My clients are pretty amazing people. They are consultants whose recommendations are sought by Fortune 500 companies. Entrepreneurs who had built their own business before deciding to move on to something new. Experienced professionals who have emerged as leaders in their field. They are extremely bright, often alums of the top schools in the world. They set a high bar for their own performance. They often have perfectionist tendencies, which helped them achieve the success they’ve achieved to date. They are driven and ambitious.
But there’s something else that they all seem to have in common. Something that really surprised me. Every single one who sought out my coaching at a crossroads in their career, carried a great deal of shame, guilt, or both.
What were they ashamed of? The stories were similar. Scott described himself as someone who had always had a plan, but this was the first time he wasn’t sure what to do. Corrine graduated at the top of her class, but five years later, her career felt stalled while others’ were soaring. Rebecca had poured all of her energy during business school to land her “dream” job, which now felt like a nightmare. They felt ashamed of not knowing what they wanted, of not keeping pace with their peers, of having made a mistake. They no longer trusted their ability to make good decisions or perform at the level they were accustomed to.
And then there was the guilt. Scott earned a six-figure salary and worked for a well-known company. He “should have been happy.”
“Countless others would love to have my job. Why can’t I just be happy?”
But he wasn’t, and felt guilty about that. He wasn’t the only one. I’ve consulted many people who had “made it.” They had cushy salaries, a nice cars, designer bags, apartments in a sought-after neighborhoods. But something was keeping them from enjoying it all. And they felt bad about that.
What I found was that it’s near impossible to make any progress toward the next step in your career until you can shed the feelings of guilt or shame that are weighing you down. When you doubt your own abilities, it’s impossible to authentically sell your strengths in an interview. When you feel you don’t deserve more than you already have, it’s impossible to seek out what’s missing.
So, what can you do?
De-personalize your situation. You feeling lost is not a reflection of who you are. It is a function of your circumstance. And you can change your circumstance. This feeling of not being on top of things is temporary, and begins to fade once you choose to do something about it.
Know that you deserve to be happy. Everyone does. But you staying in a job that’s killing your spirit is not going to make the situation of people who want your job any better. It’s like how my dad would tell me, “Don’t you know that there are children starving in the Philippines? You’re lucky you have food! Finish what’s on your plate.” I know, Dad. But finishing what’s on my plate when I’m full is not going to feed the starving children in the Philippines. It’s just going to make me fatter. Just because you have a job that others might feel lucky to have, does not mean that you have to like it.
Talk to someone you trust. The most paralyzing thing about guilt and shame is how isolated it makes you feel. Sharing what’s going on with someone you trust will not only lift the burden of what you’re feeling, it will provide you with a valuable sounding board. And if you feel like you can’t/don’t want to talk to your friends or family because they may have conflicts of interest as you sort things out, seek out someone who will be objective and advocate for what you want, like a career coach.