"I'd really love to quit my job and assemble Ikea furniture," my client said to me last week.
Though she is a prominent leader in an international company, overseeing offices in multiple countries, she jokingly fantasizes about leaving it all behind for black and white instruction manuals and particle board.
This topic inevitably comes up with each of my clients—secret wishes for their careers. Here are the three types of fantasies I've heard:
The Escape Fantasy
I want to get out of the complex work environment I'm in and step into something straightforward and clear. (I want to work for a landscaping company so I see and feel the gratification of a job well done!)
The Light at the End of the Tunnel Fantasy
When I push through this tough period, when my toxic co-worker finally changes their personality, when I outlast my ineffective supervisor, then work will get better and it will be what I want it to be.
The Impossible Dream Fantasy
I have a big, exciting dream that I know I want but here are 15 reasons why it's never going to happen. (I really want to leave my organization and start my own creative branding business, but that's just not possible!)
I've had all three of these fantasies at different times.
When I was a middle-manager, I dreamed of working at the front desk of a spa. I wanted to be in a place that was all about wellness, surrounded by soothing music and aromatherapy. It seemed like the opposite of where I was. (And even though it seemed CRAZY, I did it. I left my job and worked at the front desk of a massage therapy office for a year—see the view from my perch above. Folding piles of soft sheets felt amazing and helped me to completely reframe my personal definition of success.)
During a year in an organization without a CEO, I fantasized about just getting through until the new leader was in place and all would be right again. (I made it by the skin of my teeth, but learned a lot about what leadership meant in that time when I didn't have it.)
When I was training to be a coach, I envisioned what it would be like to become a full-time coach with my own business, but had a laundry list of all of the barriers that meant that would never happen. (It was more possible than my fear allowed me to realize, and Penney Leadership is about to turn one.)
What can we learn from these career fantasies?
--> They provide data about what lights you up at a core level
--> They bring your unmet needs to the surface
--> They spark powerful questions to ask yourself about what is and isn't possible
Here are some questions to ask yourself in order to dive deeper:
For The Escape Fantasy:
What does my escape career offer that I'm not getting where I am?
What would I find fulfilling about this type of work?
For The Light at the End of the Tunnel Fantasy:
How can I best care for and sustain myself through this difficult period?
If I could wave a magic wand and fix this specific situation, how much of an impact would that have on my overall job satisfaction?
For The Impossible Dream Fantasy:
What is comfortable about framing my big dream as "impossible?" What is uncomfortable about it?
What's one small step I can take to explore the viability of this idea?
Write down your answers to these questions. What do they tell you about your current situation and the next steps that you could take?