A lot of people don’t take the time to just stop and think about where they want to go. This results in many of us ending up somewhere that we don’t want to be. It’s important to remember that it’s never too late to re-evaluate where you are in life and work toward building a future that stimulates your mind and enriches your life. I speak to Emilie West, an Expert in Business Coaching, Career Growth and Speaking Engagements, and Harsha Boralessa, an Expert in Investment Banking, a Neuroscience and Psychology Podcast Host, and Author of an upcoming Career Development book, about how to examine your career path and consciously create a fulfilling career.
Hi Emilie, it was lovely to speak to you and Laurence recently about how to overcome stress. This time we are going to focus on finding your path and how to create a conscious and fulfilling career. Can you introduce readers to this idea and your co-contributor Harsha Boralessa?
Hi, It’s great to be back talking about this really important topic alongside my friend and collaborator Harsha Boralessa. Having a conscious career is all about not being on autopilot or making career decisions based on what others think we should be doing but instead taking time to explore and discover our own strengths and developing our own unique career path. I see so many clients who have followed a traditional career path and ended up in relatively senior roles but who aren’t enjoying their day to day work. For me, that’s a sign to re-evaluate what you are doing and become more conscious in your career choices. Lockdown made many more people stop and reflect and realise their work wasn’t fulfilling them.
Harsha worked for over 15 years in front office and advisory roles in Investment Banking, the “Big 4” accounting firms and Investment Management. He was inspired by his passion for neuroscience and psychology and its intersection with personal and career development to set up the “Reframe & Reset Your Career” podcast and YouTube Channel. Harsha is currently writing a book on managing your job search and career development based on the strategies of the recognised experts he has interviewed for his podcast and his career journey.
Can you tell us why you think it’s important for people to examine their career path?
EW: Our careers are such a big part of our lives, we invest a huge amount of time into them and it is often how we contribute to society so we should make sure that we spend that time wisely and contributing in a way that fulfils us.
HB: It’s about being strategic, taking ownership of our career and actively managing it rather than let it passively evolve. Sometimes, we reach a point in our jobs, where we’re not progressing as before but fear change and end up staying as it’s comfortable. It’s important to be honest and ask ourselves questions such as: “What can I do to change the situation? Am I enjoying this job, do I find it fulfilling? Am I learning new skills? Do I see a path for promotion? Are there better options outside?”. We may not have all the answers but starting the process may stop us from drifting and help work out the best path for our career.
Does it take a particular mindset to achieve a fulfilling career?
EW: I think it’s important to have a positive mindset, be open-minded, be willing to take time for reflection and have a growth mindset in the face of challenges. We are all different so what makes a fulfilling career is different for everyone. We might see someone doing something high profile or getting paid lots of money and think I should be doing that, however, there is no right answer to what you should be doing and you don’t have to do this the same as anyone else. Focus on your own path rather than constantly comparing your career to others.
HB: In a world that is becoming more uncertain, we need to be adaptable and comfortable with change and have a learning mindset to acquire new skills. We have to accept that failure/ setbacks are part of the process and will happen but we need to be resilient, look forward and not be weighed down by what’s happened. I’ve seen people be successful in their academic career, do well in the early part of their work-life but then encounter failure such as not being promoted or being made redundant. That’s a real shock to them as it’s the first real failure they have encountered and they don’t know how to handle it.
We should focus on what we’re able to control and there is much more within our control than we realise. If you’re looking for work, treat your job search like a job, create a daily routine, reach out to your network, create and share content on LinkedIn or other social, take a course to learn new skills. The key thing is to take action, no matter how small. Sometimes, it’s that first step that is the hardest and the next one is just that bit easier!
EW: I always talk to my career and interview clients about the fact the recruitment process is just like dating, you shouldn’t come across as too keen but you do need to make an effort and have good manners. You also have to kiss a lot of frogs and at some point you will get ghosted, by recruiters or by employers, just don’t take it personally. My clients always feel so much better when they see it like this. It’s about finding the right fit.
HB: That’s hilarious Emile, I love the dating analogy, looking for a job is definitely a numbers game!
What role does passion play for people looking to discover what career path they should take?
