4 pitfalls when asking loved ones for career advice
If you’re debating whether to embark on a change of direction, then it’s natural to ask your family and friends for their opinion. Whether it’s changing jobs or returning to work after a career break, they are the people that you talk to about most things, so why not this issue that is so important to you? What’s more, they know you well and may have some good ideas about what will suit you.
However, there are some dangers lurking in these discussions that you may not have spotted - dangers that could extinguish your spark for change before it has even begun to take hold. Believe it or not, these dangers are the fears and desires of your loved ones, which will influence the way they respond to you. I’m not saying that they deliberately set out to derail your plans, but if they feel that the change you want conflicts with their needs, then all hell can break loose!
I know this only too well because I’ve been there myself and I experienced everything I’m going to tell you about. Eventually, I learned to use the input from friends and family with care, and only on my terms. So in the interest of saving you from some interesting domestic ructions, I’m going to suggest some of the pitfalls to avoid when talking to others about your need for change.
Four pitfalls to beware of when asking friends and family for advice about a new job.
1. They have their own agenda
If your family (whether partner or children) see your current role as being the one at home keeping everything running smoothly, then their comfort and peace of mind could be quite threatened by you wanting to go out and find some work. Their comfortable life won’t be so comfortable when they have to take more responsibility for their own timetables, and pull their weight in terms of helping in the house and making sure everything runs smoothly.
I’ve seen many parents of teenagers worrying about how their offspring will get to school without mum or dad to make sure they drag themselves out of bed, or fretting about whether their kids’ social life will be stunted if there isn’t a chauffeur on hand 24 hours a day! And yet it’s perfectly reasonable to expect your teenagers to start taking more responsibility and it’s perfectly normal for you as a parent to find it quite hard to let go!
Friends who are in the same situation as you, with teenage children at home, may feel threatened by your desire to go out to work. They’re likely to suspect that they should do the same, which may not appeal to them as much as it does to you! The important thing is to reassure them that you are not judging them, but focusing on what’s right for you.
And friends who are out at work, but unhappy in their jobs, will feel threatened by you taking action. It shines a spotlight on their refusal to take the same bold action.
2. They don’t like the risk
If your family see you as the breadwinner, or a significant financial contributor, bringing in income to the household, then they may well be concerned that you want to rock the boat when you are fortunate to have a job and many others don’t. Hopefully we are emerging from the recession that has dogged us in the past months and years, but nonetheless, these are still tricky times and many people are struggling to earn their living.
So it’s quite reasonable for your family to be worried if you want to leave a current job that is providing stability to the household, in terms of familiarity and routine, as well as financially. They may be afraid that in changing your job and doing something different you’ll jeopardise your financial security and by extension theirs too.
And your friends may also think you’re mad to be pondering a change, especially if they have been affected by the recession themselves. I’ve lost count of the number of former colleagues who expressed concern about my determination to break away from corporate life to go it alone – and whilst they may have been worrying about my financial safety (I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt!) I strongly suspect they didn’t like having a mirror held up to their own daily compromise.
3. They fear being left behind
Both family and friends may be concerned that if you go off and do something different, your relationship with them will change. Their thoughts may go something like this:
- You’ll change and leave them behind.
- You’ll work longer hours and they’ll see less of you.
- You’ll have to travel and be away more.
- You’ll build a whole new network of friends that they aren’t part of.
4. They can’t think outside the box.
It’s easy for friends and family to assume that you only need to make a small change; that the familiar territory that you’re in now is right for you. They imagine that they know you inside out and upside down and actually know what’s right for you better than you know it yourself. So they won’t explore all the possibilities that could conceivably be open to you.
For example, if you’ve always been the practical one – perhaps an administrator, project manager, or analyst – it will be hard for others to see the fashion designer, artist or gardener that is hiding inside you. When I made the leap from pension consultant in a global business to self-employed coach some people were puzzled by my desire to move away from high finance, but my more creative side had been stifled for many years and I loved the freedom of being my own boss!
So those close to you can be quite arrogant really in terms of ruling out a whole load of things that would fire you up and excite you, just because they’ve never seen you in that arena.
So how do you talk about your desire for change without getting caught up in someone else’s fears?
I am NOT saying that you should avoid talking to your family or friends about your future wants and plans. That doesn’t sound like a recipe for good communication within the family or in your social circle! So talk to them by all means. Pick their brains and get them to help you clarify your own thinking on why you want a change and what it needs to include.
But be specific about the kind of support you want from them. Is it practical or emotional?
If you’re looking for practical help, then tell them the options that you’re considering, and ask them to help you explore the advantages and disadvantages of them, so that you can get a balanced view. Or if you’re trying to get clear on what your strengths are, and what you could do, ask them to list at least five qualities they see in you – and make sure that you ask several different people this so that you can get a rounded picture.
If you want emotional support then tell them, tell them that’s what you need. Tell them you need encouragement, or that you’re having a wobble and want them to reassure you, or that you’re feeling scared about taking what is a very brave step, and that you want them to champion you and appreciate and acknowledge the strength it is taking for you to move forward.
Our family and friends can be great allies when we’re seeking a change of direction. They just sometimes need a little help to stay firmly on our side!
Who will be your best ally as you change direction?
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