Your Career is Not a Problem to be Solved


One of the things I’ve noticed during the past 15 years of assisting individuals through career transitions is that successful transitions have a creative orientation.  What I mean by that is the distinction between a problem-solving mentality and a creating mentality.


Many people don’t like their jobs, and want to change.  For them, career transition is about taking action to get rid of something they don’t want, i.e. the problem, the unwanted situation, the conflict.  


There’s a reason for this.  Our scientific-engineering-driven society is all about problem-solving. It’s easy to talk about what needs fixing because so much does. But the mobilization of people through problems is always temporary. It works best during a crisis, like times of war. People who may not usually agree with each other can quickly join together for what seems to be a vital cause.


Crisis is often what motivates people who want to change jobs.  What gets them started on changing their careers is the intensity of their career pain. Once they take action, even if the action doesn’t work particularly well, there is less intensity of the problem. That leads to less future action, because the motivation to act has weakened.  In their minds, they have fixed the problem of pain because it is less intense.


The cycle is always the same: more intensity leads to action which lessens the intensity which leads to less future action.  In fact, what often happens is that the person stays in the same job, or gets a similar job, because the intensity of the career pain has diminished ergo problem solved!


This is not a bad thing per se. There is nothing wrong with improvising, hoping one thing leads to another well enough that you fall into the situations you would hope for. It is simply a less reliable approach.


What is more likely to happen is more reaction to circumstances, a kind of running on a treadmill where every action brings you back to where you started.


If the prevailing circumstances drive us, then we have one of two limited choices: to react or to respond. In either case, the circumstances are in charge and we simply react to them…over and over again.


We spend a lot of time “fixing” problems driven by circumstances. It is easy to organize around problems. You don’t have to think. The problem (the circumstances) drive motivation, focus, and even the types of action you would take.


And yet nothing really changes. Solving all your problems doesn’t mean you will have what you want. The underlying structural problems remain.  We might have a new job title, a bigger paycheque, and we put on a brave face that we’ve really got it together…but our soul continues to shrivel up and die! 


Even though people make superficial changes, the underlying issues eat away, and often manifest into stress disorders or more serious illnesses.  Personal health is a place where the difference between a problem mentality and an outcome mentality is enormous.


The traditional medical approach is to problem solve.  After all, much of modern medicine was developed on battlefields over the past 200 years, and we have a lot to be thankful for in terms of modern medical procedures and pain control protocols.


However, our medical system today is not over-burdened by gunshot wounds.  Instead, it is collapsing under the weight of so-called “lifestyle” illnesses.


Modern medicine is learning that health is a holistic issue that involves not only the physical dimension of an individual but emotional, psychological, even spiritual aspects of life. You can’t use problem solving to build anything long term. 


Taking action to get rid of something is the opposite of taking action to give birth to something.


This creative orientation was clearly outlined by Robert Fritz in his ground-breaking book, The Path of Least Resistance, when he introduced a powerful organizing principle in creating our lives–structural tension.


Your career is not a problem to be solved. It is a creation in process. This tension comes from knowing the end result you want to create, and knowing where we are in reality at any given moment. Tension is formed by the difference or contrast between our desired state and our actual state, and this tension is dynamic, a positive force.


I have seen many of my successful clients hold this structural tension as they make their next moves. They have a clear picture of their right work.  They look at their current reality objectively and accurately (easier said than done because of the negative circumstances they often live with).


When they know the very next step they are about to take in the context of the overall outcome they want to create, suddenly the energy they need is there in abundance. They become creative and focused. They move with momentum. They do not have to get “pumped up” because they are already on the move. 


Of course, the creative process begins with the question, “What do I want to create?” Without the end in mind, you are left to drift in and out of problem-solving.


Individuals that make successful career transitions have a clear end in mind. That is why a career assessment is so crucial to a successful transition.  If you leave your current job, where would you go, what would you do there?  Answering these two questions with some clarity gets the ball rolling.


The outcome doesn’t need to be all that clear at the outset to set the process in motion, just clear enough that you know what you want to create.


This, then, makes the question of your starting point immediately relevant: where am I now in relationship to where I want to be? 


Career transition is not a “to do” list followed mindlessly. Every move is related to the final outcome, and occurs within the context of structural tension


There is always a next move. Our lives are in motion, even when they seem to be standing still. The question is, to what degree can we determine the next move, and will it lead us where we want to go? 


Contrast that with not knowing the next move. When people do not have a picture of what they really want in terms of their career, they often need to force themselves into action.


They feel blocked or feel like they are running in a circle, with the same old thoughts, same old ideas, same old same old. Just because the underlying structure you may be in leads to lethargy, doesn’t mean you have a block or a psychological condition. You are simply in the wrong structure.


Change the structure, the so-called “block” goes away, and your creative juices become alive again. 


