429x A few years ago, I let others plan my life (for 90 minutes).

There were several risks facing during my big, sudden, unplanned job transition.

My friends convinced me, however, that there was a bigger risk than my never finding employment. "You will find work, Artie," they said, convincingly.

The greater risk — greater than my having to search for the next employment for too long — is that I would find work too quickly, because I might choose mindlessly. 

"And then 18 years will pass," a teacher told me. "Your bosses or clients or students and their families will be happy. And 18 years will pass and you won't have done the most important work of your career."

"The most important work of your career."
Those words haunted me. They inspire me still.

That's why that brainstorm was so powerful for me. Because it lifted my head and eyes to more possibilities. And because it was others — friends who love me — thinking about me. They added their perspective (all that Artie might enjoy) to my panic (I gotta work).

I'm Not The Only One
Of course, there are so many friends who are between jobs. It's happening more often, to more people — and lasting longer. So there are more folks off base at any given time.

Recently, with a few friends between jobs, I've led similar brainstorms for them.

Here's how to play the home version of the game.
Amid all the networking and researching and informational interviews and LinkedIn work (which I've covered here), take a morning off for a brainstorm.

Find four to six friends to sit around a table in one of their homes. Recruit them by sending an email:

I'm at a crossroads and need your help.

In my current unemployment, I need to protect myself from taking the wrong job. Sure, I want a job — and now. But I also know that, thirty years from now, I'll look back on this transition. And I want it to be my best transition. One that led me into the most meaningful work of my career.

I'm concerned that I might jump at the first offer. (Who can blame me? My kids are addicted to food.)

So, I'd really appreciate it if you would sit with a few other friends of mine and brainstorm about what I'm good at, what I might most enjoy doing — what I should do for a living. I think that several friends might uncover in 90 minutes what I might miss during these anxious months.

Oh, and please accept this only if you can keep everything discussed confidential.

You can send them these brainstorming guidelines.

Game Day
Then, when they are around the table, say:

I'm going to attend the first 15 minutes and the last 30 minutes. I'll excuse myself for most of the meeting, so you can talk frankly about me in my absence.

Here's my story: my concerns, my goals, what I like. [Be prepared to state all this, clearly and concisely in four minutes. Practice it beforehand. Don't wing it.]

But you might know me better than I know myself, because you see me. So I want to hear your thinking on what I should do next. 

Any questions? [Each person gets to ask only one question. Keep your answers brief and to the point.]

Thank you for your time, for your love, and — as we all agreed beforehand — for keeping everything you discuss confidential.

Then leave them — leave the house, take a walk. Leave them with lots of blank paper and pens.

When you come back, listen.
Be completely open minded. Leave your fear at the door. Don't be defensive. Don't draw conclusions. Just listen. If you are asked a question, answer it in one short sentence. Listen.

It will be fascinating, because your friends are helping you author the most fascinating story you've ever considered: yours.

Thank them profusely. That will be easy. You will be stunned by their thinking and kindness.

Then spend several days letting it soak in. Keep listening.


If you are currently gainfully employed, offer to lead a brainstorm for a friend who isn't.