Career success looks different for everybody.
What does success look like for you? Maybe you want the flexibility to pursue an interest outside of work, or maybe you're looking for a more fulfilling direction or a better workplace environment.
Because people differ in their dreams and goals, I've collected a few stories of real-life clients so you can see the journey for yourself. Their circumstances are different, but you'll notice a common starting point of confusion, frustration, and stuckness. Read on to see how they achieved the career success they craved.
*Note: names and identifying information have been changed.
Kelly's Journey from Perfectionism to Progress
Kelly thought she'd made a mistake by taking her current job. She was an intelligent and curious woman but was having trouble finding work in her creative field. Instead, she settled for an "okay" job in a small town to make ends meet.
She was bored stiff but couldn't see what else she was qualified to do. She was also unsure about leaving a workplace so soon after her hiring date.
Kelly was so afraid of making the wrong move that she wasn't doing anything.
Job-searching filled her with anxiety, but so did the thought of staying where she was. Any kind of career satisfaction or success seemed unrealistic and out of reach.
She thought she had to get everything right on the first try and ended up trapped by her own high expectations. Like many smart people (especially recovering perfectionists), she spent a lot of time in her head and easily worked herself into a spiral of self-judgments that kept her even more paralyzed.
She needed a way to calm her fears and conquer her perfectionism so she could move forward.
Over time, we worked together to tease out the judgments and assumptions that were keeping her stuck. She also learned some techniques for calming her anxiety.
"I'm starting to realize my anxiety isn't my fault," she told me. "I'm not doing anything wrong, it's just something that's happening in my brain. I just have to wait for it to pass."
With each session, she recovered more of her self-confidence.
Soon, with my encouragement, she started sending out job applications. Eventually she got an offer for an administrative position at a university in a large city.
The pay and benefits were better than she'd ever had before. Additionally, moving to the city gave her more opportunities to share her creative work and build a community of like-minded people. Her husband was even able to find a better job soon after they moved!
Since we worked together, Kelly's professional and personal life has flourished. She's gained success and recognition in her creative work and recently negotiated a promotion at her day job. She and her husband are enjoying more financial stability and life satisfaction than ever before.
Maria Moves from Ambivalence to Ambition
Maria was feeling conflicted about moving on from her non-profit job. "Even if I do decide to leave, I'm not sure what I would do instead," she told me. She came to me to get some clarity and figure out what success meant for her in the next stage of her professional life.
We needed to clear up her mixed feelings so she could see her options clearly.
Even though she was feeling burnt-out and frustrated, her job gave her a strong community and a positive sense of identity. My first step was help her see that she could have both of those things independently of her job.
Together, we looked at ways that she could maintain her community outside of the office. We also explored the ways that conflating her identity with her job performance was actually making it harder for her to accept setbacks and contributing to her frustration and paralysis. I challenged her to practice letting go of disappointing outcomes at work, which helped her stay more engaged day-to-day and freed up energy to start exploring other options.
Next, we looked to her past to determine her future.
We started her career exploration by examining her past and present employment experiences (a similar process to the one in my free Dream Job Workbook) to gather clues about what she might want to do next.
After that, it was easy to identify themes and chart out some broad areas to explore. Once we cleared all the other mind clutter out of the way, she knew what she wanted to do.
Maria ended up moving on started a part-time job to pay the bills while exploring other opportunities in her community and saving up for a professional training program. She was working towards her "dream job" (now that she knew what it was!) and feeling optimistic and excited about the future. I can't wait to see what she accomplishes next!
Crystal Rebounds from Disappointment
Six months previously, Crystal had bet everything on a job (and a relationship) out-of-state. Once she got there, it turned out that neither was what she hoped it would be. Her "Plan A" had fallen through.
She returned home after a few months of misery and found a part-time office job. It was a tenuous position and she wasn't sure how long it would be around or what she should do next.
When I met Crystal, her enthusiasm and confidence were at an all-time low. She didn't know what she wanted and had lost faith in her own abilities. What's more, she was known in her friend group for being "the positive one." Her friends weren't sure what to do with this unfamiliar and beaten-down version of Crystal.
First and foremost, she needed a place to be herself.
As Crystal told me about the fears and disappointments that she couldn't share with her friends and family, I noticed something unusual. She would say that she felt confused about something and then immediately follow up with a very clear opinion.
Towards the end of the hour, I pointed this out. "You have good instincts that you've been able to trust in lots of different situations. The problem isn't that you don't know what you want - I think it's that you don't trust yourself to be right."
She looked so relieved - and who can blame her? Because of one failure, she'd stopped believing in her ability to make good decisions. I sent her out into the world with the homework to respect her instincts instead of automatically dismissing them.
Developing self-trust was her key to moving forward.
