Professional vs personal you: career coaching from the heart
I was once a lawyer for an American firm in London, in the acquisition finance team. It was a culture that encouraged a professional persona that was unwaveringly committed, never tired, emotional or off, had no life, physical needs or ties outside the office and could be physically and mentally happy with an 18-hour working day, sporadic bullying and being validated by praise based on hours worked. I was outwardly ‘successful.’ And desperately unhappy.
We can’t work like this. We just can’t. We can do it for a time if we have to. But we are the most anxious, under-fulfilled, depressed and unwell workforce for decades – there is just no evidence that abandoning who you are for what you do is a smart move to make. I am not the only person to give up this kind of ‘successful life’ for something more... human. This is why the career coaching I do as part of my resilience-building practice revolves around this concept.
Because, no matter what we are taught about success, we always do better when we’re putting our energy into something we actually enjoy. And we always thrive when we have the right work-life balance. And there’s a part of your soul that is only going to light up if you’re working with purpose. That’s why career coaching from a resilience perspective is such a power move – it bridges the gap between who you are and what you do so that there is no disconnect. And no need for a fake workplace persona.
Throwing out the old model of career coaching
I don’t know about you but, when I was younger, no one really ever asked me who I wanted to be. It was all about what I wanted to be – which is not the same thing. Career coaching can get sidetracked by goals like status and money. While they might be important, they are shaky ground on which to construct a truly fulfilling career path.
Resilience coaching focuses on finding what it is that really makes you, you – because knowing that, and how to support it, is what will make you resilient. Truly resilient. Not just putting a brave face on it and inside feeling numb, adrift, anxious or lonely. Part of establishing a connection to you is identifying what is going to make you happy on a daily basis – and then building a life that makes this possible.
A fulfilling career is not a luxury
There are lots of challenging and toxic beliefs about work that traditional career coaching can actually reinforce. For example, work isn’t meant to be enjoyable, it's meant to be a job that pays the bills. Or it’s just an indulgence, naive or lazy to want to live a life that delivers the wealth you want without struggle or having to abandon part of yourself every time you walk through the office door. Or that it’s a mistake to let people see who you really are in a work context because that makes you vulnerable and vulnerability equals weakness. The more we tap into these limiting beliefs, the more they become our reality. But you actually don’t have to look that hard to find someone who is living a life that they dreamed of so it is possible. And why not for you?
The buck stops... with you
If you’re not in a particularly fulfilling job right now and you don’t feel like you’ve connected to your purpose, or if you don’t have the work-life balance you’d like, or you get the Sunday night dread...Then this is down to the decisions you’ve made up to this point in life. There is no sugar coating that – but also no need to feel ashamed of any of those choices.
Acknowledging the role you’ve played in getting to this place means you’re also acknowledging the power you have to get you somewhere else. Of course, there is a lot of random luck involved in how we get from childhood to adulthood, especially when it comes to the opportunities we can take and create (a financially stable childhood, race and gender can make a big difference to what you emerge with as an adult – there is no denying that.). But we can also have a lot more influence than we think in the now. Starting with what you actually believe is possible for yourself.
“I could never...”
Think of your dream life. What does your daily routine look like? How does your work make you feel? What does that life give you that you don’t have right now? Don’t imagine this in the context of the job you currently have, or your existing limits, think bigger. This is the dreaming phase, it’s supposed to feel slightly out of reach, a bit wild. If there were no limits on what you could do next, what would that look like? If you notice that any of your thoughts trigger a kind of “I could never...” response, then ignore it and go down that path.
Do you want to work two days a week and earn more than you do now? Don’t shut that thought down as ridiculous or lazy. Follow it, see what that looks like - what would make it possible (because someone out there is already doing it, I can guarantee that). Feel like your dream job involves beaches and dolphins or speaking in front of thousands? Or working with plants? Or food? Get curious about what that might look like – what’s the first tiny step in that direction?
If a part of you didn’t already know you could do it you wouldn't be thinking about it...
Classic career coaching tends to funnel us towards office jobs and professions, ignoring many of our natural instincts for what would make our lives enjoyable. It encourages us to focus on what we ‘should’ do (to fit in? To be a ‘good’ compliant person?), rather than what we want to do. As if that is some sort of luxury – as if you are going to get a second chance at life, and when that happens it will be ok to be braver and bolder. The thing is that, whatever comes up for you when you imagine your dream life, is possible. And it’s worth investigating – because if part of you didn’t already know that you could do it, you wouldn’t be thinking about it.
“I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
Sometimes I wonder what my life would be like now if I’d followed my dreams to be a trapeze artist... (yes, really. If you follow my Insta, now you know why I love lycra so much). I might still find out... One thing I do know is that, despite the challenges I had leaving law, I will never regret it. What I’m doing right now lights up part of my soul every time I do it. Every day I show up to coach, the best version of me comes out (book an intro call and come and meet her).
I don’t have the same level of income I had in law, I have security challenges, sometimes I don’t know where to start with the marketing – and lots of people I meet still struggle to place a resilience coach in a box they understand, which can be draining – but I am living a life that is true to myself. I feel at home. Why does that matter? Because we know that “I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me” is one of the top five regrets of the dying. And I don’t want that weighing me down when it’s time to go.
Career coaching from a resilience perspective is all about identifying what lights you up and putting the practicalities in place to make that happen, whether that is undoing limiting beliefs or finding a tangible way to make change happen. I’m not saying you can do it overnight. But you’re giving yourself the best possible chance by allowing yourself to imagine it - and then taking that first step.