I was looking at a diagram of a circle divided into eight sections. Each section had concentric circles and numbers that covered everything from relationships, fun, work, and health. My career coach assigned me the task of scoring my satisfaction in each category.
The final result looked like a spider who had drunk and spun a web. But the test had revealed my problem: family and relationships were on the rise, but personal growth and work were still in decline.
I was not ashamed of the mess of numbers and lines. First, I thought a career coach was only for older men who had made their fortunes and didn’t know where to go next. I wasn’t sure it would help me as a 30-year-old female who had moved out of journalism to take up editorial roles in smaller companies. It was also not the right move for me.
I also prioritized relationships. I was focused on making sure the people who got the best of me were the ones I loved the most — a stance that seemed very much at odds with what I assumed a career coach would endorse.
I had mistakenly underestimated Harriet Minter as my coach. She was a friend who had seen my professional problems and offered her coaching services.
Blunt honesty was the next lesson. While your family and friends will likely be the ones who cry at your funeral, it is important to have a fulfilling professional life. Work is approximately 40 hours a week. It’s OK for it to be that way, which led me the second lesson.
It’s not either/or. Being at work doesn’t mean you have to be so stressed that you can’t give your loved ones enough attention and time. This means that you feel energized every morning, that you return home feeling accomplished, and that you want to share your accomplishments with your other half.
It turned out that I had spent three consecutive years making career decisions, when my judging criteria were completely off balance. Making sure everyone knew I was important meant missing areas that needed fulfillment.
You don’t need to do only what is your forte.
A few factors contributed to my tendency towards playing it safe. My job search was a result of my journalism experience. I relied on the kindness of colleagues who put me forward for interesting jobs that they knew I would enjoy. I defaulted to playing to my strengths and didn’t ask if it was something that I wanted to do.
Also, I had just graduated from university after the financial crisis. Two years earlier than me, my friends had gone into management consulting jobs, top law firms, investment banks and top law firms. My cohort had to hustle, and the idea that I was choosy was no longer an option.
Be bolder Another diagram was provided by my career coach. This one was a quadrangle with labels: “Things I am good at and love”, “Things I am good at and hate”, “Things I am shit at but love” and “Things I am shit at and hate”. My job was too focused on things I could do well, but that were not motivating.
This lesson was not without its caveats. There are elements that you hate about every job. But the overall balance had to be more in favour of the things I loved — even if I was not (yet) an expert. For that to happen, I needed the confidence to say “thanks, but no thanks” when great jobs were on the table if they were not right for me.
I had to apply for roles that I didn’t fit all the boxes (men do this more), to ensure there was a challenge in every position.
Have a vision. My first job hunts after 2008 revealed that traditional career paths were less appealing so people moved further afield. For example, working in a start-up was not second to the corporate job. There were fewer jobs but there were still many options.
There are many paths to choose from, but there are no clear signs. It is important to visualize where you want to go to be able to play career chess better.
The plans do not need to be fixed — no need to combust if you are not earning six figures before you are 35.
It is more of a broad vision of what your life will look like, what values are important to you, and whether you want a dog (I do — desperately).
With a new-found confidence — which, let’s be honest, women often really need — and a feeling of contentment about being driven, I was heading back into journalism.
The coach’s lessons were empowering and I suspect they will have been far more beneficial at 30 and early in my career than, say, 30 years in.
After going through a career crisis, the writer became a dedicated freelance journalist.
Source: Financial Times