What should I do with my life? (in brackets)

The new president has declined to participate in March Madness this year. No filling in blank spaces to arrive at a prediction of the men’s NCAA basketball champion. Maybe he’s just looking at it the wrong way. ‘Bracketology’ is simply a means to eliminate options to arrive at the best decision.

Completing a NCAA bracket is the perfect ‘trial run’ for the other major decision we face – what should I do with my life?

With a little imagination, you can use the bracket concept as a decision matrix to manage career choice, job search or your network.

In 2007, sportswriters Richard Sandomir and Mark Reiter published ‘The Enlightened Bracketologist: The Final Four of Everything’, applying the methodology of March Madness to everyday decisions.

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“Bracketology—the practice of parsing people, places, and things into discrete one-on-one matchups to determine which of the two is superior or preferable—works because it is simple. It is a system that helps us make clearer and cleaner decisions about what is good, better, best in our world. What could be simpler than breaking down a choice into either/or, black or white, this one or that one?”

How can we apply the scaffolding of March Madness to job search? Let’s say you are totally undecided (confused, terrified, ambivalent) about your next career move. All you know is you’re not happy with your current work situation. Where do you begin?

Try categorizing your interests using the bracket system. Instead of four regions, fill in four career fields that might interest you. Next, identify sixteen possible employers in each field. Once you have your potential employer roster identified, begin your research.

This may be a good time to develop a parallel list of contacts: a bracket representing your network. Use the same four career categories and identify folks who have broad expertise in the profession. In this ‘exploration’ phase you are aggregating data about industry trends, market leaders, and potential for growth.

As you progress with your data gathering, you will begin to eliminate some organizations in favor of others. Once you get to your ‘elite eight’ employers, schedule your in-depth information interviews.

As you talk to people you will begin to establish a realistic assessment of ‘organization fit’, and evaluate your chances for success.

The ‘elite eight’ forms your target list. By the time you have narrowed your selection to eight, you should feel comfortable that each employer presents a realistic starting point in the next phase your career.

As with any selection process, you don’t have total control. The employer extends the offer and you have the choice to accept or continue to pursue other options.

The NCAA tournament lasts three weeks. If you start filling in your career brackets now, you will advance through the exploration process at a pace to be ready for interviews by ‘tip-off’ in the championship game.

Its time to add a little ‘March Madness’ to your job search, and some fun to a typically stressful routine.

 

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Where do the remnants of your childhood dreams reside? In the back of a closet? In a pile of boxes in a storage locker? In the memory of a childhood hero? Or, is there a kernel of that imagined life germinating in your days @work?

When we get stuck in our careers it makes sense to step back and imagine our work in the eyes of a five year old. Most of us are probably not dressed in the costumes of our earliest aspirations, but taking a look back at a photo of our pre-school self might provide the starting point for redirecting our career GPS.

We spend a lot of time in our lives fulfilling the expectations of others. In school we excel to please teachers and parents, we compete to attend the ‘right’ college to impress our peers, and we contend with other candidates to land the ‘best’ job offer. The process can become an end in itself, and one day we are sitting at our desk wondering how we arrived.

Rewind. What did you want to be when you grew up? Is there an element of that wish that links to the career decision maker you are today?

Maybe the opportunity to be the prima ballerina with the New York City Ballet is no longer an option, but could your dream of the dance connect with an alternative artistic career choice?

Start with small steps. Talk to people who actually are @work in your imagined dream job. What’s the reality? Could you test your interest with an internship or volunteer experience before you abandon your current source of revenue?

When we are young our career fantasies are limitless. We haven’t encountered any opposition to our imagination. That picture of our five year old self is a ‘screen shot’ of us before brick walls. Adults didn’t take our plans too seriously and encouraged our wildest dreams.

Now, you are the adult, looking at the photo of yourself BBW (before brick walls). What has happened over time between that image and today’s selfie? Maybe it’s time for the two of you to have a conversation about what’s next.