Every other Sunday, The Simple Dollar reviews a personal growth, personal productivity, or career book.

the leapThis is a book I wish I had my hands on about two years ago.

I was working at a job I liked, but I also felt that there were several directions in which I was unable to spread my wings. The work I was doing was slowly moving in a less creative direction over time. Plus, I wanted to spend a lot more time with my children and limit my work-related travel to perhaps one trip a year at most.

For me, “the leap” was into a freelance writing career and it seems to have worked out. The Leap, by Rick Smith, is a guide to this very kind of move. You’re in a job that’s stifling you in some way and you want to move in a different direction with your career and/or your life. What can you do without sacrificing the income you need?

Before we get started, I found the advice in this book often paralleled my own experience, but in more than a few places, it dropped some insights that I didn’t think of or didn’t expect. In other words, I would have loved to have this book in my hand about two years ago.

1. “Great Work, You’re Fired”
Sometimes, when you think you’re in an incredibly secure position in a successful job with a great company, it’s all swept out from under you. You’re walloped with a new passion (like writing, for example). Your life context changes – you fall in love or you have children. The economy changes and your job is “downsized.” Your company’s CEO makes some really stupid moves and you’re “downsized.”

These types of changes happen more and more often and yet people are still often gobsmacked by them. Yet we all have the opportunity to turn lemons into lemonade. We just have to start now.

2. The Now Trap: Stuck in the Status Quo
One of the biggest traps we fall into in the workplace is the urgency of now. Most of the time, we’re chasing the things that need to be done immediately, but all of these little “putting out the fire” actions do nothing to actually establish a great career. We’re trapped by the moment in our jobs. Instead, it’s the less urgent things that tend to establish us: completing projects, improving ourselves, and so forth.

Sometimes we need to set aside the “now” and work on the truly important things that are a little less urgent. Commit to some projects or some educational opportunities. Don’t just worry about the “now” – devote some of your time to building your value for the future.

3. Breaking Away: The Three Rules
Smith proposes three “rules” for getting you from where you are to a position where your job doesn’t control your life or your career future. For the most part, these rules revolve around figuring out where your skills and passions overlap and maximizing that area, which he calls your “primary color.”

Of course, these three rules are discussed in detail over the following three chapters.

4. Primary Colors: Tapping the Energy Within
We each have a distinct set of strengths and weaknesses. We also each have areas we’re passionate about and areas we’re less passionate about. Quite often in life, we spend time trying to patch up our weaknesses and trying to improve ourselves in areas we’re not really passionate about. Smith argues that this is a giant mistake.

Instead, we should focus on the areas where our strengths and our passions overlap. So, for example, if we’re awful at public speaking but good at writing, and we’re passionate about fiction but don’t like science, we should avoid public speaking on science topics and instead focus on writing fiction.

5. What Is My Primary Color?
The trick, of course, is figuring out where our skills and passions lie. Smith refers to this as our “primary color.” In essence, this “primary color” is essentially a description of our core personality – what we’re naturally geared toward and skilled at.

Smith offers such an assessment for free at www.primarycolorassessment.com. I took the test myself and came up with 85% curiosity, 35% execution, and 33% leadership, which sounds about right. I prefer to come up with ideas, but will lead or be involved in execution if need be.

Is it useful? I think it is if you spend some time really contemplating the results and asking yourself how they match – or don’t match – what you’re doing.

6. Big, Selfless, and Simple: How Ideas Become Contagious
The most valuable thing in the modern workplace is the idea. People who come up with ideas, share those ideas, and are involved in implementing those ideas are the people who get ahead. Of course, without other people buying into those ideas, it’s very difficult to get your ideas heard and implemented – which means that you need to work on the “stickiness” of your ideas.

Most of this chapter lines up perfectly with the excellent book Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath (which I reviewed and loved a while back). In fact, I’d consider it reasonable to simply read the full book than read this chapter, since the ideas are similar and the general concepts are covered (in my opinion) in the book by the Heaths.

7. The Spark Sequence: Stacking the Deck
How can you know if this idea you think would match your passions and skills would actually work out? The best way to find out is by doing it – devoting as much of your time as possible to exploring that junction between your passions and your skills. Practice. Dive into opportunities. Back away from the optional things in your life that are less fulfilling and instead fill your hours with finding that crux between your passions and your skills.

One strong exercise that Smith suggests is simply writing down your idea, then making a list of five or ten questions that, if you knew the answer to them, would make your decisions about that idea much easier. Those questions then become your checklist – strive to answer as many as you can without giving up your current way of life.

8. Aristotle on a Lily Pad: A Perspective on Life-Work Design
Smith closes out the book by calling upon the philosophy of Aristotle to make a simple, yet central, point: the journey is what really matters. As you go along and figure out what you’re passionate about, you might have your eye on the destination, but the journey is where your true lessons will be learned. Your destination will likely change over and over again, but the lessons learned along your journey will stay with you.

Is The Leap Worth Reading?
The Leap is a very solid book for people who are struggling with finding the career they’re meant to have – a position I found myself in not too long ago. It’s incredibly straightforward, yet it provides plenty of food for thought and reflection.

I’ve been reading a lot of career books lately and many of them overlap on a lot of themes: finding your passionas and strengths, focusing on things that build value for you over the long term, building you and not your organization (remembering that a better you will help your organization more). The Leap presents all of these ideas very cohesively and clearly.

It’s a book I wish I had in my hands two years ago.

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