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Posts Tagged ‘professional aspirations’

Lessons Learned From a Career Crisis

learning

Although it was a dark rainy night in fall, in my mind everything was as clear as day.  That was back in 1994, a year into my first career in Montreal, Canada and I was having the most difficult, in fact the most traumatic experience of my life.  It was I who made the decision to change my life completely.  I migrated to a new country, started a new career and a new life, all on my own.  But on that dark night, the rubber hit the road and I had every good reason to be afraid.  However at the end of another dreadfully difficult day at the office, I was determined to stay the course.

I was struggling in a professional field that was not quite the right fit for me.  My colleagues were unhelpful in an unhappy work environment and it was affecting my performance.  I was in a foreign country with no close family, a very limited social circle and no professional network to help steer me towards other opportunities.  This had never happened to me in my life.  I always fit in, rose to every challenge and succeeded.  In spite of it all, deep down in my soul, I knew I had to keep going.  I wouldn’t “just quit.”

What was ironic was that I really was letting go.  I was letting go of the fear-driven “what ifs?” that had been scaring the living daylights out of me.  On that dark rainy night, I made the decision to change my inner dialogue by courageously answering my “what ifs?”  with “so whats!”

“What if this job doesn’t work out?” – “So what!  I will find a better job.”

“What if I can’t pay my bills?” – “So what! There’s my savings, unemployment insurance and… my parents.”

“What if people think I am a quitter?” – “So what! What people think about me won’t change the world.”

I was determined to allow the Universe to let this messy situation unfold and to make sense out of it.  I just knew that I would be okay.  Here’s what I learned –

  • We all know our truth. Being authentic can be difficult.

The fear and angst were rooted in my struggle to fit the bill of an educated, young, confident professional.  I was supposed to live up to everything I was taught – strive to achieve my goals, to never ever give up, be strong in the face of adversity.  The reality was that I wasn’t being authentic, even though I already knew my truth – I was not in the right professional field and my soul was dying.

Many people don’t live authentically.  We live in a world that describes what success ought to look like.  By staying in a job that was not right for me, I was keeping up professional appearances and what I thought were other people’s expectations.  It takes guts to step off the beaten path and take the road less travelled.  Not everyone will understand why, and they will tell you that you are making a mistake.  If you listen to your inner voice, you will find your truth – what’s right and meaningful for you.

path

  • It’s not worth the effort to hang on because of the fear of losing what we think is valuable.

The job paid well and I could afford a very good material quality of life.  On the other hand, I was holding on to a job in which I wasn’t able to give of my best talents and gifts in a work environment that was wrong for me.  My soul was dying a slow, painful death.  If I quit, there was the real risk of financial hardship.

So it was decision time. I had to choose between fear and courage.  I chose courage.

It was the courage to see beyond the surface and to dig deeply within to find out I really wanted, what really mattered to me and what were the next steps I needed to take.  I knew that I had to leave that job and get on my own path.  And I did.  Once I had honestly confronted my fears I was ready to take a leap of faith. In the face of uncertainty and risk, I made some responsible decisions about how I was going to leave and move my career forward.  While introspection was the starting point in all of this, I actively sought help to support the process.  I was amazed at the number of people who were willing to offer good advice and who had “been there, done that” and could help me find the things I needed to get through this crisis.

courage

  • Never let a crisis go to waste. There’s always something to learn.  Some good will emerge in the aftermath.

As it turned out, this personal and professional crisis not only taught me some important life lessons, but I gained some very useful work experience.  I eventually moved on to another company where I had a very satisfying and rewarding career in marketing.  I can safely say that much of what I learned in my previous job has given me the business acumen needed to make critical decisions, manage budgets effectively and lead with greater confidence.  All of this has taught me to never let a major crisis go to waste.

crisis

Throughout my career, these three lessons have guided me to make decisions that are right for me.  It’s all about finding my life’s purpose and living authentically.  The organizations where I have worked, their clients and the community have all benefited because I am offering my best self, serving passionately and using my talents to the fullest.

I do believe that we’re all in constant evolution and that it is through life’s events – whether times of crisis or calm – that we somehow find direction for our life’s journey.  It takes courage to confront the fears that compromise our well-being and prevent us from living authentically. It’s well worth it.

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Empathy

A few years ago, I respected the request of a team member to go home at the drop of a cat. Yes, you read it correctly, at the drop of a cat. A fifty-something male member of my team stood teary-eyed in front of me and asked if he could go home to comfort his son who called to say that the family’s pet cat of 13 years was dying. Realizing that my team member was too distraught to complete an important report that we were set to discuss that afternoon, I let him go home and at the same time, I said that I would reschedule our meeting for the following day. In this situation, there was a healthy dose of empathy, balanced with the commitment to get the work done.

Empathy is that trait that allows you to understand the other person’s perspective, even if you don’t necessarily agree with their point of view or emotional response to a situation. As workplaces become more team oriented, cross-functional and dependent on communications technology, leaders are challenged to balance empathy with the ability to make decisions that benefit the company’s human and financial capital.

Listen carefully

Experience has taught me that empathy involves active listening to what is being said, how it is being said and why it is being said. Empathy requires us to get to know employees, their professional aspirations, perspectives, cultural differences and experiences that shape who they are and what they bring to the job and the team.

Armed with this understanding, I have come to realize that setting healthy emotional and professional boundaries with others strikes the right balance between empathy and the ability to make sound management decisions.

Set healthy boundaries

Healthy emotional and professional boundaries involve giving appropriate empathetic responses without compromising the commitment to deliver corporate mandates. Some guiding principles I follow are provided below:

  • Never play psychologist to a distraught employee. Offer help by referrals to employee assistance programmes (EAP)
  • Set limits on the frequency and time to hear complaints
  • Mutually agree and commit to specific actions to resolve issues and problems in the workplace
  • Accommodate professional preferences (e.g. assign special projects) without compromising on requiring the delivery of core mandates
  • When making a special concession, be clear about the conditions – e.g. extra time off for personal reasons should be made up at a specific time in the future
  • Be respectful about conflicting opinions, but establish the final decision and move on
  • Respect employees who want to have only a professional relationship and are not interested in social interactions, as long as it does not disrupt team-building and teamwork

This post was prepared for Your Workplace and was published in YW blog posts on 5 December 2012.

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