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The Authentic Career
Following the Path of Self-Discovery to Professional Fulfillment
By Maggie Craddock
New World LibraryCopyright © 2004 Maggie Craddock
All rights reserved.
Your Mental Detective Work
The first thing that anyone beginning this process needs to confront is where his or her story is breaking down. Thus, the first goal of the Awareness Stage is to help you clarify which of your family's ideas about success you have internalized. Each of us nurtures a dream of our professional prospects — and the scope of this dream is often dictated by our history.
Many people would agree that having a great career is one of the most important aspects of their lives. What's more, many confess that when their professional progress seems blocked, they often spend endless hours strategizing and worrying about how to improve the situation. However, regardless of the amount of time they have spent pondering their progress, many people who begin coaching are surprised to learn how fuzzy their thought process has been about why they are doing what they are doing professionally.
My first meeting with Stanley illustrates this point. Stanley is a young man who has been working in banking for the past two years. I began by asking what prompted him to seek coaching at this point in his career. Stanley responded with a succession of the kind of war stories that have become all too familiar to me.
"I don't trust my boss, and I don't respect him," Stanley began angrily. "I have my annual review next week (a typical first-session cliff-hanger), and my top priority with you today is to figure out how to make the most of this meeting and keep from getting fired. I'm sure he's reviewed me poorly because I can barely get through a day without him asking me a bunch of demeaning questions about how many meetings I have scheduled for the week and how early I am getting in each morning. It's demoralizing to be scrutinized like this. I'm a vice president, not a truant schoolchild — how dare he!"
Obviously, Stanley was experiencing extreme frustration because his relationship with his boss was not supporting his story. Our work in the initial part of the Awareness Stage was designed to provide Stanley with a deeper understanding in two key areas. First, he needed to be as clear as possible about what his long-term professional aspirations were (many people who begin coaching are amazed to discover that these are far more vague than they had thought). Second, he needed a more objective view of the cycle of behavioral interaction that was going on between him and his boss and how this cycle was feeding the growing tension between them.
"How does your current job fit into your long-term strategy for building the right career for you?" I asked him.
He was thoughtful for a moment. Obviously, this was not the type of question he had stopped to ponder before our session. "I'm not sure," he started cautiously, as if it were a trick question or a test he could fail in some way. "I've always wanted to be in finance ... I mean, it pays a decent salary, and I work with lots of smart people."
"Well, why banking?" I pressed gently. "I mean, there are lots of ways to make a living in financial services. What makes this position particularly appealing to you?"
Nothing is a stronger influence psychologically on their environment, and especially on their children, than the unlived lives of the parents. — Carl Jung
"Well ... it's just the first company I joined after graduating. I took a job as an incoming associate, and I went where they put me. Now I'm in a department where I have at least some experience, so if I want to get ahead I figure I'd better put my head down and make this job work."
"Are there any other jobs at your firm that you think you might enjoy more?" I continued. "I mean, you must interface with other departments in the course of getting information for your clients."
"Well, sometimes," he ventured, "but it's not even practical to discuss this. There is no way that my firm is going to let me change jobs just because I think I'd prefer working in another department. That's ridiculous!"
"Why is that ridiculous?" I asked.
"Because they don't care about me and my career," he responded angrily. "All they care about is money!"
"Not even if your understanding of a certain aspect of the business means that your efforts there could be profitable to them?" I queried.
"Not even then," he countered defensively.
"So, let me be sure I understand what you are telling me. You are saying that you are working at a job that you aren't sure you like, for a boss you are pretty convinced you don't like, at a firm that you are confident doesn't care about you. Am I understanding your position clearly?" I asked him.
Stories are medicine.... They have such power; they do not require that we do, be, act anything — we need only listen. The remedies for repair or reclamation of any lost psychic drive are contained in stories. — Clarissa Pinkola Estés
"Well, it sounds pretty grim when you put it all together that way," he said thoughtfully, "but to be honest with you, I think you've pretty much got the picture."
"Why are you doing this?" I asked him. "It certainly doesn't sound like much fun."
"It's not," he responded sadly. "But I'm determined to make enough money so that my wife can retire and stay home with our kids in a couple of years if she wants to. It's also important to me to be part of a respected organization so that I feel like a professional. It may sound silly, but I've worked so hard getting through school and into a firm like this that I'll feel like a failure if I can't make it work."
"You mentioned that being part of a respected organization makes you feel like a professional. What does this mean to you specifically?"
"Well, it means working with a group that I feel proud to associate myself with and making enough money to support a family. The fact of the matter is that I haven't thought much about that, specifically, and while I guess that's sort of lame, I don't think many of the people I work with have thought about this stuff either. I just want to earn a nice salary and get ahead. Is that so bad?" he asked.
