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Picking a Passion Project

If you’re winding down a career and contemplating retirement, but also aware that a life of idleness isn’t going to work for you, it’s a great time to consider a second act passion project. All the hard-won experience in your memory banks can be put to use.

Your passion project might be a “people helping people” position such as social work, child or elder care, serving on a school board or donating time to a nonprofit you believe in—or hey, coaching. It might be writing a book, dusting off your camera and finally following up on your passion for wildlife photography, or singing in a choir. Maybe you’ll become a Master Gardener or finally learn Italian or design hilarious greeting cards.

If you know you want to do something but you’re not sure what it is, you might start by asking yourself some of the following questions.

Here are the most important things to ask yourself if you’re trying to choose a passion project:

  • What have I struggled with and overcome in my life?

  • What or whom do I wish had been there for me when I needed help?

  • What am I honestly good at that I haven’t necessarily been recognized for?

  • What would I like more of in my life?

  • When do I feel most authentic, most at peace, most enthused… most me?

  • What do I wish I’d been able to make a living at, but the economy didn’t support it?

  • What goals did I have when I was younger that didn’t happen because life got in the way?

Depending on your particular answers to these and similar questions, you might find a surprising array of potential ways to get an amazing return on the investment of your energy, expertise and curiosity.

Can career coaching be a passion project?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this line of inner questioning is what leads lots of people toward career coaching. If you gather a room full of coaches—any type of coaches—there is a distinct pattern to who they are and why they chose coaching. It very often boils down to “I wish I’d had someone like me when I was struggling.”

Few people come out of college and become a career coach, for the simple reason that it’s a profession predicated on experience. Someone without a diverse range of work experiences under their belt has little clue how to negotiate an offer, or figure out if a client should turn their back on project management and go in a new direction. For most of us, coaching is more than a career. It’s a passion we’ve developed over time—a passion for helping other people find their purpose.

I say this a lot, because it’s the truth: career coaches are often, frankly, misfits. I came to this profession after many years of frustration because I’d gone into Human Resources believing it was a way to help people—only to find out it was actually a way to help corporations, often by “helping” employees turn in their badges and slump out the door. Lots of coaches have similar stories. We’re square pegs who’ve tried to fit into many roles and maybe generally felt dissatisfied, dismissed or unrecognized. We’re often weirdly anti-establishment (it sounds ironic but it honestly isn’t). We like underdogs. We chose to be our own boss because we chafe under authority. We chose coaching because we know the pain of being unable to show the world what we’re good at and we want to help other people get out of careers that don’t fit them. In some cases we’re recovering people-pleasers who learned from a succession of toxic work environments that “No” is a complete sentence.

If the world of work has left you a little battle-scarred, but your love of humans is still intact, career coaching can be incredibly empowering and rewarding. You’ve seen the man behind the corporate curtain. You know what “you seem overqualified for this role” is shorthand for. You’ve survived some layoffs—and probably failed to survive a few. You’ve cracked the code of workplace hierarchy and you’re able to see all the places where a given skill or talent might be valued. It’s not a bad way to spend your days. Hell, what am I saying? It’s a great way to spend your days.

Of course, coaching isn’t the answer for everyone, but you can take a page out of our book and ask yourself the same discernment questions we do. Whatever the case, there is power at the intersection of your experiences and your dreams.

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