On the one hand, they’re a public matter of fact – completely objective. If you’re reading this, then you already know that I’m a career coach… and a quick google search is all that’s needed to unearth the details.
On the other hand, careers are entirely subjective and utterly private. Forget the “facts” – the name, the job title, the field – careers are deeply personal; an integral and emotional part of our identities and lives.
How I got to this point – the difficult journey with its ups and downs, and long periods of ‘lost’ – these things are not public knowledge.
The reality of other people’s careers – the messy truth – is often hidden.
One of the privileges of working as a career counsellor, is getting to share in other people’s experiences. Everyone has their own life and story, with their own challenges, highs and lows – and I’m gifted a window into the personal, private side of careers.
Because at the heart of it, talking about careers is really talking about yourself – who you are, how you feel, what you value and what you need. How you want your life to look like, who you want to be, the footprint you want to leave.
Hopes, fears, goals and dreams – deeply personal things.
For most of us, these are not everyday conversations; talking about this stuff can make us feel uncomfortable, vulnerable, silly. And if you’ve read any of Brene Brown’s work on vulnerability and shame – or watched her viral TED video – you’ll know how keen most of us are to avoid feeling like that…
The result? Many of us struggle along, mistakenly thinking we’re the only one going through this – whatever our ‘this’ is.
Maybe you have no idea what career direction to pursue and you’re feeling lost, stuck and overwhelmed. Maybe you’re trying to return to work after a career break, and you’re feeling off the radar, anxious and unsure of your future.
Maybe you’ve relocated or migrated here, and you’re feeling isolated, disconnected… wondering where you fit in and how to get your foot in the door.
You might be going through a painful redundancy which has knocked your confidence – right now, that’s a reality for so many people – or be struggling with job search, losing hope with each unsuccessful interview.
It’s easy to look around and think everyone else is doing fine; what’s wrong with me?
This is definitely how I felt when I was at my own career cross-roads – but these days, it’s clear that I wasn’t alone. What I was going through, and feeling, was really common – perfectly normal.
So, from the much broader perspective that I have on careers these days, some notes on normal, to put things in perspective…
1. You cannot tell how other people are doing – in their lives or their careers
In a facebook world, where what we see is often carefully curated – the shiny highlights of a life, without the messy lows – it’s easy to think everyone else is cruising along, focussed on a clear goal, happy and successful. That it’s come easily.
By contrast, it’s easy to feel that we’re missing out, falling behind, or failing in some way. I hear this every day. Everyone else is on their way; I’m stuck, stalled, not doing well enough. I’m not where I should be by now…
Remember there’s often a big difference between what you see and the reality.
You can’t see into other people’s heads or really stand in their shoes – if you could, you might be very surprised. Everyone struggles at times – everyone feels lost, scared, vulnerable, even stupid.
If you’re feeling like that, I guarantee you, you’re far from alone.
2. Everyone doubts themselves
Likewise, the person who looks so self-assured on the outside, may be anything but on the inside – they just have a great facade, thicker armour.
From new graduates to seasoned CEOs, we all suffer from self-doubt at times – in fact, the higher you climb in your career, typically the more likely you’ll suffer from Imposter Syndrome – the fear that you don’t really deserve to be where you are, and that one day, you’ll be found out as a fraud.
Self-doubt is normal, part of being human. We’re all scared of failing, one way or another… of not being smart enough, good enough, confident enough.
Don’t believe everything you think.
Doubt’s uncomfortable, but it doesn’t have to be debilitating – and if you know that fear’s holding you back, it’s time to take another look at ‘failure’.
Wherever you are in your career journey, ease up on yourself.
If you’re feeling lost, stuck, unsure or overwhelmed – you’re not alone.
All careers, and lives, have ups and downs, challenges and opportunities. Just because you don’t see other people struggling doesn’t mean that they’re not. And the messy, uncomfortable bit leads to better things… as I know now!
The best bit of my job? Getting to celebrate my clients’ highs on the other side – successful career changes, a place at university, a job interview nailed.
Those things await.