What do you do?

Often the first opening question you are asked at any type of social or professional gathering.

Why? Well perhaps it’s because we spend most of our waking hours at work and it’s simply easier to define ourselves by what we do, as opposed to who we are outside of work. We simply become what we do professionally.  We say,  “I AM a banker/attorney/physician/salesman/broker”.  If the conversation progresses any deeper, you may eventually disclose a few other tidbits about what you do when you aren’t working: I also paint, read science fiction, play hockey, do yoga etc.

 We define ourselves to the rest of the world by our profession, and how far we have climbed on that particular career ladder.  If you have worked for over ten years, and have advanced into a senior capacity, you must be doing something right.  Society views you positively. You receive smiles and nods at cocktail parties once you state: I am a Manager/VP/Director/Partner . . . of whatever.  You must be happy.  Correct?

Consider the possibility that a large percentage of mid-career, senior professionals are successful, and simultaneously miserable.  Why? It’s quite simple.  They no longer enjoy their work and they are unable to change.  The simple truth is they are trapped in a self-imposed existence because they have convinced themselves they either have no other skills, or cannot afford to financially start over.  After all, they have families, mortgages and college tuitions.  Living in Westchester is not free.  They rationalize remaining in this stay pattern for another decade or so until they can eventually retire.  That’s a very long time to stay in an unfulfilling job.  A very, very long time.

What can they do?

This is where people are when they begin to work with me.  I’m an Executive Career Coach.  They start from a place of being trapped and sometimes desperate to change their situation. The stress from working at a company, or in a profession that no longer fulfills them has taken a toll.  They have lost the spark they had for their work years ago.  They either despise the politics, the nature of the work, the commute or the industry in general.  They believe their options are limited. They have no real choice but to continue on as indentured servants.  Sound fun? It isn’t.  Sound stressful and depressing?  You nailed it.

I love my job.  Seriously. No joke. Know why? I get to help people. It makes me feel really good. Sound hokey? The latest research shows that having an “impact” at work is the leading factor responsible for employee retention, productivity, revenue generation and leadership potential.  Professionals feel better about working when they feel that what they do matters.  Doing meaningful work trumps a lofty title, a prestigious business card, even the spacious corner office.  We are not machines.

The fact is that we all deserve to feel fulfilled at work.  It’s a basic human condition. We work to feel productive and to feel that what we do matters. Remember how you felt when you loved going to work? Contrast that to how you feel on Monday mornings now.  How wide is the gap?  Think about that.

Stress is a leading contributor to physical and emotional disease.  Several male clients I worked with suffered life altering health crises before changing their professions.  They are now even more successful than before (Translation: they are earning more money and enjoy their work). They are also much happier.   As they describe their story: their bodies simply shut down, forcing them to drastically change.  Most admit they never would have changed without that siren of a wake-up call. Next time you get on the train, look around at your fellow commuters and see if you can tell who is happy about going to work, and who is not.  Who is energized by the work that awaits them at the end of their commute, and who is watching the clock.   It’s written on their faces.  The vacant look of people who are trapped in their own lives.  If only they knew they also held the key to escaping.

What will you do?

Bottom line: mid-career shifting is not only possible – it’s healthy.  We humans have a brain that requires stimulation. Without intellectual challenges to master our brain atrophies. Our malaise is a message: we need to learn new things and continue to evolve.  Another factoid: taking classes and expanding your intelligence reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Of course it does.  So the boredom and malaise you may feel at work is telling you something.  It’s time to change; time to decide you aren’t going to be on autopilot for another decade, and pretend it’s fine.  Time to decide you deserve to be professionally fulfilled.  Do we dare to introduce the ingredient of joy into the equation? True career fulfillment brings joy to those who are doing what they love.  I didn’t see much joy on Metro North last Monday morning.

Consider this quote from Harvard PhD Martha Beck: “By the time I became a research assistant at Harvard Business School in the 1980’s, things were changing.  The simple fact that I was there showed that, but I learned much more about how the changes looked when I helped analyze a longitudinal study of 125 Harvard Business School graduates.  The guys (they were all guys) who’d gotten great jobs right out of business school were struggling by the 1980’s; they felt trapped and unfulfilled.  The subjects who had seemed a little lost at first, who had wandered around and eventually created their own small companies, were thriving financially and psychologically.”

