A not inconsequential fraction of the clients I work with come to me after having wrestled with, for many, one of life’s primary issues: staying in a career or job that they can tolerate and that provides stability vs. traveling down the unknown path of change, without a clear destination. I am able to help guide a number of these clients towards a specific career or job target. But for just about as many I help them embark on a path of exploration and discovery – with no clear destination.

This week I met with a client who falls into the latter category. He has worked as an interpreter for fifteen years, and has no other work experience. Even his college major related to language. Up until now he had never needed to seek work – it always seemed to come to him. Unfortunately, the lucrative contract work he had been relying on was drying up, as some of the huge multinationals which had hired him found an ever-expanding pool of younger multilinguals. He wanted to transition to a career in which there was the possibility of more stability, but he had no idea of what that might be. Unlike another client in a similar situation (who is an avid outdoorsman), he didn’t have a passion that might suggest a direction. Interestingly, he didn’t hate his work as an interpreter, but just felt that demand for his services would continue to shrink. And the entire process of looking for an alternative path had left him feeling so overwhelmed that he was stuck.

I am taking a three-pronged approach with this client. First, I am urging him to improve his outreach so as to be able to generate more business. Tasks I assigned were trying some new means of networking (create a Linkedin profile and begin inviting people to connect; contact associations related to his language; start attending Meetups related to his language expertise) and marketing (investigate how other interpreters were marketing their services; think about what he would say in an AdWords banner to attract clients).

Another path I urged him to travel down was to consider putting together several part-time paid “gigs” that, in total, would provide him with the income he felt he needed PLUS would give him the interaction with others that was woefully lacking in his work as an interpreter. Perhaps as a part-time sales associate in a retail store frequented by native speakers of his language specialty, or as a bartender a couple of nights a week.

The third leg is to explore entirely different careers; we identified teaching as something he might be interested in, and I suggested that he contact the American Federation of teachers for information, plus searching the internet for both job opportunities (against which he could check his credentials).

At several points during our session he repeated his feeling of being overwhelmed – and, looking at the tasks above, it is not surprising that he felt that way. What helped him was my pointing out that

1 – He was fortunate enough not to be pressured to make a quick decision

2 – Each of the tasks could be taken one step at a time

3) The steps could be spaced at comfortable intervals – perhaps one step every two days. So, for example, the Linkedin assignment could be broken into half a dozen parts: 1) learn a bit about the features of Linkedin; 2) sign up; 3) create a profile; 4) create a list of people he wanted to invite to link with him; 5) create five personally tailored non-generic e-mail invitations; 6) send the invitation. At the suggested pace, this one series of actions could take place in less than two weeks. If each of the eight other tasks had six steps apiece, it would still take only about three months to accomplish them all, at which point he could make a far better-informed decision as to which paths to continue following.

Feeling overwhelmed is natural when faced with a major life decision, particularly if that decision requires a lot of background investigative work. I’ve seen the phenomenon not just in career choice, but in such other weighty decisions as whether or not to have a child, or whether to move to another city. Break the process into small pieces and it will be much easier to begin, and to complete.