Finding freedom: Forging a new career path

Recently, a colleague introduced me to a group of college students during a presentation about networking skills as “Career Coach, Bethany Wallace, who is going to share with you tips about networking and her story about how she has reinvented herself in her career.”

Wow, I thought. That’s exactly what I’ve done, isn’t it? Sometimes we need to see ourselves through others’ eyes in order to appreciate our hard work, creativity, risk-taking, and perseverance. My mentors and colleagues always help me recognize and appreciate my career achievements.

happiness-1866081_1280One of the most intimidating career decisions I’ve ever made was the decision to leave a fabulous job as Content Manager of College Recruiter in 2016 shortly after starting my own career coaching business. I certainly found lots of career freedom as a result, but the pathway to this career freedom was like a roller coaster—full of ups and downs, and I felt sick half the time while on the ride.

While attempting to decide whether to leave my full-time position, I knew I needed to pour more of myself into my career coaching business to make it grow and give it a chance to succeed. I also wanted more scheduling flexibility. Staying home with my daughter, who was three years-old at the time, mattered to me, as did returning to the college classroom part-time. But the notion of leaving a well-renowned company in the job board industry, which afforded me the opportunity to earn a solid income and provide benefits for my family… ugh. I felt torn about this for months.

I finally bit the bullet and eased my way out of my position, transitioning from full-time to part-time over the course of a few months. While making the decision was difficult, it gave me total career freedom and autonomy. I now manage my own business, create content solely to promote my own business, market and sell my own services, and work directly with my clients. This arrangement might not be a great fit for everyone (or we’d have a nation full of entrepreneurs), but it’s the right fit for me.

Here are a few tips I’d offer anyone seeking more autonomy and freedom in their career.

  1. Live below your means.

Leave yourself open to changing careers—or even changing jobs or relocating—by simply living below your means. If you rope yourself into purchasing a new car every time you earn a small promotion at work, you’re tying a noose around your neck financially. You don’t leave yourself the option to pursue completely changing careers if your values and goals change. If you buy the nicest house you can afford in the best neighborhood of your city, your family and friends will be very impressed. But your options will be limited if you find that over a period of two years, you become increasingly less interested in your career field.

Not always–but often–when you change career fields, you take a step backward in terms of income because you have less experience in that particular field. Setting aside some of your income each month prior to switching careers is a good idea. In addition to saving money, it’s also a good idea to become comfortable with living way below your means. You will feel much less freaked out when you’re earning little to nothing for a while if you’re temporarily unemployed, underemployed, or acquiring clients when you start a new business.

  1. Eliminate as many risks as possible.

To follow up on #1, we’re in a true gig economy. Check out FlexJobs, for example. There are a myriad of great gig positions and part-time jobs available, many of them affording you the option to work remotely. Before you jump ship and start looking for a position in a brand new career field—going for months without income—why not land a great gig or part-time job to help supplement your period without full-time income?

I taught one online course for a community college during the first several months of my business being open. This was a lifesaver. Adjunct faculty members don’t earn much (newsflash for those of you who thought we were highly paid professionals!), but the extra income did supplement our overall family income, and it helped ease my financial fears while I worked diligently to market my services and attract clients.

  1. Stick to your guns in terms of pursuing your dreams and passions.

When you make a major career change—whether it’s switching career fields entirely or starting your own business—you’ll find that you’re surrounded by a mixed bag of naysayers and cheerleaders. Focus on the cheerleaders and ignore the naysayers.

Obviously you need to make calculated, wise, strategic decisions about your career. That’s where working with a career coach comes in. You should also consult your career mentor when facing major career decisions, and you should take other steps to assess your level of contentment, create a budget, etc.

But once you’ve taken the plunge—thoughtfully and carefully—don’t look back. You don’t want to lose momentum by focusing on negative tidbits others feed you about how you are killing your career, or how hard it’s going to be for you, or how unsure your friends and family are about your potential to succeed.

Separate yourself from negative people. Focus on pursuing your original career goals. Map out your career plan in manageable bites so you will not become overwhelmed, and then start pecking away at that plan slowly but surely.

Before you know it, you’ll be doing the exact things you envisioned yourself doing when you began dreaming about your new career. And if you’re lucky, you’ll be doing those things sooner rather than later.

Career freedom is right around the corner—but you have to pursue it.

