Early in my recovery journey, holding down a job was an epic achievement, equal to caring for a houseplant or keeping my house clean. However, as I worked my program, the sheer dedication, strategic thinking and focus that made me a very successful yet destructive addict suddenly began to pay huge dividends in the professional arena. It seemed like I was on my way!
What followed, however, was a period of self-sabotage, where I kept moving from one job to the next, never really gaining traction in any of them. Fortunately, my difficulties gave birth to a vocation that has given me a real sense of purpose and joy – career coaching. I have been fortunate to work with hundreds of people as they navigate their professional journeys through the prism of recovery.
Recovering addicts tend to need help with career uncertainty and career sabotage. It can be challenging to get our bearings in a new career landscape. While many people become workaholics in one career, others experience the opposite. Despite being strong in their recovery programs, they struggle to stay present in their jobs. This is what happened to me.
Life is dominated by big decisions. Our ingenuity as human beings has created a range of extraordinary opportunities which require careful navigation. One of our greatest creations, the map, helps us navigate these important junctions and find our way to what is most important to us.
Many of us wake up and immediately begin perusing the map of applications on our phones. We jump into our cars and use map apps to navigate to a doctor’s appointment on the other side of town. We trust our physicians because they have studied anatomic maps of the body and are trained to recognize signs of ill health and disease. The Twelve Steps also provide an effective map for success in our recovery journeys.
Maps are crucial to getting where we want to go, finding our way when we get lost and avoiding dangers along the way.
Career planning is one of the most critical areas in which a map is essential. We spend one third of our lives at work. Jobs allow us the opportunity to provide for our families, express our passions and contribute toward society through talents.
In the past, parents and teachers helped us map our careers. We relied on career diagnostic maps to generate a list of possible careers supported by a theoretical model of our strengths and personality profiles. Once in a job, the organization’s HR manager was available to point out various paths to career advancement.
Today’s career landscape has changed. The traditional maps we’ve relied on to navigate new choices or get us to our ideal career are redundant in light of the far more complex values and choices which cannot be captured with conventional career guidance techniques.
Career uncertainty is at an all-time high. The age of having one job for life is over. In light of these changes, it is important to create a map that can help us make multiple career changes over time. It is inherently challenging to offer long-term career advice. With such fierce competition and everchanging technology, professions can become obsolete overnight.
Today’s career-minded individual is no longer a passive user of a map created by someone else. While our parents may have seen work as a duty and enjoyed defined roles, our generation wants to do work about which we are passionate – work that gives our lives a sense of meaning and offers an ideal work-life balance where we can be both good parents and good providers. We are becoming our own mapmakers, identifying new career options through entrepreneurship, freelancing and working remotely.
The range of career choices is unprecedented. New ideas are explored through online forums and are tested and developed through crowdfunding campaigns. Unique value propositions are sold directly to a global network of more than three billion connected consumers.
Social networks bombard us with new ideas of what our careers and lives could be; our imagination is gripped by thoughts of doing something meaningful. We witness friends beginning the must-have MBA, crowdfunding start-ups, embarking on exciting sabbaticals or commercializing a cottage industry; however, behind these halos of success are the very real struggles experienced as they attempt to change or develop their careers. We unconsciously attach pleasure to this illusory destination, though we have no idea what the reality may be.
Every second, we are hit with roughly 2,000 bits of stimulation: our beating heart, the hum of the air conditioner, the sensation of our feet on the floor, or the sound of these words in your head as you read this article. Our brains are overwhelmed by the constant stimulation. To help us focus on what is most important, our brains have developed a sophisticated mechanism called the Reticular Activating System (RAS).
The RAS is very good at finding specifics. If you’re hungry, it will help you notice restaurants. If you decide to buy a new VW Golf, you begin seeing them everywhere you go. However, the RAS can be stymied by the hundreds of career options related to one’s spectrum of experience, skills, interests, passions, values and talents. Many people can only endure so much of this before losing motivation and momentum.
To help people navigate through the overwhelming options for finding a career, I work with them to create a map called a Career Constellation. This map provides a bird’s eye view of the career and business ideas related to the individual’s unique combination of passions, values, abilities and interests. People can conduct research, attend networking meetings, and take a day off here and there to do valuable observation, mini-apprenticeships or follow a course, all without leaving their current job. Once their map is complete, people are able to make better decisions about their career path.
It is by being willing to explore new opportunities that we realize the change we desire can be of our own making. Taking the steps toward a new career will help us to better understand our own selves in the process. As T.S. Eliot famously wrote, “We will not cease from our exploration, and the end of our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
Jeremy Behrmann is a career coach and the author of Breakaway, a journal of personal recovery and his quest to discover a vocation. He helps people in recovery discover meaningful careers that support their long-term sobriety.