Frequently Asked Questions
How did you get started career counseling, and why have you continued doing it for 40 years?
I got into it purely by accident when I started working as a receptionist at an employment agency. I had just graduated from college and I thought I wanted to be a doctor, but in the meantime I needed a job so I got hired there.
I was clearly too chatty to be a receptionist, though, so I was quickly promoted to working with those who were looking for jobs. It was immediately apparent that I had the skills to be a good career counselor -- I was a good listener, I had good instincts, and I could quickly assess a person's skills and strengths and match-make them into a job where it felt like it would be a good fit.
Because of my strong career matchmaking and assessment skills, and the enjoyment I received from helping others find jobs, I stayed there until I moved to California years later. By then, I knew I wanted to do career development work in a more meaningful way by working with clients through a deeper process.
I was then introduced to Richard Bolles, who had just written What Color Is Your Parachute and was looking for people to learn his career development and job search process. That was the very beginning of the career development process that he popularized with his book and through my training with him I found the work to be deeper, more meaningful and more useful to clients.
It was also the perfect match for my skill set – good listening skills, accurate assessment skills, etc. – and it allowed me to deepen my connection with clients and build a trusted relationship with them so they could open up to me, look honestly at themselves and identify what did and didn't work about their work choices, and how they were making them.
Richard Bolles and I subsequently co-authored a career development workbook together, and I team-taught with him around the country for eight years.
I’ve remained in career counseling ever since because it has always remained fresh and meaningful for me. With every decade, the world changed enough, and my interests changed enough, so that it was almost like starting a new job, or like having a brand-new canvas every 10 years.
For example, some years I was especially interested in motivation. Some years I was especially interested in fear. Some years I was especially focused on looking at the role of family background, once I realized that I needed to understand one’s family background to understand what was motivating them in either a plus or minus way.
My work with clients always remains interesting because I also bring in whatever I'm particularly interested in at the moment, and infuse it into the vodka of the career development cocktail for a new flavor
Many people who have never been to a career counselor wonder why they should bother seeing one. What makes it so hard for people seek help with their career issues?
The reason people don't seek help from a career counselor is the same reason people don't seek help from other professionals in general -- whether it's therapy, doctors, personal trainers, or anyone else.
There's a belief that: “I should be able to do this myself… I don't want to look stupid… I don't want to look weak… I don't want to look needy … People in my family never asked for help with this so how could I disappoint the family lore by asking for help with something that my father did by himself and my mother did by herself...” And so on.
Getting help, then, is perceived as a sign of weakness rather than strength. That's ironic to me, because in our society going to school, getting another degree, learning more, etc. is well-regarded and legitimized because “education” is golden.
But when it comes to hiring one person to be your educator; hiring someone to help you learn more about yourself -- that brings up feelings of being less-than. I don't think this is unique to career counseling; I think it's common to all the helping professions.
Generally speaking, what are some of the most common roadblocks that prevent people from not finding career fulfillment and work they really want to do?
One of the biggest roadblocks is fear. I used to think it was fear of failure; now I think it's fear of success. People become afraid of the responsibility that comes with being successful, and that becomes a huge roadblock.
Another roadblock is the self-limiting beliefs that come with the idea of change. Change and transition are horrible for most human beings. Whether it’s the front-end of change or the back-end of change, for most of us one part of that continuum is crazy-making.
Having no control over the unknown is another roadblock that keeps some people stuck in a place of dissatisfaction. At least the known is familiar, even though there's misery in it. Dissatisfaction or even suffering is very familiar -- it's an old friend, you know how to talk about it, you know how to manage it. Even though it's horrible, it's manageable because it's so familiar. Doing something different -- even if it could bring improvement, relief and joy -- feels too difficult because starting something new and entering the black hole of the unknown feels too unnerving and scary. It stirs up our fears around uncertainty and feeling out of control, and most of us like to feel in charge of our lives. Of course, the idea that we’re always in charge of everything in our lives is a fantasy, but we hold on to it dearly.
“This feels too hard” is another roadblock. It feels too hard to do all the work required to get a new job or career that I'll like. Some people don't want to work that hard; they don't want to go through the 40 steps of getting a new career – invest all the time, make the phone calls, send the e-mails, write the thank you notes, do the networking. All of a sudden it seems like there's too much work associated with change and getting a new career. But look how hard it is to change a bad habit -- smoking drinking, overeating, overworking. Change is often hard work, so why are we so hard on ourselves when it comes to changing our careers?
Family members and/or significant others can also create roadblocks to successful career change. The subconscious or unconscious belief is: “I don't want to disappoint the family cheerleaders who have put a lot of hope, expectation, belief, etc into where I should be in my particular job or career.” It's extremely difficult when someone was brought up to believe they were supposed to succeed at a certain career and then they don't succeed at it -- or they are successful at it but they hate it -- and then they have to face a backlash from their own family that makes them feel like they let their family down.
That kind of pressure -- the pressure to be the most brilliant, the best, the first, the most successful, the most prestigious -- all that look-good image stuff is a source of pressure that we've all had a taste of buying into. What's curious about this is that we'd rather disappoint ourselves than disappoint others in our lives
What makes your approach to career counseling and working with clients so intuitive and unique?
My approach comes from my strong belief that work choice is a metaphor for the creative expression of who that person is.
I love to think about the artistry of work. I think that work is not a pain in the ass; I think that work is a wonderful use of our time to express ourselves – it’s like theater or like an adventure trip. Work doesn't feel heavy to me. Yes, choices about work are serious and thoughtful, but there can also be so much play and creativity in it.
What that means is that I'm eager for my client to express herself or himself in the most unencumbered way possible. My approach is: let's find out what’s inside you, and what you’re wild about, and what is in your way of letting yourself find work that is a great match for who you are. I don't know how I got to be so intuitive about people, but I feel fortunate to have this gift. I care tremendously that my clients feel good and that their work allows them to feel good. That's the most important thing to me. I want people to feel good about themselves and the work they're doing
Right now we're in what's being called the “Great Recession” -- with the worst economy and the most challenging job market in recent history. What do you tell people these days to give them hope about their job search and career transition in this environment?
I point to client success stories. I have a lot of client success stories -- I wouldn't have been a career counselor for the past 40 years if I didn't – and many of my clients’ stories can offer hope and inspiration to today's job seekers and career-changers. There have been other deep recessions and lousy job markets over the past four decades, and everyone ultimately survived them and even learned valuable lessons from the experience.
I also point to President Obama to give them hope. Talk about having a difficult job -- he's inherited the most challenging one imaginable but look at his calm, no-drama, can-do nature. He gives us hope that not only we will make it through this challenging period, we will ultimately wind up strong and thriving as a country and as a people. And he reminds us that throughout our country's history we have overcome extraordinary challenges to create extraordinary opportunities, and that we have sustained unwavering hope during the times that looked hopeless.
What does that mean for my clients? I advise them to find somebody in the world, in history, or in literature, or in fairytales, or elsewhere that did something heroic and draw on that example to inspire them. As then President-elect Obama said on Election Night, “While we breathe, we hope…”
While everyone isn't Obama-extraordinary, everyone absolutely has talent and strength they can call forth. It's just a matter of doing it.