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on Tuesday, June 14, 2011

“Creating The Career of Your Dreams”
Part One – Resolution

If there is one thing people don’t talk about enough regarding their career, it’s how to recognize and let go of things that happened in their career past.  Oh, yes we might say “I never want to do THAT again” or even “I’m beginning to think that taking Sociology with a minor in Popular Culture wasn’t the best choice”, but we never really get deeply into what impact those conclusions might have on our present career decision-making.

And really, why should it?  Careers are naturally a future-oriented proposition.  Where am I going?  How do I get there?  What is the advancement potential of this company?  What position do I want to grow to in my field?  Should I change careers?  The answers to all of these questions take place in the future, determined by what we choose now.  So what’s the past got to do with it?

As a career coach I can tell you that in many cases, your past career and life choices have everything to do with your future, especially if you are not aware of how much you let certain decisions rule your choices.  For example, I once had a woman in my office that was fast approaching 35 and ready to evaluate her next steps.  She had spent the last nine years building an impressive resume in administrative work, but she was feeling unfulfilled and unmotivated.  Somewhere in conversation I unearthed her interest in journalism and the arts.  Why had she not pursued a career in journalism?  Well she did, she told me; she’d gone to Carlton for journalism but she had failed her first year.

That’s where most people stop.  “I failed, therefore what’s the point of talking about it?”  Career coaches like me are known for not stopping.  I dug a little further.

I wanted to know - what had she failed?  It turned out that what she had failed wasn’t even a journalism course; it was an extra required course that had nothing to do with her passion, which had pulled her grades down. When she had talked it over with her parents, they had said, essentially “You tried, you failed, now get a real job”.  I don’t think her parents meant to be unkind.  They were, like most of our family and friends, interested in Eleanor’s basic survival, while edging her away from the discomfort of disappointment.

But until that moment in my office, Eleanor had equaled journalism with failure.  Actually it was even more broad then that: she equated all of the arts-type jobs with failure, and as a result had turned her back on even trying any of these careers.

Eleanor’s blind spot is a good example of how uncovering an entrenched belief about your career can cause a completion of your past experience, and open up wider horizons for your next career step.  It is a key step most of us miss.  Many, many clients have come to me about their career future, who first need to reconcile something about their past to get there.

Often this is not a long process.  We are not talking years of therapy.  Most of the time it is just about identifying the assumption or the bad feeling associated with the decision, and then…letting it go.

Sometimes resolution is just about saying “I’m finished with an old dream”.  When Matt tried to get into university, he didn’t make it.  He was interested in marketing and advertising and took courses at college, but because of his lack of university education, he always felt thwarted at being able to “make it” at the big agencies.  He laboured for 15 plus years at different jobs, until he finally worked for one of the big agencies.

Instead of feeling vindicated, he was completely bored.  He didn’t like the people, he didn’t like the process, and he didn’t like doing the same type of thing over and over again.  A funny thing happened on the way to his career dream – he didn’t want it any more.  In order to gain resolution for his career, Matt needed to declare his career in advertising done.  He had attained his early goal and now it was time to move on.  That moment he was able to say “I am now finished with advertising”, the need for success in advertising that had been driving him since his twenties was relinquished and he was back in charge of his own decision-making again.

Resolution is about getting a sense of what beliefs about your career having been driving you, deciding whether you want to believe those beliefs anymore, and then letting go of the ones that are limiting you.  It may even be about grieving something that ended, or never came to pass.  It is getting a sense of completion about your bad bosses, bad jobs, wrong choices, regrets, firings, and the ways you’ve let those moments influence your present.

The next time you catch yourself being scared to choose a new job because the last time didn’t work out, or writing something off because you wrote it off 10 years ago, or even when you are just finding it hard to design a career future…pause and take a moment to reflect if there is something from the past that first needs resolution.

Copyright KarenSchaffer
First published in the National Post, 2004

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