Successful Choice-Making— Taking the Path Not (Usually) Taken

Reading Malcolm Gladwell's book, David and Goliath— Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, I was struck by his statement that "a choice may not be between a best option and a second-best option . . . [but] a choice between two very different options, each with its own strengths and drawbacks." I realize that Gladwell neatly stated a situation that I often encounter with coaching in career transitions.

Making a choice in such an important area of one's life as a career change is usually the outcome of a considerable amount of thought, research, conversations, and soul-searching. Quite often, it feels like such a big leap that a usual decision is to go for a similar position in a larger organization or head a different division within the same corporation, probably for a larger salary and more perks.

That was certainly my line of direction, following my resignation from a small, education-based non-profit group. As I saw it, all my skills only translated into director positions at other, larger nonprofits. Yet, each time I went for an interview at such an organization, I felt a sinking in my belly and a dramatic drop in energy. If I could have coached myself then, I would have had myself pay attention to that drop in energy. What did that have to say about my next career choice? What options might I have that I hadn't yet considered? What did I really want to be doing? How did my work reflect the kind of person I really am and the qualities I value?

As Gladwell writes in David and Goliath, "the same qualities that appear to give [certain choices] strength are often the sources of great weakness." For example, my mindset about developing my career led me to the initial decision that I obviously needed to grow my current skill set to make a higher salary and to be seen as a skilled professional in an area in which I'd worked for almost a decade. But the strengths that I had in this area were leading me to a choice that didn't feel right to me, that was energy-draining and "a source of great weakness." And yet, I kept pushing myself in that direction, trying to convince myself that I had no other options.

Then I had an epiphany! As I wrote in my book, Success with Soul— Loving Your Livelihood, Living in Balance, on the spur of the moment, I went to the movie Dirty Dancing "a film that just blew me away with the sheer energy and enthusiasm of its performers! Entrained by the passion of that free-spirited dancing, I felt my energy soar to another level altogether. Considering my career direction again after seeing this film, I realized I intended to do something radically different. I was going to explore the possibility of becoming a somatic therapist."

It then became clear to me that I'd been considering this possibility at a subterranean level for some time, ever since I'd had my first glowing experience of what this kind of alternative healing could offer. However, I'd kept rejecting it, since I knew I didn't have the skills required, and even questioned the value of moving into a (literally) hands-on profession. As I wrote, "Nothing in my upbringing, education, or work experience had prepared me for the professional path I was claiming." Based on this particular analysis, I kept rejecting out of hand the possibility that I could or should learn the necessary skills to make such a career leap.

However, I kept feeling the energy and drive to do this kind of work— and follow the path not (usually) taken. Seeing Dirty Dancing simply pushed me over that precipice into this new path. No doubt, too, I was inspired by seeing the drive of the heroine of the film (who also planned to be a doctor) to learn working-class-style sexy dancing. She and I were both becoming Gladwell's "underdog" and "outlier," simply by paying attention to our new callings, and learning that "The fact of being an underdog can change people in ways that we often fail to appreciate: it can open doors and create opportunities and educate and enlighten and make possible what might otherwise have seemed unthinkable."

If you're experiencing a sense of delight about following a choice you once passed by, or one you've just discovered, remember that this can be a wonderful way to "open doors and create opportunities" for yourself now! If I can be of any assistance as a professional "change advisor" in supporting your momentum in finding and claiming your new choice, I'm always glad to be a resource for you.