Saturday, May 8, 2010

Calling it Quits Before Getting Started

Last week I spoke at Columbia Teachers College's Organization and Human Development Consulting Club. My talk was on "Executive Coaching", and much of it revolved around how I got to where I am today. During my speech I discussed "paths" for getting experience - namely training and education, and working for a coaching company and/or human capital consulting firm. I worked at Accenture for 5 years in their Change Management Practice (now Human Capital) which launched my career in this field.

One of the students called me this week, as I encouraged any of the attendees to do. We dove into her questions about next steps, and I realized what she was really struggling with: although she desired to work in the field of Human Capital Consulting, she had no desire to live the life of a consultant. She knew what that looked like, knew she could do it now, but didn't want to be doing it later in life when she might want to start a family.

She was opting out before she was even in.

I took a deep breath and asked her some questions about the work - she is interning at a human capital consulting firm currently (a boutique) and was disappointed in her role. Most of her job was crunching data and making it pretty. I asked her if she liked the field and could see a path to interesting, more client-facing work. She said absolutely. She cared very much about putting herself in other people's shoes, trying to understand how they think and how to help them. She knows she's good at it. Yet...

...she cannot imagine her life as a consultant, even if the work is engaging and thrilling and what she is meant to do.

This is not the first time a client of mine has stopped before they've started based on potential limitations their future career will place on their future personal life. A client of mine whose deepest desire is to be a filmmaker, had all but stopped pursuing her dream because she believed film making would lead to months on the road, which would cause her to never meet a man, and therefore never have a family. Basically she had painted a picture of her dream career as one that would cause her to never be happy. She believed it to be an either-or situation.

These examples go on and on. Girls in high school are focusing on schools and careers that will lead them to a career they believe will be more "flexible" and allow them to be home in time for dinner. They are calling it quits before even getting started. I'm pretty sure the guys aren't doing this. They are confident that they'll work it out when and if they need to.

Do companies know that they are losing amazing people years before they are a potential recruit?

I encouraged this student to take another look at consulting -- to be open to the idea that consulting may or may not be the right career for her in 5-10 years, but it could be great for now. Consulting as a next step could give her the invaluable experience she needs to do whatever she wants in the field for whomever, or even for herself, later on.

As I ended the call I was saddened that our conversation indicated that it's still easier for people to avoid a potential rough road than stand up for what they want -- what they are passionate about -- and be the change. However, I was happy that I may have rescued one more woman from opting out of her dream career before it even began.

Rebecca Rodskog is a Change Management Coach and Consultant, an actress, speaker and writer. She lives in Manhattan with her husband and two children.

By Rebecca Rodskog

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