A pain in the neck or knee is in some ways easier to identify and take care of than other kinds of existential or psychological pain. “Career pain” is characterized by dissatisfaction, boredom, a feeling that life is slipping you by—a general sense that you have outgrown the role you are in, but you don’t know what to do about it. When I start working with someone who has these symptoms, I tell them that if they feel as if they are at the end of their rope, it’s probably good news, because it might be a sign that they are at the end of their rope and something new is about to break through. The conversation they have been looking for is about to begin.
When people hate what they’re doing, or they can’t bear the thought that they are going to have to keep doing it, they probably aren’t going to get themselves out of it without getting help. Brainstorming, e.g., “Should I go back to school? Should I get into real estate? Should I look for a different job?” become rhetorical questions that tend not to yield clear answers because fear raises its ugly head and makes it very difficult to take effective action. It always comes as a surprise to people that the best way to get clear about the next step is to get clear about who you are, what you care about, what you love, what you want at this particular time in your life, and what makes sense based on what your education, skills, experience have prepared you to do. The trajectory of our lives should be to become older, wiser, more peaceful and more powerful as we go. It won’t happen all by itself, unfortunately; we have to make it happen in conversation with someone who is oriented to the questions that will yield results.
You don’t have to know ahead of time the answers to the questions. Often the first thing out of people’s mouths is, “I have no idea what I want to do; I just know I don’t want to keep doing this.” I always know that they have more clarity about what they want and don’t want than they think they do. They just haven’t stopped to really listen and make sense of what they are saying to themselves. Rather than making things up, we “follow the breadcrumbs” to see what works, what doesn’t work, what’s missing, and what’s next.
This same process has resulted in disparate and surprising outcomes. An insurance claim adjustor became an attorney; an accountant became a physical therapist; a teacher became an office manager; an attorney became fluent in Spanish and an advocate for women in developing countries; a secretary became an Episcopal priest; many others found work that was more satisfying than the work they were in when we started. It’s very possible to make your life and work work for you. Pain is not only a teacher, it can be a friend pointing the way to the life you really want. But you have to pay attention and get help along the way.
Our dear Bonnie Bonetti-Bell was the force behind our Career/Life Coaching services, until her passing in 2019. As a principal of our firm, Bonnie had an innate talent for seeing the best in people. Moreover, she helped others see the best in themselves. Bonnie is fondly remembered and deeply missed.