Leave it to the Professionals

Last week, I promised to share professional advice about making a life change from my brother’s friend, Scott, a certified career coach based in Philadelphia. Looking back on my decision-making process some two years ago, I probably could have saved myself a lot of grief by talking to him or someone in his line of work – which I will demonstrate by recreating my inner dialogue from years ago, first with my own thoughts and then with Scott’s. At the end, you can decide if you’d rather get your life change pep talk from me or from him. If you prefer the latter, check out his website here.


I worked so hard to establish my career. Throwing it away now seems so foolish. What will I do if this new thing doesn’t work out?

Nova: You’ll be finished. Your career will be in shambles, your reputation will be shot and no one will ever trust your judgment again. Your friends will think you’re a moron and no one will ever want to date you again. Not only that but you’ll be homeless and have no personal belongings to speak of. You’ll have to buy new furniture, new clothes, new everything. And good luck with that since you won’t have a job to pay for any of it.

Scott: You’ll learn from your experience and decide to try it again. Or you’ll do something else. Or you’ll do the old thing you used to do.

What are people going to think?

Nova: They’ll think you’re crazy. Or stupid. Or both. They’ll think you’re going to fuck up and you know what? They’re probably right.

Scott: It doesn’t matter.


My family told me not to do this.

Nova: It’s true that I never listened to my family… but maybe this is a good time to start.

Scott: That’s pretty normal if what you’re considering doing is at all atypical. If you want to do something that your family/friends/classmates/colleagues will find unexpected (e.g. make a career change, move abroad, start a company), chances are there are people who will get in your ear and tell you why you shouldn’t. People tend to express their own fears or resentments when criticizing others. They play out their agendas, not yours.

That family member who loves you and wants you to be happy may be fearful that your move will make you miserable (perhaps not acknowledging that you not making the move may make you miserable). Or your colleague or classmate may be jealous of your move and may be trying to justify their own choices by insisting that you must do what they have done. Either way, their reaction isn’t about you, it’s about their issues.


I have a good thing going here though. What’s the real upside to changing?

Nova: There isn’t one! I might give up everything and be left with nothing. I mean, I don’t really enjoy what I have now, but that’s beside the point. Maybe what I really need is more stuff. Or different stuff. I’ve always wanted a Nespresso machine. Let’s get one and hope it’s a game changer.

Scott: When you make a change, you’re spending your time doing something you want to be doing. You’re gaining expertise and experience in something you care about. You’re meeting people who care about the same things you do, who appreciate that you’re doing what you do. You become immersed in a new sphere, where your colleagues/clients/customers are helping you build a future you want. This leads to more, often unexpected, opportunities.


But this is a huge risk. What if it’s the biggest mistake I ever make?

Nova: It totally is! Right after that time I cut my own bangs in high school.

Scott: Whether you take the “risky” choice or the “safe” choice, there’s a chance you’ll screw it up either way. So consider this: An error of commission may eat away at your money and time. An error of omission will eat away at your soul.


What if I lose a lot of money? What if I come back and can’t find a job that pays me as much money as I make now?

Nova: Yeah, then how am I going to buy all those life-changing Nespresso machines? Besides, did I really work this hard to save money and then blow it on something I really want to do, like travel for a year? No! I saved this money so that I could save more money and maybe buy an overpriced condo that will further anchor me to a city that I can’t stand. Let’s move that plan along. Because at least everyone else understands it.

Scott: You might lose some money. If you decide up front how much you’re willing to lose, then your worst case scenario involves not giving up more than that amount. But that’s not the point. You learn from the experience. You feel good that you had the courage to make the attempt. You become a role model for others, and you feel stronger and more confident. Once you’ve proven to yourself that you’re willing to go after what you want, you set a positive pattern. You get to make it a way of life.

It’s important to define success on your own terms. If you determine what success is to you, then you will feel good about taking steps to make it happen, regardless as to the results. If your goal is simply to make the same amount of money you make now, then by all means, keep doing what you’re doing now. But if you let others define success for you, you may never feel you are truly in charge of your own life, and you’ll likely never feel satisfied with your decisions.


What are people going to say if I fail?

Nova: If? IF you fail?? Try when. When you fail, the people who thought you were crazy back when you left will be completely vindicated. It will be just like when you came back from Nigeria and everyone absolutely no one expected you to give them an explanation about what went wrong. Jerks.

Scott: Again, it doesn’t matter. So you tried doing something you really wanted to do and it didn’t work out. You’ll still very likely feel good about yourself. Because you acted with self-respect. Assuming you were thoughtful when making the change – that you considered the impact of your actions on other people, and took steps to understand what was involved, ideally experimenting with some smaller-scale trials before making the leap – your worst case is managed reasonably well.

Also, even if you fail, when you make a change, your identity changes. You’re the person with the guts to make the move. You’re the person who gets to do what you want. You’re the person who trusts yourself. This is why people who make a big change tend to end up being more satisfied afterwards.


