Career, Passion and Purpose

sunset smllI recently created a new mini-course titled “Find Your Dream Job”.  In planning my two session workshop, I reviewed many of my favorite books and discovered a couple of new ones.  I found similarities and common themes on finding your calling, realizing your right livelihood, and building a career based on your talents and passions.  Here is the basic underlying message I concluded:

To create the life you want, you have to get clear on what that is. 

There is a story I often share to illustrate this:  You are in a restaurant looking over the menu.  The waiter appears and you say:  “I’ll have a soda, French fries and a cheeseburger”.  As he turns to head to the kitchen (or computer terminal these days) you call him back: “on second thought, I shouldn’t have the fries, so give me a small salad instead.”  Again, he turns and starts towards the kitchen.  You call him back saying: “you know I really don’t need the cheese, just give me a plain burger.”  The point of this story is that the cook in the kitchen can’t make your order until you can decide what you really want.  Think of the cook as “the universe, the divine, God or the source”.  It cannot bring you what you want in your life if you can’t place the order. 

If you look back on your life, consider:  have you started down one path or another only to change direction over and over?  It could be that you are simply seeking to live a life in alignment with your passion and purpose and haven’t quite arrived there yet.  Through trial and error, you may see you are steadily moving in a direction, you just don’t know where you are going yet.  If you keep returning to your core values, your passions, and stay in alignment with those through your thoughts, decisions, actions and goals, your purpose eventually reveals itself. 

You may be saying “that’s all well and good but I am just not finding my own purpose.  In fact, I am more confused than ever of how to find my best career direction, much less my life’s purpose.”  Let’s look at how the mind works for a moment.  Our thoughts are like monkeys jumping from branch to branch looking for a better banana.  Additionally, our entire physical system is driven by the instinct to avoid pain and seek pleasure.  When new information comes in, the brain goes into an alert state.  The amygdala is saying; “wake up, something’s happening, is it SAFE or is it DANGEROUS”?  When you are endeavoring to change your mind and change your life this causes some upheaval.  There are “bumps in the road”.  The old patterns you’ve set up in your brain tissue want to keep running and here you are, forging new links.  This process can result in feelings of confusion, you might feel unlike yourself.  Change can shake things up! 

By bringing your focus back to your passions, back to your pure intention to live your life in alignment with your core values, the path becomes easier.  For myself, I have found a regular meditation practice to be helpful in slowing down the sheer number of thoughts that zip through our brains (did you know scientists now say we have as many as 80,000 thoughts a day?).  When we stop “following the monkeys from branch to branch”,  we may hear our small inner voice, our intuition, our higher Self prompting us and nudging us to move toward that alignment of passion and purpose. 

Here are some of the books I recommend to help you find that dream job, your purpose, your passions…

The Passion Test: The Effortless Path to Discovering Your Life Purpose, Janet and Chris Atwood

Build Your Dreams: How To Make a Living Doing What You Love, Alexis Irvin and Chip Hiden

Inspired & Unstoppable: Wildly Succeeding in Your Life’s Work!, Tama Kieves

I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was: How to Discover What You Really Want and How to Get It, Barbara Sher

Zen and the Art of Making a Living: A Practical Guide to Creative Career Design, Lawrence Boldt

“We’re so engaged in doing things to achieve purposes of outer value that we forget the inner value, the rapture that is associated with being alive, is what it is all about.”   Joseph Campbell

How to Be Your Best Self

Be Your Best SelfHolidays aren’t always “Jolly” days.  There are more errands to run, tasks to do, lists to make and follow through. We get stressed out trying to “get it all done” so that we can actually enjoy the season. Then there are the social gatherings, some mandatory and not always pleasant.  Sometimes it’s our own family interactions that put a damper on our best intentions to have a “Happy Holiday”.  

How can you shift this scenario and bring the “Happy” back into the holidays?  Try being your “Best Self”.