Emotional Intelligence (EQ) experts tell us that motivation and passion are crucial ingredients in determining how professionals will thrive in an organization.

If you’d like to check your fulfillment level ask yourself 3 questions:

1)   Does your work connect with your passions and your strengths?

2)   Are you having a visible impact?

3)   Does your career bring you gratification?

If it doesn’t; then you may want to consider your options.  You do have them.  Many people don’t realize they can reinvent.  Folks are doing it all the time. It is not only possible, but it happens with greater frequency now that the economy has provoked constant assessment of your work and your financial rewards.  It is possible to “shift” in mid-life.  It is also possible to leverage your past skills and implement them into a career that speaks to your soul and to your W2.  Consider the possibility it may be time. 

How long have you been in your current profession or role?  What is the process for shifting into another profession?  This is a basic question that stumps most mid-career professionals seeking to change something significant about their work.
Why do we physically shrink from these conversations?  Automatically assuming we will have to start from scratch financially and professionally in order to shift?  The truth is most senior level professionals truly believe they have a very limited toolkit of skills and better hang onto their current role forever, since they have minimal options.  Well that is not the case.
Senior professionals (regardless of their industry) have experience and many skills that can be transferable into other industries.  Therein lies the crux of the matter: HOW does one successfully shift into a different career while maintaining seniority, a certain level of compensation and responsibility?
John Sculley is not the only example of someone who did this successfully.  There are many examples of professionals who moved from one industry into a completely different field - and did it beautifully.  Likewise there are examples of professionals who took a personal break at some point on their way up the ladder, only to resume their career path at a later date.  Is it simple? No.  Is it possible? Most definitely, YES!
What keeps so many stuck in careers which are no longer fulfilling is the fear of this type of seismic shift.  It's daunting, overwhelming and well . . . easier not to do.  Easier that is, until it becomes too painful not to change.  Consider not waiting until that time.  Take stock of who you are, and what you bring to the table across many platforms.  Delete the industry specification and focus on the content of your resume.  What industries require similar skills and where do your contacts possible intersect in an adjacent field. 
We are 21-26 when we first enter the job market.  Many people work well into their 50's-60's.  Once profession for 20+ years is not only unrealistic but unfair to you as a professional.  You must grow career wise.  Change is sometimes necessary in order to make a large leap professionally. 

So the truth is that fear grips ALL professionals periodically.  I've discussed it with CEO's of major corporations, and with entry level professionals.  The fact is there is risk associated with every move and decision we make regarding our professional climb.  The smarter we are, the more we are trained to carefully and analytically weigh the pros and cons of our decisions prior to making them.  The more senior we become, the more we have to lose from making incorrect decisions.  This leads many clients of mine to a state of paralysis.  We know we are not fulfilled in our roles/organizations but we are hesitant to make the bold changes we should because of fear. 

What to do to get your foot out of the bear trap and get going? Use your analytic skills to ask yourself the worse case scenario.  Can you survive it?  Now ask yourself the best case scenario.  How badly do you want it?  More importantly, can you realistically attain it?  If you can, and the downside risks are survivable, the research shows that leaders know how to check their fear at the door - and move forward. 

Your fear is there for a reason: it allows you to weigh the consequences of your actions.  It is NOT there to prevent you from taking healthy risks - ones that you will later look back upon as the linchpin moves in your career: the necessary bold steps taken to attain what you are capable of attaining.  Most importantly: the valuable experience you need in order to truly have a fulfilling, professional career. 

Take stock of the pioneers in your field - and the risks they took in order to get to a certain level.  The experience gained from forging ahead aggressively with calculated risks is the best offense to fear.
Traditionally, professionals adhered to a strong boundary between their work lives and their personal lives.  There was an unspoken divide between the two worlds, and experiences from one rarely merged into the other.  Thanks to technology and longer work hours, the time devoted to purely personal issues got squeezed.  This resulted in professionals being squeezed.  Early morning workouts are combined with breakfast meetings, and commuting time is constantly spent working. How many parents are on their iphones during school functions for their children? Right.
How organizations handle the fact that their professionals have OTHER lives determines how much stress they pass along to those same professionals who are trying frantically to straddle both spheres of their lives.  The stress created from families demanding more attention - simultaneously with organizational demands for more productivity/revenue/client meetings, etc. is a dance we all try to accomplish with grace. 
But here's the question: does the organization and/or profession you've chosen allow you to have a full life? Are you encouraged to participate in community events, charitable endeavors, family events - not to mention take time for your own mental and physical health (a yoga class or a run at lunch?).  I hear silence.
Consider the research from Teresa Amabile (Director of Research at Harvard Business School):
"Gallup quantified the link between employee feelings and corporate outcomes, reporting that lost productivity due to employee disengagement costs more than $300 billion in the U.S. annually." (Amabile, T.M. & Kramer, S.J. 2012. How leaders kill meaning at work. McKinsey Quarterly, Jan. 2012).
Net: how we FEEL about ourselves at work translates into the work product we output. 
Whether we are fulfilled about our lives, or completely stressed actually factors into our performance.  Of course it makes sense, but stop and think about allowing yourself to be happier at work.  The benefits to you AND to your organization may just be worth it.

