Dr Julie Scanlon
‘You are a highly skilled professional – you can do anything you want to do’. This was the declaration one of my good friends made to her husband when she got home from work one day, looking him in the eye as she did so.
She was repeating a statement I had made to her (also apparently looking her in the eye) in response to her question pondering her career, ‘What else could I possibly do?’ When she spoke with me some time later, she recalled the impact that statement had had on her and the fact she had wanted to share that impact with her husband, who she felt also needed to hear it.
All three participants in this exchange were, at the time, academics; I no longer am.
I begin with this vignette to illustrate a proverbial ‘light bulb’ moment common in career change or professional development narratives. Coaching is now an important element of my work and I have the privilege of facilitating spaces for others going through similar moments.
Coaching illuminates fresh perspectives. It can lead to the coachee arriving at their own definition of success, to re-evaluate their direction based on their values, gain confidence and take action.
Each coachee I have worked with has inspired me. It is brave to take a look at your life and take steps to make changes if you feel that things are not quite right. It’s really scary. The path you know feels like the safer path, yet, there can become a tipping point where the known path can feel quite miserable or unchallenging – safe, maybe, but there is nowhere to go, or to grow, along that path.
My title ‘What else could I possibly do?’ is spoken or intimated by most people wondering whether to stay in their career or to change. The coaching process offers support to explore this question and gain some clarity. It can help people decide on ways to make their current career work better for them, or how to take steps towards getting out.
I left academia three years ago to pursue work more in line with my values of social justice and to develop personally and professionally in ways I felt were no longer there for me in the academic world. I run my own business in consultancy and training, focusing on diversity and inclusion, and am a professional development coach. Every single day, I am learning, growing, and implementing my own ideas in ways that were never afforded to me as part of a huge institution. Everything I do is aligned with my values; there are few compromises and everything in my inbox is a pleasure to open!!
But, yes, I went through the feeling scared phase, wondering if I was crazy at considering giving up a well-paid reasonably stable job. I often say I was brave or bonkers or both. I came to realise this was perfectly normal and one way I would remind myself if I had wobbles about leaving was to use the phrase ‘another twenty years’. That is what I had remaining until retirement – and the thought was, for me, unbearable. I actually left in quite a measured way, planning my exit a couple of years before I left, expanding my horizons and networks, and updating my skills. There are a lot of things you can make time for if you are really motivated!
Now, I often coach academics – and people from other professions – who are wondering whether to stay in or get out, or are wondering how to make other changes to enhance their lives. Sadly, the Covid-19 pandemic has given some people less choice regarding career direction. Nevertheless, there are actions to take to position yourself so that you are ready for the opportunities that arise. I have found Seneca’s proposition to be true: ‘Luck is what happens when preparedness meets opportunity’.
If you are in a career that is not as fulfilling as you might wish, look yourself in the mirror and repeat: ‘I am a highly skilled professional – I can do anything I want’. Feels good, doesn’t it?
About the author:
Julie set up her business in 2017, after spending over fourteen years working as an academic. She is a consultant and trainer, specialising in diversity and inclusion, and is a coach specialising in professional development and career transitions.