Adrian was 28, on a good salary, and working with a bank that he knew in his heart he eventually wanted to leave. From Monday to Friday, he felt like his soul was dying, but on Saturday afternoon, he would meet up with an entrepreneurially minded friend in a pub down the road and brainstorm business ideas that could potentially provide an escape route.
By the time Adrian got home from the pub, he'd have found reasons as to why each of those ideas wouldn't work. Eventually he and his prospective partner felt dejected from the process so at one point they started inviting another friend along to the pub, one who they knew would keep the conversation away from business ideas.
I met Adrian at one of our events and his story reminded me of so many other members who I have seen struggle with a familiar cycle of guilt and shame.
They want to switch careers, but who are they to think that they could do better? They get stuck in a prison of self-sabotage.
Often, we turn to family and friends to try and help us escape from prisons of our own making, but sometimes the very same people who love us can inadvertently make the prison feel even larger.
This is where coaches can prove to be invaluable, although I've always approached career coaches the same way that I approach real estate agents and used car salesmen. (If I can avoid them, I will.)
This changed when I started working with Escape the City because it became more obvious as I talked to more members that what they needed was a trained professional to help them strategize their transition.
Coupled with meeting a few excellent coaches, I began to ease up on my eye rolling and soften my judgments on what I soon realized I knew very little about.
Meet Rikke Hansen
Rikke was one of those coaches who seemed very skilled at releasing people from self-defeating patterns. She's an internationally recognized expert and coach for career change and entrepreneurship based in London and has worked with over 500 clients, been a business owner for 8 years+ and comes from a background in HR for Morgan Stanley, Shell and Citigroup
"Anybody can do a weekend course in Slough and call themselves a 'coach'," Rikke warned. "The difference with the way I work is that I've got a background in HR plus 8 years of career change advisory experience."
So what is it that you uniquely do? I asked her.
"I help mid-career professionals discover what they really want to do, so they can refocus, change careers or start their own business," Rikke explained. "I draw out and identify what's truly unique about my clients - their personality, interests, story and skills - and "translate" that into careers or businesses on their terms."
Like a management consultant for someone's life or career, I thought. A consultant to help people exit the prisons they construct for themselves.
"Self-sabotage results from a misguided attempt to rescue ourselves from our own uncomfortable feelings, rather than dealing with them," Rikke said. "The problem is that rather than solving the problem or making those uncomfortable feelings go away, they actually get worse or intensify."
I thought about members like Adrian, who had taken a few steps towards trying to break out of his current career, before giving up because he hadn't found an easy escape route.
"It can seem scary to get out of your comfort zone and decide to leave what you perceive as a "safe job." However, I would suggest that the most empowering thing you can do in this new economy is to take full responsibility for your career by knowing what you really want, what you have to offer and what to call that in a way that makes you stand out from the crowd."
She then went on to talk about a number of common self-sabotage scenarios she saw occurring, particularly at the early part of the career change process.
"All or Nothing"
A very common one is the "all or nothing" scenario - where corporate professionals believe there is no point in even considering a career change unless it's a truly dramatic one, usually involving lots of re-training, certifications and a drastic salary cut, like going from being an investment banker to becoming a social worker.
"This belief can be really damaging since all it makes you do is focus on the sacrifices, time and effort it would take," Rikke explained. "However, a career change is rarely a case of all-or-nothing scenarios."
She added, "More often than not, the process is about identifying exactly how much (or little) of a career change you really need or want AND ensuring you are both emotionally and intellectually fully onboard with the changes you want to make."
"External Search First"
Another trend that literally sabotages wannabe career changers right out of the gate is to start off the career change process by looking "externally" first.
Rikke outlined that this includes talking to recruitment consultants and focusing on everything that is a manned by a "gate keeper" or being an indicator of you not having what it takes.
"This only increases your feelings of lack," she said. "A successful career change starts from the inside out and self-knowledge is key. So make sure you get clear about what you really want and what you have to offer before seeking external input and opinion."
She articulated what I often see with our Escape the City members. "There are also a lot of professionals who get totally stuck in their unhappy career scenario because they don't know what else they can do "with what they've got." As if their past work history somehow dictates their future and the number of career options available to them."
Instead, she suggested, "Approaching the initial career change process by focusing on what you really want - irrespective of your past - is key here, as is effective communication of your unique selling points."
"Too much research, not enough action"
Yet another trend is isolation and turning your career change into a never-ending project as opposed to a reality. However, opportunities (especially those related to career change and entrepreneurship) most often come attached to people.
"Rather than hiding away behind your computer "researching" excessively, you really need to get out and connect with people in the field you want to go into - by attending events, courses and especially social gatherings," Rikke argued.
She said that it was important to inform friends and contacts know what you are up to - if they don't, they can't help you. "It never ceases to amaze me how many of my client's career change kicks into high gear when they actually start using networking as a key tool!"
Where do you start?
I agree with all of Rikke's advice. Also, whenever I meet members like Adrian, I also recommend the following steps:
- Read the Escape Manifesto and realize that you are not alone - there are thousands of other Escape members going through the exact same issues.
- If you want results fast, try to engage with a coach - one who you get along with. Often coaches will offer a free consultation first.
- Be patient both with yourself and with the process, which can take up to 2-3 years (not 2-3 months).
- Take time to look internally first instead of externally. As Rikke also concluded:
Think really BIG when it comes to identifying what you would love to do instead of your current job. Don't make your career history so far the measure by which things are "available" to you - instead pick or design what you truly want!
Make sure you focus as much on developing your ideal "job description" (WHAT you want to spend your day doing and WHO with) as you do on the actual subject. You might love yoga, but that doesn't mean you would enjoy being a yoga teacher. Whereas teaching yoga teachers how to run a profitable business might just be your cup of tea!
Being pragmatic by nature, I help my clients get clear about the motivation behind their desire for a career change - why do they need a career change, how much of a career change do they really need and what is it they are hoping to gain, lose, experience and so on in the process.
By reviewing their career so far, they are able to identify what they want to let go of and what they want to continue to build on, and get a keen sense of what they have to offer that makes them unique.
Once that is clear, we can then focus on designing their ideal career or business, or in some cases just look at the finessing they need to do in order to get back on track. Self-knowledge, practical know-how and professional advice make all the difference.
You don't have to go it alone.
Adele Barlow is the Education Director for Escape the City, an online platform for over 140,000 corporate professionals around the world who want to 'do something different' with their careers. You can also read this essay at The Escape School.