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Path to the Life of Happiness

September 18, 2020

I received a call yesterday from my first client telling me she had just given her notice ending her 25 years with the company. My connection to this decision began three years ago and Helen’s journey presents a perspective on what it can take to leave a well-paid position, with significant authority in which she had spent years cultivating. Why would she do this?

Helen (name altered for privacy) joined her current company 25 years ago as an administrative assistant. She was recently divorced with a son in need of steady income. The company fit her moral compass in doing environmental impact studies for industries and municipalities. She worked her way up through the company gaining responsibilities through the operations area eventually becoming responsible for their proposal writing. She had ascended to become the third most important person in the company. The opportunity to climb further was limited as one of the two remaining spots was occupied by the owner. In addition to the limited number of positions possible, the culture from the earlier days was evolving in a direction away from what she once valued.

Ascending through the ranks, as Helen has, takes patience, persistence, and determination. The effort also resulted in her allegiance to the company’s founder and pride in the organization’s purpose. Choosing to leave something that has been a significant part of her life, foregoing the capital accumulated in the prestige and authority of her role within the company was not easy. She found on her personal annual goal list, one goal she was not making progress to achieve. She was stumped as to why this was so. This is perplexing for someone whose career benefited from her resolve and determination. She had reached a point of recognizing she needed help beyond herself to succeed in finding her next job.

We agreed to a six-month program. Helen was able to identify the next job she would want, identified where she would like to work and understood the credentials needed to be a candidate. She initiated study in a master’s program for the credentials, networked enough in the industry to learn what would be needed and which town governments would be favorable, and considered what life would be like in this new role. We also worked on how and where she would want to live. How her life would move to one that she loved in all areas was a framework from which she made choices. At the end of our time together, Helen understood what had been holding her back, as well as how to identify the choices that would contribute the most to her happiness so these would be included in her decisions. All of this in six months.

Confidence in Our Ignorance

What was missing for Helen was not the drive to achieve, or to create plans, or to intellectually understand what options were available. She needed support facing the unknown. She had developed her confidence within the structure at this one company. She knew the rules of this workplace and how to navigate its challenges. She was unaware of her question about this translating in other settings. This is true of some of the obstacles we face. The time spent specializing, achieving, or creating within a single company, or industry, or community offers us evidence and confidence of our capabilities within that framework. We won’t notice what skills gained from those experiences that fit a different frame. Even if we did see that connection, the dramatic gap can be the skills needed to transition from one job, industry or community into a completely different setting. Learning how to make this transition requires “confidence in our ignorance.” These were the skills that Helen learned with me, which set her up to call me three years later announcing she is to begin her new role in four weeks. She succeeded in transiting the gap from Environmental Field studies to Town Governance. What future do you dream about and find you don’t know how to get there? Talk with me, we will find your path.