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How to Choose a Perfect Second-Act Career

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I recently heard from a reader who wrote to tell me how much he enjoyed reading Second-Act Careers. Thanks to the book, he had clearly identified his interests, strengths, motivations, etc., and is now into the next phase of selecting options and evaluating them for fit. He closed his note with this request:

“I‘m curious if you have any suggestions to help ‘separate the wheat from the chaff’ when considering one’s list of options?”

It’s a smart question. After all, lots of ideas sound great, but may not hold your interest over the long haul. Knowing that he can’t possibly be the only one wondering about this, I thought it best to share my response with all of you here. So with thanks to my reader, here are 5 key steps to take when evaluating options for “fit”:

1. Complete a self-assesment. Identifying what you want, what you do well and what you find meaningful is the critical first step in making any career decision. After all, how can you possibly know if something is a good fit if you don’t take the time to get to know yourself first? So as tempting as it is to speed-up or skip over this step, make this a priority. The more effort you expend upfront, the easier it will be to determine if something is – or isn’t – a suitable match. For specifics on how to do a self-assessment, you’ll find detailed info in my book or in the books listed in this post of My Favorite Career Reinvention Books.

2. Use a decision-making tool. Once you know what is most important to look for in a career and have zeroed-in on a few possible options, it can be incredibly helpful to plug your data into a decision-making tool.

Fortunately, there are many different tools to choose from. Two of my personal favorites:

  • If you like list-making, marketing genius Seth Godin recommends a simple, but surprisingly effective, technique: Make Three Lists.
  • If you prefer a more quantitative approach, try the decision matrix tool (a.k.a, the Pugh method). It’s an easy-to-use framework for weighting and evaluating all of the factors and criteria that you need to consider to come to a decision. When using the matrix,  you create a table with all of the options in the first column and all of the factors that affect the decision in the first row. You then arrive at a final score to reveal which option is the best. I’ve used this tool many times with clients with excellent results. For more info about the decision matrix, consult this Business News Daily post.

3. Talk to people. Yes, this is both painfully obvious and very low-tech. But you know what? It works. One of the great benefits of being 50+ is that you likely have a large network of really smart people who can offer you advice and guidance on a wide variety of career-related options. So once you’ve done your assessment and research,  get out there and talk with a few trusted advisors and friends. They will challenge your assumptions, support your decisions and connect you with key resources or people that could prove invaluable when making your final analysis.

4. Write things down. Take walks. Repeat. As this wonderful Fast Company post How to Take Advantage of Your Brain’s Hidden Productivity Powers points out, “Using your head as a place to store information and ideas is not an effective use of your brain, nor is it an efficient way to keep track of your work. That’s why it’s so important to periodically do a brain dump and write down what you’re thinking.” I agree – it’s amazing how the act of writing brings a level of clarity to the decision making process that is impossible to achieve by keeping your thoughts in your head.

Another way to gain clarity is to take a walk (I certainly do my best thinking while walking). I know this may strike some of you as airy-fairy. But according to a recent Stanford study, people’s creative output increased by a whopping 60% while walking. The study found that across the board, creativity levels were consistently and significantly higher for those walking compared to those sitting (and if you’re still skeptical, check out this TED talk on the value of walking meetings).

5. Try things out. Finally, understand that you can analyze and talk until you’re blue in the face, but you’ll never make up your mind about a career move until you start trying things out in small ways. As Richard Pascale notes in his book Surfing the Edge of Chaos: “Adults are much more likely to act their way into a new way of thinking than to think their way into a new way of acting.” For specific tips on how to to do this in small ways, check out my post, 4 Ways to Quietly Test-Drive a New Career.

Get my Free Downloadable Workbook:

25 Questions To Help YOU Identify Your Ideal Second Act. You'll also receive my free newsletter filled with second-act ideas, tools and inspiration.

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