How to Find a Career You Love – with Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman

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A recent Gallup poll suggests that 70% of American workers are not engaged in their jobs. They don’t like what they do, or changes within the organization have made it difficult to enjoy their days. But working is important, we need the income, we need the benefits. Most importantly, we need a purpose in life. How do we find a career we love?

I’ve invited Ken Coleman on the show today to help us figure that out. Ken is a career expert and national radio host of the Ken Coleman Show. Pulling from his own personal struggles, missed opportunities, and career successes, Ken helps people discover what they were born to do and provides practical steps to make their dream job a reality.

Ken’s latest book, The Proximity Principle, was a Wall Street Journal Best Seller and hits on this very subject.

Andy Hill: Were you ever a part of these 70% of Americans that didn’t enjoy their work?

Ken Coleman: Absolutely. In fact, that’s where all the work comes from: a place of experience, where I was in the shoes of those 70%. There’s all different reasons for why someone is in that spot. But I certainly was in that spot. I knew what I wanted to do but I was scared. I certainly had a lot of doubts, and pride.

As you know, we write about that in the book, The Proximity Principle: fear, doubt, and pride are the enemies of most men and women ever getting into that sweet spot where what they do best and what they love to do most intersects. In other words, you’re doing what you were created to do.

I was there. It is possible to get unstuck, if you want.

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How did you discover the career you were interested in? And what were you doing before you found that career?

I was very intentional as a teenager to be honed in on what it was that I was created to do. That comes from my mom and dad, they instilled that in my brother and I. So early on, I had a good sense that I was going to be in some public role.

I thought it was going to be in politics. So I went after that, right out of high school, into college and got into the political world in the state of Virginia. I had some success and ended up working for the Governor of Virginia at 22. Then I got out of that about a year later to get a private sector business resume, if you will, all for the purpose of running for office one day. So very, very intentional.

The sweet spot is where your greatest talent and your greatest passion intersect, in other words, you use what you do best to perform what you love to do most. Within that sweet spot there are multiple jobs and multiple career paths as well. So it’s very important that people, as they begin to hear this, will begin to put all of this together. It’s not one thing and only one thing.

That’s the beauty of that analogy; within that circle, as long as you are using your top talents to do work that matters greatly to you, you are, in fact, doing what you were created to do.

So I’m on that path, I’m in my sweet spot for sure. What happened was, there was two parts to that formula, and the passion side began to wane, it began to kind of drop because of the political culture I had been in. The road was torn away, and I could see all the ugliness. I was disappointed with what I thought was unprincipled leadership. I just really began to question, is this the place? Is this the work? Doing political work, is that the work that brings you the most joy? The answer became a very clear yes.

I’m in my early 30’s, in that position of leadership, and picked a place to live that would set me up to run the whole nine yards. But now I’m stuck because I realized, wait a second, the political world is not what I want to be!

I had to retreat back to a formula that a mentor had taught me years earlier. So I went through the process of re-discovering. What I realized was that my talents and skills were still the same. The passions themselves, the type of work, the results of the work weren’t really any different. It was just: where would I do that?

That’s important for people to understand for my story, you might be in a similar situation. But a lot of people get confused: “Well, if I’m not enjoying this anymore, I’ve got to completely change and just go in a completely different direction”

It’s a slight change, if you will. Public service, and being a politician or elected official is a public role, and so is broadcasting. In both of those situations, I’m communicating. That’s my top talent: to help other people.

We begin to look at, if I go into broadcasting, what type of broadcasting? Do I want to do sports broadcasting? Sports broadcasting is allowing me to use my talent to communicate, and I also get to use my passion of performing, but what’s the result of the performance? Is it just entertainment around sports? There’s nothing wrong with that! But for me, that wasn’t enough. That’s when I began to look deeper into it and wondered: is it possible to get into talk radio and television and help people discover their purpose and what they were created to do?

There was a season of being very stuck, because I left to start my own company in order to be able to pursue the dream and I was terrified. I didn’t have a lot of connections, and was waiting for somebody to discover me.

That’s one of the Proximity Principle; the opening chapter begins with that story for people to understand. I know what it’s like to be stuck doing something that you don’t love. That certainly was the case for me.

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How did you overcome those fears and make that leap from your current career to broadcasting?

I love that question. The way you overcome fear is by shining the light of truth on the lie.

So fear is a liar, period.

