Career Satisfaction a Tough Job

By Fuertes, Monica | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 23, 1998 | Go to article overview

Career Satisfaction a Tough Job


Fuertes, Monica, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Finding a fulfilling career is the single hardest feat in many adults' lives. Ask Richard Bolles - he didn't sell more than 6 million copies of "What Color Is Your Parachute?" for nothing. Unfortunately, too many employees shuffle into jobs they don't think are right for them. They experience a hollowness about their work that they don't know how to cure. This malaise runs the gamut, affecting everyone from recent college graduates to workers in their 40s.

Thirtysomething Dorothy Blagrove of Arlington was one such "unsettled" worker. She spent eight years as a flight attendant but knew early on that it wasn't the right job for her.

"Two years turned into eight years, and I thought, `Holy cow, I'm still doing this job. Where did all the time go?' " Ms. Blagrove says.

Three years ago, she finally mustered up the courage to leave the wrong job. Ms. Blagrove took a leave of absence and embarked upon a three-year odyssey in search of the right job. To do so, she had to take and quit several positions, including stints as a school placement counselor, a temporary agency's regional recruiter and a computer software trainer.

True enlightenment arrived only a few months ago, when Ms. Blagrove decided she wanted to work as an employee assistance provider.

"All through my 20s, I felt lost," she says, but "one month ago, I knew. I really knew. This is exactly what I want to do. It's a great feeling."

Barbara Sher, author of the best seller "I Could Do Anything If Only I Knew What It Was," understands the predicament of those in Ms. Blagrove's shoes. As a therapist, career counselor and national speaker, she has helped thousands discern "what they want."

Ms. Sher says people are geniuses at "whatever they love." She encourages workers to uncover their passions and pursue them.

"What would you do if you knew you could not fail? Would you . . . write a book? Make a movie? Start a business? I'll bet you think these are frivolous dreams. Well, guess what? They're not. Your dreams point to your unique gifts," she says.

In the book's introduction, Ms. Sher touches upon an irony that other career counselors also note: Most of those who say they don't know what they want actually do. Their secret lies hidden deep inside. Most people lack the courage to go out and do it.

Jacqueline McMakin, co-director of Working From the Heart, a McLean nonprofit agency, agrees. She says people need a nurturing, a can-do atmosphere and encouragement to get in touch with their "knowing inner selves." Since 1978, her organization's Life Direction Lab, which she runs with co-director Susan Gardiner, has helped workers of all ages get in touch with that inner self to determine what they want.

Twenty years ago, Ms. McMakin and her partner conducted research to answer the question: How do you help someone discover what to do if that person doesn't know what he or she wants? She invoked the advice of, among others, major universities, counseling centers and seminarians, noting, "There are spiritual overtones to this quest for what you are meant to do."

"We learned that none of these people in these places thought it was their job to help people with vocational discernment, so we decided to do something about it ourselves," Ms. McMakin says.

The Life Direction Lab meets over a four-month period and includes a weekend retreat. Through original exercises, the lab helps participants identify what moves them at the deepest levels and how they can incorporate those passions into their work lives.

"We ask people to identify the things they really treasure . . . favorite people, books, places, learning experiences, life experiences, etc., and then ask what's behind these experiences that's important to them," Ms. McMakin says.

Why do so many people find themselves in the pickle of either being in the wrong field or feeling that they don't know what they want? …

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