Tuesday, April 23, 2024
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Times have changed

Michael Errigo

THE WASHINGTON POST – When an executive and career coach based in Northern Virginia Sophie Johnson, first meets a new client, she often finds them in some kind of professional distress.

“Many of them are stuck,” Johnson said. “They feel as though they’re not growing. They know something is wrong. They’re burdened by the feeling that they have too many choices or that they have none at all.” Most of them are seeking some kind of professional growth, but the definition of that broad and ever-evolving term varies by the client.

Even still, Johnson and others in the same field have noticed a trend in recent years: Professional growth is no longer defined mostly by the idea of getting ahead, earning a better title or upping a salary.

Instead, clients come to them seeking out more abstract prizes like autonomy, passion and a sense of purpose.

“They’re definitely thinking about more than money as they seek growth,” Johnson said. “I think in the pandemic, people evaluated how they spent their time and the alignment with what they really care about. What are your values?”

How should workers pursue professional growth with several considerations in mind? Career coaches offered the following tips:

PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

IT’S NOT (ALL) ABOUT THE MONEY

A recent study by Indeed and Forrester Consulting, surveying more than 5,000 United States workers, found that financial interest was often overstated as a core component of workplace well-being. Instead, the feeling of being energised or a sense of belonging was of high importance.

“Professional growth and financial growth aren’t often the same thing,” said, a DC-area career coach David J Smith. “A lot of people… want to feel like their work has meaning and purpose.”

Smith noted that while money is obviously of great importance to people and that financial issues play a key role in his clients’ career decisions (particularly as they relate to the cost of living in the Washington metro area), it is far from the only driver.

“They want the money to be able to live in Washington, sure, but they come to me and said what they want is to go to bed at night feeling like they’ve made a difference,” Smith said. “That’s professional growth for a lot of people.”

The issues that trouble workers to begin with are often tied to some kind of physical or emotional burnout.

“One of the things I hear most often in my contact form is people saying they are totally emotionally drained by the time they are done working,” said DC-area career coach Chrissy Macken.

“Other aspects of their life are suffering because after work they are just a grumbly, tired person. So even when we’re focussed on shifting the job, we’re looking to impact multiple areas of life.”

The idea of work-life balance has also become a major touchstone in the field. A career coach based out of Miami Paul Silitsky, estimates that about 80 per cent of his clients want to talk about work-life balance.

“Work-life balance, for my generation, wasn’t talked about much,” said Silitsky, 64. “But I’d say now, it’s very often a discussion point when talking with my clients.”

DON’T LET (ONLY) YOUR JOB DEFINE YOU

It’s common for people to view their career as an essential part of their identity.

After all, the first question we ask when meeting a new person is what they do for a living.

But investing too much of your identity in your job can be problematic. Macken said that she sometimes tells clients to think of it like financial planning, where diversification is smart.

If your social, emotional, financial and even spiritual growth is tied up with your professional growth, that’s actually a risk – particularly if you lose your job or no longer find fulfillment in it.

“What some people find is that they’ve been so career-focussed… since grad school,” Macken said.

“They sort of overcommitted to professional growth at the outset, so the other areas of their life got minimised. And now they need to take the time to think about how to get these other key aspects of their being decoupled from being totally controlled by their job.”

The issue is not limited to any one age group, but several coaches said they work a lot with millennials.

When Barbara Herzog started working as a career counselor in the DC area two decades ago, she assumed that many of her clients would be middle-aged and in the midst of a midcareer crisis. But over time, her main demographic became workers between 25 and 35.

“They have more financial flexibility and flexibility with responsibilities at that age, but millennials also seem to have an optimism and enthusiasm for change,” Herzog said.

“Sometimes later in life, people think they have to do these things they hate. But I find that millennials are wonderfully optimistic and are eager to think about things and change things if they feel they haven’t gotten it quite right.”

MAKE A HABIT OF CAREER CHECKUPS

Herzog encourages her millennial clients to take a work-life “temperature check” once a year.

“Just do some short assessments of yourself,” she said. “How do I feel about my work right now? What are my 10- or 20-year goals? Writing down five things you’d like to change about your life. That sort of thing can really be helpful.” In exercises like that, it can be hard for people to visualise what an ideal job actually looks like.

For Johnson, she has found that the right job often provides three things: social connection, intellectual stimulation and the sense that you’re working on something bigger than yourself.
Silitsky agrees, saying that recognition and mentorship are also key to a fulfilling career.

“People want to be happy at work,” Silitsky said. “They want to be seen. They want to be recognised. And they want the opportunity to be heard, to grow and to find bosses that will support that.”

Silitsky often starts his coaching by asking clients to take an assessment that will help identify what he calls their “superpowers.” These are the innate, natural skills one has that they feel passionate about and comfortable doing.

“We’re often searching for jobs that are a match to those superpowers,” he said. “If you don’t know truly what those superpowers are, it’s like driving around with a GPS but not a destination.”

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