This question rocked my world the first time I hired a coach. I came up with at least fifteen different possibilities. Some were exciting. Some were scary. Some would require major life changes and some were the paths of least resistance. Some were very vivid, some were more vague. Some had nothing to do with the Masters degree I was nearing completing. The most daunting part to me was not knowing which one was the “right” one.
The answer, thank you coach, was that they all were the “right” one – just some were more “right” – right now, and others were more “right” in my past. Others may become more “right” further into the future or if circumstances changed.
A common theme in coaching is the concept that we are not one self, but many, possible selves. As Herminia Ibarra puts it, we are each a “cast of characters” that play leading or background roles at different times in life. We have past selves, future selves, current selves. We have possible selves that we are intrigued by, that we consider becoming more of. Sometimes we seek a change to become more of one of these selves. Sometimes we dread a possible self lurking inside and we try as best we can to avoid becoming that self.
In her book “Working Identity” Ibarra writes about developing “hypotheses” about which self, or which career, is the one that is the most suitable right now through experimentation. This involves creating opportunities to test out different paths, to “try them on” and get a real sense of how they fit. This allows us to fine tune our story about ourselves – to experiment with putting ourselves out there as various identities, subtly altering the way we do this with each attempt. In doing this, we narrow down and can choose the self or selves who we most are right now.
The trick is making the commitment to experimenting, and, through experimenting, fine-tune, narrowing down, combining, and make choices. The selves you rule out may only be ruled out “for now” or they may they never surface again.
Experimenting can take many forms. Most people have experimented in intentional and unintentional ways: internships, volunteer activities, through networking, through small jobs on the side or short-term projects. Some people even take on provisional positions to actually test out full time roles.
I’d like to hear from you about ways you experimented to find the career you are currently doing. And how are you experimenting now to discover what comes next?
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