‘I could have done with your career coaching when I was younger’ my father in law confided to me one day. A retired management accountant, my father in law had been ‘encouraged’ by his father to follow in his career footsteps. Yet his dream and passion had always been to be a landscape gardener by day and an actor by night. He found his creativity and artistry was thwarted by his role as an accountant but he stuck it out for the security of his family, at great personal cost to himself.
The cost of inauthenticity
The pain of being inauthentic in a role is real. A common reason clients come to me is this sense of being a ‘square peg in a round hole’ – a recognition that there is a mismatch between their skills, talents, desires and the role they find themselves working at instead.
Many, like my father in law, found themselves following guidance to take up roles based on what well meaning family thought they were good at; others did not know what to do when they were younger and ‘fell’ into their current career by accident and then ‘made the most of it’ and acclimatised to the role over time.
But still there would be that nagging feeling that they could do – and be – more.
One memorable client literally took a newspaper jobs section, shut her eyes and stabbed a finger at a role – and following this random selection process became an estate agent! Luckily for her she was successful, for a while, but she came to me when a nagging sense that she could contribute more to society grew.
However we chose our original career path, the pain of working in an inauthentic role can be costly to our health and wellbeing, leaving us stressed, low and irritable which can then have a massive impact on those around us, including our children. As Jung said, ‘the biggest influence on a child’s life is the unlived life of the parent’.
How did I get here?
So how do we choose differently?
The trouble is when we are young, and first entering the world of work, we have limited self awareness to base our choices on. But as we grow and develop, and become more aware of ourselves and our interests and talents, a mismatch can occur. Often this mismatch can be brought to light by a forced change in the status quo; illness, bereavement or becoming a mother can be common catalysts for this urge to change direction.
For example, I know from my research with fellow mums that becoming a mum often brings with it a growth in feelings of empathy and a desire to make a difference to impact future generations. This desire for more meaning can lead to current roles feeling restrictive and outgrown.
Yet often we find ourselves still being guided to make career choices around questions that focus on concerns outside of ourselves – for example, choosing roles that will give us financial security, stability, longevity.
However, the irony is that in today’s climate these factors no longer hold true; there is no certainty of job security in any sector.
So given this fact, what should we focus on when making our career choices?
Listen to your inner voice
We need instead to begin asking questions to guide our career choices that focus us back inside ourselves. We need to ask questions such as who am I? What am I here to contribute? And look to our skills, strengths, interests, values and passions to guide our choices. We need to listen to and trust our instincts about our abilities and where they are leading us.
I take heart here in George Elliott’s quote:
‘It’s never too late to be what you might have been’.
Thankfully, unlike in my father in law’s generation, these days people aren’t expected to stick at one career until they get their retirement ‘fob watch’. Now it’s not uncommon for people to have four, maybe five, different career moves in their lifetime.
So recognising that there is more in you and acknowledging your desire for growth and development is a good thing. Give yourself permission to explore and take stock of your skills, strengths and passions as these hold the clues as to which path to take next.
How about you?
What’s your experience of being in an inauthentic role? Are you looking to change career direction? Please share your experiences in the comments box below, I’d love to hear them!
P.S. Need some help with navigating your own career crossroads?