Helping someone think differently about choosing a career and finding success is, of course, so particular to the circumstances of that individual. That said, there are two emotional issues we find come up a lot in this work with our therapy patients.
1. Am I sufficiently valuing myself in the marketplace?
Very often the answer is no. There are a handful of reasons why someone may be inclined to undervalue him or herself. This may be part of a broader belief in low self-worth as a result of growing up in a home or school environment filled with put downs.
The organization of school itself can contribute to this problem. School values a very particular kind of competence and the predominance of grading causes us to be hyperfocused on our skills in this narrow area as compared with the person seated to a our left and our right. Success in the world of work is so radically different that we need to learn entirely new tools for evaluating ourselves.
This conceptual shift is one that places great value on learning. So often we find a therapy patient who’s contemplating a new job or career will hold back: “I don’t know how to do X, Y or Z part of that new/hypothetical job!” But there is, perhaps, not enough consideration given to the possibility that we’ll work hard, exercise our capacity as learners and figure X, Y or Z out. Instead we get caught up in the notion (which is reinforced by our time in school) that we have to first learn how to do something before we can be in a position to do it. But that’s just not how learning works in the real world.
Finding a job (like dating and finding friends) involves some measure of swagger. The very process of saying to the universe “Hey, I’ve got some skills. You should hire me!” involves some gumption. We often point out that the structure of the universe is such that the world wants the best people to find themselves in the best possible job for them. Employers want to hire good people, so if you’ve got the skills (or can learn them) then jumping up and down and waving your arms and saying, “Check out my skills!” is in everyone’s interest.
2. A problem of empirics.
It’s likely that for most of us there are many jobs we could do well and make a nice living in and enjoy. Perhaps, though, many of those are jobs we’ve never heard of or careers that it never would have occurred to us to imagine ourselves in.
We think they’ve gone out of fashion, but many of my therapy patients who are now in their late 30s and older took some variation of a career assessment–a sort of test, typically administered in middle schools, that supposedly analyzes your talents and personality and tells you what sort of job would be ideal for you. The idea that somehow we can know, from the distance of middle school (or through some sort of internal reflection) what we ought to do with our lives is absurd. These questions can only be truly explored by engaging in the world. In a sense, we have to “follow our noses” and use the Internet, our network of friends and acquaintances, and put our feet in new places. Far too many people stay still (and stuck in a job they hate) because they’ve been lead to believe that “figuring out” what they want to do with their lives is something that takes place in our heads. No! We have to set up informational meetings, do research, organize groups of friends to help us think in new ways about new careers, volunteer, seek out internships, and take a part-time-job in a whole new career.