It feels real, it feels truthful, it makes a lot of sense. We can rationalize our fears very rationally. But the fear of absolute financial failure, the fear of rejection, the fear of what my peers and friends and family would say if I stepped into this space, having been successful in a completely other space… those were the big fears that I dealt with. And largely, a lot of people deal with a similar version of those fears. So let’s look at those three.

1. Fear of Financial Failure

If I go after this, and I go after broadcasting, I’m going to have to sacrifice and I may get fired. But it’ll also be an opportunity… how long is it going to take? Am I going to burn through my savings? All of these kinds of things are very real fears. Then you’ve got to try and align your truth on them.

If fear is a liar, then what’s the truth? The truth is, if I’m smart and I plan, and I keep going, I win in my small business. I plan and I work a budget and I don’t get into debt, then I’m mitigating the risk. The risk is not that high. Am I going to have to make some sacrifices? Yes. But am I going to starve? Or are my three kids going to starve? Or are we going to become homeless? No. Not if I use my brain, and I use some discipline and I’m patient, and I don’t jump off a cliff.

But if I jump off a cliff to try to achieve the dream, there’s a high probability I’m going to die.

2. Fear of Rejection

What’s the worst that could happen? They say no? It’s going to sting and I’m not going to feel very good about myself for a while, but that’s part of the journey. How many other successful men and women have faced rejection along their path to success? So rejection is a part of the deal. It’s the price of admission, if you will.

So that’s, again, the truth to the lie.

3. Fear of What Others Will Say

If they think I’m crazy or delusional, then they’re really not as close of a friend as I thought they were. My true friends know that I do have the talent to pull this off. They’re going to root me on, they’re going to hold me accountable, they’re going to challenge me when I need challenging, but they’re not going to ridicule me. So again, there’s the truth.

When the thought pops in your mind, none of us can control the thoughts that come in our mind. You can’t control what comes in. If you allow it to take up residence in your brain eventually it’ll trickle down to your heart. So the way to do this is own the lie, own the fear, say the fear. This is the fear. This is what I’m afraid of. Then almost, if you have to, write it down and look at it. It’d be great if you do it with somebody who is objective, who you trust.

You write the fear down, then I’m going to write the truth under it. Every time that fears pops in your mind you’ve got to. It’s a simple psychological exercise, but it works, and it’s super practical.

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Why is it important for people to align themselves with the right people?

We know that our peers, the people we spend the most time with, have the greatest effect on us. There’s a relationship study, it’s pretty much the gold standard among all psychologists and counselors that Harvard University did. It’s been around for 70 plus years, and one of the professors who put the study together has had tremendous impact on it in these later decades.

It says that 95% of your success or failure is predicated upon who you hang out with. So just let that sit for a second. So anything about my failure or success, 95% of that is based on who you’re spending the most time with.

Jim Rohn, the legendary personal growth guru said that “You are the average of the 5 people that you spend the most time with.”

So you take those two pieces of data, and you think about that: are you hanging around with people who are positive? Are you hanging around people that are on purpose themselves?

The analogy I like to use is when I trained for the half marathon a year ago. I did a couple of training runs with guys that are faster than me and better runners than me, and as a result my particular times on both of those instances were faster. Why? Because their natural pace was a little bit quicker than mine. The other thing is that I was running with them. So I didn’t want to slow them down and I wanted to keep up with them. Just being in physical proximity to them, you want to keep up with them.

Are you hanging out with people that are on purpose in their own lives, and they’re getting after their own thing? Because they’ll pull you along, if you will. Then if they’re true friends, they’ll push you as well. They’ll say, “Hey, you’re not doing what you need to be doing.”

You know, I love this podcast. You need to have guys in your life that’ll say, “Hey, I watched how you were interacting with your kids the other day, that was a little too intense. Is that something you do all the time?”

In fact, I was texting a good friend of mine the other day, who was in Atlanta. I remember reconnecting after probably 6 or 7 months. He’s a good friend, but we don’t see each other a lot. We were talking some business stuff, and about halfway through the text conversation he said, “How’s your marriage?” You know, just that little question, he’s a guy that I’m honest with. We had a fun little texting, “Yeah, we’re actually doing great. But when parenting middle schoolers, it’s hard.”

He’s like, “Yeah, we had a rough situation in October. My wife and I went through a rough period over a way to handle a discipline situation with our little daughter.” That’s real. So I’m meandering a little bit, but on purpose.

When you have friends that are on purpose, and they care deeply about you, then you’re looking for three things, and you know, we write about this in the book. The right kind of peer is somebody who pushes you. Like the running example, they’ll ask you those tough questions and hold you accountable. They’ll just kind of make you want to do more.