Carolyn Hax, a columnist for the Washington Post was recently asked how to define “Best Self”.  Here is how she answered that question in her column of Dec. 13th. “It’s when you like yourself. Or, when you’re getting the most out of your strengths and succumbing the least to your weaknesses.  It’s highly personal, but here are some ideas for cultivating strength:

  • Are you doing things that are meaningful to you; well suited to your interests, skills and talents; and challenging enough to keep you humble?”  (This is also the key to joy in your chosen work)
  • “Are you with people to whom you want to be kind; who reinforce your good choices; and who don’t inspire persistent doubts about whether they’re dependable, genuinely fond of you, free of ulterior motives, honest with you?  Are you that person to those you love?
  • When you are impressed by, grateful, or concerned about someone, do you show it?
  • Do you take responsibility for your choices and their consequences?”  (This is hard for many, but if you can consistently operate this way, you will stop blaming others/external circumstances for your life as it is, you stop being or feeling like a victim and instead begin feeling and being empowered)

Don Miguel Ruiz says in his book, The Four Agreements; “Be impeccable with your word” and “Always do your best”.   Similarly, Hax asks the reader; “Do you honor your promises and commitments, to yourself and others?” and “Are you representing yourself honestly, to yourself and others?”

How about dealing with your weaknesses so that you can be “your best self”?  Here are some of the questions Carolyn asks her readers to consider:

  • “Do you resist the impulse to blame others when things go wrong?
  • Do you understand the boundary between you and others’ business, and stay on your side?
  • When you’re unsure, do you admit that and seek help?
  • When you’re about to express negativity or a criticism, do you ask yourself whether it needs expressing?  And imagine how its target will feel?”
I challenge you to consider these questions and be honest with yourself in your answers. This doesn’t mean berating yourself or wallowing in regret.   Forgiveness is a powerful activator for positive change.  Forgive yourself and others for not being their “best selves” and move on.  In every moment we can choose to be our “best self” and by doing so, we become more mindful and sometimes even “JOLLY”.
 
Wishing you and your loved ones a wonderful Holiday Season and a Happy New Year!  – Dee

(To view Carolyn’s full article in the Washington Post on 12.13.2013 click here

How Rob Got His Dream Job

Rob and family

Rob and family

I had the great privilege of having a client come back and visit me while he was on a vacation in Madison. He wanted to share his joy of a new baby and his appreciation for the role I played in helping both he and his wife land wonderful jobs in St. Louis.

Rob was working as an organizer for a labor union when we met.  He really enjoyed his role in educating union leadership, researching and writing content for the website, building and managing social media, and creating training and marketing materials.  What he didn’t like so much, was the constant travel and long hours.  

In 2011, Rob’s position required his involvement in demonstrations regarding the governor’s; “Budget Repair Bill”, which impacted collective bargaining agreements.  After 5 months of being embroiled in the protests, Rob was ready for a change of pace.  He has a high value for harmony and strives to build community and collaboration wherever he goes. Spending Feb-June with crowds of frustrated angry people was both exhausting and disheartening for him.  He decided it was time to update his resume and begin looking for a new job, preferably in St. Louis, Missouri.       

He attended both of my mini-courses; “Rock Your Resume” and “Ignite Your Interview” and had hired me to help him find a new position.  We went through the process of identifying what work tasks he did best and enjoyed most and emphasized those on his resume, his Linked In profile and in his correspondence with potential employers.  Next, I asked Rob to write out what his dream job would be. 

Rob’s ideal work needed to offer:   innovation, autonomy, collaboration, research, writing, teaching/training, advocating and community building.  One of the things we worked on was structuring questions he could ask in interviews to help him learn more about the work culture and management style to determine if the jobs he was applying for might be a fit to his “ideal work”.  It took a few months of networking and using Linked In contacts, conducting informational interviews and searching job listings in all the higher ed. institutions in the St. Louis area, but Rob found a great job as did his wife!  

 This month he is celebrating two years being in a job he loves in one of Missouri’s prestigious universities. His work not only combines his education and experience, but it is in alignment with his core values and fits his lifestyle, enabling him to spend more time with his growing family.  Rob’s wife, Laura, also attended the Rock your Resume class and was the first one to obtain work in the St. Louis area.  She is very happy in her job in higher education and will soon be starting classes towards a masters degree.

If you are unhappy in the work you’re in, consider a change.  It is possible to have fulfilling, satisfying, purposeful work!  Whether you do it with a coach, a book, or a friend, please explore your possibilities for a brighter, more fulfilling work life!  

