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Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Career Transitions: Equipping for the Future, Identity Loss, and Avoiding Trends: Interview with Elaine Bontempi, Ph.D.

We are very proud to offer another very valuable interview with Dr. Elaine Bontempi.  This is one of a series, which you can find this website  For more information, please visit:

As people seek to equip themselves for the future, what should they consider when they make decisions? Especially if they are experiencing a transition in jobs?

The best thing a person can do when they are forced to make a career change is to take the time to invest in themselves. This includes their mental and physical health, continued education, networking, skills training, and the help of a Career Transition Coach. Nobody can accurately predict the future, but in the face of a career change, simply updating a resume is not enough. You need to rely on new and better ways of networking, especially in a downturned economy, highly competitive field, or if you are over 40. Take the time to learn skills that will allow you to compete with tech savvy competitors, but also use this opportunity to make an inventory of your skills and passions. What do you enjoy doing?  What are you good at? What do you stand for? What areas are you interested in improving? Where do you want to be in your career 5, 10 or 20 years from now?

Sometimes a job loss is a blessing in disguise as it might be the “push” you needed to send you into a career that is a better fit. One that taps into your passions and energizes you, causing you to feel enthusiastic as you face each work day, rather than dread as you go to work each morning.

Take an inventory of your skills, education, and experiences, but also your passions and interests. Most organizations are not just looking for a good resume. Instead, they are seeking someone who is passionate about their work, demonstrates creative problem solving, is a good personality fit with other employees, shows commitment, and can make a positive contribution to the organization.

There is stress along the way as people deal with the transitions that come with quickly changing job responsibilities or workplaces.  How might this affect one’s sense of identity and the way they fit in with society? 

Changes in the workplace come in many shapes and sizes. These may be as small as adding new job responsibilities requiring additional learning and training. Some are much larger and including job transitions. Although some of these changes may be the result of personal choice as people seek higher pay or jobs more are aligned to their passions and interests. Other times transitions were not out of choice and the result of company layoffs, injury, or illness.Transitions made out of choice are in general, much easier to deal with than those that were not.

As we enter into a new workplace, the organizational culture is almost guaranteed to be different from that of the one we just left. This requires adjusting to the new organizational culture, styles of leadership, and workplace dynamics. With each level of demand comes increased need for adaptation. Thus, adaptability and stress management techniques will come front and center.

When it comes to our careers, sometimes our sense of self identity is so caught up in what we do or how much we earn, that when that shifts, we lose our sense of self. When such changes come, we often find ourselves chasing what we used to do or trying to ride out the storm, thinking things will eventually go back to how they used to be after the storm passes. The old way was comfortable and easy, and so we resist any changes. Yet, by resisting change we risk chasing the ghosts of the past and barely “surviving” the storm, rather than simply packing up and getting out of the storm’s path.

If we insist on “riding the storm out” we resist leaving until it either gets so uncomfortable that we can no longer bear it, or we are forced out. Economic down turns have forced many people out of once thriving and lucrative careers, and technology threatens to replace the jobs of others. When we realize we simply cannot return to the career, job, or the level of ability we had before, we are forced to reinvent ourselves. However, this is not easy, and especially if we have built a lifetime pursuing dreams or building a career. It’s much easier to reinvent one’s self when one perceives they had choices in doing so, but if a job was lost due to a changing economy, illness or disability, then things get much more complicated.

Sometimes people allow their careers to define them without even realizing it. But when faced with a sudden loss of job or status, a sudden identity crisis quickly ensues. This new reality can be extremely shattering to one’s sense of self, as people realize that their careers, titles, or salaries were their source of acceptance. This is a hard lesson to learn because a sense of self-worth based on external things such as career, income, or title are all conditional forms of acceptance and approval. Thus, when these things are absent, approval also disappears. It is at this point that some of the hardest lessons in life are learned. The high paying executive, surgeon, or professional athlete who was once at the top of their game soon discovers that their “friends” are nowhere to be seen when they have fallen from the top. However, these adversities allow us to discover who we really are and what we are made of. While some people evolve, others shrink back and never recover.

