I recently had the honor of being one of the keynoter’s for the 2011 NCDA Conference in San Antonio. I suggested that career counselors encourage clients to make time each day for silence, meditation, or prayer, whatever fits into the spiritual lives of our clients and students. Furthermore, everyone should allow their sense of the divine (whatever that means) to be expressed. Near the end of my presentation, I gave a brief overview of six “commitments and practices” that I believe are essential for helping our clients and students thrive in the changing world of work. Having worked with thousands of individuals of all ages and stages of development, I’ve seen how each of the following is critical to client success, and if any one of them is not tended to appropriately, the career development process becomes that much more challenging and difficult.
Take full responsibility for our life and work. We need to teach clients and students how to focus their attention, energy, and actions toward those things over which they have control. This includes their attitude, how disciplined they are in the process, and how well they prepare themselves for current and future opportunities. They have little or no control over discrimination, the incivility of others, or the conditions of the economy or job market. Furthermore, those we work with need to be reminded, sometimes over and over, that they always have choices, even if it is limited to their attitude about a particular circumstance. Finally, we need to remind our clients and students that they, in spite of evidence to the contrary, are co-creators of their work lives.
Stay relaxed and alert. Sophie Tucker was asked, on her 80th birthday, for her secret to a long life. Her answer: Keep breathing. This serves as a reminder that in the midst of the stress and anxiety brought on by the career development process, our clients and students need to stay loose, get needed rest, and move through the process in a way and a pace that is right for them. They also need to remember that when the process feels daunting or overwhelming or when they are feeling stuck, the best thing to do is stop, take a couple of deep breaths, and then get moving again. Finally, they need to understand the importance of building rest and relaxation into the process, in order to re-energize and regain perspective so that they keep moving forward toward their goals.
Keep goals focused and diffused. This seemingly paradoxical commitment asks clients and students to develop clarity in their goals, but also not to put all of their eggs in a single basket. Our clients and students ought to be encouraged to develop A and B goals (and sometimes even C goals), both of which meet their personal criteria and can be seen as feasible options. It is critical that the people we work with develop alternative success paths, keeping their eye on both their short term and tactical moves, while at the same time keeping their longer term goals and overall trajectory clearly in mind. This helps our clients and students understand the context for moving forward as well as helping them see and articulate the themes and patterns in their work and future.
Trust the process. The career development process is a challenge for many of the people we work with and sometimes they are tempted to give up or follow paths of least resistance. This serves as a reminder that forward movement, however halting, is more important than speed or even specific direction. Furthermore, by understanding that the process offers great opportunities for growth and learning, clients and students can be encouraged to step out of their comfort zone regularly and frequently. Finally, and perhaps the most difficult lesson, is to become adept at knowing how and when to let go.
Maintain a sense of humor. Norman Cousins supposedly laughed his way back to health and, whether literally true, we all know how good it feels to experience laughter. This practice suggests that our clients and students should have a minimum of several hearty laughs every day. More importantly, perhaps, is the capacity for our clients and students to be able to laugh at themselves, which helps them to keep things in perspective and to maintain an appropriate sense of self importance. Finally, they need to recognize and appreciate the absurdity of many of life’s ups and downs. Oftentimes, in life, there simply is no “why.”
Allow for moments of inspiration and awe. This final commitment and practice is probably the most challenging and ultimately may be the most important. By allowing a sense of wonder and divinity (however that is defined) into work and the future, clients and students are energized and motivated in ways that goes well beyond all of the great tools and techniques normally used. Furthermore, those we work with need to be reminded that the career development process is rarely simple, clear, or straightforward, and that the journey itself is as meaningful as the destination.
I believe that every human is brilliant and unique and that our work is to help our students and clients uncover, claim, and develop the courage to take those qualities into their work and careers. When those we work with can tap into that brilliance and uniqueness, they can do remarkable things and they develop the power and courage to fulfill their potential and achieve their aspirations. This is what we strive for in our work and by staying focused on these six commitments and practices, our clients and students can achieve anything they set out to do.
Mark Guterman, based in the San Francisco Bay-Area, is co-founder and principal of Meaningfulcareers.com, which guides people to meaningful work, and is president of G & G Associates, a consulting firm that teaches people how to thrive in the changing workplace. He is also career coach, trainer, and program designer for JVS and Vice President, Career Development for Torchiana, Mastrov, and Sapiro. Mark teaches for John F. Kennedy University, as well as trains and consults for organizations in various aspects of career management, leadership development, building an effective multi-generational workforce, and work/life balance. He has worked with dozens of large and small for-profit and not-for-profit organizations throughout the United States. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org