Why you should stop pursuing your goals


“Most of my career is based on the fact that I went out for ice cream one night,” my writer friend Megan tells me.

This makes total sense to me.

Over the past week, my two most significant work leads both popped up serendipitously while I was taking much-needed breaks from the slog of job hunting.

In the first case, I was seeing a movie with a friend (the excellent “Margin Call,” in case you care).  We’d just settled into our seats when I espied two familiar faces, my former neighbors Lou and J.R., whom I’d last seen a decade back.

In the course of a brief friendly chat, I learned that Lou now chairs the board of our local employment board, the regional policy-making authority in developing workforce skills.  We quickly exchanged contact info—yes, I’m on Facebook, too—before the lights went down.

The next day I had a Facebook message from Lou with one concrete job lead and offers of further help.

And that’s not all.

As it happens I was in the midst of struggling to launch this blog, and as it further happens, Lou is a total computer genius.  In the course of Facebook and Twitter exchanges, followed by a couple of hours at a local café, he pretty much answered all of my urgent technical questions. (If you’re thinking this blog looks way better than it did a week ago, you have Lou to thank.)

In the second case, I was hanging out with new friends at a weekly coffee klatsch. (I’ve taken to calling our group The Coven, but that’s another story.)  I’d briefly considered skipping this week since I had loads to do, but I do love coffee and I love these friends, so in the end I went.

Good thing, too.

“So what sort of job are you looking for,” Ellen inquired. “Because I have a friend who works at a non-profit that might be looking for a writer.” Within a day, she’d put me in touch, and I’d sent off my resume.

My friend Megan’s story is more of the same: Out with her family at Herrell’s, our most excellent local purveyor of ice cream, she bumped into a woman who’d hired her four years earlier.  “Would you like to do a small project?” her former employer asked, after they’d caught up. That single chance meeting led to six years of steady freelance work.

So what are the lessons here?

Sometimes the best way to pursue your goals is to stop pursuing them. This isn’t to say that standard job search strategies don’t have their place. It is to say that they aren’t necessarily going to be the ones that work. That’s especially true today, when personal connections matter more than ever in a world where, at last count, there were seven unemployed workers for every job opening.

It’s easy to feel guilty for taking a break when you’re looking for work—especially as the days roll by and the pressures mount. You need to remember that job leads can pop up in the most surprising of places.

Plus everyone needs a break: You can’t just live your job search. You also must live your life. And sometimes the best way to do both may be to go out for ice cream.

Note:  The featured players in this post also have blogs of their own. On the job search front, Lou Franco’s Software Business Blog recently offered excellent advice to software developers looking for work. And for amusing musings on life in our beloved Northampton, check out Megan Rubiner Zinn’s Life in the Little City. (I especially loved her recent post There are a Million Viruses in the Little City.)