Without an organizing principle, it is hard to organize. And it is easy to make explicit what otherwise would have been implicit, the outcome you want to create. 


Once structural tension is established, the next step is the next step. I’m here, and my next move on the path to the overall accomplishment of my goal is just right over there. 

Career School of Rock n’ Roll

Summer is the season of music festivals.  Touring in a band is like managing a career change.  Here are the relevant lessons:

Lesson #1: Join the Right Band

Do you feel out of place, in a dead end job that neither satisfies or motivates at any level? Perhaps you are married to a lifestyle that demands constant touring and time away from home. You love country music, but find yourself in a jazz ensemble expected to improvise a solo performance instead of participating in a three-part harmony.

is Interactive survey uncovered the following statistics on American job satisfaction:

*          Across America, 45 percent of workers say they are either satisfied or extremely satisfied with their jobs. That means 55% are not.

*          Only 20 percent feel very passionate about their jobs.

*          33 percent believe they have reached a dead end in their career.

*          21 percent are eager to change careers.

This survey reveals that a lot of people are in the wrong band which helps to explain why so few bands really make it.

A good jobfit is like singing the right kind of music (the kind you like) with the right musicians (the ones you like). Like you, everyone has a role, the roles are well defined, and everyone pulls their weight. You have good gigs and bad gigs but a common vision helps the band endure the ups and downs of different expectations, different egos and personalities, different work circumstances.

Lesson #2: Play Your Own Music

Perhaps you have simply forgotten how to play your own music? You started out moving in one direction, then went another way, then another, and another. You chased money, opportunity, personal growth, professional advancement, travel, power, status, and other legitimate ends. And one day you woke up a complete stranger to yourself, feeling like an imposter, wondering when everyone else will catch you living this lie.

Like most bands, you learned very early that a band can make a living playing other people’s songs, but the your right work hinges on your ability to write, record, and sell your own songs. But staying true to your authentic self is not easy, especially if you never enjoy any success.  In the end, it isn’t your fault. If you are a recording artist, playing your own music is still the way to make the most money in that business.  Hang in there long enough and your turn will come.  Unable to gain any traction from early success, tensions rise in any band, and the band starts falling apart.  Staying true to your authentic self, your vision, your values is not easy.  It requires patience, persistence and courage.  Most of us give up far too early, for good reasons—marriages, mortgages, duties, obligations, bills to pay.

One of the most important things you can do is remember why you started down that path of passion in the first place– to honor that place inside yourself where the sound of your own music and sense of purpose is in harmony with who and what you are in terms of your right work.

Lesson #3: Good Marketing Trumps Good Talent

From the employer’s perspective, talent at some point becomes a “given” and the real differentiating factor for making a hiring decision is much more precise. By the time you get to an interview, the question is how your talent “fits” the employer’s need. So talent is important. People who can’t compete on talent don’t even get to that point in the discussion. But leveraging that talent into a particular set of employer problems/challenges/issues/pain points is what wins the job.

There are a lot of bands out there competing for your concert dollar.  There are many ways to spend your money.  The talent of a band is important but at the end of the day, there are a lot of bands with talent.  And the ones that get your money are the ones that focus marketing, passion, persistence, professionalism, and whatever name you assigned to the sensory assault of the massive light and sound equipment they travel with.  They might be selling talent, but you’re buying something else–an experience.

The same thing happens in a job search.  Employers are buying talent but there are lots of talented people in the marketplace.  It is very important to use marketing, passion, persistence, professionalism to get in front of an employer.  In the end, they will either like you or not.  It’s that intangible something or other that makes the difference in choosing you over another experience.  Your job is to make it as easy as possible for them to choose you.

Career consultants understand this and work everyday to optimize their client’s prospects of getting a job offer.  They can make a big difference in the way you are marketed through your resume, your interview performance, your follow ups, your salary negotiation, your probationary period.

Lesson #4: Listen When the Music Stops

For many people who lose their job, the music has stopped. Perhaps you feel uncomfortable with the silence?  Your first inclination is to try to make the same music again and again despite the fact that you don’t even like the music.

Use this gift of time to LISTEN to the internal voices that can guide you in the right direction. I understand the desire for job security.  However, studies show 80% of people are not passionate about what they do.  Somehow, people have bought into the false idea that job security and passion are mutually exclusive.  Many people are finding out, of course, that there is no real job security, and too often it comes at the price of losing the music inside us.

All music begins in silence.  Silence carries not only a message, but an answer, the right answer.  Now is the time to slow down, block out the noise, and LISTEN.

Your personal story is full of music, one that harmonizes with who and what you are in terms of your right work.  There are dozens of jobs that align with your authentic self.  All that is required is for you to slow down, listen for the rich sounds embedded in your stories, and follow the melody into a better job fit.