Try not: Lessons from Yoda, the Ultimate Career Coach

By February 22, 2015 No Comments
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“Try not. Do, or do Not. There is no try.” – Master Yoda

[text_output]Before you totally dismiss me as a nerd, even if you’re not into the whole science fiction thing, picture those words said by any other wise thinker – Confucius, Buddha, whomever you’d prefer. Because his advice to “Try not” is a great truth expressed so succinctly that will without a doubt make or break your career change.

If you’re switching jobs or changing careers, you probably feel a lot like Luke Skywalker did – your “life GPS” has lead you in a direction you were never planning to go. So now you’ve arrived on some swampy planet, and it’s not so easy to just head back the way you came (Luke’s X-wing was mired in the muck). The point is – that’s okay. Just like Luke, there are important lessons for you to learn here. I’ll try to be your Yoda, but I’m about 3 feet too tall and much less green to be an adequate replacement. So let’s hear what the master himself has to say.

“You must unlearn what you have learned.”

Successfully changing jobs or careers will require you to set aside a certain way of doing things that you’ve grown accustomed to. You will have to unlearn some of what you think you know about your working self in order to switch gears. By all means, take with you all the positive habits you’ve accumulated during school or work, but be prepared to ditch the ones that only developed due to convenience or lack of passion.

You’ll also need to “unlearn” much of what you think you know about a given career path. The behind the scenes view is always different, and almost always less glamorous than you think it is. In high school I had the opportunity to perform with a choir at some tucked away, off the beaten path stage in Disney World. They took us on a bus to get there through the “back” of Disney World. Guess what it looked like? Like a dump, like what you see behind any stripmall. Beware of excessively glamorizing the job or career you want to break into and prepare to learn with fresh eyes.

“Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.”

If you really want to change jobs or careers, one of the most difficult mental and emotional challenges you’ll face is letting go of so much of the things you fear to lose most. It’s likely that whatever you studied or jobs you have worked in thus far has come to define you in a large degree. It gives you comfort to know who you are through what you do or have done. So much of our identities become wrapped up in our working selves.

Changing careers means that many of those old definitions will go away, which isn’t a bad thing. In this “new economy” where people will change jobs and careers many times in life, clinging too fiercely to any one definition of self based on a current job is a recipe for emotional and mental disaster. As the master says, this uncoupling of yourself from what you do requires intentional “training” and daily application.

Part of this training is preparing yourself to let go of certain material comforts as well. Depending on your life situation and who you have surrounding you to help support you financially, career change is often a lean, frugal time. You’ll learn fantastic lessons that remain with you throughout your life, but there is a sacrifice involved, and fearing the loss of the comfort and stability a steady income provides could be reason enough to put your dreams on hold. But fearing too greatly has dire consequences, as we see in the next quote.

“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

When I was in the process of changing careers, it was an extremely difficult period in my life. When you allow fear to dominate your mental and emotional landscape, to dictate your every move, you will make no forward progress. In fact, you will most likely regress to a dark place that will put you even further from your goals. Giving in to fear without fighting back is a path to the dark side – I’ve been there. Yoda couldn’t be more spot on. Fear does lead to anger.

When I was terrified for myself and my future, scrolling through endless pages of job postings I felt I was in no way qualified for, my fear quickly blossomed into anger and frustration. I spent my days internally cursing all those places I applied to that turned me down or never got back to me. I harbored hate for the people around me whom I perceived as more successful than I was, but most of all I came to hate myself. And this lead to immense suffering.

I walk you down that dark path with me because I don’t want to see you there. One day I woke up and realized that all that fear, anger, and hate were poisoning me. I had a vision of the path that stretched out before me if I continued in such a way. That path lead to death – death of dreams, happiness, health.

“In a dark place we find ourselves, and a little more knowledge lights our way.”