Crystal continued to build her self-trust as we planned her next steps. She learned to tune out the conflicting messages from friends and family so that she could stay true to herself. She also developed skills for staying calm and centered during stressful times.
By the time we said goodbye, she’d decided to go back to school and get her degree in a field that had always interested her. She was glowing with enthusiasm as she shared her plans with me.
When I checked in with Crystal a few months later, she had already experienced great success. She loved her program, had found a job that was actually helping her pay for her degree, and was even in a new relationship. "Everyone has said how different I am," she told me. "I feel so much more confident in my ability to have the kind of life I want."
Joy Uses Her Day Job to Fund Her Dream Job
Joy didn't feel like a good fit for her job. She told me, "I was excited to transfer to this department, but I've been here over a year and it's like I can't do anything right. I think this is what I want to do, but my boss is always criticizing me and I can't seem to turn in the kind of work he's looking for. Maybe I'm just not cut out for this job."
As soon as we started working together, Joy had an epiphany. All of her favorite experiences took place in nature. "It became so clear to me - if I could do anything, I would buy a ranch and raise horses."
Her next step was learning to balance her long-term and short-term goals.
Success! Joy now had an end goal. Our work together from then on took on a different focus: making her current job bearable so that she could save her money and get the training she needed before making the leap.
Challenge #1: interacting with her difficult boss.
With my help, Joy let go of wanting her boss to be a mentor and learned to accept him the way he was. She also had to let go of her need for his approval - not just of her work, but of her personally.
This was hard work, but he became a lot easier to deal with once she was able to come from a place of healthy detachment.
Challenge #2: balancing her job's requirements with her own need for self-expression.
She identified very strongly with her work and wanted it to have her own personal stamp. Unfortunately, that wasn't what her company was looking for.
Instead, we looked for ways that she could give her creativity a voice outside of work so that she didn't feel like she had to get everything from her job. She was very activist-minded and quickly found a few causes that were happy to accept her talents.
Her hard work paid off immediately.
Once Joy started having success in detaching from those two things (her work and her boss's approval), she started completing projects faster and received more positive feedback from her team. She signed up for an introductory ranching class in the area so that she could learn more about it and connect with others who had the same dream.
In her personal life, she found it easier to speak up and set boundaries with other people. She told me, "The biggest thing is realizing that I have more control over my situation than I thought. I was so used to feeling powerless, but now I can see how I contributed to that experience. My goal now is to focus on what I can do to create the best possible outcome for myself."
Dan Demonstrates the Power of Patience
When we started working together, Dan didn't know what he wanted from his next career. He felt embarrassed that he didn’t have his life figured out yet, which made it hard for him to move forward. Even the thought of looking at jobs online or updating his LinkedIn profile made him anxious.
During our time together, Dan learned how to make peace with the self-critical thoughts that were keeping him stuck. Reaching out to his network and interviewing for jobs no longer seemed so terrifying. By the end of the program, he was much clearer about what he wanted and willing to take some risks to get it.
Fast-forward a few months.
Dan called to update me on his situation. He had been applying to jobs that interested him: humanitarian roles that used his gifts for research and education. So far, he hadn't had any luck. He was discouraged because he wanted to be able to share a success story about finding a perfect job.
As far as I was concerned, his progress was a success. He knew what he wanted and was taking action to get it, which was more than he’d been able to do before. He was doing all the right things, and I knew it was only a matter of time before an opportunity showed up.
And then a few months after that...
I got an e-mail: “I have some exciting news to share!” He had received a job offer from a local nonprofit that was a perfect match for his experience, strengths, values, and interests. It was a short distance from his home and offered stability, decent pay, and benefits. “I wanted to land somewhere and this looks wonderful,” he said.
As we talked, it turned out that he’d applied to the job more than two months ago and had only just heard back from them. I asked if he had any advice for people in similar situations and this is what he had to say:
Don’t underestimate the power of a structured day. "The work we did of putting structure into my day gave me morale and gave my 'monkey mind' something to do. It made me less anxious to go to bed at night because I had a plan for the next morning."
Act as if good something positive could just be around the corner and treat yourself that way. "This whole experience was like getting a surprise gift from a friend. I felt crappy, but someone had been planning this all along: that's how it felt when they liked my resume and called me back. I felt down, but something good was coming down the pipe for me and I didn’t know it."
Playing the long game paid off.
Dan has now been in his role for over a year and still enjoys it - in fact, he's considering a return to school to develop his skill set even more. His success is a constant inspiration and reminder to me of what happens when you just keep showing up.
What's the thing keeping you stuck?
Is it the need to get everything right? The fear that you'll never have it better than you do now? The lack of clarity about what you want instead?
The people in these case studies aren't special. More accurately, they aren't more special than you. They haven't done anything amazing that you couldn't do with motivation and guidance. They are proof that change is possible, but it can be difficult if you don’t know where to start.