Have you ever been offered the opportunity to work with a career coach through your company? Or have you thought about investing in one yourself? I’ve had the privilege to work with a few career coaches over my last 20 years of working. The first opportunity was provided by my company in the form of a 360-evaluation followed by a set of follow up meetings with a professional coach to discuss the results and how I could learn from the assessment. My second experience was more recent when I was struggling to figure out how to be happy at work following the pandemic. Essentially that experience aided me in making my most recent leap into a new role, new location, and new segment of the food industry. In reflecting on these experiences with career coaches, I realized I took away three major lessons that will stick with me and have made me a better employee, leader, and person overall.
The first lesson I learned is that I was letting my beliefs from childhood infiltrate my actions as an adult. Holding these beliefs was hurting my career and ability to grow beyond the role I was in. In fact, had I not met with the career coach and completed the 360 I may have ceased my ability to move up in my career, stalled out, or worse yet, been demoted. I held a belief that my thoughts and opinions did not matter because I was the youngest person and the only woman on the leadership team. I was taking the idea of respecting your elders too far and it resulted in me holding back on sharing my thoughts. I let the voices of society around youth and women in the workplace get the better of me.
If you’ve never taken a 360-evaluation before, you fill out the survey individually and then a collection of people including direct reports, peers and even your boss complete the same survey. I learned from the data that I rated myself a lot lower in the areas of ‘power’ and ‘impact’ than anyone else who filled out the survey. My coach shared that this disconnect indicated that the people I worked with did value my opinion and respected the things I said. This was a huge help for me to know that I wasn’t being seen as less valuable because of my age or my gender. With this information, I have been able to change my thinking, speak up with confidence, and reach heights I only dreamed of at my age. What beliefs are you holding onto from your childhood that could be holding you back?
My more recent learning was from a coach that I sought out and paid for myself. I saw the value in my first interaction with a coach and knew I needed some help to work through my emotions when my work changed greatly due to the pandemic. This time, I sought out what was holding me back from being able to be my best not only in business but also life in general. There were two major ah-ha’s this time around.
- I learned that I have a natural tendency to see everything in black and white. There is very little gray in my life. And when things are either black or white, naturally, one is right, and one is wrong. In reflecting on why I think this way, I was again taken back to my childhood where I grew up in a religious lifestyle where there was judgement towards those who didn’t worship the same or live by the same teachings. I’m not here to say religion is bad. What is bad is the judgement that can come from the teachings and a belief that living in one religious belief is right and anything else is wrong. This right and wrong played true in many things throughout my young life. Straight A’s were “right” and anything but that was “wrong”. Drinking alcohol outside the home before you were 21 was “wrong” and anyone doing that was also “wrong”. I’m sure you can get the point. The problem with this as I aged was that I continued to see things in the same way. When I left the religion I grew up with, I felt guilty for years because I was doing the “wrong” thing. I have since learned a different way to remain spiritual that better fulfills my personal needs. Recently I started seeing the situation around vaccinations as “right” and “wrong” and this brought along worry, fear, anger, and guilt. I realize I’m getting into very gray territory here which is the point. It is ok for life to be gray. Only by identifying I’m thinking about a topic using my childhood beliefs of black and white, can I truly separate my feelings from the lies in my head. I’m not here to discuss vaccination. I am here to try to open minds to understanding of both sides of any emotionally charged topic, accept varying opinions and the choices people make. Judgement only harms the judger. I’ll admit, I’m still working on this change in thought process, and it is not easy because I’ve been practicing black and white for 40+ years. I will keep working on it because doing so brings me more peace in my life.
- Another major “ah-ha” for me revealed through coaching is how politically correct I am. Again, I was drawn back to my childhood for the source of this. I was raised to be well-behaved, be respectful to everyone (even if I didn’t agree), and to be quiet rather than loud (this goes back to church again). I want to clarify at this point that me being this way is not my parent’s or religion’s fault. These idiosyncrasies were created completely by me taking teachings to the furthest degree and holding onto them as gospel (ha, see what I did there)! I have told myself for years that I need to lay low – absolutely no discussion of politics, money, or religion at work. I was resistant to enter any conversation at work or even with friends and family that could be controversial. I was afraid that in saying something I would offend at least 50% of the people around me and I didn’t want to create negative feelings towards me in concern I would be shunned or disinvited. This behavior played into everything I did. I wouldn’t send friend requests to co-workers on Facebook out of fear that I might post something to offend them. I would not participate in conversations that fell into political areas. I was afraid to use a swear word at work. I didn’t get close to people at work because of these practices. Again, I have been working to change this over time, dipping my toe in having conversations that could be controversial and reaching out to others to make connections rather than guarding myself. I will not say I’m cured but I can say that I see the benefits already so I will continue to open myself up.
If you ever get the chance to spend time with a career coach, say yes. Some employers will even support the cost if you present it as part of your development plan. The worst they can do is say no. I have found my experiences to be worthwhile and to reveal deep held beliefs that have held me back. Working on and getting past these beliefs can be enlightening and bring joy to your life and career not imagined while holding onto them. If you are seeking out a career coach, I have a couple I can highly recommend and there are lots out there covering many different areas of expertise. Reach out to me if I can help.