Rachel had a problem.
A sixth-year associate at a big corporate law firm in Los Angeles, she was whip-smart, driven and had a deep conviction that she was to use her natural talents to make the world a better place.
Her problem: after years of trying, her inability to connect her job with that sense of purpose was starting to take a toll on the quality of her work.
And to her, that (as any high-achiever will relate) was truly “unacceptable.”
The Real Problem
Like so many of the lawyers with whom I work, Rachel had gone to law school right out of college because “it was what was expected.” In her case, it was a familial expectation—her father, brother and grandfather were all lawyers; she would be one, too.
But Rachel’s real problem wasn’t that she was dissatisfied with her life, unhappy with her chosen profession or unhappy with her job, specifically.
No, her real problem was her belief that she was “trapped”—that things were bad, and that they were never going to get any better.
According to Rachel, she had “no other options.” In her mind, she couldn’t leave her job because, among other reasons, she:
- Didn’t know what else she would do.
- Didn’t know how to do it, even if she knew what “it” was.
- Was sure she couldn’t afford to do anything that paid less than the $185,000 she was currently making.
- Didn’t have time to search for a new job.
- Couldn’t possibly convince her family—particularly her grandfather—that leaving her job was the right next step for her.
How Do We Increase Our Options?
The term “decision latitude” refers to the number of choices one has—or, more accurately, believes one has—on the job. University of Pennsylvania psychologist Martin Seligman cites low decision latitude, or the perception that one has few options, as a primary driver of depression among young professionals (lawyers, in particular).
Rachel was perfect example. Despite all that she had going for her, she believed she was out of options. As a result, she was experiencing a lot of pain.
So we got to work creating a plan to help her make a better career decision—but, more importantly, the best life decision—possible.
Now, a typical career coach might tackle this problem by focusing on finding Rachel a new job, in effect proving to her that there are other options out there; she just had to look harder. (A matchmaker or relationship coach might take a similar approach when it comes to dating and love.)
We took a different tack, focusing instead on the real root cause of Rachel’s perceived lack of options: the 5 beliefs she articulated (above) about “why” she couldn’t change.
What we discovered is that underpinning each one of these limiting beliefs was a lack of skill and experience.
Rachel believed she didn’t have any options because, to date, she’d never had to think strategically about what she wanted to do with her life; so many of the big decisions had been made for her.
She believed she didn’t have any time to look for new opportunities because her philosophy on time management had always been oriented towards others: “I will work as hard and as long as I have to, to ensure that no one is disappointed in me.” (Sound familiar?)
She believed she’d end up destitute on anything less than $185K a year because she had no idea what her life really cost. Like other successful, single, professionals, she could buy nearly anything she wanted. As far as she was concerned, as long as she “kept working hard,” money would never be a problem.
It wasn’t Rachel’s fault she felt trapped; with a belief system like this, it was almost inevitable.
Building the “Life Raft”
Over the next few weeks, we attacked these limiting beliefs.
Using a set of proven approaches and tactics in each core skill category, Rachel quickly began to implement a series of “best practices” in the areas of life strategy, time management, personal finance and sales (more accurately, influencing others).
Together, we created new habits and approaches for clarifying who she was, what she wanted in her life and how she was going to spend her time, money and influence to make it happen.
As Rachel said to me following this crash course in core skills, “I feel like we’ve just built a life raft…I’m no longer just treading water. Now I’m floating. Now I can breathe.”
With this foundation in place, the search for a new job began in earnest. It was a smart, structured and methodical approach (she was a lawyer, after all), and two months later, she had made a change.
She ultimately chose, from among multiple options, to become in-house counsel at a cool new media startup. Prior to her search, she had never even known that the company existed.
She’s making a little less money, but doesn’t feel the change at all; she’s still way in the black when it comes to personal cash flow. And (as she gushes) the newfound sense of control and certainty she feels was worth the financial tradeoff many times over.
A Sure-Fire Way to Make Good Career Decisions Faster
Talented people don’t end up stuck because they lack drive, intelligence or creativity.
No, more often than not, like Rachel, they’re “stuck” because they lack some foundational core skill or expertise—and that lack of skill/experience leads them to believe they have far fewer options than they have in reality.
The good news is that there seems to be a pattern. The skills that so many talented men and women are lacking are incredibly consistent. I call them “Catalyst” skills.
To learn more about the 5 Catalyst Skills, please join me and Kevin Kermes, Founder of Career Attraction, for this free training by clicking here.
Ben Sands brings a management consultant’s mind to life strategy.
As the CEO and Founder of Regret Free Life (“RFL”), he focuses specifically on helping high achievers create smart(er) life strategies, helping them navigate a world full of “very good” personal and professional options to discover, and live, their dreams.
Ben resides in Washington, D.C. with his wife, Sarah…together, leading a regret-free life.
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