Frustrated. Isolated. Panicked. Discouraged. These are just some of the emotions experienced by job hunters, especially those who have been on the hunt for a while. In my work with Veterans seeking new or better jobs, I have come to recognize some common elements among those who feel lost and disheartened in pursuit of meaningful work, or in some cases, just a job to cover their financial obligations. Do these sound familiar?
For the unemployed, underemployed, or miserably employed, this simple inquiry "what do you do?" can trigger a downward spiral of negativity and self-recrimination as our Inner Critic starts the incessant diatribe about our worth, value, competency, capability as parent and/or provider, contributor, citizen, and even human being. In our modern American society, our work and our identity are tightly coupled. There has to be a way to respond to the question "what do you do" when we are in the midst of career transition that is positive, self-validating, and helpful. I believe there is.
Have you noticed that we use the word "really" a lot - really a lot? In my conversations with those at critical live junctures, I find myself asking questions like "what do you really want to do?" or "do you really believe that?" or sometimes just an incredulous "really?!?". In the quiet early morning hours, I ask myself the "really" questions of want, desire, truth. It strikes me that "really" has become a code word for the call for serious conversation and deeper, more honest thinking.
In my work with men and women in career transition I have come to recognize a pattern of thinking, choosing, and believing that can be best described as "opportunity tunnel vision." Every day I see talented, experienced, good people simply choose a well-worn career path and not even recognize that they have alternatives. I do not think this is inevitable. I believe we can explore alternatives, make better and more creative choices, and enjoy longer-term well-being by taking the time and opening our eyes, mind, and heart to alternative career futures.
Several weeks ago I was asked to make a presentation at the Women's Business Center of North Alabama (WBCNA) for a networking series called Strong Women, Strong Coffee. Amazingly, a room full of women and a few stalwart men got up at the crack of dawn and came out to hear me speak. I was both amazed and humbled. I was asked to share some of my "keys to success." One of the most important lessons I have learned is how to contribute without selling my soul.