I was meeting with a client last week who was feeling a bit lost, perceiving they were drifting through their life with no real purpose. While I was not happy to hear this story, it was a perfect set up for a solution. “I’m kind of lazy. I don’t finish many things I start. I wish things could be different. I wish I could get off my butt and do some things I have always wanted to do. I’m embarrassed that I don’t have a “title”, a title that tells the world I’m accomplished, the title that tells everyone I have a purpose…”
I leaned toward her, and softly spoke. “Tell me about your kid.”
She started slowly, with basic biographical information, then her voice raised in volume as she talked about her son’s baseball skills and how well he is doing in school. She was more agitated now, smiling, bragging a bit. She was proud of her child. I explained to her that she just eloquently described her purpose in life – a fantastic mother of a well-adjusted child. “Think about all the kids in this world who have no one to love them. Think of the kids who struggle in school, perhaps not going to school at all. Think about kids abused by their parents. Now consider when Child Protective Services asks this beaten and unloved child where they would like to live, why is their first answer almost always…home?”
My client started crying. “You have asked me about a reinvention to a career, a career you have had difficulty describing to me. We have been struggling to do this work, and now we know why. I believe it’s not your destiny to be a titan of industry. Your destiny is to raise a child, and to do it well. You are a lifesaver. You are the safe place. You are dependable, reliable and unselfish. You put your child #1 on your list of priorities. Your kid has the best chance possible to grow up with healthy attitudes, respect for others, and the ability to understand that their actions affect others. You are a million times better than a helicopter parent, an absent parent, or a rotten parent. You are molding a life. My god. What a fantastic purpose you have in this life. You are not a mini-van driving robot with no outside interests or passions. You have young friends, older friends, fun friends. You have good friends. You have a relationship that while not perfect, is sweet and pretty normal. This man is probably happy to have career focus and “accomplishment”. This earns the money that pays the bills. You can be a Vice President of Global Marketing and be a horrid parent. Titles are bullshit in our real lives. They have meaning in the corporate universe, but it means nothing at a backyard barbecue. These are the good old days. It’s happening now. Rather than express regret at things undone, perhaps we should celebrate the awesome woman your mother raised you to be!”
My work is about listening, but these words to her just flowed out, just like her words to me about her kid. We ended up chatting for another hour, confirming that reinvention was not for her work, it was for her mindset. Instead of trying to change bosses, spouses and those most influential to us, perhaps we’d be better off changing how we feel about these folks. That change of perception might change everything.
I have three titles, plenty of work on my plate, work I love and live for. My work has value, and it has real impact on the lives of my students. Lucky? A little. But that’s part of it. It’s what you do with luck when it presents itself to you. We are at our best when we choose not to ignore it. We all have days and moments of regret. It’s what makes us humans, with red blood flowing through our veins. I would wager that many of us have it better than we think we do.
Reinvention can unfold over a lifetime; sometimes a little quicker. We can get a new job. We can change our existing career. We can extend our current skill set to a new profession. What can help us do that is having an honest awareness of self, remembering that the things happening around us now are special, and we’d be wise to look for some more of the good.
John Scott is the career services manager and an instructor at the School of Multimedia Communications, Academy of Art University, San Francisco. He also counsels clients and groups on the art of reinvention. John’s book “Destination: Reinvention” is available on iTunes and Amazon. His second book, “You. Employed. Why winners get jobs” drops February 2, 2014.