From Grandiose to Granular

Elizabeth Gilbert's four words for anyone looking to make a career change

March 27, 2017

Have you ever felt called to do something else with your life or career? How do you decide if you should make that leap?

At +Acumen, we often meet individuals who are looking to add more meaning to their lives by taking on a job in the social sector.

Elizabeth Gilbert has some sage advice for anyone considering such a change. It boils down to four simple words – hobby, job, career, vocation.

Listen to her response to Usman, a computer programmer who feels drawn to the arts but does not want to disappoint his parents.

Use these five questions and worksheet to uncover what really piques your curiosity.

purpose map

Download this tool and ask yourself...

1. What are the issues I care about in the world?

Think about what topics get you excited, angry or inspired? What kind of debates do you find yourself in? You don’t have to pick just one.

Ex: Women’s rights, wildlife conservation, fashion 

2. Who are the people I care about in the world?

Now think about the population group that you care about. What kind of people would you like to serve? Who would you want to get to know more and work with?

Ex: Homeless, aspiring artists, schoolchildren 

3. What is a topic that you can get excited about?

Go a lever deeper. Elizabeth stresses the importance of getting “more granular and deeper”. For each of the issues and populations you identified, think about what specifically interests you. If you are struggling a little, you can try to think about a recent story or event that reminds you of an issue’s importance.

Ex: if the issue you care about is “wildlife conservation”. Maybe you get really passionate about “protecting the habitat of elephants”. 

4. Why do I care?

A very difficult question, and a very important one. This portion requires the most thoughtful reflection. Take a few minutes to think through what sparked your passion for this topic or people. How does your own personal narrative intersect with the issue? Take the time to talk to a friend, or self-reflect in your journal. The WHY is an important piece that will help you along your journey for change.

Ex: If your issue was to “protect the habitat of elephants”, maybe your WHY is “I travelled to Africa and saw the devastation of their natural habitat.” 

5. How can I start?

Anyone, anywhere can do something. The key, according to Elizabeth, is to start small. There is something we can do in our own neighborhood. Reflect on your answers from 1-4. For the topics you have uncovered, what is something very small that you can start doing today?

Ex: if the topic you care about is “protect the habitat of elephants”, maybe your small actions can be:

  • Host a movie night for a documentary on the threat to elephants with a few of your friends and family.
  • If you are in school, write a paper on the environmental threat to elephants and present to your fellow classmates.
  • Join your local volunteer group who works on wildlife conversation. An example could be WWF, your local zoo or museum.


For more on building a life led by curiosity rather than fear, check out Elizabeth Gilbert’s Master Class on Creativity.

Spread Positive Change



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