A person holds a vintage compass and map illustrates a change direction in life

Are you thinking of doing something different with your life? How might you experiment with new goals and ambitions?

Despite all your efforts to keep moving forward, sometimes your plans simply don’t work out and you discover that a goal isn’t as achievable as you’d originally thought. Adam Alter argues that, rather than throwing your hands up and quitting, you might need a change in direction.

If you’re facing failure, here are ways you can change direction in life.

Explore New Directions

Just as slowdowns are inevitable, so is the need to periodically change direction in life, especially when something you’ve worked for doesn’t happen. Alter says the first step when facing failure is to ask questions. Can any part of your work be saved? Are there adjustments that can turn things around? Suppose you’ve worked hard to start a new business, but customers aren’t flocking to your store. Before declaring a total loss, ask if anything could be changed about your merchandise, marketing, or location that would make your business more successful.

(Shortform note: Whereas Alter talks about questioning your work at or after the point of failure, business experts argue that you should be measuring and questioning your progress at every step along your path. In The Lean Startup, Eric Reis highlights the importance of measuring progress in the right way so that if the time comes when you need to change direction, you’re already prepared with the answers you’ll need. Likewise, in The Infinite Game, Simon Sinek suggests that, as you’re working toward a goal, you should assume that a change in direction is inevitable and prepare to explore new directions in advance instead of putting it off until a crisis.)

Many Ways Forward

Alter writes that changing course on a long-term ambition requires flexibility and a willingness to experiment. The whole basis of experimentation rests on the idea that there’s more than one potential path to success. Instead of being trapped by one guiding idea, be curious about alternatives and explore every viable option until you find a way to make progress again. For example, some people who feel stalled in their careers often leverage their skills to switch career paths into a whole new field. The same holds true for organizations, as evidenced by the many established companies that explore new markets by funding start-up ventures.

(Shortform note: Just as it’s important to measure progress long before your progress grinds to a halt, it’s key to cultivate a flexible mindset before the time comes when you need to switch gears. For example, in The Essential Drucker, Peter F. Drucker says that business leaders should always be asking what their company’s mission will be in the future in the event that some disruption to the market renders its current services obsolete. The same holds true for people whose jobs may be altered by new technologies such as artificial intelligence. With strategic foresight and a little preparation, you can leverage your skills to pivot your career around any coming roadblocks instead of letting change drag your work life to a halt.)

Businesses look outside themselves for new ideas, either by hiring consultants or recruiting new talent with a diversity of backgrounds. Alter suggests that individuals who feel their progress waning can do the same thing. If you’re out of ideas, reach out to somebody else. You can do this through your personal circle or via many networks online, but it’s important that when you seek outside ideas, they should come from perspectives that differ from your own. Even if the ideas aren’t from experts in your field, seeing your work from a different angle will disrupt your status quo and may spark inspiration you wouldn’t have received in any other way.

Role Models and Organizations

In The Motivation Myth, Jeff Haden offers some practical suggestions for finding outside ideas as a way to jumpstart your progress. One is to find an exemplar to emulate, preferably someone who’s a high achiever in your field of choice—whether that’s your professional career or another aspect of life you’re working on. Haden suggests that you pick one thing your role model does that would push you toward your goal, even if it goes against your normal behavior, and add that to your daily routine. Doing so will stretch you out of getting stuck and develop your skills in ways you might not expect.

Another of Haden’s recommendations is to join a social group, such as a club of experienced hobbyists or a professional organization. Being in such an atmosphere will put you in touch with many people whose personal experiences you can draw from. In the same vein as Reis, Sinek, and Drucker, Haden proposes that you take these steps as you work toward your goal long before you find yourself in a rut. However, should your progress start to flag, then emulating a role model or joining a group can spur you along for the reasons Alter mentions. 
How to Change Direction in Life & Work: Find a New Way Forward

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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