If you’re a TED talk fan, the chances are fairly high that you’re already familiar with a presentation on “The power of introverts” by the American writer Susan Cain.

If not I would highly recommend watching her talk, wherever you place yourself on the introvert—extrovert axis.

The first thing I did after seeing it myself was to order a copy of Susan’s book: Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. During the first third, I found myself nodding along in understanding as many of my own behaviours and beliefs concerning shyness were questioned, and then cast in a new light. But somewhere around the halfway point, I have to confess that I lost interest and stopped reading. I don’t know if it was the part about a bootcamp for introverts or ‘the science bit’, but I lost steam.

It was only last week that I picked up the book on a whim as I headed for the tube to work, and started reading again where I had left off 6 months ago. I’m glad that I did because the book immediately took a turn for the better and I’ve found myself mining a rich seam of practical advice in its closing chapters.

The tips which I want to share with you (also published on Susan Cain’s blog) are about that most difficult of decisions: what the hell to do with your life.

But first, a quick diversion.

“Follow your passion” is perhaps the most over-used advice regarding career choice at the moment.

If you don’t believe me, look at this graph for the phrase in Google Trends:

Don't follow your passion - the trend

That shit is trending. And when I say shit, I mean it. As The Minimalists rightly sa You need to be much more specific when it comes to defining your motivations — because passion isn’t the only emotion entangled in the career conundrum.

Whilst you’re going to need that passion by the bucket load to keep you motivated, it’s highly unlikely that you can simply ‘follow’ it to find your perfect job. And simply “doing what you love” doesn’t work either..

Back to Susan Cain for some ideas on a better way forward…

1. Pay attention to what you envy. Jealousy is an ugly emotion, but it tells the truth. You only envy those who have what you desire. Back when I was a Wall Street lawyer, some of my former law school classmates got together one evening, and compared notes on alumni career tracks. They spoke with admiration and, yes, jealousy, of a classmate who argued regularly before the Supreme Court. At first I felt critical of their envy. More power to that classmate! I thought, congratulating myself on my magnanimity. Then I realized that my largesse came cheap, because deep down I didn’t aspire to the accolades of lawyering. When I asked myself whom I did envy, the answer came back instantly. My college classmates who’d grown up to be writers, or psychologists.

I’ve also found myself envying the work of writers recently. Writing a book is definitely something I aspire to at the moment. (Whether I will actually have the balls to go ahead and do it is another matter). What else… well I also know that music documentaries — the kind where a band is profiled or the making of a classic album is documented — are amongst by favourite kind of TV programmes. So yes, I envy the work of musicians also. There’s probably some crossover there in terms of writing lyrics. Who do you admire outside of your current profession?

2. Ask yourself what you loved to do when you were a child. How did you answer the question of what you wanted to be when you grew up? The specific answer you gave may have been off the mark, but the underlying impulse was not. If you wanted to be a fireman, what did a fireman mean to you? A good man who rescued people in distress? A daredevil? Or the simple pleasure of operating a truck? If you wanted to be a dancer, was it because you got to wear a costume, or because you craved applause, or was it the pure joy of twirling around at lightning speed? You may have known more about who you were then than you do now.

This one is a little tricker for me. I wanted to be an astronaut for a while. Maybe that was because I had a romantic notion about jetting off to the stars on my own. I also wanted to design cars — but I still can’t drive. I’m going to do some more thinking about this one and get back to you…

3. Pay attention to the work you gravitate to. When I was a lawyer, I never once volunteered to take on an extra corporate legal assignment, but I spent a lot of time doing pro bono work for a women’s leadership organization. I also sat on several law firm committees dedicated to mentoring and training young lawyers in the firm. Now I am not the committee type (I’m an introvert!), but the goals of those committees lit me up, so that’s what I did. Today I’m doing a version of this kind of work with my writing and consulting, and I wake up every day excited to get started.

Ok, this one is easier. I’ve noticed whilst blogging on CycleLove that I love talking to people who have started businesses. I like finding out about the motivations and life stories of entrepreneurs, what makes them tick, basically. Likewise with my own clients as a graphic designer, it’s the ones who are making things, changing things, rethinking things, who I like to work with the most.

4. What makes you cry? This one comes courtesy of Steve Pavlina, over at Personal Development for Smart People. He advises that you sit down with a blank sheet of paper, ask yourself what your life purpose is, and keep writing down answers until you come to the one that makes you cry.

Another admission: I’m kind of scared to try this last one out. Maybe because I have a few ideas about what the answer could be, and the implications of that answer. More fool me.

If you do try any of these tips out, please send me a tweet and let me know how it went. Did you find them useful? Did you find yourself considering new career options?


Posted to life, careers in 2013.

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