty much true. One of my secrets of adulthood is the role that “serendipity” or “randomness” plays in life. If you want something, you need to throw a lot of stuff against the wall. Luck is a numbers game. If you go out on enough first dates, eventually you will find someone you want a second date with. If you ask enough people for job leads, eventually someone will have one you wish to pursue. When I was trying to get a book contract for what eventually became 168 Hours, the stuff I threw against the wall could have looked like a Jackson Pollock painting. Op-eds. Features. Three book proposal iterations. A 9-part series at the Huffington Post. Little did I know it was a random book review of Geoff Colvin’s Talent is Overrated that would catch the right person’s eye. The point is, you have to do something. A lot of somethings. 

Yes, that sometimes feels like spinning your wheels. So one of my favorite parts of Lindsey’s book is that she has little boxes next to some of her tips where you can put a check mark. Done! Keeping track of all you’re doing in pursuit of your goals can help you get through some dark days. Possibly as much as the frozen yogurt.

Have you ever climbed out of a rut?

(photo courtesy flickr user zappowbang)

5 thoughts on “Getting out of a rut

  1. Laura, you are so right about luck being a numbers game. Have you seen this blog post? http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2012/01/03/25-things-writers-should-stop-doing/(Caution: contains some swearing).
    The writer says, “Pick a thing and work toward that thing.” He’s right, of course, but it’s easy to forget that it may require many approaches to find an entry point. Which, I think, is what you’re talking about here. As always, great post.

    1. @Camille – yep, take any entry point that works. Take multiple points and see what comes of it. And the crazy thing is, even if you’re not getting exactly what you want, you tend to get something cool. Before 168 Hours sold, I was starting to get paid speaking gigs on the topic. Not what I was aiming for but nice.

  2. This was appropriate for today! I just e-mailed an engineer friend about job-shadowing her during preschool (3 hr/week) next year. My old industry (semiconductors) has gone overseas and I’m geographically constrained in a limited area since my husband likes his job. It’s nice to read encouragement about “throwing some ideas against the wall.” (and my existing business pays for preschool 🙂

  3. Great post, Laura. Whenever things are feeling stagnant, I take a look at the situation and almost always realize, “I need some movement.” That has been a guiding principle for me of late. And I’m amazed at the opportunities that come through the door with the combination of movement and a little serendipity!

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