Jane is a highly educated and accomplished 40 year old. And from all objective measures, she has it all.
Jane attended some of the U.S. top-ranked undergraduate and graduate universities. She works in a boutique consulting firm specializing in strategic planning in nonprofit organizations in one of the most prestigious cities in the country.
Yet, she feels unhappy, unfulfilled and unchallenged in her current career.
I ask Jane to imagine and visualize specifically what she would like her work and life to look like in three years.
She identifies five or six attributes that would take her from being unengaged to exciting, from tedious to energy-charged. But Jane cannot imagine herself making all that she described happen, though all are within reasonable grasp of her current experience and capabilities.
She can only see the obstacles in her way. Expressing her ideas of how she could move forward, she says, “but I tried that before and it did not work.” Or, “I cannot get myself to believe it could be true.”
Clearly, Jane is stuck. She sees an “objective” reality of self-defining limitations and cannot imagine “subjective” possibilities. She operates from the energy of fear and scarcity rather than from joy and abundance, so she stops herself from moving forward.
When we define ourselves by field and job function — lawyer, consultant, teacher — we follow a career path logic that can inhibit our ability to see the “room” we live in subjectively. We have trouble evaluating our experiences, hopes, values and unique perspectives.
David Gelernter, in his just-released book “The Tides of the Mind,” suggests, “The mind is a room with a view from inside, we observe the external world and our own private inner worlds. Mentally, we are stuck inside our rooms as we are stuck, physically, within our bodies.”
Our view may be what others expect or define for us or what we choose to remember with a narrative for limitations that we are conditioned to accept as true.
We may strive for external validation and tracking early in our career, when we want to acquire skills and experience that credential us for a professional career. However, the same attitude may inhibit us from expanding from these definitions to springboard to what may be next in a more fulfilling transition to live/work with our values in a different career/life stage.
From our subjective perspective, how can we begin to imagine a future that better fits who we want to be and what we want to do?
One approach is to identify past satisfying experiences we had in our school, early career or just events with friends and family. Identify five to ten such experiences and write what you recall. What did you do? How did you work? What was the context? Was there a purpose or a result that made you feel good? Who did you work with and what roles did you play? What made you feel so good?
Chances are you will see some common attributes to these experiences that are like dots you can connect. Perhaps you enjoyed being in highly effective, motivated teams with people who helped you raise your bar of excellence.
Maybe your activities had a clear beginning, middle and end with measurable outcomes that gave you satisfaction for a job well-done. Conceivably, being a project leader and creating order from chaos, and guiding the team, really satisfied you.
Jeff Saperstein (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a career-transition coach based in Mill Valley who specializes in mid- to late-career business professionals who may feel stuck and who aspire to align their values with their work-life activities. Read previous columns: nbbj.news/careerwise.