 —Dee

Why We Fail to Find Our Life’s Work

Listen to your inner voice

Listen to your inner voice

I had a birthday this week and got to thinking about how quickly the years go by.  It saddens me how many people slog though endless days working at jobs they don’t like.  What stops them from leaving an employer or an occupation they don’t find satisfying?  Why do they grit their teeth and continue to go to a job that drains their energy and robs them of precious hours they could be using in pursuit of more joyous work? 

I’ve been re-visiting some to the books in my career coaching collection and in How to Find the Work You Love I discovered something I thought important to share.  The author, Laurence Boldt suggests that what stops us from pursuing a calling or finding our “life’s work” are the “Voices of Doubt”.  Here is how he defines these inner voices.

The voice of doom and gloom – You might identify this for yourself when your mind starts up about fears of financial ruin.  (Are you really going to become a bag lady if you quit your job?).  Is it really riskier to ignore your creative urges and stay in work that pays the bills but sucks your precious life force?  As George Bernard Shaw put it; “If you are going to let the fear of poverty govern your life…your reward will be that you will earn, but you will not live.”  I think sometimes we just have to feel the fear and move forward anyway!  You never know what opportunities may come your way once you start moving towards your ideal career.

The voice of conformity – Evidence of this voice occurs when you start worrying about others’ opinions of you.  For example, when I decided to launch my home based business 10 years ago, I got some negative response from people.  “You’ll never be successful, don’t you know most small businesses fail in the first couple of years?”  “You have no business in being in business! You don’t understand the principles.”  ”Go get a steady job and get a regular paycheck like everybody else.” If I had succumbed to those opinions I would have missed out on years of fulfilling, heart engaging, and energizing work!  Just reading these old “voices of conformity” brings my energy down! Don’t let the naysayers undermine your intentions to follow your heart!  Trust your inner wisdom and go blaze a new trail.  You don’t have to do a certain job, you can choose differently.

The voice of self diminishment – This one is insidious and can derail your best intentions.  These are the messages we tell ourselves about not being _______ enough.  (You fill in the blank).  Don’t put off following your passions because you think you have to get more; training, practice, organized, money or whatever you feel is missing.  This doesn’t mean that you don’t do any preparation to realize your life’s work, it does mean you stop trying to talk yourself out of it because you are feeling inadequate.   Do some research and find out the truth.  For instance; do you really have to have a degree in business to start one?  (No you don’t)

The voice of idle complaint – Another name for this voice could be;  the whine and procrastinate process.  We all know people who seem to enjoy complaining.  You know the ones that love to share how awful their work/life/relations/situation/whatever is.  Please don’t do that to yourself!  Evidence of the voice of idle complaint appears when we procrastinate.  When we turn a deaf ear to the voice of our inner wisdom and come up with excuses to ignore it. For example you might say to yourself or others; I will make a career change when “I have enough money, my husband/wife finishes school, when my kids go off to college, when I get fired or laid off, when XYZ occurs.”  We wait for some external circumstances to change in order for us to take action to create our own future.  Write down a few actions you can realistically take towards making your dreams for fulfilling work come true and then do them!  

I am not suggesting anyone act irresponsibly and just assume if you leap off a cliff your wings will appear, but I am encouraging you to really examine your reasons for staying in a job or work situation in which you are truly unhappy. 

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste living someone else’s life.  Don’t be trapped by the dogma -  which is living the results of other people’s thinking.  Don’t let the noise of others opinions drown out your own inner voice.  And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and own intuition.  They somehow already know what you truly want to become.”  —Steve Jobs

Steve got it right.  He certainly blazed a trail and changed the world.  You can to!

Identify Your Skills and Talents and Find Your Ideal Career

glass squareAre you thinking it is time to get a different job or shift careers?  The first step is to identify your package of skills, talents, and natural abilities.  We all have abilities, life experience, knowledge, talents, passions, creativity, yearnings, interests, and skills within.  I imagine them as being different shapes, sizes, and colors–kind of like this picture I took of Dale Chihuly glass.

I find clients often assume that they are “stuck” in the same type job because that is all they have done in the past.  If we look beyond the job description and instead look within ourselves, we can discover a wellspring of transferable skills and hidden talents that can help qualify us for a variety of potentially satisfying jobs.  Let me give you an example:

Scott had been a master electrician for 15 years.  He climbed up ladders and crawled through ducts while wiring commercial buildings.  At 35, he was finding the physical demands becoming challenging and decided to explore a career change.  When I asked him what he liked best about being an electrician, he responded; “it is really satisfying to wire an entire system and then bring a building to life with the flip of a switch.” We began exploring how this could relate to other kinds of careers.  You see, if you start with what you really most enjoy about your work and look at where you can do something similar in a different environment, some times the ideal career reveals itself.  

