I’m normally a pretty docile audience member, but yesterday I heard a message that I hear all too often that gets me riled up. I was attending a talk on mindfulness at work. One of the presenter’s points was around finding aligned work. He knowingly offered the simple career solution of making a list with two columns. One column for all the things you loved. And one column for all the ways you could make money doing what you love. He implied that this elegant exercise would solve anyone’s career problem.
I literally had trouble staying in my seat when I heard this notion. I imagined walking on stage, pulling the microphone, and explaining the full story of what you need to do to solve an ill fitting career. Because there’s a lot more to it for many of us than completing a simple reflection exercise.
Here’s my client Henry’s story to illustrate what I mean.
Henry and I were having our first session together. We had just gone through his pre-work questions. I’d asked him a ton of questions, and I was pleased to see his career themes coming into view.
Henry had a knack for networking coupled with a fierce determination for finding the right person (and not giving up until he’d done so). He was extremely personable and had a service oriented mindset. Though his background was in corporate sales, Henry spoke passionately about how much he cared for supporting underserved populations, particularly around the issue of food access. I was getting the distinct impression that he’d thrive in a nonprofit fundraising environment that dealt with his favorite cause. Towards the end of our conversation I recounted my observations of Henry’s career themes to him.
In most cases when I take the step of putting a client’s wants into focus the response is positive. The client feels understood and has a dawning sense of clarity about what they’re looking for in their career. They feel hopeful and enthusiastic that we’re on the right track.
When I told Henry that he had exceptional people skills, a clear pull toward service oriented work, and a doggedness that could help any organization achieve its goals, Henry was less than thrilled.
In fact, he sounded baffled.
“But what do I really want? What am I going to do next? I still don’t see it,” Henry said. His voice conveyed a mix of a lack of energy and a feeling of running into a stone wall.
I took Henry’s response in stride. I’d seen it many times before. The issue was not that Henry’s career themes were unclear. From my vantage point I had a straight sight line on exactly what he wanted most. The issue was that Henry couldn’t see those themes- at all.
He was sitting in the front seat of a metaphorical car with his front windshield completely fogged up. Even though the road was right in front of him, his vision was blocked. That’s why he sounded so disheartened and even a bit irritated. He was really trying to see, and had been for quite some time, but he wasn’t having any success. And he wasn’t going to be able to have success until we unfogged his windshield.
If you’ve ever attempted to get insight into your career direction with reflection and come away feeling discouraged and frustrated, take heart. The issue you’re having is a simple matter of timing. Answering questions like, ‘what would I do if I had won the lottery’ can be helpful IF you’re in a place where you can see the answers. If you aren’t, then the first step you need to take is to unfog your windshield. We need to clear out the things that are blocking your vision- things like doubt, assumptions, false beliefs, and possibly old pain from prior career decisions. Then you can ask those reflection questions and move forward.
I explained the situation to Henry.
“We’re going to spend a bit of time clearing out the things that have been obstructing your vision. Once we attend to that we’ll have much more success with the reflection process. It’s just a matter of applying the right tools to the situation. We’ll get this sorted out for you in no time.”
“Ok, I get it. You just tell me what to do, and I’ll follow along,” Henry said. This time he sounded relieved. There was a bit of hope in his voice. He was finally getting the support he needed to make progress on his career direction.
Did you resonate with Henry’s story? Do you feel blocked from seeing what’s in front of you? Leave a comment below!
Kwan h says
I don’t know if i can relate to Henry. In trying to find out what would be a good fit for me in terms of a career. If there was something in front of me that sometime else could see buti can’t, i would like to be pointed out to me.
Sometimes sorting out a career direction just takes is a bit of a sounding board, like you’re describing. Sometimes it takes more in-depth work, as in Henry’s case. There’s not really a one size fits all solution. Thanks for the comment!