I love connecting people! I recently arranged a lunch to introduce Laura, an investor, and Jan, an incredibly successful woman who has served as CEO for several start-up technologies companies. I was just happy to be a fly on the wall for that conversation.

I listened in awe as they shared ideas, asked and responded to tough questions and agreed to share contacts. After nearly two hours, Laura said, “OK, time to put our needs on the table.” Each discussed where she needed support and then looked at me. “What do you need, Misti?”

Terrified and reluctant, I said, “Ah, keynote speaking opportunities.”

“Well, you need to build your brand then,” Laura says.

“I’ve been building my brand for five years, Laura.”

“That’s it? Keep going at it!”

My heart sank. I’d missed an awesome opportunity. “Come on, Misti,” I kicked myself as I drove home. “Couldn’t you have been more specific? These women could open doors for you!”

Yeah, yeah, I could have said I want to keynote on generational diversity. I’m a recognized expert and best-selling author on the topic. But I didn’t. In that moment, I realized I need to shift my practice to encompass leadership and communication from different perspectives. But I love generational commonalities, and isn’t it good to have a niche? And there are so many possible directions, I’m not sure which one best fits my passions and life experiences.

Should I simply continue taking the opportunities that come along and hope one will lead me where I’m supposed to be? That’s the route most people take. They feel stuck in their careers, having lost touch with their passions and neglected to expand their abilities. They stay in jobs they don’t like, too busy doing what they’ve always done to focus on finding new opportunities, hoping someone will notice their talent and hand them the perfect job.  But time goes by, and no one does. When an executive asks what they’re up to, they keep their heads down and say, “Working away on XXX project,” rather expressing desire for new opportunities – much the same as I did with Laura and Jan.

But that’s not really my style – at least not anymore. I plan to get some clarity around my purpose so I can stay in the driver’s seat of my career. Here’s what I’m doing to reinvent myself in 2010 – to rediscover what gets me excited to work every day: 

  1. Writing. I write on a wide range of leadership topics for the Washington Post every week, which is helping me solidify my own perspectives. I journal nightly, reflecting on the day and noting any epiphanies. It’s a phenomenal exercise, no matter how talented a writer you are. I’m also writing a memoir and learning a lot about myself along the way. 
  2. Exploring. After moderating a recent panel, many attendees told me I’d be a great talk show host. That got my brain going, but I needed to first understand what was involved. Instead of telling my network I want to be a talk show host, I asked if they knew anyone in that role I could interview so I could determine if that’s a good path for me. I know I want to be an international award-winning author and speaker whose work makes a difference. So I’m researching a few writers I deeply admire. What interests you? Who can you interview to better understand what it means to do “that?”
  3. Being vulnerable. Few high achievers are willing to admit when they feel lost. Instead, they fake focus until they actually feel it again. That strategy seems too isolating for me, so I’m just putting it out there. Yes, I enjoy creating bridges between different generations, but there’s more for me to write and speak about. For the first time, I’m allowing myself to be in a place of “not knowing,” and I don’t really like it. But I’m pushing through it.

The world has changed a lot in the last couple years, and many of us want to redefine ourselves. Now is the time to uncover our gifts, set goals and take those next steps. It’s the perfect time to ask, “Am I loving my work? Am I giving it my all?” If not, “What experiences can I gain? Who can I get to know? And with whom can I share my fears?” Many will react out of fear and run to the next job that pays the bills. What will you do?

Offered with respect,

Misti Burmeister, Washington Post best-selling author of From Boomers to Bloggers