At the start of 2017, I was coaching for free in my spare time, while trying to gather the courage to leave my job as a recruitment manager in a prestigious global law firm.
Now, two years after becoming a career coach and consultant, I am two years older. But am I wiser?
Here are my 3 biggest learnings from the last two years:
1) Even after a positive career change, things aren’t wonderful forever
It’s easy to fantasise that life after a potential career change will be a non stop haze of fun, laughter and professional fulfilment. In reality, everyone still has Bad Days. I love being a coach. But no career is perfect. My favourite days are when I have powerful or exciting sessions, or when a client gets offered their dream job. It’s also exciting signing up a new client, knowing that someone has decided to part with their hard-earned cash to invest in a coaching programme. Needless to say, these things don’t happen every single day.
Sometimes my clients get rejected from their dream jobs. Sometimes I have a slow month in terms of new business. And sometimes I am just in a bad mood for no reason at all. Becoming a career coach was one of the best decisions I ever made, but I still have good and bad weeks, and that’s OK. Maybe if it wasn’t for the bad weeks, I wouldn’t appreciate the great weeks as much.
2) Failing may be a great learning opportunity, but it still feels painful at the time
I’ve been quite vocal on how useful mistakes and failures are for our professional development. Huge amounts of growth and learning can come from reflection after getting things wrong, and dealing with adversity is a great way to build your resilience.
That’s all very well when it’s happening to other people, but when you’re dealing with it head on, it can be extremely difficult to acknowledge the benefits. My biggest challenge last year was dealing with a client wanting to terminate their career programme a few sessions in, as they felt they weren’t getting what they wanted.
Dealing with the feelings of personal failure and rejection was difficult. I felt like I’d finally been ‘found out’ as an imposter in my career, something I hadn’t felt since I started managing a team in the corporate world. I processed the situation slowly, trying to reflect on what (if anything) I could have done differently. I also tried not to take it too personally – which is particularly hard if your identity is very tied up in what you do.
But I did come out the other side, and took some learning from the situation. I try and see it as good preparation. If I am going to keep coaching for the rest of my career, not every coaching programme is going to have a perfect on paper outcome. But just like dealing with rejection during a job search, I guess it is all part of the process.
3) Self awareness and compassion are super important, but not always easy to develop
As a coach, I talk to my clients a lot about self awareness. Having a clear idea of your strengths, weaknesses and how you come across is useful, and can be aided by self reflection. But I think there are lots of ways to do self reflection poorly.
In the past, I have self reflected by mulling things over in my head, and criticising myself if I feel I’ve done something wrong. This type of reflection is not constructive, and can cause us to mistake temporary behaviour as concrete flaws in our personality.
A much more useful strategy is objective and external reflection. By this, I mean writing or sketching out (rather than keeping it all in my head) my reflections – being specific about what did and didn’t work, and how I could approach the situation differently next time.
This is something I also encourage my clients to do. After a particularly bad job interview it’s easy to think “I was completely rubbish and messed all of that up”. But actually, your performance is nuanced. You will have answered some questions better than others, and there will have been some good parts to at least some of your answers. That’s not naive or over-the-top positive thinking, it’s just common sense.
I recommend that my clients break down ‘bad’ interviews by reflecting separately on the content, structure, and delivery of their answers, as well as which type of questions they found easier than others. Writing down how you could answer the question better the next time could be useful when you next get invited to interview.
So, there you have it. Three big lessons (among many others) in just two years. I wonder what the next two years will bring?