It’s Not Your Fault: A Story About Career Transition

I am lucky.

I got to spend the last 12 months traveling the country (and the one directly north) sharing my ideas, insights and experiences about business performance and the world of work. I did that over 30 times and consider each one of those moments and extraordinary privilege and awesome responsibility.

I also spent this past year consulting with two of the most recognizable companies in the world on brand strategy and communication design. These companies are category leaders whose employee collective is making the world a better place. As part of our cultural immersion research we were fortunate to interview hundreds of these high potential/performing employees about their work experience.

Those experiences combined with my own reinvention and personal/professional exploration evolved my opinion about work style design and experience in a profound way. We are living in an extraordinary time of challenge and change that I firmly believe also presents an awesome opportunity. To adjust, evolve, adapt, improve and grow.

Change isn’t easy. Often the catalyst for change is hardship. And that is true for many of us as we move through these uncertain times. Stories abound of both tragedy and triumph as we all shift to sort through the impact of the last 24 months. One such story touched me deeply following a recent conference keynote.

Post session I was approached by a woman in the audience who aligned with a few of my ideas. She inquired about my availability for career/life coaching. I told her that career transition wasn’t the kind of coaching work I did, but would be happy to make a couple recommendations that would be right fit. She appreciated my offer and said she would email me for recommendations.

A week later she called in direct and I answered, prepared to recommend a colleague who I was confident could assist. She inquired if I could spare a few minutes of time and upon agreeing she openly shared she was losing her job after 12 years of employment. Devastated, she immediately broke down.

I heard the pain. Fear. Stress. Anxiety. Damage. In that moment she would have done anything to have that job back. That job that made her miserable everyday. With a manager she didn’t respect and organization she no longer believed in. Anything. Anything would have been better than this.

And now, accepting her reality (she was part of the 3rd round of layoffs and could see it coming but was paralyzed by fear and did nothing to prepare herself for it happening) she wanted to answer one question. What am I going to do?

In calming her down I offered to stay on the phone for a bit and provide whatever support and counsel I could. In doing so, I felt compelled to understand her situation a bit better and asked a series of questions:

Q: Were you good at your job?
A: Yes, I think so…(probing and supporting commentary provided. She had skills).

Q: Over 12 years did you get good performance reviews?
A: Stellar. Raises and a promotion.

Q: Why did they let you go?
A: It was economics. The company is falling apart. It’s the third round. I was hoping it wouldn’t be me but I guess deep down I knew this could happen…

Q: And you wanted to continue working there?
A: I want to make sure I can pay the bills. I hated working there.

Q: Did you get severance?
A: Yes.

That helped (with some additional probing for detail) me understand her situation.

Now, a go forward plan. That needed to start with a mind shift.

Q: Were you directly responsible for the business strategy and decisions specific to its execution?
A: No. I did my part. My job. Whatever my boss asked.

Then let me be clear: what happened to you is not your fault. There were people responsible for decisions that contributed to the downward spiral. They usually sit in corner offices and have  fancy titles. They are paid to lead through challenge and change. To anticipate and adapt. To improvise and overcome. That might sound aggressive given the economic tsunami but that is the job description. And no doubt, many don’t get it right. CEO’s screw up all the time.  So, they failed you. You didn’t fail. Furthermore, you may have just been given a gift (although it’s hard to appreciate the gift in the moment). 8-10 hours a day for over a decade is far too much time to spend doing anything that makes you miserable. You have skills, competency, demonstrated commitment and many special gifts.  Lets talk about how to find an opportunity worthy of your time and talent that also will ensure you can pay the bills.


Q: Are you ready to accelerate your career transition and embrace what is next and new?
A: Yes.

The remainder of the conversation was spent around how to architect a career transition Job Search 2.0 style. The starting point that can accelerate the outcome is usually a mind shift.  It isn’t easy.  It won’t be for a while.  But I know many stories where challenge and change were disguised as opportunity.

This conversation and others like it combined with the prompt to deliver a webinar on this very topic served as my own catalyst to add a new program to our speaking/training portfolio in 2011:  From Campus to Career:  Career Mobility & Job Search 2.0 Strategy.  Intended for both those in transition from college and mid career professionals.  I don’t know how often we’ll deliver the session…but I do know it’s a very worthwhile topic.  We all have to pay the bills.

How does the story end?  You guessed it.  3 months.  Better job.  Better boss.  Better business.  Bills paid.  More meaning and money.  Kinda cool when you end up with both.

Read More personal growth

And join our email community to receive bi-weekly insights with actionable tips and videos, new research, and inspiration and ideas for cultivating growth in business and life.