This post was inspired by Charlie Gilkey’s recent (genius) post 20 Inconvenient Business Truths. I read it and realized that, in career coaching, I share inconvenient truths with my clients on a regular basis. I know it’s sometimes hard to hear these things but, in the end, they make you stronger.
Almost everyone starts at the bottom. Regardless of what you think you deserve, you probably will to.
Career fulfillment (or, as I like to call it, career nourishment) can often seem like an elusive beast. Figuring out what it is and how to find it is a difficult process for many.
The first thing I tell my coaching clients is that career fulfillment isn’t something you FIND, it’s something you CREATE. And the process, while different for everyone, involves five essential steps:
1. Know Your Needs
The vast majority of the people I coach know quite clearly what they don’t want from their work. More often than not, it’s everything they’re currently experiencing. But that’s not enough. Knowing what you don’t want doesn’t give you a big enough picture. You have to know what you do want and, more importantly, what you need.
Your career goal isn’t to simply sidestep misery. You want to achieve (at least some level of) fulfillment. In order to do that, you must have a clear understanding of your unique personal and professional needs. It takes a lot of self-reflection but the good news is I’ve created a free mini-workbook to help you through the process. It outlines the Eat Your Career Hierarchy of Career Needs and helps you determine what’s working and not working in your current situation. If you don’t have it yet, pick it up here.
2. Listen to Your Gut
Intuition is something many of us take for granted. We push it aside and bury it because we’ve been trained to use logic instead. Your gut isn’t always illogical though. In fact, it’s often telling you the most basic, fundamental truth that your logical brain is trying to avoid.
When it comes to career fulfillment, listen to your instincts. What makes you happy doesn’t always sound logical at first. But, if you listen to your heart and set out on the right path for your soul, your brain will find a way to keep you safe on the journey and get you to your destination. This might sound a little hokey to some of you. That’s fine. Just go with it. Try listening to that quiet voice inside you, the one you’ve been ignoring, and see where it takes you. Then, let me know what happens.
3. Make Changes Thoughtfully
Many people looking for career fulfillment end up job hopping. They bounce from one thing to the next in search of the perfect match. Unfortunately, they often end up in a vicious, anxious cycle. The moment they feel restless, it’s on to the next thing. Instead of taking the time to carefully analyze what’s working, what’s not and why, they simply paper the city with resumes and take the first offer of a decent paycheck. Before you know it, they’re right back where they started, looking for the next job to hop to.
Don’t fall into this trap. When you’re ready for a career change (whether big or small), take your time. Think about it carefully and make decisions based on well thought-out strategies. This isn’t a race. You don’t have to jump NOW. Take your time, analyze your situation, and make slow, methodical progress towards your goals.
4. Learn from Others
Many of us are afraid to ask for help and this is such a horrible waste of wisdom! You are surrounded by so much experience and knowledge. All you have to do is tap into it. Your family, friends and colleagues have all been where you are. The things you are going through, no matter how unique they feel, are actually quite common. The people in your support network are dying to share their stories with you. Listen closely. Learn from their mistakes and triumphs.
And, should you find that a more objective point-of-view is what you need, consider working with a professional career coach. We’re trained to remain (relatively) neutral, present ideas with deep democracy, and help you clarify and act on what you already know—the feelings and ideas you’ve been burying.
5. Work at It
Finding career fulfillment isn’t a quick or easy journey. It takes time and effort. Engage yourself mentally, physically and, yes, even spiritually. Put yourself into the process. Be active. Don’t expect that things will change without significant work on your part. What? Are you afraid of work? Snap out of it. You have everything you need. It’s up to you to make it happen. Don’t give up when it gets hard. Don’t pretend it’s not worth the hassle. You are—most definitely—worth it.
Everyone wants a job they love. We all want to wake up excited to go to work, spend our days accomplishing goals we’re proud of, and come home feeling pleasantly fulfilled. Oh, and somewhere in there, we’d like a paycheck that provides us with a comfortable lifestyle and may one day put our kids through college.
