It is popularly believed that men are not as willing to seek help in dealing with challenges in their professional lives as women. How true this is in general, I don't know. I can only say that my own clients are pretty well equally divided between men and women.
My experience has convinced me that men are just as capable as women of staying the course in a transition process. Just like women, they are not looking for the next job that is simply a rehash of what they've already done—they are seeking a genuine new beginning.
In a recent column, I conjured up the vision of an unemployed techie named John. I had him charging up the hill under fire armed with nothing more than a resume and having something less than a fifty-fifty chance of closing with that well-entrenched employer on top.
When a person loses his job, or feels threatened by impending layoffs or outsourcing or shaky economic conditions, the most natural thing is to reach for what is most handy—a resume.
But this impulse to reach for the "equipment" and neglect strategic planning is not going to win the battle. It could even undermine the entire offensive.
Several years ago, my husband and I visited Gettysburg National Military Park. As we were making our way around the battlefield on bicycle, we came across a marker indicating the place where three divisions of General James Longstreet's corps set off on what has come to be known as Pickett's Charge.
There we noticed that a wide path had been mowed through the tall grass to allow people to trace on foot the route of that ill-fated attack. We got off our bikes and walked them up the hill in reverent silence.
It was hard to believe that this beautiful spot, where we were surrounded by cornfields and gently swaying wildflowers and the hum of summer insects, could have been the scene of so much carnage.
Like any other professional, as a career counselor, it's important for me to keep up with what's happening in my field. I do this by reading and studying and talking with thought leaders I respect.
I also periodically take a look at what the general public is reading by perusing the career shelves of bookstores.
I rarely buy these books because they tend to repeat things I already know and because, in the vast majority of cases, they present an approach I consider to be ineffective and outdated.
Being in transition lies at the core of every career process, whether it’s looking for work (by choice or necessity), starting a business, or adjusting the demands of work to fit changes in lifestyle. Few people, however, understand what the process of being in transition is really about.
Most confuse change, an external event such as losing a job, graduating from college, retiring, moving, etc. with transition—what happens inside us as we psychologically adapt to change.
All of us—young, old, middle-aged—whether we like it or not, practice ageism, at least to some degree. It’s far less obvious than most other prejudices, but it is nevertheless there in how we think about others and, most importantly, how we think about ourselves. The idea that we’re too old (or even too young) to do something is rooted in our own prejudices about the limits that age imposes—limits that are reinforced by the broader ageism that permeates our culture.
Unlike sexism, racism, and other “isms”, ageism is not static: whether we're dishing it out or taking it depends on where we are in life. Take ,for example, the situation where an older person is waiting to see a physician:as soon as this “very” young doctor enters the examination room, the older patient begins to question his competence because he's “only a kid”, and he feels perfectly justified in doing so. Yet on the way home, when an impatient young driver behind him yells out the window, “The light's green, you old goat!” (or something worse), he is outraged.
Almost everyone knows about a book that has become a classic in the field of career-related literature: What Color is your Parachute? by Richard Bolles. Far fewer people are aware of another of his books, The Three Boxes of Life and How to Get Out of Them. The message of Parachute was timely, but in order for it to be kept up to date, it has had to be revised annually.
The Three Boxes, however, was so far ahead of its time that it has taken over twenty years for us to catch up with its message. At the time the book was written, the compartmentalization of life into the “three boxes” of: education, ages 5 through 18-22+; work, ages 20-something to 60+; leisure, age 60+ (“postponed” in favor of education and work); was more or less taken for granted as the norm. Fortunately, this is changing.
When I was considering whether to pursue a Master's in Counseling, I went to talk to a highly respected career professional about it.
When I lamented that it would take me until I was 45 to complete the program, he said to me, ”You need to think in terms of a 200-year plan.“
At the time I thought he was crazy, but now I hear myself saying the exact same thing to my clients.
We've become accustomed to hearing the story of a professional life told almost exclusively in terms of outstanding accomplishments.
Ask an athlete to reflect on his career and he'll tell you about the time he pitched a no-hitter. Ask an actress and she'll talk about landing the lead in a Tony-winning Broadway play. Ask a writer and he'll recall how it was his third novel that lifted him from obscurity and made him a best-selling author.
These public, universally acknowledged achievements, which everyone recognizes as peak moments, are what we've come to expect when someone looks back on their life.
There’s a lot we can learn from the stories of our professional life—if we tell them in a way that enables us to hear what they really have to say to us. Too often we are satisfied with forcing our career stories to fit the mold of a resume, which is a formal exercise with a fixed external purpose (i.e., getting a job).
A career autobiography, on the other hand, is a free-form narrative with an evolving internal purpose.
When we begin to tell our career stories as stories instead of trying to make them conform to some predetermined set of specifications, we make discoveries about ourselves and tap the springs of our internal wisdom.