During career transition – when it feels as if the rug has been pulled out from under you and it seems as if you have been stripped of your identity – the dissonant choir of negative inner voices that have been lurking around in your head for a lifetime is suddenly unleashed and begins shout at you. You’ll never get a job! Who would want to hire you? What do you have to offer, anyway? It’s a terrible economy. No one’s hiring. You never should have majored in ________ (fill in the blank). You never should have taken that last job. You’re almost 30! 40! 50! 60! Nobody wants to hire you! You’re too fat. You’re too ugly. Why is nothing working out for me? Everyone else seems to be doing just fine. What do they know that I don’t know?
You may think I am making up these inner voices myself, but trust me, they are actual inner voices borrowed from the lists of negative voices produced by actual clients of mine over the years. And these are not the most extreme ones I’ve heard. They get much worse. I would say the collection of voices reiterated above is pretty typical. And these do not issue forth from crazy or neurotic or highly insecure people; these are the inner voices of ordinary “normal” people like you and me.
About the third or fourth coaching session, after we have established the groundwork for our work together, along comes the homework assignment I refer to as the Vision and the Voices. If you were in my office, you would see that I have a set of signs about 1 x 2 feet resting on an easel next to my chair on which the themes of our work are written and on which the homework is based. You would become very familiar with these questions and themes that guide us. One of them says in a bold font, Vision & Voices. This is how I explain this theme:
During career transition, when you should actually be tuning in to the Vision, or picture, of what you actually want for the next step in your career evolution, you are swept up in fear and anxiety which prevents you from doing this. Even if you have an idea or get a glimpse of what that is, it is impossible for you to stay there very long. This happens especially if you begin to imagine that something wonderful might happen: maybe you’ll get a great job, better than the one before, or start a business or move to the place you really want to be. The anxiety you are in, which is totally understandable during transition, will immediately cause you to jump away from the wonderfulness of that thought and into the negative voices shouting within telling you all the reasons that good thing can’t happen. If you pay attention, you’ll hear such things as, “You’re too old, you’re too stupid, you’re too fat, it’s a terrible economy, etc.”
You don’t believe me? Try it yourself. Think of some kind of work you really want, in order for this difficult transition to result in the best possible outcome. Look out, here come the voices. Try to hear them, and then write them down. Give voice to the feelings you have and maybe have not named. Translate the feeling into a voice. Then write down the voices. Get them out of your head and onto paper so you can see them in black and white. Don’t ask me why this happens. It just does. Next, read them out loud to yourself, one after the other. Most people are shocked to learn they are talking so cruelly to themselves . . . Now, do you think those voices aren’t affecting your progress from A to B? Trust me, they are.
What really needs to happen when you’re in transition is for you to pay lots of attention to the Vision. Indulge the Vision, indulge your imagination, really get into it. When I say “Vision”, all I mean is the picture you have in your head – and I know you have one – about what you really want. This is a picture based in the reality of who you are, of the gifts, talents, abilities, skills, education and experience you actually have. You know these things. You just don’t know you know them. You need to get out of the negative voices and into the vision that I know is there because it just works. Try it. You’ve actually been afraid to imagine good things happening because you might not get it and then you’ll feel bad. Isn’t that kind of superstitious or something?
I will say that sorting out all of this on your own without a coach is difficult at best. But with coaching, it is possible. Think about the analogy of athletic coaching. What athlete doesn’t have a vision or goal in mind toward which he/she is working? There is hard work involved in translating the vision into reality, no question, but without the vision, the voices take over. What athlete would go into a competition thinking, “I’ll never make it. I’m fat. I’m slow. I’m stupid. I’m a loser.” What athlete would not examine, after losing, how he/she can do better the next time. Think how often the athlete doesn’t really know why he/she lost out; the coach can often see things the athlete cannot see.
The “picture” of what you want is – and I know you won’t believe me – something you can actually count on. It emerges from the reality of who you are. It is the “camera” that has been watching you every day of your life. It knows and records things you don’t even remember. Pay attention to it, flesh it out, indulge it, write it down, and more details will come to you. It’s like remembering and then talking about a dream. You start with a little shred of the dream, like “I was in a room all by myself,” and then when you start telling someone else about it, you remember more. Something like, “No wait a minute, someone else was there too. It was an old friend. She was someone I went to grammar school with. She was a singer . . .” You get my drift.
The vision can be the place on a trajectory toward which you point yourself. We can get more specific as we go. We begin to disarm, dismantle, and talk back to the negative voices one by one. You will find they are not all equal, and once exposed to the light of day, they are mostly not true and mostly weak. They begin to take a back seat to the vision, which tends to become bigger, louder, and clearer, until it seems to fill the room, and we both know it. The eventual result is a transformation that sounds like: “This is who I am! This is what I want! This is what I care about. Let’s get the resume together, the cover letter, the criteria for the search.” The energy shifts take a back seat.
Once upon a time I had a vision like this: “I am in a beautiful office with plants and books and windows. The door is closed, and I am talking one to one, one at a time, with all kinds of different people. We are talking about life, about who they are, what they want, what they care about, what is important to them, and I am helping them find their way.” My inner self knew what would make me happy. I inched my way toward it, step by step, overcoming all of my own nasty inner voices, until I was free to find my way in the world. It was hard, and I got help. What I never could have known was that it would turn out so much better than I thought.