For help making a career change, reach out to me to schedule a free consultation.

 

Making the most of working with your career mentor

I’ve never regretted one minute spent listening to my career mentors. I learn so much when we meet, chatting over pancakes at Bob’s Diner or pizza in downtown Little Rock. Sure, I do some of the talking–opening up about where I’m at in my career, asking questions, and even sharing about troubling situations in the workplace in hopes my mentors will offer potential solutions. They always do because they’re brilliant women. I picked great career mentors. One owns her own business, consulting small business owners who want to market themselves and attract better clients. The other manages recruiting for a telecommunications corporation. My mentors have been where I am in many ways. They know what I’m going through, and even if they haven’t found themselves puzzled by an identical client or partner, they have likely been in similar situations.

That’s the beauty of working with a career mentor. A career mentor is a mentor you ask to guide you through your career journey–not just from point A to point B during one stretch of your career or while you strive through the most difficult mess of it. Your mentor learns all about you, and your career mentor can give you very pointed, detailed advice. Since your mentor doesn’t work with you in your workplace–unlike a workplace mentor–she doesn’t care about office politics. She only cares about seeing you succeed in the long run. She sees the big picture.

If you already have a career mentor, you’ll want to watch this video with three tips/reminders about making the most of working with your career mentor. You’ll find ways to apply this advice to the relationship you already have with your mentor. If you don’t have a career mentor, think about a few people you admire while watching the video and reading the article. Maybe by the end, you’ll have narrowed down your list.


If the video isn’t playing properly click here.

  1. Remember, your career mentor isn’t a fairy godmother (or godfather).

    Your career mentor won’t float out of the sky, pixie dust sprinkled in her hair, announcing her desire to guide you through your career (but wouldn’t that be great?!). You’re going to have to break down and ask someone to mentor you. Sometimes mentoring relationships evolve naturally. This happens in the workplace and in higher education; you might fall into a relationship with your career mentor if she’s your professor or boss. But most likely, you’ll find someone you admire who works in your dream job or similar career field. You will observe this person to ensure she exhibits character traits you admire. Then you will ask her to serve as your career mentor. Asking can be difficult, but acting against your fear of rejection is important. You potentially have so much to gain from a great career mentor.Also, we can often believe our career mentors are fairy godmothers in the sense that we place them on pedestals. We think they’re professionally perfect. But they’re definitely not, and learning from your career mentor’s failures and defects can be just as helpful as learning from your career mentor’s successes and assets.
  2. If it’s not working, make a change.

    It would be great if everyone’s career mentoring relationship lasted for a lifetime. Some do, and some don’t. If you work with a career mentor for five years, and you find yourself growing apart, accept that it may be time to seek a new career mentor. Some relationships–even professional relationships–are only meant to last for a season. We all grow, change, and develop, and as that happens, we often grow apart. Trying to force a fit doesn’t feel natural and can make a mentoring relationship very awkward. If you’re asking questions and not receiving answers which feel aligned with your values, ethics, or goals, it might be time to seek a new career mentor.
  3. Don’t expect your mentor to serve as your career coach.

    Unless your mentor works in career services, career counseling, or career coaching, your mentor will probably not feel comfortable providing you with detailed assistance with your resume, cover letter, interview preparation, branding, networking, job search assistance, or other areas of career coaching. While your mentor can certainly share her unique experiences in these areas, your mentor won’t pretend to be an expert in an area outside her realm of expertise. And she shouldn’t! If someone comes to me for personal counseling, I don’t pretend for one minute I’m licensed as a professional counselor. I immediately refer that potential client to a qualified professional.Seek your mentor’s advice and ask her to share her experience, but don’t drain her either. Remember that your mentor probably juggles work, family, and personal interests, including mentoring you (and possibly other mentees). Respect her boundaries.

    If you need help determining how to find a great career mentor, how to ask someone to mentor you, or how to seek career coaching help from a professional rather than from your mentor, reach out to me to schedule a free consultation. 

How to improve your soft skills

Whether you just graduated from college—congratulations!—or have accumulated years of work experience, you are just like the rest of us—you can always improve your soft skills. While soft skills are certainly a combination of talent and ability, you can always improve upon the ability portion of the soft skills you possess—that’s the good news.

