Drowing in the Talent Pool – 7 Pieces of Career Advice

October 16, 2008

When the only thing that kept me ‘up’ at work was my underwire bra, I quit. Many people quit but they keep turning up at the office. They quit and stay; they become the working dead, dead, dead (use your best horror movie echo voice). You know someone like this don’t you? Or maybe, it’s you.

I know three smart people, who feel stupid about their careers because they don’t really know how they ended up where they are or what to do next. This can be paralyzing. It can foster a feeling of hopelessness, incompetence and anxiety. Did I mention disengagement and depression? They are so many ways to feel inadequate and not knowing your own career path ranks amongst the highest.

Cut yourself some slack, take off the personal boxing gloves. Breathe. Most careers flit about like butterflies and those sweet Monarchs get from here to Mexico. You’ll get where you need to go. I promise. You can not avoid your calling forever. Well you can, but the price is usually depression and anxiety. I just thought you should know.

There are two things in life that no one really teaches us. How to find the right person to love and how to find your right vocation. I’ll leave number one (for now) but if you are in career distress let me be your medic. Here are some truths about career transitions that no one has likely told you.

1. When you are despairing and lost, you cannot see your gifts accurately. It is like you are standing before a fun-house mirror and your sense of self, and therefore possibility, is warped and unrecognizable. This distorted self is not a sign of personal weakness or stupidity. It is how transformation begins. I’m sorry I used the word transformation. I heard some of you groan.

Stay with me. We lose our sense of self, just at the time we need it most, for a reason. It forces us to ask ‘Who am I? Who am I, really? What do I want to do in the world? What does the world want me to do? This being lost is necessary though completely discombobulating. We lecture the children in our lives that if they are lost to please stay put. If you are lost you need to stay put as well. If you engage in activities to drown your feelings by watching too much TV, sleeping through life, over eating, drinking, shopping or slutting around (is that a verb?) you only become more lost. We in the West are not good at staying put. We move so fast we pass ourselves. Your discontent is your messenger. Stop and listen.

2. Your discontent is telling you what you no longer want in your life. It’s also telling you that who you have become is not who you are. Stop, please, stop. Listen, and if you can, write. Or talk to a good friend. The kind of friend who can hear you into speech; that means they gently tell you what they are hearing. They don’t tell you what to do. This is not a time to do anything. Decisions made now are rarely good for you.

3. Find your still, small voice. There is in you, and I know I am sounding airy fairy right now, a still small voice. It is the voice underneath all the messages that are screaming at you: “You are too old to change; you can’t start over, school would cost too much, it’s too late.” My own messages are more like “You are a fking loser, look how successful everyone else is. By the way, have you noticed how big your bum looks in those jeans. Look a cookie.” Oh how I wish I was kidding.

4. Inertia is less painful then change. Those judgemental messages are designed to stop you from changing because dear heart, part of your brain prefers inertia and abject misery to change. Dick Bolles of What Color Is Your Parachute, my friend and mentor, says that critical voice is your Safe Keeping Self. It is your left brain. It is the monster of inertia, the destroyer of dreams. It is not your friend. You must learn to distinguish between this voice and your still, small voice, your true voice. Eckhart Tolle describes the same thing when he talks about Ego in a New Earth: Awakening To Your Life’s Purpose. It’s a good book but it won’t help you figure out your career. It will make you sane though so read it.

*I know this blog is longer than average but if you reading this you are not average eihter; you are hungry for a purpose bigger than your pay cheque, so I am going to speak with you some more.

5. Listen to your bliss: How can you begin to ease your career distress? Joseph Campbell said ‘Follow Your Bliss’ (he also said some stupid sexist stuff but that’s someone else’s rant). What most people don’t realize is that when you bury your discontent you also end up burying your joy. It is as if when you try to turn down the intensity on one emotion the rest turn down at the same time. Perhaps your psyche is saying, Well you aren’t listening to me so I’m not going to let you enjoy anything anymore until you deal with me.’

Your sole job or soul job is to pay attention to what brings you joy. For some it means bringing a flowering plant into your office so you have something hopeful in your line of sight. For others they need to see Coldplay live or hear Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.  I don’t know what it will be for you but here are some ideas: walk through a Frank Lloyd Wright house. Eat a truly great meal. Watch a great sports team, live.  Get outside. Look up and you might see as I did, three Peregrine Falcons riding the thermal currents between apartments.

6. Do something that puts you in touch with awe and genius. You might find comfort in the raw honesty of a Frida Kahlo painting or be inspired by TED lecture on youtube.  Your psyche needs to know that there is room for genuis of all kinds. Artists, athletes, activists and even business mavericks have risked everything. They remind us to risk something. Of course you might not be able to do any of this, that happens.

Emily Carr’s painting ‘Forsaken For Lumber, Beloved by Sky’ might give you hope. It is a clear cut with one lone pine. Emily was like that last tree standing. She had a tough life and some biographers suggest she was sexually abused. For those of you who have wounds from childhood or more recent traumas, this time might be more of a struggle because your loss of self is more pronounced. Take heart though, the best researchers on resilience say it only takes one person to believe in you to make a difference. If you don’t have some one, find someone or hire someone. I know that sounds crass but despair is not your birth right.

7. Nourish what nourishes you. Please note you are not going to experience any activity as giving you the high it usually would. You are too low but it will start to replenish the you of you. The very you needed to begin to move forward. When kd lang described the highs and lows of her career, she said “I finally learned I had to nourish what nourishes me.” Ain’t that the truth.

There are plenty of career tools, assessments and instruments that can help but doing them when you aren’t yourself defeats their purpose.  Give yourself time and let each small decision be an opportunity for you to ask, what would nourish me? Not the me I think I should be, or the me that others want me to be but ME.  Take your time dear heart.


(c) Louise Karch


2 Responses to “Drowing in the Talent Pool – 7 Pieces of Career Advice”

  1. RunGal72 on October 16th, 2008 10:18 pm

    L – You’re always on the mark. Great post, love it! What does one do if they find themselves with career dismorphia? How do I identify my gifts without being bogged down with the frustration I am currently experiencing?

  2. louisekarch on October 17th, 2008 2:06 pm

    How do you identify your gifts? I’ll do a blog on this to give you real content but let me give you an idea that you can use today. Watch to see when you feel enthusiastic. Enthusiasm comes from the latin En/Theos or god in us. Was there a divine moment of joy, playfulness or even the tiniest, littlest bit of energy boost. Did you do something that felt totally you? Was there an, yep I love that kind of feeling. What was the moment? What were you doing? What kinds of problems were you solving? Were you on your own or in a team? Were you teaching or were you analyzing a mother board. A good habit to develop is to keep a work journal for you accomplishments. Helpful when you want a raise that isn’t a new high heel or an ergonmic chair wih a fancy lever. Track your accomplishments but more importantly track the ones that came easily to you, you were motivated and you got energized. There is a formal method for analzying your favourite success stories, I’ll put that in the blog as well.

Good is no longer good enough. The goal is perfection and the path that takes us there leads to excellence.
Louise B. Karch