Career Counseling: Myth or Magic?

directionIt doesn’t take an economic downturn to make many people reconsider their careers, their jobs, and their lifestyles. All kinds of changes can make you reevaluate your priorities, but they can also leave you feeling bewildered.

When I found myself in just such a discombobulated state a few years ago, I decided to try career counseling. It wasn’t disaster that prompted me to seek guidance; it was the fact that I had no ambition, no professional goals. A friend of a friend was a career counselor, so I thought I’d give it a try. The sessions were affordable and tax-deductible, so why not?

The Myth

Career counseling seemed intimidating to me — a bit like life coaching or personal training. Perhaps there’d be a whole lot of unnecessary pressure to perform. Perhaps I’d become obsessed with salaries and KPIs and moving ever “upwards.” Perhaps I’d emerge from counseling a changed woman: a ruthless, power-dressing career gal willing to stop at nothing to get to the top…

The Reality

Of course, it wasn’t like that at all. The nature and direction of career counseling depends on two people: you and the counselor. My counselor had a laid-back, considered, non-confrontational style, which worked perfectly for me. The first time we spoke (we conducted the counseling via phone) she asked me what I wanted to get out of counseling, then explained a procedure we’d use to explore my interests and experience, and develop goals from them.

It all sounds very simple now, but she had me undertake a range of tasks — reflective and proactive — that made me focus on the kinds of work issues most of us take for granted: thinking about where I wanted to be in a year’s time, two years’ time, and so on; assessing my interests as potential revenue streams; reviewing my perceptions of what comprised “working life,” “career,” “a profession” and similar constructs.

The counseling occurred over three hour-long sessions. I didn’t have to lie on a couch and talk about my childhood dreams of being an astronaut. And the only “analysis” involved me poring over the job ads looking for anything — anything — that remotely piqued my fancy, then working out why an ad for a pastry chef or groundsman appealed to a marketing writer.

The Magic

At the end of the process, I actually had goals. They weren’t goals I could achieve overnight, and they weren’t particularly concrete (e.g. by the time I’m 40, I want to be earning $x), but they were my goals, and I had strategies for achieving each of them. At the time, they gave me a renewed sense of focus and passion for what I was doing. And now, years later, I still reconsider the longer-term goals every so often, to make sure they’re still current, and that I’m still on track.

Among the more important things I learned from the process was how to look beyond the superficialities of life, and the constraints of what I know about a particular field or specialty, to work out what I want. And I think this is a great asset. Could I have done this on my own? If I’d known even where to start sorting this out, I wouldn’t have bothered looking for help.

Of course, depending on your needs and your counselor, your outcomes might be wildly different from these. What do you think: could it help you get a grip on your future?

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