Finding Career Direction Can Be Emotional


Today is the 7th and final day of a  career exploration class I’ve been facilitating. During this time, the participants have been learning about themselves; examining their skills, values, beliefs and then looking at possible jobs and careers that fit best.

For some, it’s been a confirmation that the direction they’re heading in is the right one for them at this time. For others, something new has emerged. There’s a several that have actually had multiple occupations come up and that’s left them with some decisions to make. Finally, there are 3 for whom the course has left their future unclear; they’ve yet to get the clarity and direction they’d hoped for on the first day. Failure? Absolutely not!

Now you might wonder about those last 3. After all, if they came with the expectation of gaining insight into a career they could pursue and that’s yet to emerge, why not consider their time a bust? Fair enough. Well, you see it’s not a question of these 3 finding no job that interests them, it’s more a question of still deciding upon an occupation that will best bring them overall happiness; a combination of what they do well, peaks their passion and returns financial reward for their labour.

Everyone in the class has in my estimation, entirely invested themselves in the process; giving thought to the questions asked of them and completing a number of assessments with a sincere trust in the process. Having conducted this class many times over the course of my career, I can spot a special kind of person; the one that takes this career exploration seriously and pins their hopes on an outcome that they’ll then find meaningful; and this class was full of this kind of person.

And so yesterday, as we came to one of the exercises that starts the process of narrowing down which direction to move in for each person, it hit one person particularly hard when they realized the clarity and direction they’d hoped for hasn’t yet materialized. Tears came, and they removed themselves for a few minutes twice in order to collect themselves. If you think people on social assistance are lazy, unmotivated and are happy to sit back and not work, you’d have a very different view had you sat in on the group yesterday at this moment.

When tears come out, it’s embarrassing for the person much of the time, but it’s actually a clear sign of how much things matter. If the person didn’t care; they’d just taken the class because they were made to or saw it as something to do for awhile, there’d be no tears because their was no emotional investment. Because the tears came out, that’s a clear indication to me that this career / self exploration stuff matters; that the person still believes THEY matter.

We all have barriers to success. That’s not a question but rather a statement. Whether we share them or keep them private, there are things that stand in our way; education we lack, skills that are rusty or not improved upon, experience that we lack, a criminal record we don’t have the funds to erase, an inability to decide between very different jobs and careers. We might lack transportation, have child care issues, anxiety, low self-esteem, fear of making another poor choice and ending up in an unsatisfying job, perhaps a disability; physical or mental.

And as long as were talking barriers, most of us have more than one. In fact, some of us have multiple barriers and they are the invisible kind. While others look at us and can’t see them immediately, they are so very real and huge to us that we feel everybody knows ours. Truth is, most other people are concerned with their own issues they don’t really see the ones we feel are on display for all to see.

For those still struggling to gain some direction, the feelings can be so intense, they see themselves as a failure – again. With the pressure they may be under in the other parts of their lives, this they’d believed, would turn out better. Well, it will. Really, I believe this. There is no prescribed 7 day fix that a course magically promises everyone. On day 1, I actually warned people I wouldn’t stand before them and tell them what they’d be. That is for everyone to find for themselves and while it may take 7 days for many, more time is needed for others.

What of you? Do you know where you’re headed job-wise, career-wise? Are you satisfied with that direction? Are you confused, anxious, afraid of moving in the wrong direction so you put off making a decision altogether?

There’s a cost to being indecisive and time passing will rob you of your current references, the benefits of your experience as your skills sit idle. Your confidence will ebb with a lengthening unemployed gap on your resume. And which is better for you, a job or a career? Both have value and both are the right choice depending on where you’re at.

Knowing yourself better is a great start. Look at your assets; skills, experience, education, contacts, likes, dislikes, problem-solving and learning style, just to name a few things. Knowing who you are is a key.

Looking at jobs and careers that match and working through your barriers will get you where you want to be.

YOU matter.

Mid-Life And Career Floating?


When you were in your late teens you hadn’t quite figured out what you wanted to ‘be’, but you had your whole life in front of you. Besides, there was a lot going on back then; the new job, the relationship thing was blossoming. Friends were in abundance and there was so much energy in your life!

Back then, things seemed bright and you felt you had purpose. You were learning new skills on the job, more senior employees you worked with showed you how to do what it was you needed to know. Of course you were pretty sure some of them should have moved on and definitely saw your chance coming to take their place in the near future and move up in the pay grid. The company would be taking leaps and bounds with the infusion of your generating ideas; surely they’d be grateful for taking them as you transformed things from the way they’d always been done to your new world order.

As you arrived into the 30’s, your perspective changed. A little older and wiser, the folly of your youthful exuberance was understood and you came to realize those older employees who you thought would soon be out to pasture when you were in your 20’s were themselves only in their mid 40’s. They were actually in their prime, and while some have moved on, many have moved up while others have become your go-to co-workers; best buds in the workplace. While some of your ideas are considered, you’ve matured and had this growing realization that other people’s ideas have merit too. In fact, some of your ‘best’ ideas you came to realize wouldn’t have been successful had someone had the wish to implement them after all.

Now it’s you in mid-work-life career and you’re conflicted. You’re hungry for more, looking for something that’s fulfilling, challenging and above all stimulating. You’re wanting more income to do all the things you want in the lifestyle you’re after. However, what’s plaguing you is this nagging itch you can’t seem to find to scratch; figuring out what it is you’d really like to be doing. The thing is that while you’re trying to figure out this big mystery, time is passing. Welcome to Career Floating.