In his book Bridging the Soft Skills Gap, training expert Bruce Tulgan defines soft skills as “a wide range of non-technical skills ranging from ‘self-awareness’ to ‘people-skills’ to ‘problem-solving’ to ‘teamwork” (8). Tulgan, author and founder/CEO of RainMakerThinking Inc., reminds us that “soft skills are all about the regulation of the self. They must be fully embraced in order to be learned” (Tulgan 29). Tulgan’s book provides a road map for employers and organizations interested in training and developing employees’ soft skills.


If the video isn’t playing properly click here.

  • Identify which soft skills matter most to you.

Don’t take a shotgun approach to improving soft skills. You can perform a Google search and find countless lists of which soft skills matter most, but what you need to determine is which soft skills matter most to you. How do you determine that?

When you work with a career coach, you’ll be asked multiple questions to help you determine your priorities. Some of these questions might include:

  • “Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years in terms of your career?” Understanding your career goals/journey can help you determine which skills you need to add or improve upon.
  • “What feedback have you received during performance reviews and job interviews (or during follow-up conversations with recruiters/hiring managers)?” If you pay attention to feedback about your performance instead of blowing it off, you may pick up clues about which soft skills you lack or need to tweak.
  • “Which soft skills does your company value and emphasize?” If three particular soft skills matter most to your current employer, take note. To succeed at work, earn a salary increase or promotion, or simply feel content with your daily job performance, align your values and mission with your employer’s.
  • Determine where you stand before you begin training/developing your soft skills.

After determining which 3-5 soft skills matter most to you, evaluate yourself in terms of performance/ability of each soft skill. If communication skills matter to you, where do you measure up on a scale of 1-5, 1 being poor performance and 5 being excellent, consistent performance? Are you able to communicate verbally, non-verbally, and in writing clearly, consistently, concisely, comfortably, effectively, and appropriately in almost every situation? If not, this is a soft skill you might want to develop.

How should you evaluate your ability to perform each soft skill? You can do this in a variety of ways. Work with a career coach to use various assessment tools (some tools you must pay to use, and others are free). Search online for free assessment tools; proceed with caution when using free assessment tools because some are more valid than others. As Tulgan mentions in Bridging the Soft Skills Gap, you can informally assess your own soft skills by measuring your soft skills against others’ soft skills. I explain this strategy at length in the video. In his book Bridging the Soft Skills Gap, Tulgan notes the importance of having an “external objective standard against which to measure one’s reflection” (70).

Take stock of where you stand in each of these soft skill areas one way or another—using one assessment tool or another—but be sure you use some external objective standard. Simply put, we can’t fix the stuff in our heads with the stuff in our heads. That doesn’t work well in life, and it won’t work well when assessing and improving soft skills either.

  • Develop an action plan.

Once you determine where you measure up in each of the 3-5 soft skills you’ve selected to work on, develop an action plan. First, check with your employer/organization to determine if they will provide/fund soft skills training or professional development for employees. Many companies and organizations understand the value of soft skills in the workplace and will help employees in this area.

If your company will not fund soft skills development, you may have to pursue soft skills training/development on your own. Reach out to a career coach for assistance. If you can’t afford to pay for soft skills training, check out the array of blog posts and videos available online. You may not make as much progress on your own as you would with the assistance of a coach, but any attempt at development is better than none. And finally, don’t forget to seek the help of a career mentor if you don’t have one already.

  • Assess your soft skills after you’ve completed the training process to determine if more/different training is needed.

After you’ve put your plan into action and worked to improve your soft skills for a period of time, assess your soft skills again, using the same or similar tool(s) you used at the beginning. Where do you stand now?

Assessing yourself after training is important. You need to determine if training worked. If it didn’t, why would you pay for more training? Doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity. If something isn’t working for you, try something new or different. If you assess your soft skills and find that you’ve grown in 2 of the 3 areas, that’s wonderful! Keep up the hard work. “When you combine the necessary hard skills with the right soft skills, the added value is so much more than the sum of its parts” (Tulgan 58).

If you need help identifying, assessing, or improving your soft skills, reach out to me for a free consultation.

Career mentors: Why relationship matters

People who know me well—both personally and professionally—know I have established mentors in various areas of my life. I don’t hide this fact from anyone. I’m thankful for the guidance my mentors have selflessly offered me over the years, and I could never have navigated life’s changes, both positive and negative, without their encouragement and leadership. I am rather fond of my mentors and have even written about them on both my personal blog and for College Recruiter.

