Saturday, April 26, 2014

Hiring a career transition coach (Part I: why I hired a coach)

changeI thought I would write a bit about my search for (and use of) a career transition coach, since I was grateful for any information I could get my hands on when I was trying to figure out if I wanted to use one myself.

I had tons of reservations about hiring someone - usually I just get help from reading, googling, working things out on paper and going for long runs to work through the details - so I was pretty surprised and hugely grateful that I ended up getting more out of the experience than I expected going in.

So with the disclaimer in place that I’m not even going to mention the woman I used by name – I’m not advertising, nor am I getting anything out of this – I’m going to write about the process I used to find an intelligent, pragmatic, empathetic and intuitive but still pretty tough and effective coach, and then the process we used together to articulate my needs and my goals for the new career so I could make the right choices and eventually forge my own action plan to get there.

Why I hired a coach.

For a while I was embarrassed to tell my friends that I’d hired a career transition coach.  “Life coaching” was something of a joke in my circle, somewhat akin to talking about “my guru in Nepal” or “my second cousin’s vegan diet coach.”  I didn’t think of myself as the type of person to hire a coach, and I wasn’t even admitting to myself that I wanted out of the career I was in a the time.

So here’s how it happened.

The scene? A thrift store called Savers. My son Ky and six of his closest friends searching the racks for something they could turn into compelling Anime costumes. Me? Probably worrying about my absence (at 10am on a Sunday) from the high pressure University where I was working, and probably clutching my stomach, half bent over from the stress and anxiety of not being seen at work 7 days a week. Was I giving the impression that I valued something more than work? Was I going to be Mommy-tracked for taking time off work for my son? Those were my worries back then.

I sat in the book section of Savers, which was the only section of the store with chairs that weren’t chintz and weren’t for sale. I distinctly remember perching on the edge of a chair and feeling kind of…  I don’t know, maybe confused? heartsick? Kind of like I recognized that I was doing something completely normal, shopping with my son and his friends, but I wasn’t feeling normal about doing it. I was feeling guilty to the point of illness that I wasn’t at work, and then feeling even more guilty that I wasn’t enjoying time with my son. I knew there was a huge realization attached to this, an elephant in the room that I was trying very hard not to acknowledge, but I stuffed those thoughts back inside and distracted myself by leafing through one of the books that someone had left out on the table. The book was Expecting Adam by Martha Beck.

What was really interesting is that I flipped open the book and randomly started reading the point in her autobiography where she was busy working at a high pressure University and getting stomach cramps and majorly ill from stress, and from worrying about how she would appear to her superiors if she prioritized something other than work. I related to her story so strongly in that moment that I bought the book and read the entire thing in one sitting. After reading it through, I downloaded her audiobooks and listened to those one after another, filled out countless worksheets and journals and dream diaries. In her story, Martha Beck leaves the high pressure University and transitions her career and her life, and things got exponentially better for her. I envied her bravery hugely.

This isn’t a post about Martha Beck – her book just happened to pop up in front of me in a rare moment I was primed to listen to the take home message, and it was what started me thinking about career transitions and letting go of the parts of my life that were causing me the most stress and unhappiness. The more I thought about these things, the clearer it was to me that I really wanted to leave my high stress career, but I wasn’t sure how to come up with a reasonable action plan – or if I even had the guts to do it.

I did a lot of research and made a lot of lists of life priorities, passions, interests, finances, major skills and goals. Over time I felt like I had a lot of the pieces in front of me, but I didn’t know how to put them together or which parts of my thoughts and ideas were realistic and which were pipe dreams or dead ends. Was I being brave or immature by thinking of leaving my high pressure career behind?  Did I have a realistic vision of what I wanted to do next, or just a vague and hazy idea of what I didn’t want to do?

I started feeling like I needed to bounce ideas off someone. Someone who was a professional, who had moved in similar professional circles and knew the territory, the politics, the feelings and motivation and realities of my profession. While friends and family were generally supportive of me, their support was caring and personal. And I loved and needed that caring, but I also needed some professional advice, bulleted points, action plans and mapped-out possibilities. I put the tentative search term “career transition coach” into google, and found out that YES, they totally exist, in great numbers, and that my next job would have to be figuring out exactly which kind I was looking for.

Next - Part II:  Finding the right coach.


  1. Hi Emma: I stumbled onto your blog from SITS and am totally intrigued. You write so well, and it's obvious that you are at a transition point in your life. The positive things in my experience are that you recognize and honor all of your feelings and seem to be dealing with them. I always feel better when I'm in control of my own destiny - setting goals and moving toward them - sounds like you are doing that. Good luck with your career coach, I can't wait to hear what you have discovered.

  2. Thanks so much for the kind words and most of all the encouragement! It means so much, truly. You're so right that setting goals and moving toward them are positive ways of controlling your destiny... sometimes knowing how to get between where you are and the goal can be so un-straightforward at times.

  3. Expecting Adam is a fantastic book. While I was compelled by the disability aspect of it, it also absolutely made me think about the pressure of academia. I'm glad it was part of your life transition and I look forward to part 2!

    1. It really is a compelling book, and her writing voice is logical and even but also so natural that it doesn't scare people (ie. me) away from reading things that are of the self-help variety. I've kept up with her Adam stories as time has gone on, too. Thanks so much for your comment Emily!