Thus, in order to promote a smooth career transition, take the time to invest in yourself, gaining new skills if necessary, researching your options, analyzing your skills, competencies and passions, and creating a career plan. Understand that experiencing a range of emotions including fear, rejection, and uncertainty is normal, and consider seeking the help of a Career Transition Coach to help you during this process.

What happens if a person simply tries to follow what seems to be the hottest career path right now?

Chasing the Wrong Goals
This can get a person into trouble for several reasons. Chances are if an individual is seeking a career just because it is “hot” then they are focusing on pay. And, although nobody will deny that it is desirable to earn more money than less, pursuing extrinsic goals in the long run will not only decrease motivation but also psychological well-being. Not to mention, trends are constantly changing, and when everyone jumps on the “trend” wagon, supply and demand takes a toll, resulting in an over-abundance of skilled workers. When there are more available skilled workers than jobs, employers take advantage of this and demand higher levels of education and experience, while offering lower pay. A third risk is that in simply following a trend, one is not really following their true passions and again, risks losing one’s identity and sense of joy and motivation.

However, perhaps a bigger issue is the impact of goal pursuits on motivation and well-being. Not all goals are created equal, and extrinsic goals (those based on materialistic gains such as salary, status, and power) tend to undermine both motivation and psychological well-being because they interfere with the fulfillment of psychological needs. As human beings, we all have innate psychological needs. When these needs are met, it promotes and sustains more self-determined forms of motivation, but also increases psychological well-being. However, when our psychological needs are thwarted, our motivation wanes, and our well-being is undermined. If a person places priority on pursuing extrinsic goals the psychological needs of autonomy, competence and relatedness are often sacrificed in the process. Long hours spent at the office often results in neglecting time with one’s spouse, children, or developing and maintaining close and caring relationships with others. Failed relationships undermine perceptions of competence, but also take a toll on one’s happiness and well-being. In addition, when people prioritize extrinsic goals they tend to gauge their success by comparing themselves with others. The problem with this is that you will always have the opportunity to find someone who is more successful, earns more money, or has more power than you do. The third need, autonomy, refers to the need for volition or choice. Marketers and the media have become very effective at convincing people that “success” and acceptance is found by owning material objects. This focus on materialism has been coined the “dark side of the American Dream,” by psychologists and researchers.

Changing Trends

Thus, following what seems to be the “hottest career” can backfire for several reasons. Trends change, and what is “hot” one day is “not” the next due to changing needs of society, politics, the economy, and advancing technology. Pursuing the “hottest career” is usually the result of seeking a career that offers a guarantee of a high paying job. The problem with placing too much emphasis on high salaried jobs is that it leads to focusing on extrinsic goals rather than intrinsic ones. Researchers have repeatedly shown that placing emphasis on extrinsic goals results in reduced levels of motivation over time, but also undermines psychological well-being. Furthermore, pursuing a career just because it has been deemed “hot” also increases the likelihood of chasing a career that you may not be well suited for. Over time, pursuing a field that doesn’t take advantage of your skills, interests, and passions, will result in burnout and/or reduced competence. It is much smarter to pursue a field that you really enjoy because you will find you have more energy and motivation to continue learning and investing the necessary time and energy to succeed. Select a career field that matches your skill levels, interests, and passions, and one that has a steady demand.

Sense of Identity

As mentioned earlier,  people often form their sense of identity, in part, through their careers. This is especially true for men, and therefore, a job loss can be earth shattering experience, rattling one to the core, as they struggle to retain a sense of self-worth and maintain a sense of identity. Thus, chasing a career based on the latest projected trends, risks pursuing careers that are not in alignment with one’s passions, skills, and interests, resulting in a further loss of self-identity.

For more information please visit the following website: Elaine Bontempi, Ph.D.

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