After identifying his transferable skills and natural gifts, Scott decided to become a chiropractor.  He compared the work of being a chiropractor to his career as an electrician. In both cases he said; “you are working with the electrical system.  In the human body it is the nervous system but my role is the same.  Determine where the electricity is failing to connect and fix it.”  He went on further to say; “instead of working in a building with ducts and blowers to move the air and maintain the temperature and electrical wiring to circulate the juice, I work on the human body — it too has respiratory, circulatory and electrical systems.”

Today Scott has a thriving practice in Landrum, SC and says he just loves his work!  (He’s good at it too.  I often see him when I am visiting there.)

You never know what new wonderful career may be just around the corner.  Identifying your own skills and talents is the first step in exploring other kinds of work.   Need a nudge to start looking at your own?  Here is a list of Transferable Skills for you to select from.  After you identify the skills you possess, review the list and note those that you really enjoy doing.  Then mention those in correspondence with potential employers, emphasize them on your resume, describe them in interviews or launch a business built on them!  

YOU have a unique package of skills, talents and abilities.  Why not use them and live the work you love!

 

 

 

How to Have More Mindful Moments

Mindful blogLast week I facilitated two workshops on mindfulness for employees of John Deere Financial.  I was struck by how earnestly engaged the participants were in the process.  It was like they were hungry to explore mindfulness.  What a gift it is to give ourselves “time out”, to allow our busy brains to re-focus on the present moment as we did during those workshops.

For the most part, we move through our days on autopilot.  Scientists tell us that the average human brain thinks 70,000 thoughts a day.  Now if those were all empowering positive thoughts, imagine how different our lives might be.  

Unfortunately, we humans tend to ruminate on the past and imagine and plan for the future. We also tend to get in loops of repeating memories or patterns of thinking. Consider the times you have re-played a situation in your head and thought about what you could have, should have, or would have done differently if given a chance to “do it over.” The nice thing about using mindfulness techniques, is that every time you awake to the present moment, you have the opportunity to consciously choose how to move forward to the next one.

When you consider career paths, choosing wisely can make all the difference in whether you experience a job that is boring or stressful vs having work that is interesting and enjoyable.   The more consciously aware we are, the more control we have over the course of our lives.  Instead of being at the mercy of our mental default programs, we can start to wake-up to each moment, each choice point.  So how do we become more “mindful”? Here are some exercises you might try:

1.  Watch the mind move in time.  Take a piece of paper and draw a horizontal line.  At one end is the future at the other, the past.  In the center of the line make a circle and write in the word NOW.  Start with your finger on the circle and simply observe your thoughts for 5 minutes.  Every time you realize you are thinking about the future, move your finger on the scale.  Do the same thing when you realize you are thinking about the past.  Don’t try to stop the thoughts, just observe how your mind wanders in time.

2.  Focus your senses.  Pick up an object you find interesting and study it for 5 minutes.  Really look at it, touch it, observe every detail of color, weight,  shape, even whether or not it has an odor.  This is one method to bring you into the present moment.  It offers the additional benefit of increasing your power of sensory perception.

3.  Set wake up calls.  When I was in grad school, I was also a student in The Fourth Way work which was based on the teachings of G. I. Gurdjieff.  One of the most interesting homework assignments we were given was called the doorway exercise.   Every time you pass through a doorway say to yourself “I am here now”.  When you realize you have sailed through a doorway without remembering your statement (in essence being on autopilot or asleep at the switch), go back through the doorway and say it.  While it may not be practical to actually go back through every doorway, for instance exiting an airplane, it is remarkable to see how often we are unaware.  

