During a family vacation in and around Times Square, it was hard not to think about all who make their livelihood on the stage. While we enjoy the lights and hear the applause, it’s still hard work for the actors every time the curtain goes up.
Finding your next act is hard work, too, yet so many of us are doing it today. Sometimes we need to, when our companies or industries change. Sometimes we just want to, longing for work that better matches our values or talents.
Whether it’s a new career, role, or location, it might be time for your next act. So with apologies to the theatrical professionals in our midst, here are four ways you can get ready for the next act in your work or life.
1. Go Backstage
Maybe you think your next act is to move to a new profession. Or maybe it’s just transitioning to a fresh project team within your company. No matter what the possible change, it’s time go backstage.
Going backstage and exploring how things really work is a great way to help yourself understand whether the “stage” you’re considering is the right one for you–or not! I’ve heard so many people assume they know what a certain career or industry is like. But when they take a closer look, they often come up with different ideas.
For example, my client Angie, a PR professional, initially claimed, “I could never work in healthcare–I’d need more medical education than I have to be successful.” But after encouraging her to “go backstage” and talk to others in the field, she found her assumptions were wrong. Those in her dream job didn’t have more education, but instead built relationships with experts and other sources who did. Even more importantly, she found her unique strategic skills were actually in demand.
The magic key to going backstage? Ask. Try:
- “I’m really interested in what’s happening in your company [or industry, location, etc.] Would you be willing to schedule a 20-minute call with me and tell me more about it?”
- “I’m curious to learn more about that [department, project, assignment] to see if I could help someday. Who would you recommend I talk to?”
- “Your [job/profession/expertise] seems fascinating from the outside. What’s it really like for you every day?”
Don’t assume you know what it’s like backstage–you never know what you might find!
2. Practice Cheating
No, this isn’t permission to deceive and lie! In performance arts, “cheating” means turning your body more toward the audience, while still looking at the other actors alongside you. It helps the audience connect.
How can you angle more toward your audience? What are ways to help them get a good look at you and your work, and to connect to you better? To “cheat” appropriately, consider:
- What meetings should you attend–or contribute more actively to?
- How could you be sharing your ideas more broadly–start a blog or comment on others? Share valuable links on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter?
- What trade or professional organizations will expose you to others you’d like to work with–or be like?
- Who could you invite to lunch, or a coffee, or a Skype chat?
Let’s not sugarcoat it–discovering and launching your next act can be time-consuming, emotionally exhausting work sometimes. (Hey, if it was easy, everyone could do it–and the reality is that most people don’t. But you are not most people.)
If you’ve been working on your next act for a while, maybe it’s time for an intermission. Choose a week (or maybe even a month) to give yourself permission to pause the process. That may mean:
- No new networking meetings
- No new classes, seminars, or workshops
- No reading career or self-help books
- No “what’s next” discussions at the office or dinner table
- No complaining about your current situation
When you give yourself an intermission, you give yourself the opportunity to absorb and internalize all you’ve done so far. And in that break–and absent the pressure you’ve been applying–you may find the discovery that’s been eluding you the most.
4. Take a Bow
Too often, we fly headlong into the next act without recognizing all that’s gone into the previous one. Take a bow, pat yourself on the back, and let yourself feel good about things you’ve done so far, like:
- Overcoming your fear of asking for a referral, recommendation, or introduction
- Putting the right words in your mouth, bragging in the right ways
- Staying positive and knowing the next act is coming–even when the intermission seems long.
Hold up your own applause sign, and you’ll find yourself closer than ever to the next act.