As a coach, I work with clients all the time who struggle to make tough career decisions. Here’s what’s interesting about this: usually they’re so focused on trying to find a solution that they don’t notice that they’re not sure what the real problem is.
Here’s an example. Joseph is struggling because he’s not happy with his job: the work isn’t interesting, his boss is a jerk, and the organization is overly political. The solution, clearly, is to find a new job which fixes these three problems.
But wait a second. After some good discussions with Joseph, we uncover some more fundamental needs that he has from a job:
- He enjoys learning new things – that’s a key for what makes a job interesting to him.
- He’s not comfortable with defending his position to others who are confrontational, which doesn’t work well with a boss who likes to challenge and push.
- That tendency toward introversion also makes it tough for him to promote himself in the current organization, which means that others who are more vocal tend to get noticed and rewarded in a way which feels “political.”
Two important things happened with this shift. First, the original statement of the problem was largely outside Joseph’s control, so his primary responses are either fight or flight. He was able to shift that to statements where he understands his own needs and decisions.
As a result, the domain of the solution shifted. A fight or flight response leads Joseph to look for escape from the job, escape from the pressures, resentment, or even sabotage. When he understands his own role in the situation, he can now make more intelligent choices. Realizing that he tends toward introversion, he can develop some key skills which will make him more effective. And even if he doesn’t stay in this job much longer, those skills will likely be useful in other roles too.
When Joseph is looking for his next job, this deeper understanding will help him to look for a better environment – not just to escape from the current problems. In fact, when job-seekers look only at their skills and qualifications, they often end up with similar dissatisfaction in their new jobs.
Here’s my advice. When you’re looking to understand the “problems” in your current job situation, ask yourself these questions:
- Why is that the case?
- What is it about me that helps make the situation what it is?
- What am I really looking for?
Better yet, have a trusted friend ask you these questions – you may be surprised with what it brings out!
by Carl Dierschow