All these moments of mindfulness add up.  You start to realize how much of life you’ve missed because you have been riding around on your own thought train.   Increase your mindful moments and your life begins to change in some interesting ways.  Who knows?  That dream career, that ideal life, may be just around the corner…

 

Passion at Work

Pattiy Torno

Pattiy Torno

What would it be like to be excited to “go to work” on a regular basis, to be brimming with creativity and inspiration, to be energized by your own efforts?  I have often asked that question in an effort to find answers to share.  Do you know someone who says they absolutely love their work?  Have you ever heard someone say; “I enjoy this so much I can hardly believe I get paid to do it”?  Who are these people and what do they do?  I found some shining examples during a recent visit to the Carolinas.

I spent an afternoon wandering the River Arts District in Asheville, NC a couple of months ago. “This unique neighborhood along the French Broad River is home to more than 165 artists with working studios located in 18 turn-of-the-century industrial buildings”.  I loved that people are welcome to wander in and talk with the artists, and if you’re lucky, observe them at their craft.  What really struck me was the unbridled enthusiasm of the artists I spoke with. Their passion for their work was a tangible living thing exuding from each studio I visited.  No one tried to sell me anything either.  I loved that!

Take Jonas Gerard for example.  Born in Casablanca, Morocco in 1941, he migrated to NYC and began showing his art on the streets at the age of 16.  Although he spent years working in the engineering field, his passion for his art eventually lead him to pursue it full time.  Largely self taught, he is best known for his abstract art.  He describes the essence of it as:

  • To unfold the spirit of self-exploration by painting (or creating) freely without restraint or self criticism
  • To develop a deeper trust in one’s intuition and instinct as they happen
  • To realize that letting go of set goals opens up a whole world of infinite possibilities

I think these are terrific goals for anyone seeking fulfillment in their work, don’t you agree?

William B.Leonard of Bold Life said; “it would be hard, maybe even impossible to find anyone who is more passionate and energetic about his work than Jonas Gerard.  He is an artist with the heart of a showman and he happily welcomes visitors into his studio to watch him work.  As he paints, he dances in front of the canvas to music that blares raucously from his cd player” and talks while painting saying that he has no idea where the music and paint will take him.”

Another studio I visited was Pattiy Torno’s.  When she was in high school she decided to head towards fashion design as a career.  She says on her webpage, “It was the only career I could think of that would allow me to earn a living doing what I love most—sewing.”  She apprenticed in the fashion industry in New York and then started her own business in the 1980’s as she wanted to get back to “the simple joy of playing with fabric.”  She began making quilts.  (See her picture above with a thimble on her finger and quilt behind her.) 

As I sat in her studio drinking herbal tea that chilly afternoon, I was struck by how much she truly loves what she does.  Pattiy shared her work and encouraged me to touch and try on her creations.  I walked out with one of her lovely fleece hats on my head. Whenever I wear it, I think of the joy of the artist who made it and it makes me feel good (it’s nice and warm too!).

Do you have passion at work?  If you are shaking your head, NO, you might re-consider if you feel or express any of the following:

Empowered, energized, excited, unstoppable, joy, entertaining, creative, evocative, motivated, a sense of flow, giving to others, or sharing your talents.

And, if none of those words apply, you might rethink your career path…. Life is too short to spend more than half your waking hours in passionless work.

 

Infinite Possibilities for Creating Change

field of infinite possibilities

field of infinite possibilities…

Are you yearning to make some real changes this year?  I’m not talking about making a list of resolutions, I’m talking about creating realistic action steps.  Does thinking about making changes in your life overwhelm you?  Is it something you tried to do in the past and failed at?  Maybe you are simply tackling too much at once. Try one small step at a time.

Start with an idea or a vision of what you want to bring into your life. What would it look like if you made some changes?  Can you picture your surroundings?  Let’s say for example, you want to experience more peace, feel calm in stressful situations, or just plain be relaxed more of the time.  What kind of environment are you spending time in? Are there changes you can make to promote a sense of calm?  Here’s an example of what I mean: 

I remember answering incoming calls in a tiny office space/storage room with no windows.  One day instead of lunch, I headed to a poster shop to find visions of serenity.  I came back with 3 beautiful photos of ocean scenes. You know, white beaches palm trees, unlimited horizons to gaze at – kind of like the Corona beer commercials. That one small improvement in my work space enabled me to “breathe” easier and put a smile into my voice in responding to callers.  It was a quick and inexpensive action step toward changing my environment for the better and resulted in my feeling more relaxed and optimistic in my job. That one small action step created immediate change for me!