In that dark place, that path that leads to destruction, I was fortunate enough to have people who cared about me greatly. They continued to support me in spite of the myriad ways I felt thoroughly unworthy due to my frustrated job search. I reached a point where if I couldn’t change paths for my own self benefit (having already abandoned myself to the dark side) that perhaps I could for them. I realized that not disappointing the people who believed in me and supported me in spite of myself could be a fulcrum for action. This little insight, this scrap of understanding, was a springboard that launched me onto the right path.

“Many of the truths that we cling to depend on our point of view.”

I had no idea how powerfully and unthinkingly my point of view was determining my reality. The truths that I had come to believe about myself – that I was unemployable, that I had no real skills to offer the workforce, that I could never make it in the “real world” – manifested themselves in every nook and cranny of my life. Those “truths” shaped everything I did – the frantic “throw it against a wall and see if it sticks” online applications; showing up for interviews and doing my best to sell my incongruous resume but thinking in the back of my head, “he’s not going to hire me, so what’s the point”.

I was too far “in it” to comprehend how devastating my self-sabotage really was. Each failed application or phone interview seemed to just confirm what I already knew about myself – I was destined for failure. Fortunately, I changed my point of view by revising those “truths” about myself, and that made all the difference. I did it – you can too.

“[Luke:] I can’t believe it. [Yoda:] That is why you fail.”

It turns out that belief – in myself, in my ability to find a position in a new career – was the determining factor in my failed career switch attempt. Without belief that I actually could do the very things I thought I couldn’t, I was trapped in a self-fulfilling prophecy. No one would hire me because they saw in my eyes that I wouldn’t hire me, either. It’s very possible that you aren’t even aware of how pervasive this self-belief really is. It could be like the background noise you’ve learned to simply tune out over time.

If you don’t keep a journal of some sort, now is the time to start. This is where such a practice can be incredibly revelatory and uncover these deep truths you believe about yourself. Spend time every day in your journal freely responding to the prompt: “What do I believe about myself? Do I believe that I can switch careers and get the job I’ve been dreaming about for so long?” There’s no better time than the present to make yourself aware of these vicious undercurrents that could be holding you back in dramatic ways.

“Try not. Do, or do Not. There is no try.”

This is the most important lesson by far. This supersedes and encompasses all the other lessons into one (not so easy to swallow) pill. When I was trying (and failing) to transition to a new career, I often heard myself say things like “I’m trying as hard as I can,” or “I’m trying to get an interview,” or something similar. I had to learn to erase “try” from my memory banks. I had to find the folder in my mind and heart’s computer and delete it. Drag “try” to the trash and empty it. Don’t back up the file so you can access it later. Try is dead.

What’s so bad about “try”? It might be the most insidious and subtle sabotage there is for any career quest. How so? “Try” is what you say when you aren’t fully committed. “Try” is a good word to use with other people to get you off the hook. “But he’s trying as hard as he can – shouldn’t that be enough?” The hard truth that was beat into my head after months and months of “trying” was that no one (besides your mom) cares about how hard you’re trying. Yoda makes it clear that “try” doesn’t even really exist. You’re either “doing” or you’re not.

The world we live in, and the “new economy” we face, is all about doing. Or not doing, depending on the strategy in a particular moment. But “trying” should become a dirty word to you. When you do eventually land the job you’ve been seeking for so long, never say to your boss, “I tried to do X, but it didn’t work”. Simply say, “I did X, and it didn’t work”. What’s the difference? “Try” weakens everything you do, every position. No one has any sympathy for try. If you “do” boldly and fail, you will gain respect (if the thing done made sense but didn’t work for unforeseen reasons). If you “try” meekly and fail, you may be criticized for a lack of conviction and purpose.

“Always pass on what you have learned.”

It’s important that your job search, as well as your eventual career, doesn’t become a one way street. Right now, from where you sit, you have something to teach someone. Most people find that the gains they receive from mentoring others far outweigh the costs in terms of time and energy. Of course, you need to choose carefully, as not every apprentice will be a good fit. Focus on people who genuinely want to learn and become better. Don’t skimp on this – pay it forward and help the next person in a tight spot.

How does this advice resonate with you? Share in the comments below.

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