Are You Flying Past Pluto or Fly Fishing?

When you look at your job and or career, do you feel “I’ve got one shot to get it right,” or are you of the mindset that “If this position doesn’t work out, I’ll explore my options and find something else”? If the former, read on for the three steps you can take to break that stuck mindset and find the job or career that works for you – at least for right now.



“It’s good to have an end to the journey,

but it’s the journey that matters in the end.” — Ernest Hemingway

On July 14, 2015, the “New Horizons” spacecraft, having traveled 3 billion miles over a 9-year period, passed within 7800 miles of Pluto, snapping pictures and taking instrument readings that would forever change our understanding of that distant planet.

A year later, the New York Times commemorated the achievement by producing a virtual reality video of the voyage. Ever fascinated by space exploration, I inserted my iPhone in a virtual reality (VR) viewing device and figuratively became New Horizons as it screamed past multicolored Pluto, swaddled in the inky darkness of deep space.

As I sat back and watched the changing landscape of Pluto fly by, one particular point of the narrative caught my attention:

“After nine and a half years of travel, New Horizons had reached its goal, but it would only have one chance. . . .  One short flyby to plumb a planet’s mysteries, or fail in the attempt.” — The New York Times, May 19, 2016

There would be no stopping or backing up. No pleas from Mission Control: “Hey, we missed that feature; can you go around again?”

There would be no retakes. No redos.

It's about space

Days later, I had moved from the depths of intra-galactic space to the head-clearing space of a Colorado river. I stood in the “Dream Stream” – aptly named for every soul who has attempted to fly fish for the wily brown and rainbow trout in this stretch of Colorado heaven. But in this case, my guide and I had no need for dreams. Thanks to the wonders of polarized, amber-colored lenses, we could actually see the trout: in this case a huge brown that seemed to effortlessly hover in the current, waiting for unsuspecting bugs to come its way.

I cast my line and watched it settle on the water.

“Pick it up and cast again – about a foot to the left this time,” my guide coached.

I did a quick back cast and then sent the line forward, missing my target by a couple of feet.

“The wind . . . ,” I muttered in a vain attempt to brush aside my lack of skill.

That’s OK, that’s OK. It’s still there. Pick it up and cast again.”

I complied.

You put that right on top of him; he never had a chance to see it.  Pick it up and cast again – about 10 o’clock to us.”

I complied. This time, my eyes, brain, and muscles finally coordinated, and the line behaved.

“Perfect,” my guide whispered.

We watched the line drift toward the fish. And then:

Oh!,” my guide loudly complained. “He saw it and turned his head. Pick it up and cast again!” he urged.

I complied.

And we continued this dance of casting, schooling, learning.

And periodically we replaced one fly with another.

And periodically we moved to a different part of the river.

We shifted.


As I eased into my extended leg-room seat for the return flight to New York, it was easy to look for the deeper meaning of things. Fly fishing will do that to you. As someone once said, “. . .  it’s not the fish you catch, it’s where fly fishing takes you.”

And where it took me at that moment was back to the work I do, and how some of my clients find themselves looking at their current career as if it were likely to be their only career.

They are stalled for any number of reasons:

  • There’s no way to grow in their current work.

  • They have a manager who affords them little space.

  • They’re passionless about what they do.

  • They feel safe. They may be unhappy, but they’re doing what they know.

They approach their work-life as if they are New Horizons. They’ve traveled many, many miles, and they stare singularity in the face. There’s no going around. No retakes. No redos.

Most people, however, will experience a multitude of careers.  And I don’t mean work within the same field, which I equate to short-term functions. I mean work in different careers, which are longer-term pursuits of a passion.

They are the fly fishers: learning, changing, shifting – working different flies and streams throughout their lifetime.

Casting a new line

So, how can you begin to make the shift to doing what you really want? Here are three steps:

  1. Don’t confuse functions with skills – Often times when I probe clients around their strengths, I’ll get an explanation of what they do, rather than what strengths they bring. “I’m a lawyer.” “A bookkeeper.” “A teacher.” They immediately sense they have no transferable skills; to wit: “If I’m a lawyer, all I can do is lawyering.” It may take some time, but we have to get below the surface to see that their respective strengths, while important to job X, can be applied elsewhere: “I’m analytical.” “I’m good a synthesizing large amounts of information.” “I’m a good listener.” “I’m creative.” “I’m good at fixing things.” “I’m empathetic.”

    Ask: “What am I really good at doing? What are my aptitudes”?

  2. Embrace fascinations over what’s “practical” – Society at all levels has a way of telling us what’s “important,” and many of us from an early age are encouraged directly or indirectly to bury our curiosity and fascination. They are as much a part of our DNA as eye and hair color, gender, and personality.

    Ask: “What have I been drawn to for as long as I can remember? What am I passionate about?”

  3. Acknowledge, but don’t overfeed your constraints – “But I could never make a living at. . .” is the single biggest way to slam the door on exploring what could be. We don’t want to be ruled by constraints, but it’s critical to acknowledge them. Constraints can actually help us recognize variations versus absolutes, to wit: “I may not be able to be a __________ right now, but I could experience the joy of _________ if I did _________.” Who knows what could later transpire?

    Ask: “What’s one way to explore my fascination without worrying about having to make a full commitment to it right now?”

It all starts with. . .

The big question you can ask yourself is “What do I really want?” But here I don’t mean what you want in terms of a role as much as the qualities of that role. “I want to do something that taps into my inherent curiosity.” “I want to be part of a team.” “I want to work with my hands.” “I want to help others.” “I want to have an impact.”

Your inner critic will undoubtedly try to point you back to your desk chair. Change is scary stuff, and our inner critics would rather keep us safe than inquisitive.  A nod to yourself, as you sift through your virtual box of flies – “Just looking . . .” – often helps quiet down that voice.

With careers, redoes and retakes are possible. It’s a learning process.

So, you're dissatisfied with where your current line floats? Pick it up and cast again.

Jeff Ikler