Taking Ownership - A Career Advantage

By Sunitha Narayanan

"People fail because they never organize their energies towards a defined goal." Elbert Hubbard

Dave's story begins with his lay-off from a director position with a local business in his home town. He came into the coaching relationship saying, "I haven't had a resume ever—I got my first job through my father's contacts and never gave it much thought…..I took on responsibilities and never thought I could do anything else." He also shared that he was unwilling to relocate from his hometown and that he was still looking to "grow up" and find his "ideal" job.

While gathering information on his accomplishments for his resume, something interesting happened. Each conversation consistently turned to accomplishments outside of Dave's work responsibilities and into his hobbies or childhood experiences. For example, he felt that one of his biggest accomplishments was completing and continuing to participate in, an annual bike race, across190 kilometers. Another achievement related to volunteering in the community to raise money for a local non-profit. Eventually, Dave concluded that his goal for the coaching relationship was to first focus on creating more order and balance in his life.

Did this realization happen quickly for Dave? Not at all. Confusion about what he really wanted to do, stress from financial needs and the burden of family expectations made the process of taking ownership for his career planning very difficult for Dave. He vacillated between looking for "a job" and taking the time to reflect on how he wanted to change his life and work for more fulfillment and joy. Here are some strategies that helped Dave take ownership for designing a vibrant and fulfilling work life.

Encouraging Visual Imagery
A simple, yet powerful concept of visual imagery helped identify key challenges of Dave's current career transition. In particular, two ideas worked very well for Dave. The first one was adapted from Dr. Rich Feller's online video presentation, "Career Coaching Clients for Success : 10 Lifelong Career Rules". Dave played with a "slinky", as demonstrated by Dr. Feller, to identify feelings of anger and disappointment, denial and confusion, relief and validation that accompanied this stage of transition. For the second exercise, Dave gave voice to physical characteristics of his "confusion." He described this confusion as being abandoned on an island, feeling short of breath and very helpless. As he was invited to add details to this imagery, Dave started noticing the blue sky, the warmth of sunshine and the gentle waves of the ocean. These details became significant in helping Dave recognize that he is naturally creative and resourceful; thus setting in motion a plan of action that was driven by him. These exercises also helped Dave understand and value that change brings both, risk and opportunity and that, a period of dormancy may hide growth and renewal.

Asking Provocative Questions
The concept of asking powerful questions to invite clients to action is described eloquently in Co-Active Coaching by Laura Whitworth and her co-authors. This tool was used to encourage Dave to come up with inquiry questions. Reflecting upon a variety of questions across several areas such as family, fun, work and life allowed him to create a picture of his core values, identify work and leisure interests and prioritize his skills. One of the benefits of this tool lies in the shift of power to the client—this is described by Whitworth et.al as "holding the client's agenda." Another exercise that Dave completed included using these questions to write a tribute to his work that celebrated his accomplishments over many years. This was a powerful exercise for Dave because it clearly brought out his unique gifts and helped him define his core philosophy of how he wanted to live his life. A powerful outcome using this tool was exploring career ideas that would give Dave a sense of deep fulfillment. One of his comments after this exercise was, "This was difficult…but it made me realize that if I didn't do these things…I would consider myself a failure." At this point of the coaching relationship, Dave was somewhat disheartened and struggled to "see" the tangible benefits of these exercises. At one point, he communicated that he'd rather "just look for a job." One idea that put the joy back into the coaching process was having Dave read aloud the goals he and the coach had decided upon in the beginning of their relationship.

Designing Job Descriptions
Dave continued to use visual imagery and reflective questions to define the essentials of his ideal work day. He designed several ideal work days to identify common themes across his values, skills and interests. He followed this with prioritizing and writing detailed job descriptions for his top three ideal day descriptions. Some areas that he looked closely at included writing the mission statement of his potential employer, size and history of the ideal organization and products, services and customers of this organization. Dave also included the personal characteristics of people working with him. The last section included elaborate information on his position title, daily tasks, challenges faced, soft skills required to be successful in this position and salary and benefits of his work. This exercise was a vital link between his aspirations and customized research on available opportunities. Some critical benefits of this process included:

· freedom to dream and discover his potential,

· recognition of the interrelatedness of making choices and

· conscious focus on his goals, while celebrating his journey towards his destination.

Celebrating the Journey
Over a period of three months, Dave continued to build a foundation based on thorough self-reflection. Today, he is pursuing his dream of working in a business that fits his most important value (work-life balance), meets his most prioritized interest (biking) and uses his most important skill set (informing and teaching concepts). The role of a coach in facilitating career ownership can be best described as a facilitator, one who challenges by asking questions, believes the client has the answers and gently prods them to clarify the confusion to come to a defined outcome. This responsibility is well explained by Laura Whitworth and her colleagues as, "dancing in the moment--- the ability to adjust, a willingness to change directions, recognize contradictions and keep going."


Career Coaching Clients for Success: 10 Life-Long Career Rules. Dr. Rich Feller online video. Retrieved July 2007 from http://www.ncda.org

Whitworth, L., Kinsey-House, Karen., Kinsey-House, Henry., & Sandahl, Phillip., Co-Active Coaching: New Skills for Coaching People toward Success in Work and Life. (2007) CA: Davies-Black Publishing, division of CPP Inc.

Sunitha Narayanan has masters degrees in Counseling and Higher Education. She offers career exploration, resume writing and job search services to individuals through her business Career Advantage, Ltd. Sunitha has previously published on topics such as managing transitions, exploring non-traditional job search strategies and networking joyfully. She teaches career exploration classes, study skills classes and job search strategies on the Middletown campus of Miami University, Ohio. Sunitha also consults with Promark/OI Partners, a nationally recognized career transitions firm headquartered in Cincinnati, OH. She can be reached at a.narayanan@fuse.net

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