Monday, July 16, 2012

Can a Leopard Change Its Spots? Facing the Need for Job or Career Change

by Craig Torell, M.A., M. Div., LAPC, LAMFT

The paperwork for new clients at Fountain Gate Counseling Center includes a list of unfinished sentences that the client must complete, such as “The most important thing to me is ...,” “I worry about …,” “What I do best is …,” and so forth; there are 24 sentences, covering a variety of feelings and perceptions about the client’s life and circumstances. In my time at Fountain Gate, the most common answer that I have seen on this list is the response to “My biggest disappointment is … .” Many clients complete this phrase by saying, “ … that I never went to [or finished] college.” In reality, this isn’t about a college degree for its own sake, but a statement of discontent over the individual’s current job, and despair over lost opportunities for adequate and productive employment.

Whether or not a particular job requires a college degree or other types of training, the prospect of job or career change can seem overwhelming or even impossible. Nevertheless, many people do it: According to a 2010 new release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor, “The average person born in the latter years of the baby boom held 11 jobs from age 18 to age 44. More than three-fifths of these jobs were held from ages 18 to 27.” [ref:]. The task of job or career change can be approached the same as any big challenge: Break the problem into small pieces and work on them one at a time. For example, at Fountain Gate we administer the Strong Interest Inventory, a questionnaire designed to help people discover and explore their personal “cloud” of interests, opening up new possibilities for career development. From there we work with clients to develop logical and attainable “next steps” in their career journey.

Here are some common objections we hear when it comes to changing jobs or careers:

·         Entrenchment: “I’ve done [my particular job] my whole life, like my father and grandfather before me – it’s all I know, there’s nothing else I could possibly do.”  

Think of a tree, tall and majestic, a picture of unchanging fortitude. And yet, even the “unyielding” tree will turn its branches to adapt to available sunlight if its surrounding environment changes. A tree can adapt – how much more can you, a human being with God-given intelligence?

·         End-of-the-Line: “It’s too late to start over – I’m too old.”

Change is possible at any stage in life. Although some occupations may require years of experience to master, it doesn’t take long even for a beginner to be fruitful and productive in many lines of work. It’s never too late to become what you were meant to be.

·         Inadequacy: “I don’t have what it takes.”

You will never know until you try. The most important ingredients for successful job or career change are willingness, adaptability, and perseverance. You simply must believe that you will “reap what you sow” – hard work and focus, in concert with prayer, can accomplish miracles. 

·         Diminishment: “I’m not as smart as I used to be.”

For some people, mental processing speed may peak in their 40’s, but all of us benefit from experienced-based knowledge, which continues to grow into old age. You may not be able to add a stack of numbers as fast as a 15-year-old, but there is no shortcut or substitution for wisdom gained over a lifetime. 

·         Construction Delays: “I can’t see how to get to where I want to be from where I am today. There’s no path – the bridge is out.”

Life change is rarely instantaneous – that’s why we refer to it as a “process” and a “journey.” It may take time, and that’s all the more reason to delay no longer. The challenge can be met by establishing and meeting small (sometimes very small), attainable goals: “The Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with a Single Step.”

On a personal note, my wife Deb and I returned to school in our mid-50’s, earned Masters degrees in Marriage and Family Therapy, passed two national licensing exams, and began Fountain Gate, a nonprofit counseling center that has grown to 9 counselors and 2 interns in 4 years, serving clients from 9 metro Atlanta counties. We have just opened a community farm and garden next to our counseling center, and we are actively working on expanding our programs into retreats and seminars, while also teaching counseling overseas. All of this is solely by the grace of God, who has enabled us to use what He has given us for good.

Job and career change is all about attitude and perspective – no one will do it for you, but be encouraged: The person in the mirror is more than capable of taking the right steps!