I was talking to a client who is currently a senior executive at a Fortune 500 company. As often happens in large political environments, there was a major restructuring, and after discussions, she decided her best decision was to leave. .
My client, I’ll call her Laura, is blessed with a solid track record of success and a financial cushion. It gives him the luxury of thinking about his next chapter. She doesn’t know exactly what she wants to do next, but she definitely knows what she doesn’t want to do: always the same thing.
She asked me what she should do: Work on her resume? Call a headhunter?
As an executive coach, I have helped many clients through various career transitions. My advice surprised her and may surprise you: Become an exponentially more interesting person.
Successful executives tend to follow the well-trodden path up the career ladder. As you get older, you naturally get rid of a lot of things that you consider superfluous. Your professional and personal networks shrink and you end up knowing mostly people in your industry. As you take care of work and family responsibilities, outside interests and hobbies fade away.
So at some point in your career, you’re just single-threaded. And you’re very good at the things you’re very good at, so of course, executive recruiters will call you for jobs that require those things. And since you like to succeed and have all the right answers, who can blame you? – You will be tempted to pursue and accept that same old job.
To resist to the temptation. Take the time to refresh your perspective. When your inputs are the same, your outputs are the same. So if you want different outputs, find new inputs. Focusing on becoming exponentially more interesting will mean different things to different people, but it certainly won’t mean the same thing.
Here are some ideas to help you become more interesting.
1) Find new hobbies proactively. Many of my clients are founders of highly successful startups or C-Suite executives at Fortune 500 companies. Their most common answers to the question “what are your hobbies?” is “work is my hobby” or “my children are my hobby” or simply “between work and family, I don’t have time for leisure”.
I am nice. But if you’re trying to become exponentially more interesting, it’s essential that you have things to talk about besides work. Leisure gives you that. They also help you open up, develop your skills, well, develop new skills and make connections between disparate ideas.
Do something you’ve never considered before or scratch an itch by finally resuming the activity you’ve been putting off. Try something like archery, bird watching, beekeeping. Train for a 10k or decide to take on the 30-day Happiness Challenge. Grab a musical instrument or find a meditation group, even if it’s virtual for now.
Hobbies stretch your mind, which helps you think laterally. New hobbies also give you something interesting to think about and talk about, so you’ve got a whole new reservoir of stories at your fingertips – you’ll never know who else loves ax throwing or CrossFit until until you start talking about it.
2) Build a large network. When was the last time you had a deep conversation with someone who was completely outside of your field? If you’re a business executive, you may never have met an opera singer, a storm chaser, or an astronaut.
I’m not saying you’ll suddenly discover a singing voice that you hide from yourself and the world or drop everything to prepare for your NASA physical exam. But meeting people who are very different from you exposes you to a particular worldview. New people tell you new stories. New people know different people. Ultimately, having a variety of people in your network helps you connect the dots in a different way, and it all makes you more interesting.
You can find new people by asking your friends to connect you with the most interesting people they know. Be explicit that you are not asking to network to find a new job. You just want to broaden your horizons.
Certainly, when you embark on your new hobbies, you will also meet interesting people. For example, I know the CEO of a media company who is learning to be a pilot, something that has been on his list for a long time. Not only does he stretch, but he also connects with people around the world who are also pilots. Through these contacts, he learned a lot about flying as well as other cultures and attitudes.
3) Date new jobs. Many people assume that when they change careers, they should take a few months off, find their new full-time position, and get started. Instead, consider experimenting with a few different opportunities and create a portfolio. This approach has multiple advantages. It allows you to try new things without fully committing to any of them. This allows you to learn new skills that can help fill in your gaps and also give you compelling conversation starters.
Another advantage is that it relieves you of the pressure to find your passion or the job of your dreams. Having a portfolio sets everything up as an experience. You can focus on learning and growing rather than on the job.
My client Rebecca did this when she retired as CFO of her tech company. She was tempted to accept the first offer she received as the CFO of a private equity-backed company. Instead, she decided to serve on the board of directors of a non-profit organization, work part-time as CEO of an animal shelter she supported, and consult on the business strategy. Thanks to her new experiences and the people she met, in 18 months she became the CEO of a fast-growing healthcare start-up and landed a seat on the board of directors. She did not follow a linear path and her choices were risky. Unlike the initial role of CFO, which was predictable, she didn’t know where her choices would lead her, but they ultimately led her to much better professional adventures.
4) Read widely. Reading new things helps you think differently. If you usually read fiction, try history. If you normally read business books, how about self-help? You can browse through a list of classics or get started with science fiction.
Expand your definition of “reading” to include audiobooks and podcasts. Either way, expose yourself to new information.
Once you’ve done that, find a way to brainstorm with others. Join a book club or start one. A co-worker of mine has a group that reads ten pages a week of an interesting but difficult book – very manageable – and then has a zoom call together on Sunday evening to discuss it. It helps them tap into the ideas in the book, and the discussion helps them get to know new people and develop lateral thinking.
5) Find out what is interesting about others. You become more captivating when you extract what interests others. You do this when you compliment them directly, talk about their interests, and use what they say to find commonalities.
Ask people deep questions and listen to the answers. For interesting question ideas, you can download my list here. Also, follow your curiosity and don’t be afraid to ask someone a more personal question. I once asked someone how she met her husband and it turned a tense conversation into an open discussion.
Then, to be really captivating, take note to follow what they told you the next time you interact. People love to feel seen, and having you remember the conversation will go a long way to making you memorable.
Thinking about ways to make yourself exponentially more interesting will lead to a richer life. It will also help you generate new ideas and open up new paths for your life and career.