Samantha Hartley
Samantha Hartley, my career mentor

I’m the first to admit that when it comes to mentorship, I’m biased. Because mentorship has worked so well for me, I totally believe every new professional should seek out both workplace mentors (these often change and are temporary) and a long-term career mentor.

I recently came across an article by Millennial expert Lindsey Pollak about new approaches to mentoring. It suggests that due to the nature of today’s workplace—which constantly evolves at a rather rapid pace—it might be helpful to consider letting go of the idea of having a long-term singular mentor.

While Pollak’s article suggests some good approaches to mentoring which I’m not opposed to as add-ons to traditional mentoring, I do not think these approaches—such as having a group of great people to call upon for advice, or simply emailing someone with a question one time rather than having a true long-term mentor—can stand in the place of having a long-term career mentor.

Why? I’ll explain. Let me first state that there’s nothing wrong with professional networking or collaboration. I’m an advocate of these practices and encourage career coaching clients to do these things.

I believe the activities Pollak suggests fall under the umbrella of professional networking and collaboration. I have a group of professionals in my field (and related fields) I call upon occasionally. I ask them questions, send them work to critique if they have time, and ask them to serve as references. I even ask them to analyze my strengths and weaknesses and help me develop myself professionally. This group serves as a vital force in my professional realm. Pollak also mentions reverse mentoring; as a faculty member, I can appreciate this term. I have often asked college students for help when brainstorming, particularly for ideas for titles and ideas for presentations which will engage college students.

But what’s missing from the picture if you rely on group Skype calls, mass emails or texts, or random messages sent when you need to bounce an idea off someone younger is relationship.

Mentorship is about relationship.

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Photo by Jake Pitts

How can you guide me if you do not know me?

I have served as a mentor to multiple women. The time commitment varies, but regardless, mentoring is a commitment, and it’s not one to take lightly. You’re investing in someone’s life. The irony is you’re probably benefiting just as much as the person you’re mentoring (at least this proven true for me).

And when someone is mentoring you, you shouldn’t blow it off either. They are literally choosing you over everything and everyone else in their life for the hours you spend together. I’ve had the same career mentor for about eight years. How many hours of her life has she invested in me?

I cannot replace her with a panel of advisors, a group of college students, or a few people I text randomly, no matter how smart or savvy all these people might be. None of these people have spent hours with me over the past eight years. They do not understand why I’ve made career changes. They don’t know my educational background and didn’t encourage me to create my vision card, which has helped me make career decisions for eight years and counting.

You see, my career mentor was the first person—the very first person—with whom I shared my secret idea about starting my own career coaching business. Why? Because we have a real relationship. I trust her. She believes in me, and I know that. She doesn’t fill me with fluffy sentiments, but she doesn’t shoot down my dreams either.

Is the world we live in fast-paced and constantly evolving? Certainly. We’re more likely to rely on technology to communicate and less likely to engage in real conversations with people. Reach out to find a long-term career mentor; force yourself to engage in genuine human interaction. Keep your soft skills fresh. In this fast-paced world, Millennials and Gen Z employees are certainly more likely to change jobs more often than their workplace predecessors. This is even more reason to find not only workplace mentors but also a career mentor–a mentor who will stick with you from job to job, company to company, through thick and thin.

How do you go about finding an awesome career mentor like mine?

You don’t just approach someone fabulous and ask him to mentor you. That’s crazy—usually.

This is when traditional networking skills come in handy! Reach out to your potential mentor through social media. Connect online. Make thoughtful comments on her posts. Do this for a time until you feel comfortable sending a message inviting her to meet you for coffee or lunch. Ask for an informational interview. Be honest and let her know you are interested in hearing her career story (how she found success in her line of work).

If you need help navigating the networking waters and don’t even know where to start, contact me. That’s what I’m here for.

I hope all of you find a way to take full advantage of every possible solution out there. Ask for ideas on discussion boards, attend professional networking events and gain insight from groups of professionals, and network like crazy.

Don’t fall into the trap of playing lone wolf (or lone superstar). It’s easy to believe you’ve got it all together and don’t need or can’t benefit from someone investing in your life on a long-term basis. It’s also easy to convince yourself no one has the time to hear your story or offer you guidance.

They do. You’re worth it.