This photo depicts the sum total of my vegetable gardening efforts for this year. A solitary tomato (there were a few others, but the squirrels beat me to them) and an unruly bunch of Brillo-tough parsley–that’s it. Sigh.
Every spring, I have such grand plans for the new growing season! I buy tiny pots of herbs, purchase multiple little tomato plants, order seeds for carrots and melons that never get planted and start gardening–my willingness a triumph of hope over experience. What do I do this?
Insanity has been defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. I’m clearly stuck in a loop of what I think I can/should do and reality. In truth? I don’t even like vegetable gardening (amply demonstrated by my sprawling, unstaked tomato plants and lettuces so tough even the neighborhood bunnies won’t munch on them).
There’s an old saying about persistence that says, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” I’ve decided that’s actually pretty terrible advice. As a coach, I tell my clients, “If at first you don’t succeed, try something else!” I need to take my own advice, so I am making a public declaration that next year it’s mint for my iced tea and that’s it.
But enough about me. This annual gardening fiasco is a metaphor for how we can get trapped doing something we’re not any good at and don’t even like all that much anyway. But old habits (and expectations) die hard. As a coach, I see this kind of stuckness all the time in clients who cling to jobs they hate, industries they care nothing about and even locations where they no longer want to live. My role is not just to help them see new possibilities, but to dare to even look.
Why is change so hard? Why are we unwilling to leave situations we’re not fully engaged in? A horrible job is one thing, but it’s even harder to leave a mediocre job for the great unknown (better the devil you know, etc.) One of the things that seems to help my clients is to take a step back and focus first on who they are right now in their life as a whole and what they want their future to look like. I am fond of saying that career planning starts as an inside job: understanding who you are irrespective of your job, identifying the things you are not only good at but enjoy doing and telling the truth to yourself about what you discover is a great way to move beyond self-imposed limitations.
A clear sense of identity and the belief that change is possible often gives clients the courage to start exploring what careers/jobs/callings other people who are “wired” like them pursue. As they discover like-minded/hearted individuals, they gain greater perspective and understanding where their competence is needed and wanted boosts their confidence naturally.
Once it gets to the point of a job search–whether a career continuation, a pivot/shift or a radical change–they are well-prepared to keep themselves at the center of the process. Evaluating every bit of research, every networking conversation, every interview in terms of its impact on them helps them discover if they are more interested or less so after further exposure. Refining their search via an ongoing action/reflection process eventually yields the results they seek: a new role doing work they want as well as can do for a boss who gets and appreciates who they are and what they bring in an organization with a culture consistent with their values as well as goals. That is the harvest they reap.
Often, it’s a matter of evaluating and repositioning skills for an appropriate context. While my backyard vegetable gardens are a constant disappointment, my front flower garden is so lush that even discarded grocery store mums come back the next season as gigantic vast-sized balls of flowering glory. Focus is everything!
Even if your career experience to date has looked more like my meager veggie garden than my abundant flower bed, there is hope. The philosopher Voltaire remarked, “We must cultivate our garden.” Very true, but in terms of career as well as botany, make sure you pick the right sort of garden, prepare the soil thoroughly, plant consciously and weed regularly. You reap what you sow, so make your actions count. You can do it; we can help. Let’s talk.
Day Merrill, M.A., is the founding Partner and Career/Executive Coach for 2BDetermined. She is a 30-year career services professional with expertise coaching individuals and teams on a range of career and work-related topics as well as consulting to organizations in Canada and the U.S. on their workforce development needs. Day holds a B.A. from Connecticut College, a Master of Arts from Wesleyan University and has completed Coach U’s coach certification training.