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When it Comes to Your Dreams, Sometimes the Best Advice is to Ignore Everything Your Parents Told You

Valerie and her rescue dog,
"Cokie Roberts"

By Valerie Young

This article originally appeared in Issue 188 of the Changing Course Newsletter.

Most of the time my parents did get it right. But everything I learned about achieving career bliss I learned by actually ignoring my well-meaning but cautious parents. That's because, if you aspire to find work that you truly love, some of what your parents taught you could actually work against you.

Here are three childhood lessons every adult career changer should ignore as well as some exercises to help you achieve your goal.

Old Advice: Grow up

New Advice: Don't

If you were still throwing tantrums at 12, be thankful your parents told you to "grow up." But, if you want to recapture the experience of getting deliriously lost in a favorite pastime, growing up isn't all it's cracked up to be. Lots of people, director Steven Spielberg among them, knew from a young age what they wanted to do when they grew up. Your own childhood may well contain clues to a new career direction.

Make a list of all the things you were really into as a kid. Did you love to build forts? Sing? Compete in science fairs? Draw? Do magic tricks? Learn about dinosaurs? Tell jokes? Watch scary movies? Play sports? Play dress-up? Play video games? Play school?

What do your answers tell you? How might you build on these childhood interests today?

Old Advice: Follow the straight and narrow road

New Advice: Wind your way to happiness

You probably got the message growing up to always follow the straight and narrow road. Good advice for staying on the right side of authority, bad advice for coming up with "outside the box" career options. That's because it is often the wide road with lots of detours that lead to the most interesting places. Say you wanted to turn your love of astronomy into your vocation, what career destination would you most likely wind up at, if, vocationally-speaking, you took the straight and narrow road? Astronomer. Right? A fine occupation, but it is just one of many options.

Here's where what Patrick Combs calls his "Super-Simple, Unique & Weird Job Idea Jogger" can help. Even though his book, Major In Success, is aimed at college students, his idea jogging exercise can help anyone looking to chart a new course.

To start, fill in the blanks in the following sentence: A great job would be [verb] in the [your interest] field. The astronomy-lover who also enjoys reading would write: A great job would be reading in the astronomy field. This might lead to such off-the-beaten-path careers as: Editor of an astronomy magazine, NASA researcher or author of books about the latest astronomy developments. Change the verb to drawing, says Combs, and see what ideas get jogged. You could: Illustrate astronomy books. Design observatories. Map star systems. Create science fiction paintings, murals, or coloring books.

Old Advice: Never talk to strangers

New Advice: Talk to lots and lots of strangers

"Never talk to strangers" is good advice if you're approached in a dark alley, bad advice if you need encouragement to quit your programming job to become a park ranger. In fact, if the choice is to seek out support from a group of total strangers or from your own family, go with the strangers. The reason, says career counselor Barbara Sher, is that "almost any stranger would respect your dreams more easily than our family does." To prove it, try this assignment from her book I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was.  

Tell a group of strangers the most offbeat dream you can think of – like raising Dalmatians in the Himalayas. Tell them, however, that you don't yet have any contacts in Tibet. Not only will they be interested, says Sher, "they'll even try to solve your problem."

Now, she says, try the same experiment with your family by announcing that you're going to quit your corporate job and sign on as crew on a clam boat off Rhode Island [or the reverse]. Observe whether they "drop their forks before or after they scramble to talk you out of your ‘folly'."

If you're ready for a big career change, maybe it's time you actually do get bigger than your career confining britches. It can be as simple as re-igniting your childhood passions, exploring a more creative career search path, and seeking out the right people to encourage your dreams.

Oh, on the wearing clean underwear thing in case you're ever in an accident – your mom was right.

If you'd like a little help developing your "opportunity muscles" join me for my monthly Teleclass, "Turning Interests into Income Opportunity Hour." Learn more at

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A New Direction

I decided to take the Work @ What You Love Workshop and also work one-on-one with Valerie. The workshop explored so many unusual and unexpected solutions to my specific questions. I made so many new connections to what clearly works for me in crea...

Julia Raymond
Curvology Studio

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