In career counseling, the core premise is that work that is a good fit for you will utilize your learned skills and innate talents and will present in a way that matches your temperament/personality and your work/organizational style. Rather than deciding ‘I want to be a lawyer’ and therefore I need to become someone who is intellectual, a keen negotiator, assertive, willing to work 80 hour weeks, etc., the approach focuses on understanding who you are, and allowing that knowledge to point you in a good direction.
There are many career tests that can give you insight into what might be a good fit for you in your work life. As research for this blog post, I just took one online and it said this about me: “ability and desire to bring out the most in others….You instinctively understand others' needs and you are very adept at giving a timely word of inspiration and affirmation. You have the natural, positive ability to "rally people" to action…. You are able to see the “big picture”, while also putting a high value on organization, productivity, and meeting deadlines.” This list is a small sampling of the traits and skills that make me well suited to be a coach. When seeking clarity about direction, I’m a big fan of this approach.
But what if I already had that clarity and knew that I didn’t want to be a coach at all and really wanted to be a lawyer? What would happen then? Would I be doomed? Would I need to change? Would it even be possible? And if it was possible would I have to change my values? Or my time with my children?
One of the fundamental tenets of my coaching practice is that uncovering your skills, talents, temperament, and productivity style can be useful NO MATTER WHAT YOUR DIRECTION. Let’s say I have three clients who want to get more regular exercise. The first is very athletic, organizes best by setting long terms tasks and working methodically toward a goal, and is most motivated by accountability to others. The second likes to move if it feels fun and playful, organizes best by having routines, and is motivated by the intrinsic reward of feeling alive in their body. And the third has never really consistently exercised, organizes best taking slow steady incremental steps, and is motivated by meeting other people’s needs. The first might end up in a training group for a marathon, the second in a weekly dance class, and the third taking a nightly walk with their dog and their fitbit, each day a little farther. Regardless of their differences, all three are now getting regular exercise. By understanding who they are, how they get things done, and what motivates them successfully, they can move toward their goal regardless of how well it lines up with their profile.
So if I wanted to be a lawyer, it would need to be me, as I am, who became a lawyer. In bringing my skills and talents, I’d recognize those parts of me that can articulate any argument passionately and that cherish a devil’s advocate. I’d organize myself by pulling out to look at the big picture: like my belief that our justice system is flawed and has intrinsic biases, so that I’d have my compass pointed in the right direction as I took slow and steady steps toward researching law schools. I’d call on my passion for social justice and being a part of the solution to be my motivation. And I’d understand my work style and needs around work/life balance as I looked at programs and eventually jobs. By understanding who I am, how I work, and what drives me, I could accomplish this goal, or any goal.
As it happens, I don’t want to be a lawyer, and have used my skills, talents, organizational style, and intrinsic motivation to build this coaching practice, where I have found great joy in my work. And while it may seem a natural fit for me now that I'm settled in it, it was just a fantasy when I was looking at it from the vantage point of my previous career.
Do you have passions you don’t pursue because you think you’d need to be different first? What if who you are is actually a perfect fit with whatever you most want to do? Can you imagine the limitless possibilities?
Kendra Lubalin is a coach at Get There Coaching
Kendra works one-on-one with clients to clarify their dreams, break them down into bite-sized realistic steps, and then reach them using their own organic work/organizational styles.
She offers free 20-30 minute initial phone consultations.and offers sessions by phone, Facetime, or Skype
One thing that I’ve noticed to be a frequent obstacle to people following their true dreams is the feeling that the thing you want is SO BIG. For someone who is considering coaching, there is often a burning desire for something, and/or a significant dissatisfaction with something. Sometimes the enormity of the endeavor can feel paralyzing. Starting a new business, finishing a creative project, making a meaningful impact in the world, improving your parenting skills, creating a practice of self care, leaving a bad situation: The things that draw people to coaching are BIG things. These dreams can feel so overwhelming that it’s difficult to know how to even begin, and so people feel stuck.
Before I became a coach, I worked in Jewish education for many years. One of my favorite Jewish concepts is called Teshuva. It’s a ritual that takes place at the start of a new year. It is often translated to mean things like amends, or repentance, and is often practiced as an admission of wrong doing for the past year, and a hope to do better in the coming year. But the literal translation of Teshuva is ‘return’ or ‘turn around.’ From practicing this ritual myself, I came to understand that ‘turning around’ is usually the first step forward in a new direction.
Sometimes we know we’re walking down the wrong path, but we’re so far down the path, there is this strong feeling that we should keep going further. Even though we can feel, in our guts, that the path isn’t for us, it’s the path we know, the path others expect to find us on, and it may have a level of comfort for us even if it also has discomforts we’ve learned to tolerate. We can see the things ahead that are markers of achievement, so we feel compelled to keep going. When we consider walking on a different path, it seems so far behind us, it feels impossible to go back.
What is amazing to me, and I’m sure you’ve actually experienced this in small and big ways, is that it isn’t getting ‘all the way back’ to the new path that shifts our lives, it’s the simple act of being willing to turn around. This actually IS the moment of starting on the new path. The new path is always only one step away from us, just in a new direction. I love this because the rewards of the new path begin as soon as we are on it. We don’t need to reach the end of the new path to feel that we are living our dream life, we just need to be walking in the right direction. Being in the process of living our most authentic life feels AS RIGHT as living in it every day. In fact sometimes it feels even better, because life is about journey and growth, and being authentically in and open to that process is one of the best human feelings out there, the feeling of being alive.
Have you ever made a tough but right decision, and felt relief as soon as you made the decision, even though you’d done nothing yet to address it? Or taken one small action toward something you really want and felt strong internal confirmation that this was the right direction? Our feelings can be our guide in this situation. Because the truth is that THE THING isn’t what’s so big in this situation, it’s THE NEED that is so big. So as soon as we start to feed the need, the relief comes. If you decide to you want to switch jobs, and your dream job requires 4 years of schooling you don’t have, it can feel overwhelming to consider. But actually taking the step to start filling out an application for a school program you’ve been eyeing, even just filling in your name and address on the form, turns the monumental obstacle in front of you into a path that lead to your dream. It feeds your need, and the feeling of overwhelm gets quickly replaced by excitement and hope and expansive thinking.
The other thing that I think is amazing about turning around is that THE THING actually does get smaller when we are facing it! This happens for two reasons. First, when we are really looking something head on, we are seeing the reality of it, which is finite, instead of the idea of it, which is infinite. This perspective shift gives what we are seeking to do boundaries, small achievable next steps, and an end point.
Second, when we move toward something that is really right for us, a kind of magic often happens. It’s like when you are in a big airport and there are ‘people movers’ in the hallways. They are similar to escalators but flat, and you walk on them while they also move you forward, so you can cover more ground. Walking toward our true dreams is often like that, we are still walking at the same pace, but the world starts carrying us forward more and more quickly, because everyone around us can also feel that we are on a really good path. Moving toward a true dream has an exponential quality to the movement, it’s not just turning around, it’s turning from a direction where we were sailing into the wind, to a new direction where the wind is in our sails.
THE THING you want, the thing that feels SO BIG and out of reach, it is actually only one step away – the first step in a new direction. Take it and see what happens.