So we need peers around us, that when we’re discouraged, when we face rejection, when we’re dealing with fear, we can retreat to them. I’ve got a good pal, my best friend, when I’m feeling down with something I’ll go tell him and he’ll just beat me up. Sometimes he’ll just walk away: “We’re not even going to talk about this. That is so ridiculous, I’m not even going to entertain the thought. It’s just stupid, get over it.”

That’s huge. So pushing you, lifting you, and then holding you accountable. They know your plan, they agree with the plan, and they’re going to say, “Hey, are you doing what you need to be doing here? Are you growing where you need to be growing?” It’s so important to understand that your trajectory, your pace has a lot to do with the people you spend time with. So if you’re seeing some frustration, and you’re not getting where you want to go, I think one of the things you’ve got to ask is:

“Are the people I’m spending time with, are they pulling me back? Holding me back? Whether intentionally or not. Or are they helping push me and propel me forward?”

Where do people start if they don’t like their jobs, but they don’t know what they want to do next?

This is the sweet spot exercise that we talked about. You want to make sure that you know what your top talents are. Some of you folks could go use the StrengthFinder’s 2.0 book, which I highly recommend: it gives you the top five strengths.

But this is also a good exercise, and you don’t have to spend money. This is all about self-awareness.

I would start with a sheet of paper, a physical exercise of writing stuff down that allows your brain to truly process the best way to be nervous. Get a paper, and write ‘talent’ on one side of the paper, ‘passion’ on the other side and draw a line down the middle.

Just for fun, let your brain just rip, let it go, and write down everything that you’re good at. I would say, if you’re a 7, 8, 9, or 10 on a scale of 1 to 10, one being awful, 10 being right, I would stick with the sevens and up. Just write it all down.

You’re going to order those things, and you’re going to get to the point where you’ve got your top skills and talents, and those top three or five things that you do better than everything else that you do. Then you go over to the passion side and do the same thing.

I began to write out what tasks and functions that when I engaged in these, a few things happen:

  1. I really get excited about it ahead of time, I’m looking forward to it.
  2. I’m engaged in the present, I’m really enjoying it. It gives me a good juice. I talk about it on the radio show all the time: the juice. You just have the juice, you feel it. Everybody knows what that feels like.
  3. Time seems to fly. It’s like, when you’re in it, not only are you in it, you’re in it and you don’t want to be done with it. That’s how I feel every day when my radio show signs off. I’m kind of like, dang. I could go another hour or two.

You want to gauge that. That’s where you begin to write these things down. Then it’s the exercise I talked about. You begin to look at the list and create a purpose sentence. This is a really simple exercise. Create a sentence after you’ve done those two lists, and write out a sentence:

“I was put on this earth to use my top talents of ____________ to perform the work of ________”

This is a 50,000 foot view, and you’re pulling your answers from your own answers, from up top here. Begin to just fill this in. I highly recommend using a pencil, there’s something psychological about a pencil, you just write it down, you can erase it, it’s really easy. You stay in that sentence. Fill that sentence out, come back to it for a couple of days.

Then after you begin to feel pretty confident, and you’ve got a general idea, then I’d take it to two, three, four people in your life that are truth tellers. So they love you and they know you. These are the attributes, and then they will tell you the truth.

That feedback, ultimately, if you’re really honest with yourself, and self aware, you’re going to get the feedback of confirmation, and that’s the affirmation. From there it’s okay. Now, how can I keep writing that sentence, and keep drilling it down into that? So again, as you’re beginning to continue to work through that every day, you’ll be amazed at how your heart begins to inform your brain and your brain begins to see things.

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I’ll give you an example. They know from psychology studies that when we go buy a car, that we see that car. Everybody’s experienced this. We see this car on the way home, we see it the next two or three days everywhere. Now I go buy the car and I’m all excited about how it looks, and then I see it everywhere. Then you’re kind of like, well, I thought I was the only one who had this car. You’re laughing because you’ve done this.

What has happened there? Well, your brain has become focused on something that you desire, to the point that you purchased it. And you’re all excited about it.

So the same car, those cars have been everywhere around you, the previous weeks, months, and year before the moment you purchased it. On the way home, and in the next few days, you see it everywhere. Why? Because your brain is so focused on it, it sees what it didn’t see before. The brain is powerful that way.