That’s the dream anyway. But, in reality, we often have to settle for less. We put our dreams on hold in order to put food on the table. That perfect, dream career is exchanged for a livable wage, a decent commute and stability.
To say that you should never give up on finding that dream career sounds a bit naïve. I understand that the world requires us to make sacrifices and, at times, we have to put the needs of our families above our personal desires for career fulfillment. But I still encourage everyone to hold tight to the dream. Not because I think it will one day magically come true. But because nothing is permanent. And, even if you have to momentarily let it go, it’s not to be forgotten completely.
The Path Changes
Many people have told me the path to their dream career looked nothing like what they expected. They took non-traditional roads and explored uncharted territory to get there. It seemed for a while that they were off course. And then, amazingly, they were able to guide their current path in the right direction.
This happened to me, in fact. I had buried my dream of being a writer and was working as an Executive Assistant. I channeled my creative energy into a blog, where I wrote about my challenges at work and how I was overcoming them. My writing was seen by millions and a few years later, I sold my blog and became a fulltime writer. I never would have expected that the path I was on as an Executive Assistant would lead me to my dream of being a writer. I had to manipulate the path somewhat and turn it into something a little different, but it worked.
The Destination Changes
I’ve known many people who tell me they woke up one day and realized they were in their dream career, and it was nothing like what they thought it would be. The job they had taken to make ends meet on the way to another destination turned out to be more than just a stop along the road.
A friend of mine, struggling to become an actor, finally accepted a fulltime position as a customer service trainer. About a year into the gig, he told me wasn’t interested in going on auditions anymore. He felt he had “fallen” into his dream career and it was something he never expected. Sure, it wasn’t as glamorous as being a movie star, but he felt fulfilled. He was using his talents in a way he had never thought of before.
The World Changes
I couldn’t have envisioned my career ten years ago. Even five years ago, the technology I use on a daily basis was only just being developed. The world is constantly changing and growing and, with it, new careers are emerging. In the future, technology we can’t begin to understand will become a part of the mainstream and it will shift our society in ways we can’t predict. Our limits are ever-expanding, and our career possibilities are growing each and every day.
I think about the courses available to college students today and it completely boggles my mind. They are facing a whole world of opportunities that we never had at their age. They can get degrees in online social media! Such an idea never existed five years ago. What will be available in another five years? How will it impact our business world? How will it change your idea of a dream career? No one knows.
You’re not the same person you were yesterday. Ultimately, we’re all changing, every minute of every day. Our dreams are fluid. What once might have seemed like a dream career may no longer suit you. Be willing to let your dreams change and not feel guilty or that you’ve failed. Sometimes, you have to let go of old dreams to let the new ones in. That’s not “giving up”. It’s growing up.
Let your career dreams live through you. Don’t stifle them, ignore them or forget them. They are a part of you. But give yourself the freedom to make your own way. Because we live in the real world, not a dream world. We have responsibilities and families and mortgages. Remember that everything changes and let the world surprise you. Never give up on yourself, your dreams or the possibilities that exist.
I think we, as a society, don’t give the fine art of compromise enough credit. We’re an “all or nothing” kind of people. We avoid the middle ground because it feels indecisive. It’s better to just pick a side; “go big or go home” as they say.
Many of us think in black and white, especially when facing tough career decisions. We only see two options; one is “good” and the other is “bad”. But of course, we don’t know for sure which is which. So, we go back and forth, hemming and hawing about which road to take, and the whole time, we’re ignoring our options in the middle.
When we limit our choices, we limit our ability to see the middle ground. We start truly believing that there is only black or white; grey no longer exists. We create an unnecessary limitation.
“Should I stay at this job I don’t like or quit and follow my dream to start my own business?”
“Should I ask for a raise in this tough economy or just settle for what I’ve got?”
On the surface, these seem like rational choices. We look at them and think, “Well, you have a decision to make.” But inherent in each one is the idea that there are only two options. What if there are more?
What if, instead of quitting your job to start your own business, you cut your hours down a bit and started a business slowly?
