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Don't Fall Foul of a Career Red Herring


I was talking to a potential new client this week and she asked me to give her an example of a surprising transformation that had taken place with a client.  Instinctively I picked a client I’d worked with a few years ago. 

This was a woman who had built a very successful and lucrative professional career but had given up pursuing a “dream” career at a young age due to some challenging circumstances.  She had spent a good deal of her career (and life!) looking back wistfully and thinking “if only…”.  This client came to me expecting to create a plan and finally turn her dream into reality. 

However, after working with her to explore and re-engage with her strengths, values and purpose as well as exploring this potential career path, she realised that this dream was a red herring.  It was something that had been in line with her values when she was a young woman but those values had changed throughout her life experiences.  She slowly realised that her current career was perfect for her and that, through seeking some new professional challenges, she would be very happy to stay in that arena.

If she hadn’t done that deeper reflection, she might have ended up retraining at great financial and time cost, only to realise that she didn’t want it.

My red herring

As I was relaying my client’s story, I started to draw a parallel with my own career and recalled a time when I had created my own career red herring.

I was bored.  I had been working in executive search for over a decade and had recently joined a reputable firm with lovely people.  But I was bored.  I had come from running my own business and somehow missed the “cut and thrust”.  One evening, I met my brother-in-law for a drink and told him about my ennui. 

“What is it you miss?” he asked. 

“Oh, it’s the excitement of business development and leading a team.” I said.

“That’s really weird.  At our SMT meeting yesterday we decided that we need to hire someone to lead our business development and manage the operations team.”.

Well, you can guess what happened.  A few interviews, meetings and conversations later I joined that business to get stuck in and do what I love.

I won’t go into why the role wasn’t right but it wasn’t.  And now I’m a Career Coach and in tune with my strengths and values, I can see what I was really missing: Service, Adventure, Balance and Growth.  Not business development and team leadership.

It wasn’t a terrible role and led me into coaching via a circuitous route.  However, I’d have been more quickly on the right track if I’d looked more carefully and intentionally for my answers.

What to do now

I know that I’ve written a couple of times recently about pursuing or gleaning clues from your “dream job”.  I stand by my comments as dream jobs are not always red herrings.  However I do implore you to explore yourself and your options in great depth before deciding on a path.  Particularly if you are prone to be impetuous like me (otherwise known as action-oriented in strengths profiling!). 

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