"Not at all," I reassured him. "Just as long as you have some definition of getting ahead that's meaningful for you."
"I guess I'm a little stumped on that one," he replied.
"Then that's where we'll begin."
Most people who come to me are in the process of starting to explore their real potential. Many of us have been so busy living up to the expectations of others that we have lost touch with our authentic sense of self. The ability to separate our values and perceptions from those of our bosses, our family members, and the nonstop chatter of the media to indulge in the luxury of independent thought requires time for personal reflection, which seems to be getting harder and harder to come by.
We are the heroes of our own story. — Mary McCarthy
Moreover, many people who become discouraged about their professional prospects spend much of their energy contemplating whether or not to leave their jobs. Understanding the way your background influences your perspective on your career is vital to preventing the professional sabotage that takes place when an individual leaves his or her job prematurely because of short-term frustration. However, this insight is equally important in helping you face the facts when you find that you must leave a job because it is unfulfilling or it forces you to compromise your values.
The first exercise in the Awareness Stage is designed to help you do the mental detective work necessary to clarify the values and beliefs that have shaped your career choices over time. This exercise systematically explores your memories of the people and experiences that have significantly influenced your ideas about professional success.
Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them. — Oscar Wilde
EXERCISE: YOUR PERSONAL TREE OF LIFE
You begin this exercise by reflecting on an assortment of family pictures. I use photos in many of my coaching exercises because these personal images often help us to access all sorts of information from our subconscious. I suggest lugging out the whole album or packing a selection of photos in a portable album if you are going to do this exercise while traveling. You are going to use these pictures as a catalyst for asking some powerful questions aimed at getting to the heart of your beliefs about work and about how much money you believe you need to feel successful.
This exercise was designed to uncover some powerful formative beliefs as efficiently as possible. I've needed to adopt a variety of methods for examining these belief systems with clients who desperately need perspective in this area but are frequently firmly committed to avoiding this. Some coaching clients who are sent to me by their firm's human resources department begin the process convinced that everyone else is riddled with problems — while they are blameless and tragically misunderstood. "I don't have time for this therapeutic bullshit," I've had clients thunder in protest. "I've been in therapy before, and it didn't do any darned good. I'm not going over all that personal stuff again ... it's just exhausting."
What was silent in the father speaks in the son, and often I found in the son the unveiled secret of the father. — Friedrich Nietzsche
Part of what makes the Personal Tree of Life exercise work is that it involves answering detailed questions about your family that might not occur to you on your own. These questions deal with family secrets and areas that many people initially avoid scrutinizing. You don't have to be a die-hard Freudian to acknowledge that family is the first and greatest influence in your life. If you want to know what a woman thinks about men, look at the men in her life, beginning with her father. The men who surround a particular woman and with whom she has chosen to interact reflect what being "male" means to her. Similarly, if you want to know what a man thinks about women, first look at his mother; then look at the women he surrounds himself with both personally and professionally. Many psychologists even assert that one's father forms the foundation for his or her concept of "God the father." (If you're a reader with children, no pressure, huh?) This early molding is particularly powerful when it comes to the emotionally loaded concepts of success and financial security.
We all internalize a sense of what the significant people in our lives mean to us. These internalizations gradually become the inner voices that influence us in prioritizing all the vast stimuli bombarding our consciousness so that we can assign meaning to an event, integrate this meaning into our overall perception of reality, and then decide on a course of action. This lively neurological circus is going on in the recesses of your mind when you say "good morning" to the boss in the hall and he sullenly ignores you. "I wonder if he thinks I'm not important enough to acknowledge?" can be one of the theories that start firing as your mind seeks to assign meaning to this disheartening event. "I'll never get ahead in this place" may flash across your consciousness as the perception of reality darkens. Such a train of thought may lead a disheartened employee to try even harder to please, go home early in a huff, or even update his or her résumé — it all depends on how he or she has been conditioned to respond to rejection. This conditioning starts in the family.
When you teach your son, you teach your son's son. — The Talmud
You'll need a selection of family photos, including parents, grandparents, and as many extended relatives as you can think of — group shots from family reunions are great for this. You'll also need a journal, a pad of paper, or a laptop to enter your answers to the questions in this exercise. If your photos are loose or detachable from your album, begin by spreading them out in front of you in three rows based on different generations of your family. If they are glued into an album and won't budge, draw three rows on a piece of paper and make note of the names of various family members in these rows where you would place their pictures if the photos were detachable.