HB: We discussed on the podcast why you should be wary of just following your passions. I think some people listened to Steve Jobs’ Stanford Commencement speech and interpreted this as we should follow our passion. I used to think this also but I came across the work of Cal Newport and his book “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” and changed my view. In broad terms, Cal concludes that it is rare to find pre-existing passions that you’re able to turn into a career, it takes time to create a passion for work and that passion is a side effect of being good at what you do.
He believes it’s important to develop “rare and valuable” skills, essentially gain mastery in a particular area. With globalisation, it’s more important than ever to demonstrate how you stand out from the crowd and I believe that if you focus on what you’re good at and develop a mastery in this area, this will make you unique and help you find great work!
EW: I highly recommend working in an area you find interesting but there is a danger of turning hobbies/passions into jobs and then you might find you don’t love it so much when you have to do it all day every day. What I think is vital is working out your natural strengths and finding work aligned with those – that’s where you are more likely to be in a flow state and be both fulfilled and successful.
You were recently featured on Harsha Boralessa’s podcast Reframe & Reset Your Career – what did you want to achieve by sharing your thoughts in this way?
EW: I wanted to inspire people to think about their careers differently, rather than planning for the classical linear career path I wanted to encourage people to see it more as an exploration and share how they can achieve their dream career and there’s more than one way to do that. I also wanted to share my own experience as an example to others, of what you can achieve with the right mindset, even in the face of challenges such as health issues. For me changing my mindset was the game changer. I could have been put off from holding a senior role but I reframed what was necessary to do it and I could do the role in a different way that felt right for me.
HB: It was so much fun to have Emilie on the podcast sharing her experience and journey. A key driver to set up the podcast was to empower people to take control of their careers and lives and help them see their goals are possible, if you reframe the situation, put in the effort and think creatively. When I talk about being creative, I mean looking at our career and thinking about how we’re able to take our skillset and apply it in different ways. There are so many highly sought after roles that didn’t exist 10 years ago, so it’s about being adaptable and augmenting your skillset and applying that in different ways.
Many guests on my podcast, like Emilie, have not had linear careers and I am keen to show that there are so many different ways of achieving success. I would like the audience to be exposed to a wide variety of stories and concepts and then adapt them to their unique situation to help develop their career. I believe that we all have the power within us to do great things, it’s about unlocking it.
In the Podcast, you discuss strategies for finding a new job. Can you share these and offer any guidance for any readers that are looking to change career paths?
EW: My mantra for my clients is: Stop, Think, Grow
Stop and reflect on what you enjoy, your strengths, when you were happiest in your career. Think about what you might want to do and explore the options industries – talk to as many people as possible and check your assumptions about the roles. Grow is about developing your own self-awareness and then taking action and embracing new challenges.
HB: I believe the key is your mindset and making sure you’re open-minded to change, willing to try new things and not ruling out anything. Adopting a new mindset is hard and you should not be frustrated if it takes time but if you do put in the work, change is possible. Reach out to your network, explain to them what you’re looking for and be open to their suggestions and ideas. Sometimes just talking and articulating things will give you clarity as to what you’re seeking.
Creating and sharing content on LinkedIn is important as it will help you to connect with and reach new people whilst reminding your existing network of what makes you unique and what interests you. I like this approach as you’re not giving people the hard sell about yourself but simply highlighting areas of common interest. This process does take time, you’re unlikely to find your new career path overnight … just keep putting in the work.
EW: I completely agree, I recommend laying the groundwork with networking and working on your social media profile months before you are thinking of making a move.
How important do you think personal branding is in managing your career path?
EW: You need a combination of doing a great job and having a great brand, If you don’t think about the brand there’s a risk you’ll be great at your job and get ignored. Brand helps you to be recognised, listened to, influence people and is really important in helping you find your next role or getting promoted. I have so many clients where we have worked on their brand and a couple of months later they were promoted when nothing else had changed, so if you don’t have a strategy around your brand you are definitely missing a trick.
