Many of my clients continue endlessly on cold trails. Some cling to established career paths, imagining that the next promotion will bring happiness, despite the obvious lack of clear hot tracks such as enjoyment, fascination, or any heartfelt desire (apart from the wish to bang one's head against a wall). Others gallop along any path, without pausing to check whether it's one their animal prefers. Still other clients give up hope and plod along in so-so jobs. I can't say it enough: If your trail runs cold, return to your last hot track and test a new prediction.
When Adeline went back to her hot tracks and focused on the elements that connected them, she noticed her animal had left a trail of relationships. She loved working with strong, decisive partners. Dora's hot tracks always related to arranging colorful objects. Lily's hot tracks led to large, active groups; teamwork, not politics, was her bliss.
Step 4. Follow your tracks wherever they lead.
You have to commit to following your animal—even if it seems to have the directional ability of my poltergeisted GPS. Trust me, your animal will eventually bring you to the job you were meant to do. Once Adeline realized her strong-partner theme, she teamed up with a friend running online boutiques for custom-designed clothing. Dora discovered that computer graphics let her assemble gorgeous color combinations with a few clicks. She's now a website designer. Lily agreed to organize a conference for an ex-coworker's business and enjoyed it so much, she began freelancing as an event planner.
Note that all these careers use new technologies, but technology was not the track. Adeline went looking for a business partner and just happened to find one with a "virtual" shop. Dora was surfing websites when she noticed that the colors of the sites themselves attracted her. Lily hated computers but loved using social networking to connect with people. All began with "What do I enjoy?" and proceeded to beat the bushes for their best-loved activities. New technologies simply facilitated their passions, which, as I used to tell my GPS, is what technology is meant to do.
As you track your career, remember that your inner animal is following primal instincts, not established paths that will necessarily impress your parents, spouse, and friends. Their expectations—and yours—are an outdated guidance system that will only send you sideways and, in my experience, due south. We live in an increasingly civilized, rational-minded, tech-obsessed world. It's time to break out: Let your wild self explore wild career ideas. Of course, if this makes you nervous, you can always go grovel for a low-paying version of that civilized job you loathed. But as the poet Mary Oliver puts it, "meanwhile...the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—over and over announcing your place in the family of things." Answer that call, following your instinct through the wilderness of career options, and your inner tracking system will take you to exactly the terrain that's right for you. Me like that!
Martha Beck is the author of six books, including Steering by Starlight (Rodale).
Find Your Calling