Laura Simms is an expert in modern, meaningful careers who challenges conventional wisdom by asking people to ditch their passions and start with purpose.
After struggling through her own career transition, Laura developed Your Career Homecoming, her signature career change process, to help people find careers that feel like home. This unorthodox curriculum sidesteps the familiar refrains to either “follow your passion” or “be practical” by emphasizing service, legacy, and each individual’s personal relationship to purpose.
Laura sums up Your Career Homecoming: “This highly personal four-month community program helps you discover a career that honors who you are, challenges you to contribute in a bigger way, and feels like an inevitable fit, even if you show up without any idea (or too many) about what kind of work you want to do.”
Q&A with Laura
You went from acting to career expert. What was the first indication for you that you needed to make a change in your own career?
I had spent a great day working on a network television show. I felt good about my work, hit it off with one of the series regulars, and enjoyed being on set. When I got home at the end of the day, the thought came into my head, “Did the way I spent my day make anyone’s life better? Did it make my life better?” When I started dreading getting calls from my agent, I knew something had to change.
What was that change like for you and how did it lead you to working with others to do the same?
This is going to sound dramatic if you’ve never walked away from your dream career, but it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I loved acting for a long time. It was not just what I did for work; it was a huge part of my identity. Giving that up was a long, slow struggle.
Once I made it through, I knew there was a better way to approach career change than the typical advice, because the typical advice didn’t work for me. I wanted to create the kind of support and structure I so desperately needed during my own career crisis.
Is “follow your passion” actually bad career advice? Why?
It’s not terrible advice, but it is incomplete. People hear “follow your passion” and think that’s the full story, and then get heartbroken and discouraged when it doesn’t work out. If you’ve ever tried to monetize a hobby or passion, you know what I’m talking about. And it’s not that you can’t make money from things you’re passionate about; you can. But when you follow your passion, your enjoyment of an activity is what’s primary. Not how it will serve others. Not how it will make money. And if you want your passion to be your career, that’s a problem. So I don’t advise that you follow your passion. I help people find meaningful work by starting with purpose, instead.
How is Your Career Homecoming different from your average career coaching?
Average career coaching looks something like this: meet with a coach one-on-one, take an assessment that’s supposed to tell you what careers would be a good fit for you, choose a career from the list the test tells you. Don’t like what’s on the list? Do a transferable skills worksheet. Bing, bang, transactional and one-dimensional.
Here’s what Your Career Homecoming looks like: following a proven curriculum with the support of a community and mentor. Discovering your own personal criteria for meaningful work in three key categories, and creating a list of Contender Careers based on your findings. Doing field work to research your Contenders so you know your choice doesn’t just look good on paper, but will really suit you. The process is thorough, creative, and personal. And it all starts by connecting with your sense of purpose.
What does it mean to “find a career that feels like home?”
You know that feeling of being comfortable in your own skin? It’s a relaxation. A quiet confidence. Being grounded. I love when clients discover a new career and say, “It really does feel like a homecoming.” No exclamation points, no fireworks. It just feels right.
What have you found to be common threads in work that people tend to find “meaningless”—the most common reason that incites people to look for meaning in their work?
Three things: a clash between their own values and the values the company practices (which are often different from the values they advertise in their mission statement), not feeling appreciated for the work they do, and not being challenged to grow, learn, and do their best work.
What can companies do to make work more meaningful for their employees?
This is so simple and it absolutely baffles me that more managers don’t make this a priority. Here are 3 easy things companies can do to make work more meaningful for their employees:
- Recognize people when they do good work. A thank you goes a long way.
- Show employees how the work they do contributes to the larger goals and mission. We all want to feel connected and know that our efforts make a difference.
- Give people opportunities to grow and learn new things. People love to feel that they’re improving and learning.
What do you love the most about the work you do?
People come to me because they want a specific result: to find a meaningful career. I’m always happy when they get to the ah-ha moment and figure that out, but what I love even more is witnessing the transformation in confidence Homecomers have during the course of the program. They usually show up kinda doubting their abilities and future, and by the end they are advocating for themselves, quitting their dead-end jobs, and able to feel and communicate their own value. That’s amazing and I love being a part of that.
What is the first question you would ask someone who was unhappy in their current career, but unsure of what path to follow to a new one?
What’s on your Hell No List? A lot of the time, people have no clue what they want but are really clear on what they don’t want. That’s a good place to start.
What inspires you?
Ambitious people on a mission. The Olympian who requires that all his photo shoots be done in his home country in order to create more jobs there. The party-promoter turned non-profit founder bringing clean water to millions of people. The Broadway writer/producer/actor using art to build confidence in students. They do big things, enjoy them, and have a positive impact on the lives of others. Those are my role models.
Photo credit: N. Barrett Photography