Career Coach HR Consultant Hampden MA

When Advice Is Not the Answer

October 10, 2022

Advice can be useful. Oxford Languages defines it as a noun: recommendations offered with regard to prudent future action. It’s great when you want to learn which cars are fuel efficient, how to correct for too much salt in your recipe, how to asset allocate your 401k plan, or at which location you are most likely to see the Northern Lights (bucket list). If you are diagnosed with an illness or disease, advice is crucial as there is a health risk involved with a lack of information. Advice may even be useful when trying to choose a course of action amongst alternatives, such as an approach to major organizational change. But advice is not always prudent.

Advice might fail miserably when asking others how to live your life.

Perhaps these are decisions involving spirituality, relationships, well-being, and love. They might involve deciding what you will do for work, where you build community, and how you will care for yourself. When it comes to living authentically, intuition is our greatest resource. Why don’t we use it?

In the year just before COVID, I entered a period of professional uncertainty, bordering on distress. I felt a lot of shame over it because of my deep connection to the people and culture. I still enjoyed work but did not love the way I was working (signs of burnout). I had always attached myself to “stability” as my M.O., and so the idea of exploring what else may be out there felt like cheating on my career, a foundational crack in my fierce loyalty.

When the conflict became too strong to ignore, my data-loving self quickly got to work. I polled the people I felt safe with. I asked my mom and dad, my sister, my husband, and my closest friends. Several possibilities were calling to me: a career in mental health therapy, a photography business, or a new experience to accelerate learning in my chosen field of HR. I also thought about adjunct teaching.

From others I heard:

Don’t choose photography. Even Annie Leibovitz struggled financially. It will not give you the financial stability of the corporate world.

Therapy? But you are an empath. You will suffer vicarious trauma, and you can not control what comes up during the session.

Why would you leave where you are? It is a wonderful work environment, they treat you well, and you’re mostly happy.

It’s such a long road to start over. You are ten years from retirement. Why not downshift, and take your job a little less seriously (as if that was possible).

Adjuncts are severely underpaid. If you want to teach at the college level, you must love it and it can’t be for the money.

Every person who offered advice did so with care for me.

Remember, these were not unsolicited opinions – I was searching. Work had always been at the center of my values, a huge part of how I related to the world. It satisfied my desire for community, curiosity, and connection, being of service to others, and practicing leadership. When you are in an identity crisis involving the only occupation you’ve ever known, it feels profoundly unsettling.

I am a researcher, a strong “C” on the DiSC (conscientiousness around facts, data, and integrity of process), and Google and I are in a committed, intimate relationship. If I have a problem, I take tremendous comfort in my ability to gather context and facts to inform my plan of action. What was next for me? I had to sit with the brutal reality that the answers were not searchable. Google was not going to return the words: Tiffany Greene will find her new professional joy as a (insert new career).

At some point, I started to honorably dismiss the other voices, seeing them as well-intentioned, but incapable of deciding my best course. I started noticing when I felt truly engaged in the moment, when I lost all track of time, and when my values felt completely aligned with the work I was doing. Feelings became of primary consequence. I allowed my gut to engage when my head was on logical lockdown. I started to ask myself the same types of questions I now ask my clients:

What makes you believe that is true?

What does holding onto that idea cost you?

What is another way you could think about that situation?

Where is that feeling showing up in your body?

Why do you judge that thought/feeling for yourself?

I finally let my intuition (a.k.a. my higher coach) guide me, and She did well. It took almost three years to decide to step away from the corporate world. I did so with great respect for the experiences it gave me, the people I connected with (who are still in my life), and the ways those years expanded my mind and heart. However, I had a deep trust that the future held abundance.

You have heard my story. I have emerged into the clearing, the view is expansive, and I feel grateful that I allowed myself to reimagine my professional purpose. While this blog is about the limitations of advice, let me contradict myself by sneaking in a little guidance to those traveling this path of uncertainty:

  • Trust the process. A butterfly needs the struggle of breaking free of its cocoon to gain strength in its wings. You will learn more about yourself than you ever dreamed possible if you invite your heart into it.
  • Know when advice is useful, and when it adds to the distress of not seeing things clearly.
  • Remember that nobody else has lived what you have lived in the way that you have lived it. You have all the resources, insight, and courage to guide the big decisions around your career, and other parts of your life.
  • It will feel daunting at times. Big change often is. It’s where the self-mastery comes in – the reward of doing the thing you didn’t think you could do.
  • Finally, know that to be human is to live with self-doubt. As a mentor coach once told me, when we are close to the grave, we might begin to feel some power over our gremlins.

I am here to help you, not as the person who will tell you what you should do, but as the person who believes you hold those answers. The synergy in coaching comes in the possibilities created when we explore those ideas together.

What is coaching?

International Coaching Federation defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. The process of coaching often unlocks previously untapped sources of imagination, productivity, and leadership.

Featured image copyright Tiffany Greene