What if, instead of asking for a raise, you proposed a new pay-for-performance program?
What if, instead of accepting or declining the promotion, you tailored it to better suit your career goals and countered the offer?
Next time you’re facing a tough career decision, take a few minutes to explore the other opportunities you may not be seeing. Don’t let limited thought patterns trap you in black and white, either/or choices. There are always more options. You just have to look a little closer to see them.
Picture this: You’re driving along, singing at the top of your lungs to your favorite tune on the radio, and—all of the sudden—you realize you have absolutely NO IDEA where you are. You’re completely lost.
At some point or another, it’s happened to all of us. Why? There could be a number of reasons:
Maybe you failed to print a map or forgot to program the GPS for directions.
Maybe you had directions but you just completely ignored them because you were sidetracked by that great song or because you thought you knew what you’re doing.
Or maybe your directions were bad. They could have been based on old maps and roads that no longer exist, or perhaps they were provided by someone who’s not trustworthy (we’ve all encountered the well-meaning local who accidentally points us astray…).
Whatever the reason, being lost is no fun.
But what does this have to do with your career?
Interestingly, the word career has its origins in the Latin word cararia, meaning “road.” At certain points along the way, you may end up lost.
And the reasons are much the same as those listed above:
You fail to print a map or program your GPS for directions.
You just blindly follow the career path you’re on expecting that, ultimately, you’ll reach the destination you desire—though, in reality, you might not even truly know what that is.
You have directions and you’ve just completely ignored them because you’re sidetracked or because you think you know what you’re doing.
You create a career path but when it gets hard or, when something more interesting comes along, you allow your attention to be diverted. Your well thought-out plans get pushed to the wayside.
Your directions are bad—they’re based on old maps and roads that no longer exist or they were provided by someone who’s not trustworthy.
You allow others to create your career path or you create a career path based on things you no longer want.
Does any of this sound familiar?
You’re not alone if so. And, here’s the good news: You’re in the right place.
Career coaching is specifically designed to help you when you’re feeling lost by providing guidance—a map with which to navigate the road of your career. My role as a career coach is to listen and reflect back what I hear. I ask questions and together we find the answers. Ultimately, my goal is to help you do three things:
1. Make decisions.
2. Create action plans.
3. Successfully execute those plans.
That’s it. Looks pretty simple from the outside, but anyone who’s lost can tell you that these three things make all the difference. And, on your own, they can be overwhelming tasks. Here’s what I offer at each step:
1. In making decisions, my job is to take the emotion out of the process. I’m an objective third-party without a horse in the race, as they say. Talking to me isn’t like talking to your significant other or your friends. I’m there to help you see the situation as it truly is and possibly identify other opportunities you’ve overlooked. The decision is still yours; but I’m there to facilitate the process.
2. In creating action plans, my job is to break it down for you. I make sure you’re taking logical, well-orchestrated steps to get you to your chosen destination. We build your map one step at a time. It’s my goal to simplify the process for you. I help identify and organize to-do items, and together we establish reasonable timeframes in which to achieve them. You end up with a tangible checklist to get you from point A to point Z.
3. In executing your plans, my job is to keep you accountable and help you overcome challenges before they knock you off course. This is where coaching truly changes lives. All too often, I see people with great intentions who simply get overwhelmed by fear or lose motivation before any progress is made. I’m there to confront these patterns and bring them to your attention. Everyone needs an outside force to do this. It’s almost impossible to do it for yourself. My role is to push you, to bring out the best in you, and to help you share your greatness with the world.
Along the way, I might also make recommendations, share personal experiences and offer straight-forward advice, but most of the time, you already have the answers. You know what’s best for you; I help you articulate what you already know and turn it into tangible success.
Coaching isn’t therapy. It’s not some touchy feely hand-holding session where we talk about wishes and dreams. It’s down and dirty and sometimes, it’s very uncomfortable. But you’ll never feel more alive and more in sync with your purpose. And that, my friends, is my purpose.
If you’re lost in your career, I can help. Let’s build your map and take a road trip.