HB: I love what Emilie says and agree that your brand is vital and you should think about your brand both within your company and externally. I believe that validation from outside your organisation is key and it’s important to be active online sharing knowledge and creating thought leadership. Speaking at events is another way to enhance your brand and connect with other industry experts. Your manager will see if you have a strong external profile and may value you more if they see this. Unless you are in a sales function or have a directly attributable profit and loss area, it’s hard to demonstrate your value and be properly rewarded, external recognition should really help this. As Emilie mentioned, it may also help you find your new role!
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and uncertain in your career. How can people stay conscious of how to get where they want to be?
HB: Have an accountability partner or group or hire a career coach to bounce ideas off and help keep you on track and moving forwards. Talking things out with someone or journaling are so helpful to stop you from internalising everything and overthinking. Don’t feel you have to accomplish everything too quickly and put too much pressure on yourself, just focus on your own path, set yourself realistic goals and recognise even small successes towards this. Also, take time to establish what success looks like to you as your idea of success may be different from other people’s.
EW: I completely agree, Laurence and I talk about this in our recent Thrive interview.
Take time to set a vision for your life and regularly check in with it. When you make decisions, when you take action, ask yourself does this take me closer or further away from my vision. Use that as a compass.
It is also so important to remember there is more to life than work, make sure that you have meaningful connections and things you love doing outside of work to create more internal balance and help you feel less overwhelmed.
HB: Absolutely – feeling good about yourself and your life can give you the energy and motivation to work harder so it becomes a virtuous circle. I’ve often heard that companies recruit the person who seems more positive and has a better vibe, where candidates have similar experience and qualifications.
An issue that many of us face in the pursuits of our careers is the crippling idea of ‘perfectionism’. Is this something people can move past?
EW: Yes, we talked about this in the podcast. If you are a perfectionist it’s really important to learn when things are good enough. Over time you will see that you can make more progress by letting go of perfectionism where it doesn’t matter, but use it to your advantage on the tasks where it does.
Not everyone is a perfectionist and some people are the other way and always rush through their work onto the next thing and need to learn when to take time to really focus on the details. It’s always about understanding who you are and where you need to create some balance.
HB: Yes, completely agree, you need to work out what type of person you are and then adjust appropriately.
Is there any advice you would offer people struggling to find fulfilment in their career?
HB: Some people see their current situation and then extrapolate the rest of their life based on where they are now and they become disheartened. Remember where you are now doesn’t mean your future is set, it is possible to change things. It’s a two-step process, first identify why you aren’t happy, is it the company, is it the work, is it your boss or colleagues? Then take action, thinking about it isn’t enough, you do need to start with a step forward.
Don’t let your past experiences define you or hold you back. Learn to be comfortable with uncertainty and not knowing, you don’t have to have all the answers for your future career … just try and work out the next couple of steps. As Christian Busch talks about in “The Serendipity Mindset”, it’s possible to “create” luck by putting yourself out there and constantly reaching out to your network. By making yourself visible and being open to conversations and chance interactions some great opportunities may come your way that you would have missed if didn’t have your eyes and ears open to them.
Finally, look to acquire new skills, it’s much easier and cheaper than you think. Last year, I had no idea about podcasting and YouTube, some people might still think I don’t! I read, watched lots of videos and reached out to loads of people, not everyone was helpful but enough were so that I was able to launch a podcast and YouTube channel with minimal investment.
EW: If you’re feeling frustrated and can’t work out what to do next I would say you need to start by getting to know yourself better. Get a coach or speak to a therapist to deepen your understanding of your strengths, weaknesses and what motivates you, then you can find a role that truly fulfils you
I also caution against trying to have the answer for your whole career, I always just thought 2 or 3 steps ahead in my career and when I started out in banking I had no idea I would end up with this amazing portfolio career that I really enjoy.
Are there any resources or information you can point people to if they would like to learn more about finding their career path?
EW: I would start with Harsha’s podcast, it’s an amazing resource for career advice and a really great listen. I also recommend The Surrender Experiment by Michael Singer which is all about letting go and going with the flow in your career.
HB: Thanks for the shout out Emilie! On my booklist, I would have
Carol Dweck Mindset
Robert Cialdini Influence
Dorie Clark The Long Game
Christian Busch The Serendipity Mindset
Gabija Toleikyte Why the F*ck Can’t I Change?
Grace Lordan Think Big
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