Our #thisisforyou campaign seeks to demystify coaching and mentoring to show how it can help real women facing or looking for change in their work life.
Jess, one of our attendees on our October Work Life Discovery workshop, recently handed in her notice on her teaching job and found herself in a “career no-man’s-land” as she calls it. Here she reflects on her long-held desire for change in her working situation and also her long-held fears about changing it. And how our coaching workshop has given her the confidence to take the next steps to define and find work that’s congruent with her values and life:
A friend tells you that they’re having the following issues due to their job. What do you say to them?
- they struggle to get out of bed in the morning because of their dread of the day ahead;
- the list of symptoms of stress they’ve suffered is over ten items long;
- (in fact, they think they might be suffering from chronic stress;)
- their commitment to their job work seems to diminish day on day;
- they feel like they’re always clinging on until the weekends or a holiday;
- they lack energy to do the things they used to enjoy;
- and so on, and so forth.
If a friend confided these feelings to me, I would have no hesitation in advising them to reclaim their life by switching professions. “Life is too short to be doing something that makes you so miserable!” I would say.
Unfortunately, though, it took four years of feeling all the above (and more) before I was able to give myself this advice: I finally handed in my notice a few weeks ago, just a couple of weeks into my ninth year teaching English at a successful school.
It would be all too easy for me to say, “I wish I’d done this years ago.” After all, I knew that the job was affecting me and my life in a myriad negative ways, and I’d been looking for jobs outside teaching frequently during this time.
But quitting earlier just couldn’t have been the case – I didn’t have the confidence to quit, and for several reasons:
1) Jobs that aren’t right for us are confidence-sapping by their nature. If we feel stressed often enough, we get used to thinking that we’re doing something wrong, even if that’s not the case. We tell ourselves that others are handling things fine, so why aren’t we? I think I probably spent at least six years thinking that I was the reason I was finding my job so tough.
2) During my countless job searches, I found that all those “transferable skills” I’m supposed to have actually count for little in the marketplace. I’ve opened many person specifications for jobs I thought I was perfect for, only to find that the essential criteria contain experiences and qualifications that are so job-specific that only someone who has done a near-identical post could apply. With so many applicants for so few positions right now, this does make sense: being so specific means employers save time, money and resources, and they’ll get an employee they know can do the job with little to no training. However, this does tend to knock one’s confidence and hopefulness.
3) It’s easy to get stuck in the sector you’re in: I’ve only worked in the public sector, and even the word “business” makes me feel instantly ignorant. I know a few people who are self-employed and successful, but in the past, every time I looked at them, I’d compare myself negatively: “I know nothing about business” – “They’re so much more talented and motivated than me” – “I could never have an idea as good as that.”
Finding the confidence to quit definitely didn’t mean I’d overcome these hurdles: it just meant I’d read enough self-help books to make me realise I had to make a change. I had a few germs of business ideas that I barely dared think about, no short term plans at all, and my confidence really needed a leg up.
It was for all those reasons that I ended up at the Workstation eager to take part in Women to Work’s ‘Work Life Discovery’ workshop. I was one of a group of seven women spanning a variety of situations, ages and professions: three women were successfully self-employed, but wanting to redefine their working lives; two were working for organisations in jobs they’d done well for years, and had decided they wanted more from their work; another was a full-time mum who wanted to find direction for a new career; and there was me, somewhere in the middle of this, in a bit of a career no-man’s-land.
This diversity was confidence-building in itself. Within a few minutes of tentatively revealing some of my fragile ideas to my neighbour during an introduction activity, I had half a page worth of notes and research ideas. “She’s treating me like I can do this!” I thought to myself, amazed. It didn’t matter to that successful small business owner that I’d only ever taught and temped: if she could be an entrepreneur, then why couldn’t I?
Emma, the workshop leader, led a discussion in which we talked about all the ways that it’s not just our job roles that sap our self-esteem and energy, but the expectations we’re taught to have too. A lot of research suggests that women are less likely to take control of their careers and think about what they want and need, since historically so much of women’s experience has been based around tending to the needs of others. Perhaps our social attitudes have become stuck, when women’s roles have changed a great deal. Somewhere along the line, I had absorbed a message that said I didn’t have it in me to be my own boss, and apparently, I’m not alone: one of the quotations in the workshop booklet states that “if women set up businesses at the same rate as men, there would be an extra 150,000 start-ups in the UK each year.”
Looking at ourselves through this lens really boosted our collective confidence and camaraderie, and Emma then guided us through a number of individual and group exercises. Through these, I saw the shocking discrepancy between the way I spend my time and the way I’d like to use it, and this reaffirmed my decision to quit my job. We looked at the reasons for the differences and what we could do to swing the balance in our favour, and how these ideas fit with our own values and strengths. Again, this had a big effect on my self-esteem as I realised how I naturally tend to diminish my own achievements and abilities, when it’s these things that are key to helping me discover my path.
Thinking about my skills in this way is much more empowering than wondering who might appreciate the “transferable skills” I have, and discussing values only adds to that: when I did another of the activities in the workshop booklet at home, I realised exactly why I’d been finding my life as a teacher so difficult. These days my job fulfils virtually none of my values, and doesn’t use many of my strengths – no wonder I’ve been so unhappy! But if I look at my strengths and priorities first, perhaps I can create a job for myself, instead of trying to slot myself into a career that only addresses a few of my strengths and values.
I think I’d already known for quite some time that I wanted to be my own boss, but the ‘Work Life Discovery’ workshop taught me why I want to govern my own life and why it’s been so hard for me to verbalise that. I now feel in a position to take much more positive and proactive steps towards building on my ideas, and I have Women to Work to thank for that.
Find out more about our next Work Life Discovery Workshops by clicking here.