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Why careers can hold us back - Leadership and executive coaching tips

14 Oct 2013

When we meet someone for the first time at say a cocktail party, the likelihood is that we’ll be asked, “What do you do for a living?”  It’s our way of getting a measure of someone because we assume their career in someway reflects their personality and we can calculate how much they might earn and how ‘successful’ they are.  If they do a similar job to us or one we approve of, and we don’t find them too threatening, we’ll continue to speak with them.

The problem we all face in the west is the notion that a career defines who we are.  But as Tom Hogkinson says in his book .How to be Free': 

“Careers don’t allow us to be fully ourselves; careers take as an index of success money and status rather than pleasure in work and creativity. ‘Vocation’ on the other hand means ‘calling’, and it is a task that earns you a living and which you enjoy doing.”

Jung believed that everyone has what he called a ‘story’, a unique path we must follow.  A vocation is part of this story, which is why so many people we’ve coached in organisations have the classical midlife crisis telling them that they’re not playing out their story. Only by discovering, or rather rediscovering, what we yearned for when we were young, can we find our own personal story and become whole and healthy again.

It’s worth considering that as we go though our life stages and mature there’s no reason why we can’t discover several vocations. The idea that we should specialise in a career is all well and good, and for some jobs like surgeons the skills required to replace someone’s liver requires a high level of specialism. That doesn’t mean the surgeon shouldn’t also be a fine carpenter or artist, vocations that could express others sides of his or her personality.

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