What do you want to change?  Do you want to have more joy, peace, love, achievement, success, health, or wealth? Whatever it is that you want to bring into your life,  I challenge you to take a least one action step in the next 30 days to help it to happen!  (and I’d love to hear about it!)                        –Dee

Manage Holiday Stress, Bring Joy

De-stressing the season

De-stressing the season

I was pleased to be asked to present three workshops on Managing Holiday Stress for a local company recently and thought I’d share some of the tips from that presentation with you.  

Prevent Overwhelm

If you are at all like me, you want to prepare and orchestrate the warmest, nicest holiday experience you can.  This can lead to unrealistic expectations for your own “performance”.  Trying to have the “Hallmark” holiday with all the decorations just so, homemade food, beautifully wrapped gifts, and a perfectly clean house for guests can put tremendous stress on you. Prioritize your tasks and be realistic about your energy levels.  (ha ha, I have company arriving tomorrow and have given up the need to scrub the grout..)

1.  Ask for help, don’t assume others will volunteer.  For instance, with guests, be aware that they likely have different traditions around holidays.  For instance,  their family stays out of the kitchen when mom or the designated chef is at work, so it wouldn’t occur to them to offer to help you cook.  You don’t want to become a martyr (or be perceived as one) by doing it all and then begin to resent having company, or doing the tasks you’ve taken on.  

2.  Be flexible, weather, travel conditions, emergencies etc. may come up and dash your plans.  Instead of getting stressed over it, consider having a backup plan.  No plan?  Then just do your best to go with the flow rather than trying to make things turn out a certain way.  

3.  Hold your boundaries, allow yourself to just say “NO”.  If you are feeling overwhelmed, don’t take on more obligations.   What can you let go of to give yourself more time and energy?  (Note to self: I give myself permission to skip hand writing notes in holiday cards this year.  I am not staying up half the night this year to get cards in the mail in time.)

4.  Let go of outmoded “traditions”.  Does your family have holiday traditions that may no longer be relevant but you continue them anyway? I love the story about the gathered generations of women preparing a holiday ham. One cuts both ends of the ham before placing it in the roasting pan.  The youngest says “Mom, why did you cut off both ends of the ham?”  She answers, “because that is the way your grandmother always prepares it.”  The little girl then went to her grandmother and asked the same question. Her grandmother’s response; “I had to because my pan was too small”.  (In my example, it was a big deal to make loads of holiday treats, participate in cookie exchanges, and engage my kids in the process.  Now, as a gluten free empty-nester,  it doesn’t make sense to do all that baking.)

Create Peace and Joy

1.  Do something for others.  Consider being a bell ringer for a couple of hours or volunteer to distribute food or toys for a non-profit. Put your personal holiday stress in perspective by helping those less fortunate.

2.  Take care of yourself.  If you have an exercise routine, keep it up.  Nothing releases stress in the body better than exercise. Watch what you eat and drink and try not to overindulge.  If you need a break from people, take it.  (One workshop participant who was hosting extended family in her home, said she retreated to her closet  a couple of times a day for a 15 minute meditation break.)

3.  Have fun experiences.  Play board games, go for walks, drive around and see holiday lights, do some interactive activities with others.  If there are children around, engage with them.  Nothing brings joy like a little person’s laughter. 

4.  Don’t take yourself or your opinions too seriously.  Allow other people to “be right”.  Avoid confrontations with others.  The old adage “count to 10 before you respond” is still good advice.  I find it beneficial to take 3 or 4 deep slow breaths when tensions arise.  It relaxes the body, forces more oxygen to your brain, and enables you to make a more conscious choice in responding in challenging conversations or situations.

Wishing you all the peace, love,  joy and wonder of the season    —Dee

Ages and Stages in Your Career Life

I had the good fortune to be interviewed recently by Teresa Bryan Peneguy, an editor with the Wisconsin State Journal.  The subsequent article “Ages, stages are factors in education, career” was published in the newspaper on 12.10.12.  It was at the back of the Sports section under the heading “Education for Life” and I thought it might be helpful to share it with you.  Here it is in full:

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women are merely players; they have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages.”  –William Shakespeare  

The average American now works close to 50 years.  That’s a heck of a long time to do something you detest.  Luckily, you don’t have to.  Even in today’s economy and job market, you don’t have to feel trapped at a job that makes you want to run screaming for the exit.  Nor do you have to feel hopeless if your career is threatened by changes in technology and society.

