What do you do when you start to feel “meh” about your profession? I’m not talking about a desire to retire or change jobs, but rather about a niggling feeling that you may no longer want to pursue the work you’ve been doing for years, possibly decades.
For me, that question started bubbling up in 2017. It was prompted by recurring feelings of yearning and indifference. Even boredom. Since the latter is something I rarely experience, that one caught my attention: something was off.
Initially, I ignored these persisting emotions. I’d been through phases of lower engagement previously. Surely this would pass, I reassured myself. And, I love my work, don’t I? It’s meaningful, has brought me great joy, has been highly stimulating, and there’s so much more to learn. Plus, I had invested two decades of my life into this work, not to mention a PhD.
While the above was true, I admitted to myself that I was not as stimulated, energized, interested and committed as in the past, despite implementing strategies to allay these feelings. Strategies included seeking out and getting involved in new initiatives and collaborations, and speaking with my manager about my interests.
I acknowledged the truth of my current experience and conceded that it was not a temporary phase. The problem with doing so is that I had to reckon with the implications: specifically, that I didn’t have a solid plan, but itched to take action.
Reflection and experimentation
My first go-to action was to reflect on what was calling me. I allowed myself to shed some shoulds (e.g., I should find the passion in my current work, I should stick with my current field, I should have a plan) and to listen to what was pulling me now. Since I was curious to experience new postsecondary settings, people, and practices (but did not want to leave my existing position), I began to do educational consulting work in other postsecondary institutions.
In other words, my second action step was to experiment and try things out.
In doing so, I noticed that I was enthused by the new settings and collaborations, but not fulfilled by the work. That’s because I was doing similar work to what I had done for the past 19 years – only the setting had changed. This was a clue to me that the substance and core of the work needed to be and feel different.
Thankfully, there were two areas of work that I was both familiar with and curious about: facilitation and coaching. As an educational developer, I regularly facilitated processes and workshops and had a solid sense of this work. I had also been a client of life and career coaching for over 20 years and was familiar with that work from my consumer perspective. If I recall correctly, I may have briefly considered mediation and conflict resolution as professional avenues (largely because these are skills I deeply admire and knew I would learn a great deal if I followed this path). I dismissed those fairly quickly because I am conflict-averse and, learning potential aside, intuited these would not be good choices long-term.
I selected coaching after doing some research into certification programs. I did not conduct extensive research, nor did I have numerous informational interviews. Ultimately, I chose this path on the basis that it strongly appealed to me: I am driven to help people, cherish one-on-one connections, am highly introverted, and believed that “becoming a coach” was 100 per cent attainable. Also, I had repeatedly experienced how powerful being coached was in my own life and knew this was a skill and practice that would have multiple applications.
Transitioning into a changed professional identity
Fast forward five years, I can confirm that the journey of becoming and being a certified coach has been an excellent career choice for me. The pursuit of this also feels like a luxury that was enabled by the fact that I work part-time as an educational developer, have financial stability, health, support and multiple other resources.
Currently, this is what being a professional coach looks like for me: I have my own coaching practice and private clients, I am a coach for the organizational coaching program at the University of British Columbia, I coach within the UBC academic leadership development program, and I apply coaching skills in multiple other settings informally (family, consultations, friendships, etc.).
However, coaching has not replaced my work as an educational developer. Initially, that’s what I had envisioned, but that is not what transpired. “Exiting the profession” (the name I originally gave this phase/project) has become more akin to, “Adopting an additional professional identity.” There was some awkwardness in that transition and going public with my coaching identity, but that has long passed.
Parting words? If you feel a niggle, or a call to explore other/additional facets of your career and identity, follow it. Someone on LinkedIn recently used the term “mid-life growth spurt.” That term aptly describes the phase I’m in.
Isabeau Iqbal is an independent career coach for ambitious perfectionists in higher education and a part-time senior educational developer at the University of British Columbia’s Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology.