Dear Megan: Good for Nothin'?

If you have career or work-related questions of your own, please send them my way! You can submit them on the Dear Megan page. megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantHi Megan,

I'm hoping you can help me with an issue that keeps coming up for me as I've tried to find a career that I really enjoy. I've worked in veterinary medicine for a long time, not as a doctor, but as a receptionist, office manager, and now after some school, as a vet tech. I like what I do well enough, but throughout the years, I've always felt this nagging feeling that I was supposed to be doing something else.

I also don't feel like I'm very good at my job - to me, it's just become a paycheck, and I don't get a lot of praise from my boss. Last weekend, I was talking to my girlfriend about wanting to find a new line of work, and a scary thought popped into my head: what if I'm not really good at anything?

Do you think there are people who just aren't "gifted," as you say? Could I be one of them? 

Sincerely,

Good for Nothin'?


Dear Good for Nothin'?,

Thank you for sending your question in - it really warms my heart to receive these letters, and this topic in particular is one that I know haunts many of the people who read this blog. I so appreciate your honesty and the courage it takes for you to look this question dead in the eye.

What if I'm not really good at anything?

This question has kept me up at night as well, and while I don't know your age, I wonder if you might be part of a generation that was told over and over again how special and unique they are. That messaging can create a lot of pressure to then be special and unique in some grandiose, flashy way.

But what if you aren't good at anything? Let's just play around with that idea for a second. What if you, GfN, are just meant to be average at what you do? What if there is no "thing" out there that you're meant to do or achieve?

Sit with that for a minute. How does that idea make you feel? Don't hide from whatever feelings that brings up.

Okay, now ask yourself, "Is the belief that I'm not good at anything really true?"

Is it true that there are people who just aren't gifted?

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantIn my humble opinion, the answer is no, GfN. I believe that everyone on this planet has a unique set of strengths, experiences, personality and perspective that sets them apart from others. Forget strengths or gifts for a minute - just look at your preferences, hobbies, or choices you make. They are different from what others prefer, do, or decide.

Now, the whole "you are unique" thread often feels very tired and overdone to me, especially when it's not balanced with "and yet, we are all the same." There has never been anyone born like you, GfN, and yet, your struggles, fears, and joys are universal. These things are both true at the same time.

If the belief that you may not be good at anything still lurks about, it could be because you're trying to fit into a tiny box that says "gifted."

What does it mean to you to be gifted?

It sounds like your definition of that concept might be too limiting. Being gifted doesn't mean any one thing - not everyone will win NBA championships, star in a movie, or make millions of dollars trading stocks. Being gifted can also mean making art that you love, counseling others for little pay, or teaching kids how to read.

Being gifted looks like being energized by what you do and how you do it.

It is not true that you're not good at anything, GfN. That's a lie that your fear, ego, or past pain is manufacturing, and it's gotta go. You don't need to chastise yourself for having those thoughts - they're perfectly normal - but you do not have to let them frame your life anymore, either.

Personally, the process to find my strengths and then live them out in my work has taken time and a lot of patience. It's not something we can really force. When we're ready, there are things we can do to jump-start it, but the treasures within you can be coy after years of being stifled.

As the poet John O'Donohue wrote, "The soul is a shy presence." The essence of you, in all of its giftedness, is something that will become more and more felt as you honor and make space for it.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantYou will remember your giftedness when you listen to your intuition, act with integrity and according to what is true for you, and follow the things that make you feel curious and energized.

Of course, working with a coach or in a group is always helpful and can speed things along, but no matter what, this is a process that you have to go through on your own.

The pressure we put on ourselves to figure all of this out, to "find our passion," creates such a heavy load of stress that it can cripple our own growth and transformation. Try to ease up on that pressure in your own life and simply focus on doing the things I mentioned above.

With diligence and a lot of self-compassion, you will find your way, I promise.

Thank you for your sharing this question, Good for Nothin'?. You are good, period, without needing to be for anything. I hope my response has made you feel encouraged and a little lighter in your step.

Warmly, Megan

Got an issue of your own that's keeping you stuck? Submit your question here!

 

Dear Megan: Networking with Naysayers

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultant*If you have your own work-related issue you'd like some help with, click here to send in an anonymous question!* Dear Megan,

I currently work as a Development Officer for a large non-profit in my town, and after a decade of this kind of work, I know I want to transition into something else. I've always dreamed of becoming an interior designer, and as scary as this is, I've started exploring that career path and want to keep learning about it. 

The work itself is really interesting to me and I think it would be a good fit with my skills. And when I let myself, I feel really excited about actually making it happen. I'm running into one big problem, though:

Informational interviews. I was told that this was an important thing to do when you're exploring a new career, and so I've started meeting with interior designers around town to learn more about their work. This has totally taken the wind out of my sails. Most of the people I've met with have discouraged me from heading down this path, citing things like "a saturated market" and the fact that it's "close to impossible" to make a good living at it. No one has been very friendly, and I just feel so deflated after almost every meeting.

I wonder if I'm making a big mistake. I still love the idea of interior design, but I wonder if I'm being naive and should listen to the people I've met with.

Can you shed some light on this for me?

Sincerely,

Interior Hopeful


Dear Interior Hopeful,

When I was exploring the idea of being a florist, I met a local floral designer who offered to let me shadow her for a day. I was thrilled - I thought this was the connection I'd been waiting for, and I'd finally get to see how awesome being a florist was!

This woman treated me like shit for an entire day. She barked orders at me, let me know how much she'd struggled to make a living doing flowers, gossiped on the phone with her friends while I delivered orders for her, and was generally one of the most demeaning people I've ever met.

Despite this experience, I decided to go ahead with a floral design program and tried to continue networking with local florists. No one would meet with me. Most of the people I did meet were snobby and made clear that they did not want one more person competing with them or nagging them for a job. It was totally disheartening.

I say all of this because I want you to know something: a lot of people are too afraid and egotistical to be open and encouraging with you.

People have their shit, and unfortunately, you've encountered a lot of people in the interior design field who haven't dealt with theirs. Interior designers, like florists, are in a tight market without a lot of job security, and it sounds like many of them have bought into the idea that they have to withhold information, clients, and basic human decency.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantTheir personal issues do not mean that the market is truly saturated, or that it's impossible to make a decent living doing interior design.

Their personal issues mean that they have personal issues and should probably call me to work through why they hate themselves and their work so much.

I can think of three next steps I'd encourage you to take:

First of all, get all of their muck and negativity out of your space. Literally wipe it off of you and throw it out the window. Burn a candle. Imagine tossing it into your garbage can outside. Their scarcity mentality isn't welcome anymore.

Second, get quiet and ask yourself, "Does anything I've learned resonate with me as true?" Just because they seem like shitty people doesn't mean they're all liars. But you have to separate their vitriol from what really feels true to you. Your intuition and its truth will feel clear and freeing, even if it's not the news you really wanted to hear. For me, I knew in my gut that floral design wasn't the right fit, but that was my truth, not the result of being beaten and battered by nasty florists. For you, maybe someone mentioned a challenge that you know would be real for you, too. Look at that and add it to your "challenges to address" list to deal with later.

Only listen to what resonates with your internal wisdom and dump the rest. Career transitions like the one you're in take a lot of energy, and the quickest way to get zapped of it is to let other people tell you how it is. For at least a few minutes every day, cultivate your own excitement and your own dream for what your career in interior design could look like.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantFinally, I'd encourage you to find at least one person in this community who's less petty and who really loves what they do. Reach out to them, treat them to coffee, and nurture that relationship. Believe that you can do design in your own way - one that's collaborative and joyful, not stuck in a system that says there's not enough to go around.

I hope you feel encouraged to keep moving forward, Interior Hopeful.

Let yourself get excited about this possibility - you can be smart and prudent, but making a change does require a heavy dose of faith that things will work out however they should. Surround yourself with the people striking that balance between practicality and hopefulness and remember to be true to you.

xo,

Megan

 

Dear Megan: Getting Unstuck

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantDear Megan, I'm an executive assistant at a marketing firm in Seattle, and while I love my co-workers, my boss and the general "culture" here are a real drain. My boss has essentially told me that there are no growth opportunities for me here, and after three years, I'm convinced she's right.

Besides the fact that this hurts my pride, it's also troubling because I'm not sure I want to continue working as an executive assistant anyway. I feel completely stuck and am not sure how to go about figuring out what's next. Can you help?

Sincerely,

Stuck in the C-Suite


Dear Stuck in the C-Suite,

I know this might be an annoying response, but from where I sit, it's a real gift that there are no growth opportunities at your firm! If there were an appealing career ladder there to distract you, you may not have realized that your heart wants something to change. So, while I know it hurts your pride and is probably very frustrating, consider the fact that this may also be a blessing.

Two immediate next steps come to mind in terms of helping you figure out which direction to head at this stage in your career: shift your energy, and get curious.

I'm not sure how much energy you're putting into your job these days, but if you've been there for three years and have strong relationships with your co-workers, I'm guessing you work hard and are great at what you do. This might sound counter-intuitive, but I'd encourage you to be a little less great at what you do going forward. Making career transitions of any kind can take a huge amount of energy, and you want that energy to propel you into what your heart and soul needs next, not into a job you know is dead on the vine.

So pull back a little. I don't mean that you should just stop showing up or do anything to put your job in jeopardy, I just mean pulling back on the amount of emotional and mental energy you're putting into your work there. Maybe you settle for "good enough" instead of "perfect" on that next thing. Or maybe you make a real effort to leave work behind and not use your emotional energy on it after you get home. Instead of going out for happy hour with co-workers again, perhaps you use that money to sign up for a night class that intrigues you, or you just go for a walk in your neighborhood.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantTry to reframe your day job as just that: something you do to pay the bills, but not your "real life."

Your life now is about finding that meaningful, juicy next step in your professional journey, and you want to cultivate as much positive energy in that direction as you can.

My second suggested step is to get curious. When people start looking for what's next, they often do one of two things: they're either too afraid to imagine other possibilities and settle for the most logical move, which is usually just more of the same, or they go in the opposite direction and search high and low for their "passion," often leaving them burnt out and convinced that they'll never find a job they love.

I'd encourage you to aim for somewhere in the soft middle of those two extremes, dear Stuck in the C-Suite. And the best way to be balanced in that attempt is to simply follow what you're curious about, even if it's seemingly ridiculous things like why the fabric on your duvet cover is so soft or how a city decides where to put in the next bus line. Teeny tiny things like that are little trail markers, and while some will lead to nowhere, others will lead to somewhere.

One of the wisest people talking about curiosity v. passion is Elizabeth Gilbert, and she has an awesome interview on On Being that I'm linking to here in case you're open to listening to it. It's wonderful and encouraging, and I think you'd get a lot out of it.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantI'd also suggest that you start a daily curiosity practice. One way to do that could be to jot down three things you're curious about every day and to spend at least five minutes researching each of them. Simply notice what tugs at you over time and what doesn't. Pretend you're a researcher and just follow the threads that are intriguing to you.

With this practice and the energy you're saving from your day job, you'll eventually build the momentum and knowledge you need in order to launch yourself into the next thing.

I'm sorry your job feels yucky and stuck and all of those things, but if you can start with these two steps, I think you'll begin to feel unstuck. Be kind and patient with yourself as you start on this new path, and if accountability is helpful to you, consider partnering with a coach or therapist who can walk this path with you for a time.

Thank you for sending in your sweet and honest question, Stuck in the C-Suite, and lots of love to you as you venture into this new territory.


If you have a work-related question or a perplexing situation of your own, I invite you to send it into Dear Megan

Dear Megan: Contractual Uncertainty

Dear Megan, My husband and I just moved to the West Coast from NYC. Our main reason for moving was that we can afford to invest in a nice home in our new West Coast spot. My husband has a good job in which he telecommutes, so that made the move a lot easier financially than other moves that I have experienced. I was doing a lot of job interviews, networking, and trying to take the job search slow when I first arrived. I received some decent offers and job prospects. However, I was fairly certain that I wanted to move from working as an office manager for private medical practices, to working as part of a management team in a larger hospital environment. There is a lot more infrastructure and work/life balance to protect people who work in larger organizations, and I wanted to at least give that a try. It is a bit harder to get a position in a hospital at my level, as these companies like to promote from within. I had a few interviews in which internal candidates were chosen over me in final round interviews.

I answered a LinkedIn ad from a job placement agency that promised administrative work in a hospital and everything fell into place rather quickly. The main pitfall was that this type of staffing agency requires an employee to be a contractor at the hospital for several months with no benefits, no paid leave, etc. Basically, I would be an employee of the staffing agency. I decided to take the risk with the understanding that I was looking for a permanent position beyond this "three month trial period." I am excited to take a step forward in my career as I have a lot of good experience from my time in NYC. I felt proud after the interview, because I am finally in a place in my career where I can communicate about my expectations directly.

Now I am a little over a month into my "contract." I have discovered that the project I am helping to administer will be complete at about 4 months from my start date. This was not communicated to me during the hiring process despite the clarity coming from me. Many people will be laid off at the end of the project, most of them contractors who came into the project with this end date in mind. I have talked to my boss, with whom I seem to have an excellent rapport, about my desire to become a full-time employee of the hospital. He has told me that he is looking for something permanent for me, that he wants to keep good people like me, but that he can't make any promises. I want to be agreeable, and continue to develop the positive working relationships I have here, but I cannot help but feel a little deceived. I am not sure how much I should “just relax.” Also, I am not sure how to follow up with my boss, as it has been a couple weeks since he said that he was looking for something permanent for me. Things do move at a slower pace in larger organizations, and on the West Coast in general.

What should my next step be? Have I made a terrible mistake?

Sincerely, Impatient Admin

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantDear Impatient Admin,

First, welcome to the West Coast! I've done a few cross-country moves myself and know how topsy-turvy the world can get in a big transition like the one you're in.

When I moved to Boston years ago, I connected with a staffing agency as well - they're often the easiest, fastest way to get plugged into some sort of job when you're brand new to a place. Some of them are slimy and will tell you anything to get you placed, and some are not slimy.

I'm not sure if you were intentionally deceived, but I do know how tenuous it can feel not to know if you'll be transitioning from a contract role into a permanent one. You feel like you can't fully invest in the place, it might feel like "real employees" look at you funny, and unless you wanted something temporary, it can just feel sort of icky all around.

I don't think you made a mistake, though. It sounds like you gave all of your options a fair shot, and this was the one that seemed to be working, so of course you'd take it! Working as a contract employee is a great way - sometimes the only way - to get into a big organization from the outside. I think you made the right choice.

That choice, however, has landed you in an unpredictable spot, and most of us aren't comfortable there. When we feel destabilized or unsure of our future in a place, we tend to withhold information, or create busyness, or compete with our peers because we believe that opportunities are scarce. I'm not sure if this is exactly what you believe, but it's my guess from your letter. It sounds like you have a sense that you have to fight your way into a permanent position there, which is a sense too often fostered by organizations that think competition + scarcity = high performance.

From where I sit, I see three next steps that you could take. These are the things that I believe are going to open the way for you at this organization - if it's the right thing for you. 

That's a big caveat.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantIn your letter, you don't mention whether this is an organization you really love or want to stay in, and I totally get that - when I've been in the midst of a job search in a new city, I just wanted a job, and when things feel scarce, we de-prioritize this question: is this the right fit for me at this time?

I'd encourage you to answer that for yourself first. Pretend like you've got lots of other options (which really, you do). If this organization was just one of those options, would you definitely want to be there, or are you just fighting for a permanent spot because you feel like that's what you have to do?

If this is a place you know you want to stay in, then my three suggested steps are:

  • Focus on creating real value
  • Foster meaningful connections
  • Ground yourself

Focus on creating real value: If you can focus most of your energy on doing an awesome job and creating real value for the place (and not by withholding information and making yourself seem "indispensable"), you will not only feel like you've been the best contributor you can be, but you will lift up others around you. That makes you attractive and desirable to your boss, but more importantly, it fosters a strong sense of integrity and strength within you.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultant

Foster meaningful connections: If there's anyone in the organization who interests you, I'd encourage you to foster meaningful connections with them. Find out from them what it's like to work there. Express your interest in staying in an honest, curious way. They may be able to advocate for you when the time comes, but more importantly, these people will be your peers if you stay in the industry, so it's in your interest to develop some long-term relationships with them while you can.

Ground yourself: Finally, there's work to be done outside of work. In tumultuous times like the one you're in, it's so important for you to feel grounded. Do what makes you feel secure, safe, and like you do have other options. Maybe that's going for walks, or journaling, or calling old friends from home. Maybe it's applying for other jobs that appeal to you just to feel like you have eggs in multiple baskets. Jobs and organizations come and go, but you and your gifts are permanent. If you can focus on creating some stability within yourself outside of work, then each step you take in your career will be from a place of self-worth, not desperation.

I would encourage you to follow up with your boss whenever it feels like the right time and when you feel like you're coming from that place of grounded self-worth. Meet him halfway and offer some ideas for where your gifts could fit in the organization. If you see ways that you could contribute, mention those. Try to make it easy for him to plug you in.

I know this is a scary time in your career, Impatient Admin, but don't limit the possibilities available to you out of fear. You are clearly capable of making something work, and if this contract fizzles out, then you'll find another role, or another contract (maybe with a different staffing agency) that works better for you.

Transitions are always tough, but they can be done with ease and grace, and I hope this response has helped you cultivate even more of that in your life.

Trust yourself and the path you're on. You've totally got this.

Warmly,

Megan


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