Many new clients come to me with questions about coaching. Here is what two recent clients had to say about the process:

“I met Julia Wexler over 4 years ago at a very critical point in my life.  She played an integral part in my personal and professional path of self-discovery which ultimately led to a tremendous improvement in the balance and quality of my life. I had recently returned to work at a prominent investment bank after barely surviving a near-death illness.  The doctors were unable to explain the cause of the disease but I was convinced that something in my life made me sick.  Even though on paper, I had a great wife, two wonderful children and a very successful career I was incredibly unhappy, disconnected from my family and completely unsatisfied professionally.  I was questioning everything about my life and getting absolutely nowhere.  My wife heard about Julia’s coaching services and suggested I meet with her for a preliminary consultation.  I was very skeptical and I had no interest in meeting with an executive coach, I would handle it all myself- as I had done my entire life.  Reluctantly, I spoke with Julia on the phone and I found her to be incredibly smart and insightful, direct and honest.  I decided to hire her as my executive coach. 

We met weekly over the next 6 months and Julia was able to help me understand the incredible pressure I put on myself to succeed, to meet the oversized expectations of my parents, friends and loved ones.  Through our work together, I realized that I gave everything of myself to everyone else but I didn’t have an outlet for my needs and feelings.  I learned to create space in my life, to say no at times, to close and tighten the circle of truly important people in my life.  Most importantly, Julia helped me learn to live in the here and now, to stop passing judgment, to truly be present with my children and loved ones.  She helped me gain an appreciation for meditation, contemplation and reflection.  She truly save me and changed the direction of my life for the better.”

Client #2

“I have been a coaching client of Ms. Wexler’s for the past three months. As a Clinical Psychologist with a private practice I was searching for an Executive Coach to assist me in further developing my growing business. Upon my initial contact with Ms. Wexler, I was immediately impressed with her enthusiasm, communication skills, and professional demeanor. She has proven to be an outstanding coach and advocate for me professionally and personally, and I whole-heartedly recommend her for your program.

When I initially contacted Ms. Wexler, I was experiencing an “identity crisis” in my life, as I was trying rather unsuccessfully to manage the balance between motherhood and career. For the first time in my life I felt like I was treading unfamiliar territory and although I had attained a certain level of professional success in the past prior to becoming a mother, my new role presented me with challenges for which I felt unprepared. I was stuck personally and professionally. I began to feel depressed and overwhelmed. I was losing enthusiasm for my career and for life in general. I reached out to Ms. Wexler, who had been highly recommended by a friend and colleague. Ms. Wexler immediately instilled in me the hope that I would find my way again and achieve my professional and personal goals.

Having Ms. Wexler as my Executive Coach has been an incredible experience. She reignited the spark in me that had disappeared. By believing in me and helping me to recognize my strengths, as well as the areas that were hindering my growth, I almost immediately felt a renewed sense of passion for my career. She helped me to set the necessary limits and boundaries in my life. She taught me the skills necessary to approach problems, eliminate limiting beliefs, and communicate more powerfully and confidently so that I could be the driving force propelling my business forward. Ms. Wexler led me through the process of self-discovery so that my inner strengths would be revealed and then she offered guidance for how to leverage those strengths and resources to achieve a total transformation of my business.”

Executive Career coaching enables you to develop a one-on-one trusting relationship with a career professional who advocates for you behind the scenes and enables you to move from your current position (whether stuck or simply steady) to a position of professional growth.  Coaching injects the necessary energy into your professional life that may have fallen asleep along the way.  Quite simply, it makes the difference in moving from good . . . to great.