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Career changes are some of the biggest moves we will ever make, but they don’t have to be daunting.
Using mental models can help you clarify the direction you want to go and plan for how to get there. They are tools that will give you more control over your career and more confidence in your decisions. When you do the work upfront by examining your situation through the lens of a few mental models, you set yourself up for fewer regrets and more satisfaction down the road.
Do you know where you want to go? Are you moving with direction or just moving? As a mental model, velocity reminds us there is a difference between speed and direction.
It’s easy to move fast without getting anywhere. We can stay busy all day without achieving our goals. Without considering our velocity, we run a huge risk of getting sidetracked by things that make us move faster (more money, a title on a business card) without that movement actually leading us where we want to end up.
Once you know where you want to end up, it’s often useful to work backward to where you are now. This is known as inversion. Start at the end and carefully consider the events that get you there in reverse order.
For example, it could be something as simple as waking up happy and excited to work every day. What needs to be true in order for that to be a reality? Are you working from home, having a quiet cup of coffee as you prepare to do some creative work? Are you working on projects aligned with your values? Are you contributing to making the world a better place?
Take stock of the skills you already have. Why do you need to do this? So you know what you can repurpose. Here, you’re using the concept of exaptation, which is part of the broader adaptation model in biology.
Exaptation refers to traits that evolved for one purpose and then, through natural selection, were used for completely unrelated capabilities. For instance, feathers probably evolved for insulation. It was only much later that they turned out to be useful for flying.
It’s hard to know how great (or terrible) a job is until you actually do it. We often have two types of maps for the careers we wish we had: maps of the highlights, success stories, and opinions of people who love the work and maps based on how much we love the field or discipline ourselves.
The territory of the day-to-day work of these careers, however, is very different from what those two maps tell us.
In order to build a more comprehensive map of your dream job, do your research on as large a sample size as possible. Talk to people doing the job you want.
In this particular situation (of a career change), it can be helpful to use a Bayesian casino.
A Bayesian casino is a thought experiment where you imagine walking up to a casino game, like roulette, and quantifying how much you would bet on any particular outcome.
Probabilistic thinking isn’t a predictor of the future. With any big career move, there are inevitably a lot of unknowns. There are no guarantees that any choice is going to be the right one. The Bayesian casino just helps you quantify your thinking based on the knowledge you have at this moment in time.
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