At the end of every year, usually sometime in that sweet spot between Boxing Day and New Year’s, I choose a word. It usually isn’t a particularly inspiring or powerful word, but I trust it’s the word I need. In the weeks and months that follow, slowly and without fail, the power and meaning of the word starts to reveal itself.
This year my word is “space.” As a career practitioner, I’ve had several months now to play with and experience this word in my work. The word seems to be weaving in nicely, with a few themes emerging.
Space to honour their story
The clients I work with often arrive with many people at their side. Joining us in our conversations are mothers who feel sadness and guilt for having gone back to work. Fathers who toil 18-hour days to provide a better future for their children. Grandparents who beam with pride at the thought of having a doctor in the family. They are not physically in the room with us, of course, but their words, their expectations and their dreams join us.
In our work as career practitioners, we need to help our clients articulate and honour their stories – all the parts of their stories – as their stories. Each of our clients have people in their lives who consciously and unconsciously shape the view they hold of themselves and the world around them. Sometimes, though, they struggle to define where their mother’s, father’s or grandparent’s story ends and where their story begins. Some of the hardest questions for these clients are questions that ask them “What do you envision for your future? What does success mean to you?” While being sensitive to cultural contexts and mindful of family dynamics, we need to seek ways to encourage our clients to use their voice and honour their story.
Space to wonder and be curious
When I was in elementary school, our guidance counsellor would visit our class periodically with Popeye and Careers magazines. I loved – I mean loved – browsing the collection and choosing which gem I wanted to explore (would it be Popeye and Public Services Careers? Or Popeye and Business and Office Careers?). It was a time to think about what I might like my life to look like and the possibilities of who I could become. I didn’t know it then, but I was being given space to wonder and be curious.
As career practitioners, we know that our clients’ career development journeys will not be linear. Some will embrace this reality with excitement, and others will struggle and resist it. Creating space for all our clients to ponder without judgement is very important. It encourages them to explore ideas of how they want to contribute to the world and be curious about how their journey might unfold. It also gives them the opportunity to consider possibilities that have never been on their radar or that perhaps they’d tucked far away in the back of their mind.
This can be very freeing and empowering, but also very unnerving and daunting, especially if they’ve been married to a career ideal for a long time or are carrying the weight of someone else’s dreams. For all clients, though, giving them the opportunity to wonder and be curious is a very important exercise, and one that takes patience, vulnerability and courage.
Space to invest in themselves
Our client’s time, not unlike ours, is often divided and shared amongst a long list of competing priorities: school, family, volunteering, friends and work all vie for their attention and energy. When someone chooses to make time to meet with me for career coaching, I am very intentional about creating space for them to not only get the most out of our time together – we are sharing a precious resource, after all – but more than that, I am intentional about creating a space for them to invest in themselves.
As a career practitioner, I work hard to create a safe space for my clients that gives them permission and encouragement to be vulnerable and authentic, and to work toward the insights they are seeking. This can mean, for example, gently and respectfully shining a light on patterns that seem to serve them particularly well. Or maybe it’s patiently listening and drawing connections between ideas they had never had the chance to see before.
Clients consistently tell my team and I just how appreciative they are of the space we give them to unpack their lives with an unbiased ear and, even more so, how grateful they are that we ask them hard questions and give them space to invest in themselves.
The power of space
Being more intentional about offering clients space to honour their stories, wonder and be curious, and to invest in themselves, has been a good exercise for me as a practitioner. Playing with space, I’ve rediscovered, can be a freeing, powerful and exciting. In the wise words of Canada’s own master of space:
“Decide in your heart of hearts what really excites and challenges you, and start moving your life in that direction… Look at who you want to be, and start sculpting yourself into that person. You may not get exactly where you thought you’d be, but you will be doing things that suit you in a profession you believe in. Don’t let life randomly kick you into the adult you don’t want to become.”
― Chris Hadfield