Whatever stage of life you’re in – whether you’re new to the workforce or a seasoned worker – you have options in education and occupation.  ”You just have to find out what you really want to do, know what your talents and gifts are, and figure out who needs what you have to offer,” says Madison-based career life coach Dee Relyea.

Your 20s

Although some people are questioning whether or not college still offers a good ROI, labor force data still reveals that the college educated do earn more than their peers without degrees, and the higher the education attained, the higher one’s earnings over a lifetime.  The times of spending seven years in college for a degree in Medieval Literature may be gone, but college is still a smart choice as long as one’s chosen career path requires a college degree.

An awesome thing about being in your 20′s is that you may have great flexibility at this stage of life.  Relyea talks about Sally, who attended college in Minnesota and earned a liberal arts degree.  After she returned to her home state of WI, she went to work in an off, “which didn’t suit her,” said Relyea.

Because she had a roommate, which lowered her living expenses, she had some wiggle-room in terms of her salary needs.  So she worked part time in retail and part time providing marketing for a martial arts school.  ”She began trying on different workplaces,” says Relyea.  ”She discovered she really liked social media, and since she had no need for a steady paycheck, she decided to do that (and be a freelance writer) full-time.”  Since all of her work was done via computer, she was able to live anywhere – so she moved to Denver.  It was the perfect scenario for Sally.

Your 30s

Another client of Relyea’s; Bob, got a computer science degree, went to work at Epic, where he had “no trouble getting his foot through the door.”  He loved his job, until his position changed and he was required to travel frequently.  This was a problem because he had dogs, “and he was miserable with the travel aspect of his job.”  Bob realized that his favorite thing was teaching computer skills to other people, so he stared a home business doing that.  He needed to earn a little more, so he picked up a part time job at the Apple store.  (Addendum to this story from Dee: ”which evolved into a full time career and where, incidentally, he met the love of his life and is not only fully engaged in his work, he is engaged to be married!”  The universe works in wondrous ways…)

Your 40s

Betsy had a high-end marketing job at a Fortune 500 company.  As technology advanced and Betsy was required to carry a smart phone, “she found she had no respite from the office whatsoever,” says Relyea.  Betsy was a single mom with two adolescents, and she was working 70 hours a week.  Then she heard the company was going to be bought out.  ”She came to me to create an exit strategy,” says Relyea.

Betsy completed a career assessment (the MBTI) which revealed her natural personality preferences and transferable skills.  She discovered she wanted to teach.  She had a master’s degree in marketing, but she needed to go back to school for a teaching degree.  When she was laid off, she got a severance package – which gave her the time (and the money) to get the education she needed.  ”She was prepared and thrilled when she got that pink slip,” says Relyea.  Today, Betsy is a high school teacher and loves what she does.

Your 50s and 60s

In middle age, many people find themselves discontented with unfulfilling jobs.  ”They want to do something they are passionate about,” says Relyea.  ”Sometimes they have been downsized, and (sometimes) they want to respond to an inner calling.” 

You have a right to enjoy what you do for a living, says Relyea. “It’s really not a luxury,” she says.  ”We don’t have much time on this earth.  You shouldn’t have to do something you don’t like.”  Often, people in this age range have “golden handcuffs” – they’re held hostage by a big house or a fancy car or expensive recreation.  ”But you can choose to downsize your standard of living,” she says.  ”People have successfully done that to find more fulfilling work.  A lot of people in their 50s freelance or consult, and work part-time in retail (or whatever) to make ends meet.  Multiple streams of income are the way to go.”

Relyea has answers for any questions you may ask.  For example, what if you want to start a home business but you need health insurance?  ”You do have options,” she says.  ”If you have a spouse, you may get it through them.  Umbrella group policies are available:  the Chamber of Commerce may offer insurance as do almost all professional associations.  You might be able to get COBRA to tide you over until insurance is easier to purchase through the Affordable Care Act.  You can find a way to do what you have to do.”

The bottom line is that you do have choices.  There are many paths available: just decide which one you want to take.  ”I’ve seen some people achieve some amazing things,” says Relyea.  

I’d love to hear stories of your career experiences.  Please comment below.    –Dee