Is Your Profession Like an Arranged Marriage?

Last Updated Sep 7, 2011 2:23 PM EDT

You may not realize it, but you're probably in an arranged marriage.
Most of us don't do what we love. Instead our backgrounds, education, and experiences conspire to match us with a suitable profession. Schools and friends and circumstances slowly pull us, often without our noticing, into a business or career that eventually feels more like one that was chosen for us rather than one we chose.

While for some people inertia or golden handcuffs keep them in their arranged professional marriage, it's more likely you no longer even think about what you would like to do. When you feel stuck, it's not as easy as simply imagining what you'd like to be doing. If you've been stuck for many years, you might not even be able to re-imagine yourself doing something else.

If that's you, you're not alone. Once at a speaking engagement I did a quick survey; I asked the 300 people in the audience, "If you could wave a magic wand and immediately be in a different business or profession, how many of you would?" Almost all of them raised their hands. (I suspect the people who didn't raise their hands were sitting next to their bosses.) Then I said, "Okay; now, how many of you know what business or profession you would change to?" Only about 10% of the audience kept their hands up.

If you feel you're in an arranged business marriage, would like to do something different, but don't even know how to start figuring out what you'd like to do, here's a way to get un-stuck: Use the Refrigerator Test.

Think about it: Most refrigerators are covered with special photos symbolizing or commemorating what means a lot or makes you proud: Family, kids, achievements, mementos, etc. Imagine you can only put photos on your refrigerator that involve your current business or career. Are you only seeing your own reflection?

Now imagine what you would like to see on your refrigerator. What would you want to be able to put there: A photo of you receiving a degree? A photo of your new business the day it opens? You leaving for your first day of a new job?

Then think about the personal photos you would like to see -- not of your family, but of you: Maybe you with other volunteers assisting a worthy cause. Or you completing a marathon, or at the summit of a climb, or on a trip you've always dreamed about.

A business or profession doesn't have to be "'till death do us part." If you feel stuck, use the Refrigerator Test to imagine how you want your refrigerator to look.

That's the first step on the road to doing what you love.

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    Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business from managing a 250-employee book manufacturing plant. Everything else he picked up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest CEOs and leaders in business. He has written more than 30 non-fiction books, including four Business and Investing titles that reached #1 on Amazon's bestseller list. Follow him on Twitter at @Jeff_Haden.