Just in case you’re wondering, and I’m giving you all this homework: why would I do this? Because what I just described, is essentially that same experience of shopping for a car. So we’re focused on the car, now we’re focused on the purpose sentence. One by the heart and for the head. This is what I want to do. If I could snap my fingers and get paid to do this, I’d feel like I’m stealing.

Well now, I’m going to begin to see all the different places where I could perform that. I’m going to see doors that I never saw before. I’m going to see relationships, people and places. That’s the Proximity Principle, right? I’m going to see the right people where I never saw them before. I’m going to see them in places where I never saw them before, that’s what happens.

How can people financially prepare to make this transition a reality?

You are not going to have to make a lot less doing something that you love. I’m just telling you.

If you do this thing the right way, you’re not going to have to take this massive pay cut. There might be a few instances where that happens. What do we do if that is the case? The reality is that for you to switch, you’re going to have to get qualified, right? So that’s going to take some time. We’re going to do all the qualifications and we’re going to do everything we need to do while we’re in that other job. We’re not going to see that massive drop. We’re going to do whatever it takes to get qualified.

That’s a learning process, a doing process. Then we’re going to get into the connecting process. Which is why we wrote the book The Proximity Principle, we teach you how to do that, and I’m sure we’ll talk about that.

That’s all going to happen like it did for me. It took me 7 years to get the pretty big break, then another two and a half years to step into the dream. So we’re going to do solutions. It took me seven years to get that massive opportunity. Then I had to pay my dues, keep doing it, and then two and a half, almost three years later, I get the big, big dream job.

So, folks, I’m talking 9 years here. Are you willing to do what it takes? Are you willing to wait as long as it takes? Because if you do it that way, there’s no need for this major financial going backwards.

I did sacrifice a little bit. So even my own journey, over time, I made a little less money but it wasn’t a big drop. It was a gradual drop, and I planned for it. I put the money away, I dropped my expenses, we sold our house, we reduced costs. In the grand scheme of things, our quality of life didn’t change. So you need to hear that: if you plan for it, it’ll be a gradual move. Not, like we talked about at the beginning of the podcast, a jump off of a cliff.

A lot of people say: “I want to start a side business, I eventually want to do this really for my day job and a side business.” Well, when you can afford to? That’s the answer. In that particular situation, you’re going to start the side business or the side hustle, you’re going to get it up and going, take your time, go slow, start small, grow slow, that’s my slogan, okay? We’re going to do that, and I’m going to put money away. If we have to pay off some debt, then let’s take all that extra money and let’s pay off the debt. Let’s get financially secure.

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Once we pay off debt, we’ve got a nice emergency fund. Now we’re ready to put all that money, retained earnings if you will, from the side business back into it. Essentially putting it in a savings account. You’ve got to make X amount of money over here: if I’m making $75k in my day job, I need to get minimum six months of my $75,000 salary in the bank, minimum. I’ve got my first year of salary in the bank, no worries. I’ve got a pipeline that I feel pretty darn good about, and then I’m saying, “Okay, I’ll step from the day job into the dream job.”

That’s an example of how, financially, you don’t have to take a massive step backwards. Now, temporarily, if you’ve got to make a little bit less in order to get there, that’s okay. If, in fact, you plan for it. So if you say, “I’m going to take a 40% pay cut.” Well I’m going to take that 40% and I’m going to take my time and save it so then when I make the jump, I’ve got that 40% buffer in a bank account and I know that it’s for 6 months, 12 months, 18 months.

I’ve planned for that, I’ve reduced my costs, I’ve saved up the money. So taking that pay cut is temporary. In all honesty, it’s not even that big of a pay cut. Yes, it’s a smaller check, but I’ve mitigated for it by saving up money and reducing costs. So I want to address that, because that’s how you do that.

What is the Proximity Principle?

So the Principle itself is, in order to do what you want to do you’ve got to be around people that are doing it and in places where it is happening. So the formula is:

The right people plus the right places will bring the opportunity.

That’s what we all long for. You spend time around the right people, people who are doing what you want to do in the space, the craft, the industry, then you’re going to get the opportunity to learn, do, and connect. That’s the juice. Proximity positions me where I need to be, that’s the people and the places, and propels me where I want to be. Again, that’s the opportunity that comes from being around the right people in the right places.



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Author: Andy Hill

Andy Hill is the host of the Marriage, Kids and Money Podcast which focuses on helping young families build wealth. This 5-star rated podcast was nominated as "Best New Personal Finance Podcast" by Plutus. Andy's advice and personal finance experience have been featured in major media outlets like Business Insider, MarketWatch and NBC News.

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