I love my career coaching work because it is so connected to how I derive purpose in the world. The “thank-yous” are a nice bonus. My kind clients will often send notes or e-mails commenting on specific advice I had given that made a profound difference in their career. I would like to think that most every career coaching client comes away from our interactions better for it because of something I said but I will highlight the opposite in this post.
“Why is someone so thankful for your suggestion that he do what he already knew he should do?” So asked, one of the younger consultants at The Learning Consultants (the parent company of Career Counseling Connecticut), when he reviewed a heartfelt thank you e-mail sent to us in relation to a recent career counseling meeting. One of the older consultants responded: he needed the interaction to create the action.
“Jerry” was miserable in his job and career path. But, he felt stuck. He was 32. Young, from my vantage point, but old, from his view, to switch careers.
Having graduated from college mostly clueless about what he really wanted to do, he wound up, through connections working in a small business in Stamford, CT. After a couple of years, he knew he didn’t want to work in the business for much longer. He thought he might want to switch into a larger company in the industry. He half-heartedly applied to a couple of companies but then did not further pursue with any real vigor.
Jerry realizes now that his lack of continued pursuit stemmed from not wanting to be in his company’s industry at all. He slogged onward. He mastered his job so it became easier but he also had reached the point of limited upward mobility. He was bored. He channelled his energy into long distance running and other hobbies and tried not to think too much about his job.
As Jerry approached 29, he resolved that by 30 he would be heading in a different career direction. In forging his career exploration, he did all the right things. He saved his excess income. He reviewed graduate schools. He reflected on what he wanted to do. He talked to dozens of people, including a career counselor (not me).
Before his 30th birthday, Jerry found an answer to his career question in the form of a specific industry that genuinely interested him. Even better, he had an entry point into the field as one of the people he had spoken to was willing to take him on in an entry level role.
But, Jerry didn’t act. Venturing into the new industry would require trade-offs. He was trading a middle management role for an entry level position. The money was not radically lower but he would also take a cut in pay. He would be going backward to the outer world or so he thought.
Jerry didn’t quit his job before 30. Or 31. Or 32. I’ve written elsewhere about the tension between opportunity and transactional cost. Jerry was making the classic mistake of underestimating opportunity cost (by staying at something he didn’t want to do, he was giving up the opportunity to build a career in something he wanted to do) and overestimated the transactional cost (sure, he would take a step back in title and pay in the short term but had he made the move at age 30 into a field he liked better, he likely would have caught up in title and pay to the current levels of his dead end job).
Most of my career counseling clients are “lost”, in the sense that they really don’t know what to do or they have vague thoughts about their preferred career direction. The content of our conversation provides the primary benefit of meeting. With Jerry, my comments on what he should do (he already knew!), risk analysis (he understood that he was not risking much in the long term), and opportunity/transactional cost (he nodded his head readily as he had thought the same thing many times) were not the primary benefit.
Instead, Jerry needed some type of interaction to give him the energy to make the move. One month after our meeting, Jerry started on his new path and wrote the aforementioned note.
I said nothing magical. Instead, the interaction created the action.