“What If?” as Inspiration, not Obstacle

question-mark freeimages

In recent weeks, I’ve found myself in conversation with many people contemplating significant career changes that would spawn major life changes.

As I listen to these friends and clients, I’ve noticed how often their thinking begins with some version of the circuitous “What if …?” question-and-answer game that so often leads to a dead end … or at least to a highly unsatisfying cul-de-sac.

Hanging out in debate with themselves as they ponder the lesser of all evils, paralysis sets in. Decisions are delayed. Opportunities are missed. Anxiety grows.  And nothing really changes … for better or for worse.

Playing the “What if …” game puts us on a roller coaster. We begin by exploring an idea that seems exciting and appealing, but before we know it, BOOM!

  • What if my salary drops and I can’t afford the same home, lifestyle, and hobbies that I enjoy today?
  • What if my family and friends think I’m irresponsible / selfish / foolish (insert whatever judgment you anticipate here)?
  • What if I pursue this and fail?
  • What if my partner, spouse or kids can’t accept this or don’t want this for our family?

It’s common to arrive at an obstacle that frightens us, seems destined to bring ridicule or criticism, or leads to lifestyle changes we might feel unprepared for.

road-closed-sign Free ImagesAnd so we hesitate or discard the idea. Comfort and familiarity win out as we deem this idea an unattainable fantasy. Regret and disappointment might creep in.  Fear re-routes us away from our dreams and our purpose.

I don’t know about you, but just writing that, I feel like someone shackled me to a tree in the middle of nowhere.

But WHAT IF we used the “What If” game to generate positive outcomes rather than negative ones? WHAT IF we turned the Q&A on its head and found inspiration instead of obstacles?

It might look like this:

  • What if, by discovering and pursuing your passion, you inspire friends or family to do something bold and rewarding in their own lives?
  • What if the negative consequences you fear never happened?
  • What if there are effective ways to navigate and manage those undesirable consequences you dread?
  • What if you’re able to re-apply your existing experiences in a unique way in this new career and because of that, you set yourself apart from the rest?
  • What if who you are in the face of change and in the pursuit of your passion provides a valuable life lesson to others?
  • What if you pursue your dream and it doesn’t work out perfectly, yet you learn, grow, and build new relationships that are immensely rewarding … perhaps even life changing?
  • What if – in the process – you discover new experiences or previously unconsidered opportunities that enrich your life? 
  • What if you do nothing? Imagine yourself 10 years from now reflecting back on the path you choose. How might you feel then?

Success can take many forms, and traditional definitions of success might not be at the end of every pursuit. Your future will most certainly look different in some important ways if you choose to make a major career or life change. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It could, in fact, be the path to real joy and satisfaction in your life.

If you’re contemplating a change and are finding yourself stuck on the “What If” hamster wheel, hop off and give me a call. More often than not, a few conversations can provide the clarity and confidence to move into action.

Posted in Blog, Leadership and tagged , , , , .