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Do Anything

I Can Do Anything (Part 2)

From Career Tips, 2024 Volume 4, April 2024


Man Facing Choice Of Paths In Forest
Photo by Vladislav Babienko on Unsplash


In March, I used this lyric from the very talented Sadie Pepitone’s original song, “Cigarette Smoke” as a jumping-off point to talk about a common issue that holds back those in a career search:


“There was no rule book for me, no answer key, no one to tell me what I could be.”


Last time I talked about how this “I can do anything” attitude, positive though it might be for your psychology, can lead to unfocused messaging. Now let’s explore ways in which it can create an inefficient search, and what to do about that.


When you approach your search with an “I can do anything” attitude, it can be hard to commit to one direction.


When you feel that your skills can apply to multiple types of roles, or multiple industries, there’s a natural reluctance to target just one. Why shouldn’t I just cast a wide net, since there are so many things I could do or so many places within which I could do it?


The most successful marketing is niche marketing, and that applies to a career search as well. When you come across as laser-focused on a particular, specific direction, people remember that. You are seen as a specialist, and get more opportunities presented to you around that specific direction, vs. others whose direction is more general.


For example, I have come across many attorneys in my travels. But the one who stands out the most in my mind is one who specializes in veterans. Whenever I come across something involving issues veterans face or opportunities for veterans, her name immediately comes to mind. More often than not, I will immediately forward that item to her.


Similarly, I attended a virtual workshop for professional speakers, and there was one speaker who specialized in coaching women exiting the military. You might think that would limit her clientele. Actually, that narrow focus resulted in a steady stream of referrals, often from other coaches, simply because she was the specialist.


If you try to keep your approach ‘open’ to various directions, you become much less memorable. You’re no longer seen as the specialist they should refer to others. These questions come up in the minds of those who might otherwise be good referral sources or internal advocates:


  • Can they really be that good at all of those?
  • What is their specialty?
  • Which is their true passion?
  • What do they really want?
  • Should I bother to refer them to Jim, who is looking for someone who can solve specific problem X / is in industry Y? Or will Jim have the same questions I have?


Some think they can solve this problem by tailoring their direction and associated message according to which that particular networking contact might be most able to help them with.


Some problems with this approach:


  • You split your network. Instead of getting everyone’s antenna tuned in the same direction, you point some in one direction and others in another. Neither target achieves the critical mass you would get from having everyone pointed in the same direction.
  • You don’t get as much practice and fluidity with your messaging and answering questions around one specific direction. You are continually shifting your own attention and psychology in one direction or the other.
  • There is potential for confusion when a networking contact you’ve tuned in one direction happens across one you’ve tuned for another, or you happen to be talking with one at a networking event and another overhears a different message than previously. Both now start to question what you are really looking for, and cease to be as likely to make connections for you in either direction.


My advice is to forget about all the things you COULD do and all the places you COULD do them, and pick one very specific direction. Get laser-focused on your messaging, the stories you tell, the problems you could solve and the results you could produce for that very specific option. Get all of your network rowing in that direction.


If you’re worried that might not work out, then set a timetable. If you’re still hitting your head against a brick wall and not making much progress after, say, 1 month of concerted networking efforts, then think about whether it’s time to shift directions. If it is, again get laser-focused on the next specific direction.


When you do, it’s not that hard to re-tune your existing contacts, so that you don’t lose much momentum. Simply say to them something like this:


“I really appreciate the advice you gave me when we last spoke. I’ve since reached some conclusions about the right direction for my search, and would love to share them with you. Would you have a few minutes for a quick call?” 


Along the way, you will occasionally hear someone say, “have you considered X?”, which is another direction in which you actually have some interest. It’s perfectly fine to discuss that with them, and even pursue that possibility in that specific case if it makes sense. Just do that tactically, when someone brings it up, rather than let it distract you from your laser-focused approach to everyone else.



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