A Career Coach's Advice for Starting Over in a Tough Economy

As a career coach, I have noticed over the last year that many of my clients found a silver lining in the down economy. They used it as an opportunity to change their career. The slowdown allowed for introspection on their overall happiness level at work and they made useful discoveries.

For most people, the roadblock to happiness at work is lacking clarity about what job they'd rather be doing. Sometimes, all a person knows is that they don't like their current job. I believe that the way around this roadblock is a study of the heart's desire. While logical analysis can play a role, it's only part of the solution to the problem.

The primary focus of my coaching work with my clients is to gain clarity about their heart's desire. After some coaching sessions where my client and I have sorted out what they would rather be doing, the next steps they take are often based less on emotional factors, such as ego and risk adversity, and more on pragmatic concerns, such as maintaining financial stability and being able to support their family. They are figuring out how to be happy, not stay stuck.

The following stories describe how three of my clients found ways to change their careers for the better during the recession.

Leap to Your Greatness

Beth was single, 40-year-old woman when I met her. She had been a successful vice president for 10 years in a well-respected organization in the San Diego area. Based on our work together, it became clear that she knew what she wanted to do next, which was to become a painter, but her obstacle was the fear of leaving her current job only to end up failing in her new career.

As with most coaching engagements, we worked on eliminating her concerns about moving forward. One concern was not having enough experience and education in fine art. This fear dissipated over time as her confidence grew in her new persona. She began taking bolder steps in letting go of the old marketing of herself, namely "I am a VP," to promoting her new "artist" self.

Her transition solidified when, six months after we started working together, she hosted an art show of her work. In a huge leap forward she invited all of her friends, family, and co-workers to see her paintings. Prior to the show, all her typical worries popped up: "What if they don't like my work? What if I'm not good enough to be an artist? What if I never make any money?" Imagine her surprise when her old boss bought her art work and was going to hang it in her living room. Now, Beth's business card reads, "Artist."

Let Go of Expectations

Roger was the head of sales for a Bay Area start-up. His boss had no life outside of work and expected Roger to quickly respond to any business question in the evenings and on weekends. Plus, his boss was a bully and created what Roger felt was an oppressive environment. Despite his best efforts to set boundaries, Roger couldn't shake the 24/7 availability required by his boss.

Roger received job offers from other firms while he was at this difficult job, but wanted to carefully plan his next career move versus fleeing a bad situation. Roger's vision longer-term, upon retirement, was to teach and do work that was deeply meaningful to him. Roger assumed his long-term goal would require a substantial cut in pay, which he couldn't afford because he was the sole supporter of a family of three. Roger resigned himself in the next year to finding another grueling, high-paying job at another start-up. But, he wanted this next job to get him a bit closer to his wants and needs, like more time with his family and more reasonable co-workers.

In the next month of job searching, Roger happened upon a job working for a company that needed someone in sales. What made this job special was the product Roger would be selling: movies for children about compassion and peace. Everything was nearly perfect about the job. It cut his commute in half, his potential co-workers seemed reasonable, and the job felt meaningful. He assumed the pay offered would not match his expectations. After some hard work negotiating terms, he was able to make a job switch way earlier than expected and for only a slight pay cut.

Change Other Areas of Your Life

Beth was 38-years-old and was a manager in a finance department for a major bank in the Midwest. She was a busy mom with two children under the age of seven and a full-time job. Normally, she was an optimist and full of energy. However, all the pressures of her job and family responsibilities left her stressed-out and wanting a job change.

Prior to having children, Beth had switched into a new department at her company with broader responsibilities as the Chief Operating Officer. This move was exciting but in certain areas of the company's operations, like IT, she had no experience and it left her feeling insecure about her abilities overall.

Normally, her way of dealing with knowledge gaps was to work harder and longer. This strategy was not an option after having kids as it meant taking time away from her family. Beth decided that her best solution was to pursue her greatest dream job and create a new career as a wedding planner or caterer. She ran the numbers and quickly discovered that, with the cut in salary and additional schooling needed, she could not pursue this dream job and continue on as the sole provider for her family. Plus, she was concerned about what her parents would think of the change, as they always viewed her corporate status in such high regard.

Beth took a different route to happiness than changing her career altogether. She still has a driving desire to change her career path one day, but has accepted that she cannot do so right now. Instead, she has chosen to move to another job in another company where she works fewer hours. Ultimately, what Beth needed was better work-life balance though she had been attributing her problems only to her occupation. The real culprit was her lifestyle. In cases like Beth's, what I have learned is that sometimes the original goal ends up changing after more information and analysis.

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C.J. Liu is a Seattle-based career coach with over 15 years experience in helping people achieve happiness at work. She takes a holistic view of her clients needs and seeks to ensure they feel good physically, mentally and spiritually in their work.
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