I was flying back from Aberdeen. Happily bored. They say that there’s only 2 emotions on an airplane – hours of boredom interspersed by moments of terror! The girl sitting beside me was about 25 and seemed keen to engage. Reluctantly, I took off the noise cancellation earphones and closed my book. It turned out that she was a teacher, plying her trade in a disadvantaged primary school where assaults on teachers were commonplace and student on student violence was endemic. Not a centre of learning for the faint-hearted. A very ‘middle-class’ lady, she seemed confused about the whole experience. I was definitely listening now.
Tough Gig: Becoming a primary school teacher is one of the toughest academic climbs in Ireland. Firstly, you need about 11,247 points in the Leaving Certificate to get in. Secondly, you major in every teaching subject (8+) alongside learning to teach – a feat that probably requires the highest number of classroom contact hours across the 3rd level system. Finally, assuming that you eventually qualify, it’s dammed hard to get a full-time teaching post – anywhere within 100 miles of where you want to live. Hence the enforced exile in Scotland for the chance to pursue her profession.
So What? Hey, it’s Monday morning (you say) and your empathy bucket is at low tide. Didn’t we all have to catch the boat or plane to finish our apprenticeship in London or Lagos? Yes, we did but I haven’t told you the full story. This lady was slowly uncovering the idea that she didn’t like teaching. It wasn’t just the Tae-Kwon-Do classes to deal with unruly kids or the fact that she was lonely in a strange city. Fundamentally, she didn’t like the job itself. She wondered aloud if she’d made a mistake in becoming a teacher (her father and 2 sisters were teachers; it had almost seemed ‘genetic’).
Over-Invested: In psychology there’s a concept called ‘too much invested to quit’. The title is self-explanatory. Too many people I meet in my coaching role are in the wrong jobs. They don’t like figuring out capital ratios or firing groups of non-essential staff. They hate writing proposals or getting people to invest in ‘fantastic property opportunities’ in Bulgaria. But, somewhere along the line they’ve acquired a partner, 2.2 brats, a dog and a mortgage. They are ‘locked in’ or it certainly feels that way. Like a GP whom I lived alongside a lifetime ago in Waterford who’d studied for 10 years. Brilliantly clever, he was really interested in computers, not people (50% of a GP’s role is counseling). Career decisions are often made on dubious criteria. Impressing your mothers’ Bridge Circle or going to UCD because it’s handy/on the bus route don’t rate.
What do You Do? Somewhere over the Irish Sea my travel companion (I never got her name) asked what I do for a living. When I said I was a management consultant/coach she asked directly: “So, what should I do?” Now, coaches are trained to err on the ‘don’t tell’ side of the equation. You let the client figure out the destination. I am Tenzing Norgay, not Edmund Hilliary (a Sherpa rather than a climber). Perhaps it was the 3 Bacardis, more likely the impending fear of death on this particularly bumpy flight. For whatever reason I decided to by-pass the normal conventions and, quite prescriptively, suggested the following. What you study in college is of zero importance. You’ve (hopefully) learned how to learn and present material to a certain standard. You’ve given yourself a respectable CV and a good interview story. The next challenge is figuring out what you’re passionate about – what you’d do even if you weren’t getting paid. Then you need to find a job doing that ‘thing’ – even if it means next years holidays are in Ballyferriter rather than the Bahamas. Give up your addiction to status and take up something that you love and unleash the inner horsepower.
Did she listen and take the advice? I’ve absolutely no idea. But, I do know I’ve been blessed in figuring out what I wanted to do (when I was about 30). Since then, broadly speaking, it’s been a good run. Albert Einstein said: “Two things are infinite. The Universe and Human stupidity. And, I’m not sure about the Universe”. It’s stupid to stay in a job that you don’t like. Melt down those golden handcuffs and create a chest medallion emblazed with the following motto. ‘I’m fully grown up now and doing what I want to do!’
Apologies if this comes across as a bit ‘preachy’. I’m passionate about this topic and, working with Cathy Buffini, we put together a ‘Change Your Life’ workshop (Lifelines). Is it revolutionary and brilliant? I wouldn’t make that boast but it does help to tease out some of those BIG life questions we all face. If you want a free copy (there’s no cost and no catch) send me an email at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
Have a good one.
PS: Lighter Note 1: Poverty Conference: Ferdinand Von Prondzynski (ex DCU President) and now leading Robert Gordon University in Aderdeen told me the following story – which occurred in a university setting in England which shall remain nameless. A conference was set up to explore the topic of poverty, both its causes and potential solutions. The conference was followed by a very elaborate, multi-course meal for the key speakers. In his after dinner speech, the Guest of Honour remarked: “Having experienced this tremendous hospitality on the subject of poverty, I’m very much looking forward to attending your next conference on the subject of chastity”. Sometimes you have to be a straight shooter.
PS: Lighter Note 2: Real Life can be funny… We were ‘down the country’ playing golf for 2 days in the midlands. With very few dinner guests in the hotel, we got chatting to the waitress (she was about 25), asking her where she was from and so on. She told us about her 70 kilometre commute, each way, each day. We were finishing dinner close to 11pm and she was due back on breakfast duty at 7am the next day. One of the guys in our group is really good craic and he suggested (tongue-in-cheek) “Such a long commute could actually be dangerous. Would you not think of ‘staying-over”?
She looked at him and replied: “Oh, you are very kind. You remind me so much of my father”. It had to be the best put-down ever. A month later we are still calling him “Who’s your daddy?” In the spirit of male friendship, we will stop harassing him about this by 2017.
Check our website http://www.tandemconsulting.ie or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.