Career floating as I call it, is when you stagnate. You’ve got the skills and ability to do your job and do it well by the way. You’re not the expert yet you’ll one day be, (although you won’t come to fully appreciate this for another 10 years). You’re feeling pulled to do something more, something different. What’s complicating things is…well…a number of things.

There’s the responsibilities you’ve got with respect to the mortgage, your role as partner and parent. It’s taken you until now to become exposed to other possible careers and yet every career move seems to need an education you haven’t got at the moment and a return to school to get what you lack to get what you want means an interruption in your income. How can you suddenly go back to school, incur more debt and give up your salaried income for 2 or 3 years? How long is it going to take to recover all those lost wages and incurred debt?

The more you think on things and try to reason things out, the more you beat yourself up for inaction and over-thinking things instead of making a decision. So when did you come to be so hesitant and indecisive? Oh my goodness! Suddenly you realize you’re becoming Lou – or is it Louise? That person at work that seems to be stuck going nowhere that you snickered about inside when he was talking in the lunchroom about being so unsure of what to do himself. Lou, Louise; their 15 years your senior; there’s no way you intend on being in that same situation in 15 years!

There’s not going to be some amazing advice at the end of this piece. If you’re reading this saying to yourself, “Yes! Yes! Yes! This is exactly me! It’s like he’s talking to me specifically! What oh what am I to do?!” Sorry. There’s way too many of you – of us – realizing that re-inventing ourselves is not just fanciful but downright necessary if we’re to really be happy and re-engaged in our work lives. Things have become too automatic haven’t they? Sure you have to work at things still; the job doesn’t do itself. However, you’re looking down the road at the rest of your work life and saying more and more often, “Is this it?”

Well as you may have guessed by now, you’re not alone and nor are you a failure. Who you are as a worker is only one piece of what makes up your identity. There’s your social and home life, hobbies, your role as a parent, sibling, family member. There’s your free time and spare time, your quiet time and vacation time. Look at life – oops the big, “L” Life any number of ways. Yes you spend a large amount of time at work and therefore define yourself and are defined by others often by what it is you do – who you are. However, it is but one way to define yourself.

You’re no closer to having the curtain pulled back and an answer. This one, you figure out for yourself. Hint: listen to yourself and above all else,

Change, Career Planning and Action


Do long-term goals that represent major changes intimidate you and leave you overwhelmed at where to begin? For some people, it’s like making a decision to get off the couch one day and being expected to run a 10km race the next. Better to stay on the couch where you can avoid the high probability of failure and more feelings of not measuring up.

The keys to achieving real change when broken down are much more manageable and most people are able to progress through change if guided and provided with tangible results that show movement in the right direction.

One of the first things required for change is ownership. If you yourself want changes in your life, that personal motivation to change originating from your own point of view will help sustain you when the time get tough. You’ll be able to look back at those times and remind yourself why you wanted change in the first place. On the other hand, if you are trying to initiate changes in your own life because other people think you should change, you are less likely to stay committed to change when you face challenges.

So if you want to change your unemployment status, or you want a better job; more security, higher income etc. drive the change from within and you’ve a much higher chance of sticking to change later on when you’ll be tempted to revert to your old routines and habits.

The second thing to realize is that the very nature of change is that things can’t remain the same. This is the very essence of change. In order for change to occur, previous actions need to be altered. If losing weight is a goal, your food intake needs a reduction, your activity level needs an increase. If employment is a goal, your daily rituals need adjusting, more priority time devoted to job search activities will have to replace your relaxation time, television or internet social time as examples.

Planning before you act has to occur; unless of course you deem planning as an action itself – and I’m okay with that! In other words, you just can’t say, “I want a job” and then poof it happens. Wanting a job is good, but planning on how to achieve it makes achieving it in the future much more likely. This stage is essential in order to assure yourself that the time and energy, the activities in which you engage; they are all focused and work toward the common goal of gaining employment.

Now planning is best done backwards. In other words, see yourself in the job you want. What does that look like to you? Got an image of yourself at the desk in the company you want to work with or on the assembly line, or at the summer camp you are employed with? Great. Now ask yourself what was happening just before that picture? Was it a phone call welcoming you to the team or a letter you got, possibly an email? Before the job offer, was it an interview or the 3rd interview you passed? Before that was it the research you were doing on the company, the position, the people who worked there you wanted to join? And before the research was it the resume and cover letter you penned that started the formal application process? Maybe even before the resume and cover letter your 3 years of school were required, the initial research into the field in general and an application for financial assistance with your school registration?

You see planning backwards keeps happening until you end up at today. Then when you look at the steps you’ve written down, you look at it from today moving forward and voila, you’ve got a workable plan that if followed will put you in the position you want. Of course I’m simplifying it, and you’d be wise to have others look at your plan who have the skills and knowledge to tell if you are missing anything significant.

Now your plan might have 9 or 10 steps; some of those steps (like school) taking 3 year’s to complete. Other steps (like registering for school) might take an hour. Don’t be discouraged at the length of your plan. Some people find out in their 50’s about planning for the first time and wish they’d had the foresight to plan when they were back in their 20’s.

Having a plan is great of course but the most important step is putting the plan into action. The beautiful thing about plans is that they provide a blueprint of getting to where you want to be from your starting place of where you are today, but be open to modifying your plan and re-evaluating it along the way. This doesn’t mean the plan loses its value or purpose, just that the plan is not set in stone and you can adjust it to suit your emerging and changing interests as you gather more information.

Without any plan, you may question your direction, your purpose in life, and what you ‘should’ be doing instead wherever you find yourself. You may feel aimless, lacking direction and focus, and planning can eliminate that. Always remind yourself that planning is just that – making a plan. Those who have one are not always happier, but they do know where they are going!

Change? Plan your plan then act on it!