The Bachelor - a popular reality TV show - offers an example of how we absolutely, positively should not make career decisons.
Premise: A very eligible Bachelor (last season featured an NFL quarterback) stays in a mansion with several eligible young women. They seem to spend their days swimming, tanning, and speculating about the Bachelor's intentions. They meet the Bachelor in one-to-one and group activities. Each week the Bachelor gives a rose to the women who will continue to compete, and two who do not receive a rose go home. (If you're a more faithful viewer than I am, please email me with corrections!)
So what can we learn about career reality from this reality show?
1. Walk out the front door of your comfort zone.
From the women's perspective, The Bachelor is a metaphor for the wrong kind of job hunting. Whenever you're one of a group chasing the same dream, it's difficult to create a realistic game plan and use energy efficiently. But they're chosen to compete and it's so easy to get caught up in the game.
Career changers, of course, aren't stuck in a mansion with a single prize, however dazzling. Like the contestants, though, they can get awfully comfortable. Better to walk out the front door and keep looking until you recognize your true goal and the ink is dry on the offer letter.
2. Prepare for irrational rejection.
If you choose to stay and compete, remember that the decision-maker is looking for reasons to eliminate options because there are just too many choices to evaluate rationally. Interviewers overwhelmed by hundreds of resumes often can find an adequate choice from the first fifty or from any fifty chosen at random. You can't read anything into rejection except the laws of probability and randomness.
3. Look through the windows: there's a world outside!
When you're caught up in an intense contest, it's easy to forget there's more than one race in the world and certainly more than one prize. And I believe everyone should pursue multiple goals at the same time. It sounds time-consuming, but usually you can achieve synergies by creative planning. You learn how to pursue one goal by striving after another. And most important, you're likely to come out a winner.
4. Recognize that choices look different when you're on deadline.
From the Bachelor's perspective, there are pluses and minuses to this series of forced decisions. First, it's easy to procrastinate when you face a tough decision. A deadline often clarifies options and actually makes the choice easier. But when you're facing a complex decision with consequences that last for years, where a mistake can be costly, it's best to take more time.
5. Don't anticipate the final decision until the ink is dry on the contract.
Nothing happens until you get the offer in writing. In one episode, the Bachelor took two different finalists to the same jewelry store to look at engagement rings! Even after you've looked at rings together, the show seems to say, you're not even engaged to be engaged. (We won't go into the ethical dimensions of these actions in the context of romance. But would you want to accept a rose or a ring from someone who just went through the same process with a different potential partner?)
I've heard first-hand accounts of verbal offers that were withdrawn or materially changed by the time they were translated to writing. And even written offers can be withdrawn for sufficient reason. During times of stress, people make promises they don't intend to keep, and others hear promises that were never intended to go beyond light banter.
Bottom Line: It's no accident that Bachelor match-ups seem to fall apart when the season ends. And it's no accident that great decisions lead to empowering, satisfying, meaningful lives.
Career Consultant Cathy Goodwin, Ph. D. created the 21-Day Extreme Career Makeover guide for midlife professionals who want to transform career breakdowns to career breakthroughs. Get started here
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