Why have I been having this argument with myself on a loop for the past two years?

Nova: Because I’m waiting for someone to tell me that I’m good enough to make this decision.

Scott: If you’ve done your research and taken some smaller steps and you’re not willing to make the jump to really go after what you want, it’s possible you don’t want it enough. Which is fine. Just be honest with yourself. Is it fear or lack of interest holding you back? Or not enough information?

***

In writing this post, I noticed two critical mistakes that I kept making: 1. Prioritizing other peoples’ expectations over my own happiness; 2. Worrying about making a mistake… while ignoring the fact that doing nothing was a mistake.

It’s all pretty clear now. It doesn’t matter what other people say – good or bad. What’s important is that you’re living the life you want in the best way possible – or taking steps to do so. What other people think is secondary to how you feel; There’s a fine line between listening to others and compromising your own agenda.

When I was knee-deep in decision-making, it was way easier to imagine how things could go wrong as opposed to how they could improve. I was so fixated on the “worst case scenario” that I never thought about what the “best case scenario” would be. Perhaps that’s a blessing – because what I’m living right now feels a lot like the best possible outcome even though I haven’t exactly reached the personal goals I set for myself last February.

When weighing a big decision, I think a lot of people also fall into a black or white world: the change will either be a catastrophic failure or a smashing success. Chances are, it will be somewhere in the middle – and there will always be a chance to course correct. Besides, as Scott pointed out, just because you play it safe doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed smooth sailing. However, I can tell you, when you’re living on your own terms, you’re much more likely to embrace the waves.


Thanks again to Scott for contributing to this post. Should you be interested in speaking with him, I’m happy to provide an introduction. Or you can visit his website for more information about his services.

 

11 Comments
  1. –and what you were giving yourself were not reasons, but excuses. tch.

    it’s funny, but in reading that dialogue, I kept seeing Nova inching her way toward the passport booth, and the plane reservations, it felt like you had already made your mind up, but didn’t know it yet.

    And maybe your way isn’t all that terrible. You got to work through all the bad stuff, and then you could get on with the good stuff, like packing. =)

    • well thanks, lady! i’m glad you saw me inching my way to a new life, because I certainly didn’t! i’m so glad I did though… no matter how long it took. as always, thanks for reading! xx

  2. I needed to read this today. I am a grown woman who managed to raise a child mostly on her own. Why do I feel I need validation in order to make decisions for myself. Thanks Nova! I believe I have told you on Instagram before, I love living vicariously through your pictures and posts!

    • well good for you! i’m a firm believer in only you knowing what’s best for you… actually doing it, on the other hand, can be challenging. thanks for reading!! catch you on IG soon!!

  3. ” I think a lot of people also fall into a black or white world: the change will either be a catastrophic failure or a smashing success. Chances are, it will be somewhere in the middle – and there will always be a chance to course correct. ”

    THIS! Whenever I’m faced with what feels like a monumental decision, my initial thoughts are always that if I choose to proceed it will either be PERFECT or TERRIBLE. And, the unspoken consequence is that – if it’s TERRIBLE – I will be stuck and cannot fix it.

    I always have to force myself to step back and remember that very few decisions have permanent consequences – if I pick this house, or this car and HATE IT – I can SELL IT. If I pick this job and it turns out to be a terrible mistake – I can find a new job.

    It takes practice and I have to keep reminding myself that things are not black and white, either/or, but I’m getting better at it, I think :)

    • amen! it’s so easy to think that way, but it’s totally not helpful! thanks for reading! here’s to having patience with ourselves.

  4. Good post. I would also like to point out that though Scott is the best I know at motivation and encouragement, he’s more than that as a career coach. When I started a side business, Scott gave me good, solid, really valuable technical advice on how to manage the startup, how to reach out to potential collaborators and future clients, etc. He’s not just a motivator; he can direct you how to go once you’re motivated.

    • Thanks! Yes! Scott is more than motivation. If I ever want to start a business, I will contact him. If I ever need a sustainable drainage system, I will call you.

  5. This.is.so.good. I’ve never talked to a life/career coach before, and now I can see that I’m missing out! Scott cuts right through the BS and puts his finger to the heart of what we perceive as problems. Brilliant!
    All your thoughts – “I’m not good enough”, “I’m scared”, “what if I fail?” are sooooo familiar to me. It’s like you plucked them right out of my brain!

    For a while now, I have the suspicion that all of us have similar fears. And the trick is to figure out what we really want, and then do it despite the fear.

    Great post, thanks for sharing Nova!

    • Yes, ma’am. Scott cuts right through the BS… yet is frighteningly good at making small talk at weddings. Also: he is very patient when it comes to listening to my father explain the plot of the Einstein miniseries, episode by episode, at the reception.

    • Oh – and yes! I don’t think you and I are the only two to have these fears. Good luck working through them! May your goat yoga take off!

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