A percussionist has a way of creating music out of a couple twigs and an iron pot. A dancer can turn an empty room into a mosaic of movement. Why not use your own inherent creative capacities to be the artist of your own life?

We often feel trapped; unable to change directions while on the roads we travel.

But just as a writer can overcome creative blocks when staring at a blank sheet of paper, we can all overcome the blocks that prevent us from seeing creative possibilities for our lives.

I was an electrical engineer for over a decade before I decided to make my own creative career changes — going back to graduate school and becoming a published author.

It was a process consisting of a lot of sweat, doubt, and frustration. As it turns out, lots of people go through the same process.

As I chronicle in my book, The Power of Thinking Differently, the creative process is similar across disciplines—from art, business, to scientific advancement.

It is also the same for those of us wanting to make creative changes in how we make a living and how we live our lives in general.

The following ten steps to creative career changes are adapted from both the research for my book and my personal experience. Though I’ll emphasize “career” changes, the steps can be applied to any life changes you may wish to make.

I hope it provides you with a useful map to wherever it is you are meant to go.

1. List Your Reasons for Change

Begin by taking an inventory of the negative stuff. What is it about your life that you would like to change? What about it makes you unhappy?

Be as specific as possible. Write a list consisting of short declarative statements that get to the point.

It’s often easier to first figure out why we want creative change, and what we are changing from, before deciding which direction to go.

2.  List Your Passions and Skills

Over time, some of us stopped making life decisions based on what makes us happy. Instead, decisions were based upon the expectations of others. We ended up living our lives based on somebody else’s story of what a good life looks like, rather than following our own internal compass.

The result is your list from step #1.

Now it’s time to reclaim your life.

Start by listing what activities, hobbies, or aspects of your current job give you joy. What gets you excited just thinking about it?

You can take a look at your own personal history to get more ideas. Sketch out your autobiography to get a sense of your life’s highlights. When you were a child, you often did things because you loved doing them. What are some examples of this?

You can also take an inventory of all the things you were, or are, naturally good at.

At the end of this step you’ll have a collage of potential aspects of your new career.

3. Explore Crazy Career Ideas

This is the stage of the creative process where businesses brainstorm, where sketch artists doodle, and where scientists experiment and hypothesize. It is also the stage where you give yourself freedom to dream up crazy career possibilities.

Wanna be a writer? What kind — for a magazine, for a newspaper, a book, for film, or a blog?

Love traveling? How about being a tour guide, or working for an airline to get free flights?

Or how about combining traveling and writing and becoming a travel author?

Relax, have fun, and simply play around with nutty ideas. Mixing and matching, making connections between alien concepts, is how creative ideas come about.

It is also the key to turning what you love into how you live.

Write down as many ideas as possible. Try to connect as many of your interests and passions and skills as you can to form interesting ways of making money. The more obscure the better. You won’t have any competition in the market place.

The key to this part of the process is to get as many ideas as possible without judging their feasibility. Your ridiculous idea about selling crotchless briefs may lead you to your life’s work in humorous clothing design.

4. Prioritize & Choose

At this point you should have a list of great ideas that you’ll want to pursue.

Now you need to filter. Now you need to look at the ones you’re most passionate about and start to judge them for their feasibility.

Einstein wrote lots of papers that nobody ever found useful, and Picasso had books of sketches that were never turned into masterpieces. But both were able to use their wild explorations to arrive at some inspired works.

You can do the same. Pick an idea that you’re most interested in and focus on it in the steps to follow.

5. Clear the Path by Realizing Your Assumptions

For many of us, we fail to fulfill our creative changes because we feel we can’t. We feel that our circumstances make it impossible to change.

Now it’s time to really stare that assumption in the face.

Take a look at where you are in your life (#1) and compare it to where you want to go (#4). What obstacles stand in your way? Write down everything you think is preventing you from pursuing your crazy career ideas.

