Career Transitions: Integrating Disappointment and Vulnerability into a Creative and Positive Path Forward

08/28/2016

Career transitions are very often difficult and highly stressful periods in one’s life. These periods are fraught with many conflicting feelings, experiences and expectations. Whether the transition has come about through job loss or is purposely embarked on because a professional path was unfulfilling or a wrong fit, finding a new professional landing pad is challenging both emotionally and practically. There are countless approaches and advice on practical steps to finding a job or choosing a career path but far less on helping a client acknowledge, work with and integrate the myriad of emotions that are present during times of transition and which can dictate the direction, relevance, helpfulness and success of career counseling. A hasty decision to leap on a job opportunity out of insecurity or financial anxiety may lead a client back to square one. An inability to capitalize on an opportunity or chance to network with a contact viewed through a lens of past disappointments or disillusionment has equal power to land a client back at the proverbial starting gate. Acknowledging and working with the very real experiences and feelings of disappointment, discouragement and vulnerability, as examples, can in fact positively support and help clients realistically ponder and analyze decisions and appropriate directions. Integrating these real and present experiences with a client’s innate abilities, skills and expertise offers new, expanded and creative perspectives in both self-awareness and as possibilities for pursuing new professional paths.

Our sense of self, our experiences of ourselves as a unique and demarcated “I”, are also highly entwined with what we do professionally. We are relational beings, straddling both a unique individualized self and a relational self that is connected and embedded in the outside world. We identify with and often define ourselves by what we do. And what we do professionally – roles, job titles and positions - often has a profound influence in shaping our identity. We invest ourselves, we connect with and relate to the outside world through our professions. We contribute to our professions and in the best instances we are valued and affirmed in the roles we readily take on. We may strive to become experts in our fields, put energy and effort into furthering our professional development, experience a sense of vitality and vibrancy in our successes, take pride in our capacities, flourish within team work and collegiality and our ability to take care of our financial necessities. We live, infuse and experience ourselves in what we do. The personal investment is enormous, the experiences and emotions equally so. A job loss is therefore highly destabilizing, we experience it at the level of identity and our sense of place in the world. We experience these losses as a loss of personal and professional value. Often clients will feel and experience the loss as a negative evaluation of their skills and expertise and this can hamper and derail the energy, enthusiasm or attitudes required to network, interview or basically present oneself to the world. While a client’s unique expertise, skills (both innate and learned) and experiences are in fact intact despite professional transition, this reality is often clouded and narrowed by the emotional impact and stress the transition is having on a client’s daily living.

Even if a career transition is embarked on by choice, the decision to reorient one’s place in the professional world and seek to find a path that is congruent with one’s sense of self and aligns with one’s deepest interests, passions and values, the process is equally vulnerable requiring energy, a re-evaluation of one’s goals, aspirations and often a hard and decisive look at financial and familial realities.

Bringing these experiences and feelings out into the open and into dialogue during career counseling helps clients verbalize these realities and creatively talk through different perspectives, attitudes and possibilities. The growing self-awareness that emerges within this dialogical openness coupled with support and encouragement from the counselor assists clients in discovering (or re-discovering) personal resiliencies, it affirms and/or builds a client’s capacities, and encourages and validates a client’s unique expertise and skills (both innate and learned). Stepping into and then through the reality of disappointment and vulnerability gives us greater awareness of our emotional repertoire and builds experiential muscles that energize the path forward.