What if I can’t get there right now?

Take time to find out what you want.  Make time for the things you love.

What happens now will not determine the rest of your life.

Those were the three pieces of advice I gave during my presentation to a group of undergrads last week.  And then I opened it up to Q&A.

“What if I kinda know what I want to do, but I don’t think I can get there right after I graduate?”

Excellent question.  I did a lot of talking about how important it is to figure out what you want, and told a story about how I finally got it.  It’s only natural to think that I am encouraging folks to go out and get their dream life.  I am.

It’s risky.  It can be scary.  And for an undergrad who is still building up his savings, resume, network, and life experience, it can be difficult to get to exactly where you want.  In an economy like this, it may mean just taking “a” job.  The important thing to remember is to keep moving forward somehow and guard yourself against getting stuck.

4 Steps to Staying on Course

Step 1. Use a compass. The needle of a compass points to true north, and you  determine what direction you’re going by using it as a reference point.  Take the time to find out what you want. Write it down.  Make that your compass. When deciding whether to take “a” job, look at your compass.  Is the job aligned with what you want?  Is it helping you move in the right direction?  Is it moving you in the opposite direction?  Knowing how far off you are from your true north will help you determine when you need to change course.

Step 2. Set an expiration date. Wouldn’t it be nice to wake up every morning thrilled about the life you have?  If that’s your goal, anything that delivers less than that should be treated as a limited-time engagement.  If you find yourself settling for less, be sure to define what you’re doing as temporary from the very beginning by setting an expiration date.  Seriously, pick a date, whether it be 6 months, 1 year, or 2 years from now.  That will be the date that you step back, give your life a sniff test, and decide whether you want to keep it or get a new one.

Step 3.  Develop an exit strategy. Since this is only a temporary gig, you will eventually leave, so you might as well plan for it.  What will you need to take the next  step?  If you’ll need a new/different set of skills, be sure to find opportunities to develop those skills on (or outside of) the job.  Begin to make connections and build your network in the area you want to pursue later.  Also, if you can swing it, save up an “F***-This” Fund. Six months worth of living expenses can give you the courage to leave a really bad job/manager/organization if you need to.

Step 4.  Assemble your own personal Board of Directors. Pick some people who care about you and your happiness.  Pick some people who have been good mentors.  Pick some people whom you admire and would like to have as mentors.  Show them your compass.  Tell them your expiration date (and have them hold you accountable to it).  Have them help you build your exit strategy.  Lean on them for support and ask them for guidance.  Entrust them with the responsbility to encourage you to do what’s best for you.  You don’t have to do this alone.

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