Our mind has a tendency to exaggerate our obstacles and fears. The door we’ve never opened before can seem scary simply because it leads to something unknown.

Going through the process of realizing what those obstacles actually are may reveal to you that the emperor has no clothes.  The shadow in the wall of your bedroom may just be your bedpost, and not the boogieman.

Hopefully you’ll begin to see that there’s a lot less in your way than you first thought.

6. Challenge Your Assumptions.

Also embedded within each obstacle you listed is an assumption about how the world works. By writing down a list of your obstacles, what you are really describing are your assumptions–the dominant stories you tell yourself about life.

Through our culture we’ve learned certain rules about how to make money, about how to find love, and about what careers are possible. But just as an artist breaks the rules of what good art should be in order to come up with something truly creative, we too need to challenge our assumptions in order to live more creatively.

The earth was thought to be flat until somebody had the audacity to challenge that assumption. Similarly, movies were silent until somebody asked, “does it have to be that way?”

7. Organize A Game Plan

Hopefully after going through steps #5 and #6 you have a pretty good idea of what real challenges stand in your way.

With this knowledge it’s time to strategize and organize your creative career change.

  • Write out an end goal.
  • List the actions steps you think you’ll need to take to get there.
  • Then write out a schedule to keep yourself accountable for completing your tasks.

8. Recruit Help

Too often when I was making my own creative changes, I felt as if I had to do everything by myself. It was my life, so I felt that my journey was supposed to be a solitary one.

Not true.

My friends each have certain skills and attributes that were helpful in making my career change. Fortunately, a few of them were more than willing to lend a hand.

  • You could have somebody help you fulfill some of your action items.
  • You could also have somebody act as your project manager, making sure you are following through with your tasks on time.
  • Or you can simply ask somebody to be an encouraging voice every once and a while.

Corporations organize teams to get stuff done. Why don’t you organize your own team to help you make your vision of a new career a reality?

9. Execute Your Plan

The creative process is often filled with failure and setbacks.

It’s a very recursive process: one experiment leads to failure, which then leads to re-evaluation, and then leads to a more promising direction. There are no foolproof paths for your career.

Just realize that failure is just feedback. It’s a data point to help clarify your end coordinates.

Also, be aware that any movement is better than no movement. You can’t sail to your final destination until you first begin to leave the shore.

So, feel good about even the smallest steps realizing that most people never even leave their islands.

10. Keep Your Motivation Fueled

In a survey of creative people, the biggest contributing factor to their creativity was intrinsic motivation — how much they enjoyed what it is they were working on.

Throughout your creative process, find ways to keep your motivation fired up and burning.

Sometimes this means spending time remembering how much you disliked your previous career – hence your list from step #1. Pain can be more powerful than pleasure. So recalling this pain may be just the fuel you’ll need to keep you going.

Second, try to have fun with your journey to a new career. The more stressed and worried you are about your new adventure, the less enjoyable it will be. Also, stress hampers your ability to see more creative choices and creative insights that may help you along the way.

Making career changes can be very scary and may even seem like an impossibility. However, with courage, creativity, and a continued remembering of why you want to change, a new career is within your grasp.

*Note: I’ve done my best to keep these steps as general as possible. Please feel free to comment below and ask me specific questions for clarification. I’d love to hear from you.

Photo by Tiago Ribeiro

Javy Wong Galindo

Javy Wong Galindo, M Eng., is a self-proclaimed creative thinking dimwit who has a penchant for over exaggeration. This former electrical engineer and performing artist is the author of The Power of Thinking Differently: An imaginative guide to creativity, change, and the discovery of new ideas. Laid off from his job as an electrical engineer in 2007, Galindo turned a setback into an opportunity, going back to graduate school to partake in a two-year journey to explore the science and psychology of creative thinking. When he’s not speaking on creativity, Javy can be found singing at a club, performing bad comedy improv, writing an unfunny comedy sketch, running poorly on an uphill trail, or attempting to catch flies with chopsticks.

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