As a career coach, friends and acquaintances often seek my ‘on-the-go’ advice about a myriad of career questions. Usually I can help with a friendly ear and a quick piece of practical advice and I regard this as a wonderful occupational hazard!
Sometimes, though, these encounters are not so easy. Earlier this week, I bumped into a friend I hadn’t seen for a while who, after a quick kiss and hello, announced that she had given up on her career. Given up on her career – it was delivered with determined practicality, a decision that had been reached reluctantly and amid frustration and disappointment. I took a step back. This wasn’t the stuff to explore in the moment and we decided to sit down together during the coming week for for a longer chat.
Since then, I have been thinking a lot about this idea of giving up on your career. I see it expressed in all sorts of ways with clients who have lost direction or motivation; who are being most influenced by what they can’t do rather than what they can; whose ideas are stymied by distractions such as their age (too young or too old); their race (no-one really wants to employ me); or the labour market (there are no jobs out there).
I have even felt it myself lately as I work hard to move my business to a more ambitious level through the development of new products and approaches. It tests my confidence (am I really capable of doing this?); questions my goals and strategy (is this really the right direction to be heading in?) and challenges my natural determination (I think I am wasting my time).
And what I have come to realise is that in all these conversations with myself and my clients and my friends, none of us really want to give up on our careers, our life’s work, our shot at earning a good living and making a contribution we can be satisfied with.
That’s why even when circumstances challenge us and our careers are temporarily stalled, and we feel like we have to settle for less than we know we want to, giving up on our careers is actually not an option. In these periods of confusion and frustration, important questions need to be asked that when given the right attention, enable new ideas and opportunities to emerge.