“What did you dream about doing when you were a child?” When someone asked you “what do you want to be when you grow up?” what did you say?
As a career counsellor, I often want to ask this question to new clients, as a way to get them telling a story that is easy and fun to tell about themselves. But for those I work with who are mostly in mid-career, who feel frustrated with the status quo yet confused about how to start making positive career shifts, the question might be too much to ask. Here’s the kind of story I usually hear at the beginning of our sessions:
“I used to love my work. Now I’m burned out. What happened?”
“I really just fell into my first job and ten years went by.”
“I used to think this work was creative. Is it me who changed or the job?”
“It used to be a great job. Stable income. Decent work. Now, I wish I’d left years ago. “
It’s a story of being stuck, feeling somewhat helpless, wanting to change but ambivalent about risking any trade-offs. Still, underneath it all, I can sense a deep yearning. Yearning for purpose, passion, motivation and all the other things that a dream promises. So I don’t want to deny anyone their dream. It’s a matter of timing, and building up some confidence to trust themselves that they can locate a dream again, one that matters today.
One of the concepts I work with is the Map and the Compass. It’s a metaphor that came from Steve O’Donahue’s book about navigating change, captured in his own story of crossing the Sahara called Shifting Sands.( http://www.amazon.ca/Shifting-Sands-Guidebook-Crossing-Deserts/dp/1576752801). He offers the image of a desert as a more realistic way of capturing the experience of change and risk taking, rather than the more common image of climbing the mountain.
People I work with who are unhappy with the status quo yet uncertain about where to go next feel more like they are walking through a desert than they are climbing a mountain. Imagine trying to navigate your way when there are no clear paths or sign posts. In fact, most people who are in the early days of making a career change, there is no goal. Mountain tops are shrouded in doubt and indecision.
This is where the Map and the Compass come in. Imagine you are planning to travel to a place you have never been to. Having a Map will certainly give you a tool to plan and focus your travel plans. Maps provide a critical starting point. Similarly, when it comes to making a career change, any kind of Map will provide a framework to focus a career exploration process. In this case, the journey is one of clarifying, re-evaluating and updating key information about you and what’s important now, in anticipation of the next big career decision. Typical career Map activities include identifying key values, interests, transferable skills, accomplishments and previous experiences. This is the WHAT of career exploration, and we can approach it through powerful questions and clarification during each one on one session, using various graphics, models and work books to document information gathered. A similar approach is to complete a career testing package, with such well known instruments as the Strong Interest Inventory, Wonderlic personnel, Career Values Scale, and/or the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). Individuals answer a series of questions, and the result is delivered in an interpretive profiles, with or without a career consultant’s support. Such assessments are validated instruments, and focus on career interests, aptitudes, values and personality in the context of actual work environments and job categories.
For a client who comes to mind, who I’ll call Matt, having the time to reflect and ask himself about his values or transferable skills was a critical step in seeing what he wants now, and doesn’t want, while appreciating how much experience and skills he does have to offer an employer.
A Map is a useful tool, but it only goes so far. You really can never capture the experience of a place until you actually go there yourself, walk into the landscape, and then ask: “What’s it like here? What do I like about it? What doesn’t fit for me? Who else do I want to be here with me?” These reflections come from what I call the felt sense of a place, from our inner Compass.
Going through a career transition, like any big change, has us walking through unknown territory, and that’s when paying attention to our inner Compass can be so important. For instance, a simple Map activity such as a Work Values card sort can have you sorting through a deck of 51 Values cards and then rank ordering them from 1 to 10, using accompanying definitions of each value to support the final result.
Values tend to be abstract, so how can we take this information and anchor it within the person in a way that will resonate and shape the next decision? For instance, Matt’s top values include learning, competency, and helping people. When he started to imagine what it would look like to act out of a value, and what he would be doing, an image of teaching began to emerge. That caused a bit of anxiety, because Matt hadn’t done well at school. During this exploration stage, it’s important not to shut down options but open them up and stay curious so that we can really explore all ideas and options, especially those that bring some excitement.
An aha! moment for Matt was when he decided to attend an information session at a local college. Matt has a hobby of fixing up vintage cars, doing everything from sourcing equipment, mechanical work and painting. The college had various programs along this line. It was when Matt shared his story with me about how he was able to walk inside the shop, as part of the college’s tour of facilities, that Matt came alive. Apparently, one of the instructors noticed Matt’s natural excitement for the work as well, and after a long conversation with this instructor, Matt was invited him to come back for a day to observe students during a day of classes. The day came, and Matt shared with me how he began to see himself being at school again, learning in a hands- on way to be recognized for his competency, which in turn could open up doors to teach in the future.
Going back to the metaphor of crossing a desert, Matt begins to walk in a direction: a general path of gathering information about himself based on updated skills, values and interests, staying open and curious, noticing patterns and paying attention to his own internal experience. As the career counsellor, I’m wanting to support the aha! moments, challenge assumptions that may hinder this exploration and listen for a sense of commitment to action. Paths are emerging based on evidence, both external and internal. For instance, Matt began to conduct information interviews with people who had jobs in the general area of cars, people, teaching and learning. Matt found out, to his surprise, that some jobs, such as a claims adjuster, could be learned with on the job training, and while that work peaked his interest, he was less excited about the balance of administrative work with the people / car side of the business.
The Map and the inner Compass. Together, they will take us through the desert of change and career decision-making.
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA