Executive coaching in jeans? How identity impacts career transitions.



OK - this post is not really about jeans, not directly. It's about defining and refining our identity as we explore unconventional career transitions.

In my previous article, "Three Things to Do If You Want to Break Out of Your Profession and Thrive!" I talked a little about identity, and how that is an essential element to become a Career Adventurist, break out of the conventional career path, and achieve the 3Fs - Flexibility, Fulfilment and Fun. [There's a 4th F in there - Financial goals, which I believe is usually a natural result if you get the first 3 Fs right!]

When I started consciously exploring Career Adventurism back in 2014 - it was less conscious before then - INSEAD Professor Herminia Ibarra’s book Working Identity was recommended to me by a few friends and fellow INSEAD alumni. 

I love that book because it validated my unconventional career path and did away with the conventional mindset of the “right way” to manage a career, provided fresh ideas about how to hack my own career further and, perhaps most importantly, allowed me to feel great about my career decisions. 

And that’s also when it dawned on me that identity - namely, how we see ourselves and how we present ourselves to the world - is one of the main reasons why someone would choose to step into a new experience or stay in the status quo; it’s what shines a light in the darkness when you’re searching for new opportunities without guideposts, and helps with decision making when faced with tough choices or competing commitments. 

Creating a conscious working identity

If you're like many working professionals, you may not have taken the time to think consciously about your identity and how you can shape and strengthen it so that your career path follows suit.

Sometimes that happens only when you decide to move into something unrelated to your training or that is different from the roles you've held in the past, and are forced to think about it. But most times, we don't pay attention to it and to my mind, that’s the huge, huge mistake I made for over 10 years until 2014. After more than a decade of saying yes to the opportunities that came my way, I knew I wanted to be a Career Adventurist, not a Career Anything-Goes-ist. 

When I realised this, I started thinking seriously about my own working identity and came up with the unwieldy "Bridge Between Contrasting Interests". As a result, I attracted and sought out experiences and projects that required bringing people and teams of different mindsets, approaches and working styles together.

In the past year, however, my identity has shifted somewhat thanks to new working experiences and interests, and I am now focused on being a "Catalyst of Conscious Clarity" (you might notice hints in this article).

As part of my career transition coaching work, I have regular conversations with senior professionals including:

  • A consultant-turned-entrepreneur considering his next step (to go back to corporate or press on as an entrepreneur).

  • A senior professional with over 20 years' experience in heavy industry, who wants to bring his expertise to a different industry.

  • A scientist who works in "hard" science and wants to explore the "soft" science of people management.

They all have this in common: the need to define their identity as they explore their career options, or what I call their "Career Adventurist Identity".

To give an example, one of my earliest coaching clients some years ago decided that her Career Adventurist Identity was that of a "Flashlight", i.e. that she was great at shining a spotlight on problems and creating solutions for them. Seeing how this could bolster her value in her organisation, as well as transfer across industries, we worked on strengthening this in our coaching sessions. A few months later, she moved into a completely new role, in a different industry, in a more senior position.

Instead of starting with the question "what is my next step?", I invite you to consider your Career Adventurist Identity first. I’ll be sharing a Career Adventurist Identity questionnaire and my Top 10 Tips for Career Switching on my website avalynlim.com when it launches in October. If you want to receive these tips, please subscribe to my mailing list!

From Identity Comes Clarity

When your Career Adventurist Identity is clear, you can then get clear about:

  1. The kind of work or activity that drives and excites you: which directs your focus and network.

  2. How your past and current experience link together to move you toward this future: your USP and how you can add value.

  3. What gaps you need to fill to get there: sharpening your skill set.

Your identity also becomes a constant reminder of your "why" as you move through the unchartered waters, which can be scary and not as clear cut as you had initially planned or imagined.

Defining my Identity at those points in time meant that I would take on or refuse work and projects more consciously, as well as put out signals within my network that led to referrals and recommendations in my areas of interest - from advising startups to building my coaching practice.

I was also able to highlight experience from my past roles that fit into these new projects, drawing an invisible line between my various roles that had seemed unrelated. Specifically, I could now see that relationship-management and communication were the links between my roles and were what I both enjoyed and was good at.

And lastly, I knew what skills I needed to hone in order to become better at embodying my Identity, e.g. coaching training focused on a person's inner narrative (what we tell ourselves).

So what about those jeans then?

When I got dressed today, I picked out these jeans and asked myself what a potential coaching client might think (her answer was "with a scientist, you can").

I mentioned this thought of mine to a senior coach I respect and she said (paraphrased), "I want to work with someone who would appreciate and value my ability to hold space for him or her, and not someone who would judge me for my dress sense."

While this approach may not work in every context, this question and conversation led me to think about how my Identity has shifted over the years, and how I could absolutely be a Catalyst of Conscious Clarity in hand-painted, faded blue jeans (when appropriate of course... I know that societal expectations need to be challenged gently, and not bulldozed).

So I'm glad I wore them and I stand by my decision. My Career Adventurist Identity helps me do that. And that is truly freeing.

I'd love your feedback and thoughts on what I've written, so please leave me a Comment, or ask me questions. Please Share this article and Follow me on LinkedInTwitter, or Facebook and I hope you'll also subscribe to my upcoming newsletters here.

Till next time, keep on Adventuring everyone!

Avalyn LimComment