Several years ago, I had resigned from my full-time job, recognizing that it was time to move in a new direction. I immersed myself in a variety of career assessments, and complemented these discovery sessions with emotional intelligence, mindful movement and meditation.
During my research and experience with mindfulness, I developed the belief that just as the brain can be rewired, careers direction often needs to be reset – or “rewired” – in particular for individuals who have experienced workplace trauma or a negative work environment. As most career counsellors and coaches can relate, clients come to us in a myriad of stages of change – sometimes prior to recognition that change is needed; other times contemplating that change is required; or, arriving to the process after they have already left a work situation.
As part of my coaching practice – launched in November 2018 – I pioneered “career rewirement” as a philosophy and approach to help clients deal with change. This strategy fosters the constructivist (making meaning as a person learns) and humanistic (holistic assessment for self-actualization, efficacy and free will) approaches to making meaning of life and loss while fostering growth and resilience. While there are a number of strategies I integrate into my career rewirement philosophy, here are two of the foundational practices.
Giving clients permission to feel the emotion they are experiencing is pivotal. Maslow’s Hierachy of Needs reveals that after physiological needs are met, safety needs (e.g. security, resources) require fulfillment next. My first mentor in the field – Ross Young, a retired career counsellor – once told me that part of our role is “to create a safe place for people to land.” As part of creating that safety, it is essential to honour that people may be experiencing stages of grief, moving through denial, anger, depression, bargaining, acceptance and a plethora of other emotions (and not necessarily in a linear order). Whatever the person is experiencing, to create a safe space, career professionals should sincerely validate clients’ emotions.
Beyond this, integrate mindfulness simply by being with the client, exactly where they are. Access the principles of motivational interviewing including resisting the righting reflex (an attempt to change behavior to “solve” a problem). Reflect back what you hear from the client.
“Integrate mindfulness simply by being with the client, exactly where they are.”
Most essential to building the foundation for the rewirement philosophy: be silent at the right moment. Integrate silence and moments of quietude rather than filling space with verbiage, questions or information. If a person is sharing or experiencing emotions, rather than moving forward with an agenda, give the powerful permission of the 20-second (minimal) pause, where you give breath to space and time. For some coaches and counsellors, this may feel uncomfortable and takes practice to refine.
Clients may lack a support system, or share that family and friends “just don’t get it.” Hearing that a new client is using other counselling supports is positive information. If they aren’t, you may need to assess the emotional landscape and help clients access supports to address workplace trauma, negative thinking patterns or mental health complications.
In keeping with the spirit of rewirement, clients leave a first session on assignment. This is customized and often is not about career research or job postings. This is an action for mindful movement. The question could be: “What activity do you enjoy that you haven’t done for some time?” or “What healthy activity do you do where you lose track of time?”
Typical responses: “Wood working; running; swimming; working out; knitting; walking with my dog; painting; scrapbooking; yoga.” Ask enough questions to identify at least one option that moves the body or kinesthetically uses one’s hands.
The assignment is: “In the next 24 hours if possible, engage in the activity for 15-60 minutes. Lose yourself in it; leave your cell phone somewhere inaccessible. Connect in that moment to that activity. Immediately afterward, write down three of your greatest take-aways from our initial meeting and email me with the thoughts that transpire.”
The goal is to allow people to lose themselves in an activity that serves their spirit; placing specific focus on something that activates the body, calms thoughts and releases the intuitive spark of the right side of the brain. This, combined with emotional regulation, allows the inner wisdom of the body to foster whole-brained ideas and decision-making.
Two foundational building blocks to adopting a career rewirement philosophy involve feeling and connecting.
I know this to be true in both a personal and professional context. There are extensive strategies and avenues to integrate into this approach and the more it is developed, the deeper the work can go. The philosophy behind career rewirement is a culmination of my own career development and those whom I have coached; it is constantly evolving to include new elements of creative mindfulness.
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