Emily’s Situation: Emily was keen to answer the question of “What do I do next?” in relation to her career. She had worked through career questions in career books, but was feeling stymied, particularly with questions that asked her to reflect on what she enjoyed doing as a child.
“I liked to read, play imaginary games and to be part of a model United Nations. And I didn’t like sports,” Emily told me. “But what does any of that have to do with my career today?”
Emily’s Questions: What do I do when I don’t really know what it is that I love to do?
What do I do when what I did enjoy as a child does not translate to a viable career option?
What do I do when all the career questions are not getting me anywhere?
Deborah’s Answer: I could sense Emily’s frustration that she had not been able to tap into what she truly loved to do and apply it to her career development. We discussed three strategies to move through these issues to gain more clarity.
Switch from Thinking to Feeling
I noticed straightaway that Emily was thinking and then thinking again about the answers to all her career questions.
This can come from a belief that if we only think hard enough about something we will get the answers we need.
As strange as it sounds, thinking isn’t always an effective strategy to get career clarity. This is because we can think ourselves into knots and wind up even more confused than when we started.
Instead of thinking about what it is that we want, it’s better to tap into our feelings and reactions to different ideas. Specifically, we can tap into the wisdom of the body to see how a particular move or decision feels.
For example, does a particular career path make you feel sluggish or energetic? Do your shoulders slump or straighten? Are there excited butterflies in your stomach or knots of warning?
Our physical signals’ simple language is part of their power. The trick is to actually tune in and listen to these signals.
Emily admitted that she had a strong tendency to live in her head rather than in her body. So I gave her an initial exercise to begin to strengthen the connection between her mind and her body.
I suggested she stop at points throughout her day, perhaps setting an alarm on her phone as a reminder and that she ask herself three questions:
What am I thinking?
What am I feeling?
Where am I feeling it in my body?
Two other ways of connecting with the body are to do a scan of the body from head to toe and notice what you are feeling in different parts or to spend some time journaling about how you feel in your body around different decisions.
The overall goal here is to strengthen the connection to your gut reaction. It’s there and has information to give you, if you are tuned in to listen to it.
Separate Your Decisions From Other’s Opinions
As we talked, Emily shared a hunch that she sometimes makes decisions to help others be happy, rather than to help herself. This sensitivity to the people in her life was leading to a blurring of the boundary between Emily’s needs and wants and the needs and wants of other people in her life.
Like too many cooks in the kitchen, it becomes a lot harder to make a career decision when you are trying to please everyone around you. We needed to once again strengthen Emily’s understanding of what it was she wanted, so that she could more clearly use this information as a guide in her career choices.
I asked Emily to try to identify when her decisions were for other people vs. when they were for herself. Just noticing this distinction would help her to move to using a more internal compass when making decisions.
What About Those Childhood Interests Anyway?
Now that we had honed in on strategies to increase Emily’s sense of what she wanted from her career, we circled back to Emily’s original question about what to do when what you enjoyed as a child does not seem to hold the inspirational answers that it appears to give to other people.
Emily and I went over the idea that there might be underlying themes that were in her childhood activities that do have relevance that she might be discounting because they are so much part of her. Just because something comes easily to you does not mean that everyone has the same skills.
Also, there may be more subtle themes you can draw out. For example, Emily said that she ‘did what she needed to do’ and took part in the activities that were available to her as a child.
If we dig a little bit behind this comment, we can see that she has a good degree of follow through and is a person who can be relied on. The link between childhood activities and adult life is not always as clear as in the case where a child loves animals and becomes a vet, but there’s often (though not always) a tie.
No one gets a complete manual of next career steps when they are born. A lot of it is in trial and error. The career questions cannot tell us what we will be, they can only open the door of possibility to what we will experiment with.
Being aware of your body and who is influencing your decisions can support you in this process, as can working with a coach. Overall, we want you to stop going round and round in circles with career questions and instead move forward with confidence.
Have you ever hit a wall with standard career reflection questions? Do any of these tips resonate with you? We’d love to hear your perspective in the comments below!
Client Feedback on Working with Deborah in a Cardy Career Coaching program:
“Deborah had an amazing ability to pinpoint my blind spots with laser-like precision from my seemingly insignificant habitual behaviors. Then she was able to gently bring them out to the forefront and help me see them. The experience of finally coming face-to-face with some of my own blind spots after all these years was mind-blowingly profound! She was such a powerful voice of reason. I am so grateful for her help. So needless to say, I would highly recommend her to all my friends (or anyone else) who are in need of career coaching. If I had to sum up my experience with Deborah in one word, it would be ‘insightful’.” –S.L., Project Manager, Just Get Me Pointed in the Right Direction Client
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