Many of my clients have lost jobs and are experiencing unemployment, some are facing impending job transition or experiencing “space” between contractual employment while others are pursuing entirely new vocational directions. Whatever the circumstances or specific contexts my clients are currently experiencing, I continue to notice a similar entrenched belief about their skills and expertise. Being employed is equated with active skill development and relevant expertise while any shift or change in our standardized notion of full-time employment is perceived as a diminished skill set, the loss of job equated with a loss of skill. This bleak view is further entrenched by the professional world and hiring departments who look skeptically upon the abilities of job seekers and candidates who are currently unemployed and/or have gaps of time in their employment history. I see these attitudes internalized by clients who then experience further distress and a lack of confidence in their capacities and skills; all this at a time of transition marked by many additional stressors including financial ones. The notion that our abilities and skills are only relevant and enhanced in a context of uninterrupted employment makes no sense given the continuous experiencing, and therefore the continuous amassing of skills, abilities and expertise human beings are designed for and which constitute daily living.
These lingering perceptions also overlook our motivation, our striving for purpose, our desire to be engaged and fully present with the work(s) we do and wish to do. Expanding our awareness, perspective and attitudes towards capacities and skills, and harnessing the power of personal motivation and striving could provide a valuable bridge to the very real shifts taking place in the work world. It could increase the practical and individually supportive assistance counselors offer clients and potentially shift the hiring perspectives of employers. A flexible shift in these perspectives could produce candidates who are confidently suited, uniquely qualified, personally engaged and thus valuable assets for the positions available.
Our continuous living experiences are ripe with information about our capacities, what I call our experiential expertise. Turning our attention to our perceptions, feelings, attitudes, choices, decisions, interactions, relationships, perspectives, behaviours, values, beliefs, even our imagination, can reveal an ever-evolving holistic map of our unique expertise and our continuous potential for growth. Integrating our diverse experiences into a whole life’s repertoire expands this expertise. By seeing our lives, our very existence, as a continuous process of becoming and unfolding of possibility we can become both more skilled and more flexible. Flexibility should mean our ability to move with and actively contribute to both the reality and the possibility of our lives. It should mean our capacity to succeed and absorb failure with equally healthy perspective. And flexibility ought to mean that the changes in the work world we are being asked to accept and adapt to include employment opportunities that take advantage of the creativity and strengths we offer, those that come with our ever-expanding experiential expertise.
My experiences with clients have revealed some common themes: the desire for mentorship, for on-going opportunities to learn and expand within their work roles, for a felt sense of purpose in their work, for work that is congruent with their values and sense of self, the wish to make a meaningful contribution and to feel connected to the work and/or organization. There is a desire to experience work that is created and shaped by these qualitative markers. That desire is appearing at the same time as the external demands for professional flexibility in the future. The qualitative markers that my clients reveal are in fact some of the very ingredients that produce personal fulfillment, engagement and retention – antidotes to the risks of burnout; they are also the ingredients of flexibility.
Being present in our experiencing, being aware of our ever-growing capacities, knowing what we value deeply and the unique value we bring to a given job or task activates the daily practice of openness, adaptability, acceptance and leads ultimately to experiencing fulfillment in what we do. We can re-conceptualize, articulate and promote our multiple experiences, skills, capacities and expertise in concert with the emerging realities of the work world and the way we want to work; fulfilled and engaged. We can begin by revealing the wonderful layers of experience that we all possess, thus offering a fuller representation of who we are. We can reflect and draw upon what we value and what motivates us. We can think about the many ways we have contributed outwardly in our lives and how we have put our unique stamp on our experiences. We can be both humbled and empowered by what we have learned along the way, how our expertise continues to develop and surprise us, and ultimately how we continuously grow as individuals. We can begin to create experiential narratives that illustrate our individual and varied experiences, that capture our myriad capacities and our resilience. And all of this can potentially set the standards by which our value is recognized, the standards by which we are hired for work and the standards for engaged and vibrant work environments.