The middle row should have your mother on the left hand side and your dad on the right. The top row should consist of your grand-parent's generation, with your mother's parents and your aunts and uncles on her side on the left and your father's parents and his extended family generally on the right. This system isn't going to be perfect, of course, because group shots are going to have multiple generations in them — but if you just get things generally positioned, you will be doing fine. Finally, the bottom row should be made up of you, your spouse or significant other if you have one, your kids, your siblings, and all your nieces and nephews.
We are going to start this exercise in the middle row by reflecting on your parents. If, by the way, your birth parents are divorced and you were primarily raised by a stepparent, then feel free to work with your thoughts concerning this individual. You should adjust these questions in any way necessary to reflect the specifics of your family situation. When I do this exercise with clients, I'm constantly encountering variations on the traditional family tree, and I'm used to helping people who only have partial information about the names, ages, and even the existence of some of their relatives. Please follow your heart and use your common sense in working with the information you have in the way that is most meaningful for you. The purpose of this exercise is to gain an enhanced awareness of your fundamental belief system and how it has been formed — not to be genealogically precise.
Take your time. It is better to do this exercise thoughtfully than to rush through it.
You are welcome to start with either parent, but for the purpose of illustration I have arbitrarily chosen to start with your mother.
REFLECTING ON YOUR MOTHER
Begin by selecting a picture of your mother that resonates with you, and then jot down a few descriptive words of what comes to mind. For example, you may find yourself jotting down anything from "loving, caring, and nurturing" to "sad, controlling, and vulnerable." There are no right or wrong words; this is about your emotional truth, and no one else has to agree with it. Try not to edit your thought process. Your goal in this exercise is simply to do some good mental detective work.
The laws governing the universe can be made interesting and wonderful to children ... and they begin to ask: What am I? What is the task of humanity in this wonderful universe? — Maria Montessori
Once you have an initial impression of what "mom" means to you, I'd like you to answer the following questions. Take your time with them. Try to get an internal sense of how your mother would answer these questions if she were there in the room with you. If any pictures of your mother in specific situations pop into your head as you reflect on these images and jot down some notes about this. Sometimes these pictures give us clues about our deeper thought process much more efficiently than words do.
1. Did your mother ever work outside the home?
2. Was your mother successful in the eyes of her community? Was she successful in her own eyes?
3. If so, how did she feel about her work? If not, how did she feel about being a homemaker?
4. How did your mother's working role influence her sense of self?
5. What were your mother's attitudes about money? How did she handle money?
6. Did your mother feel that your family was financially comfortable when you were growing up, or was she anxious about finances?
7. How did your mother's relationship with money affect her quality of life?
8. What values did your mother instill in you concerning money?
9. What were your mother's dreams for you of the role that work would play in your life?
Each of us brings to our job, whatever it is, our lifetime of experience and our values. — Sandra Day O'Connor
REFLECTING ON YOUR FATHER
Now find a picture of your father that resonates with you and start by writing down the first words that pop into your head. Again, try to be as spontaneous and nonjudgmental as possible.
When you have recorded your initial impression of "dad," take a stab at the following questions:
1. What did your father do for a living?
2. Was your father successful in the eyes of his community? Was he successful in his own eyes?
3. How did your father's career influence his sense of self?
4. Did your father ever struggle with periods of unemployment?
5. What were your father's attitudes about money? How did he handle money?
6. Did your father feel that your family was financially comfortable when you were growing up, or was he anxious about finances?
7. How did your father's relationship with money affect his quality of life?
8. What values did your father instill in you concerning money? 9. What were his dreams for you of the role that work would play in your life?
The family is the building block for whatever solidarity there is in society. — Jill Ruckelshaus
Excerpted from The Authentic Career by Maggie Craddock. Copyright © 2004 Maggie Craddock. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
STAGE I: AWARENESS,
Chapter 1: Your Mental Detective Work,
Chapter 2: Your Monetary Detective Work,
Chapter 3: The Mental Alchemy of Releasing the "Shoulds",
STAGE II: EMOTIONAL OWNERSHIP,
Chapter 4: The Physical Foundation of Success,
Chapter 5: Identifying Your Dominant Roles,
Chapter 6: Strengthening Your Authentic Self,
STAGE III: INTERACTION,
Chapter 7: Understanding the Impact of Group Energy,
Chapter 8: Building Relationships That Support Your Authentic Self,
Chapter 9: Remaining True to Yourself Under Pressure,
STAGE IV: INTEGRATION,
Chapter 10: Learning to Trust Your Inner World,
Chapter 11: Using New Tools for Old Challenges,
Chapter 12: Maintaining an Interdependent Perspective,
ABOUT THE AUTHOR,