Who are you working for?


I met up with a coaching colleague last week, and in the course of conversation, she asked me how I had got into coaching. The answer was, by a long and circuitous route.

At school, I was good at languages and was easily persuaded to continue my studies at university. ‘You could be an interpreter, a teacher or a translator’ I was told.

After university, I had no idea what I wanted to do, and drifted into a series of temp jobs. One was with Rank Xerox, another with IBM. The IBM job was for six months to cover someone’s maternity leave. I stayed for seven or eight years, climbing the corporate ladder. These were household names. My parents had heard of them. I wanted to impress.

These are not particularly good reasons for following a career path. But you might be surprised how often I hear these same reasons from people who are facing a career crossroads, usually in midlife.

Whose ambitions are you fulfilling in your work? Parents, generally, want the best for their kids. Mine wanted job security, promotion prospects, a career path for me. In their day, a job was for life. Like my uncle, you could join an organisation as a tea-boy and work your way up to become a director on the board. Now we are expected to make multiple job moves and career changes in our working lifetimes. Job security is a thing of the dim and distant past.

When discussing this with my colleague, I suddenly remembered going to an open day for sixth formers at a nearby university when I was sixteen. I was fascinated by the experiments on sleep cycles being conducted over in the psychology department. I could have stayed there all day.

Fast forward a couple of decades. I finally got to study psychology with the Open University. (And nothing is wasted. I then went on to study organisational and management psychology.)

Perhaps you have been meandering along someone else’s route for a number of years. If you are unhappy in your job and work seems like the polar opposite of play, then it might be time to ask yourself who you are really working for? Could it be your teachers or your parents?


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