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From PhD to Life

Feeling rooted in the midst of uncertainty


I’m in the midst of packing up my apartment in anticipation of a move on Monday. “In the midst” is how I often feel these days in terms of my business building. I’m learning and gathering and thinking. It feels like I’m preparing for something, but I haven’t quite figured out what it is.

Much is uncertain. I don’t think I can make a living solely from individual coaching. It’s intense work: incredibly rewarding and fun but I only have so much of this kind of energy. That being the case, I need to figure out other ways of earning money. I have vague plans to create a course or structured coaching group. If I ran enough of these with enough people enrolled, I might be able to succeed in this business. This is one idea, of many.

Another option — one that may become a necessity — is to get a job. I say this with only a very small sigh. I would like to make it on my own, but that’s my ego talking. I know that if in a year or two I decided to look for more certain employment I’d be in a much better position to do so than I was a year ago, before launching my coaching business. Let me tell you why.

First, I know myself much better. This is crucial. I can list without hesitation values that are important to me (including inclusivity, honesty, curiosity, empathy, independence), and I know my own strengths (community building, listening and asking questions, telling stories, facilitating self-awareness in others, connecting). I also know what’s important to me in terms of my desired lifestyle. As long as I can do work (and have a life) that uses my strengths, honours my values, and provides me with the lifestyle I want, then I’ll be living the good-for-me life. The details — self-employment, working with academics, even coaching — are surface-level considerations.

Second, I know more about places and spaces that might be a good fit for me. There’s lots more exploring to do here, and I can focus more on this as I need to in future.

Third, I have a much larger network than I did before. I continue to do informational interviews and have conversations with colleagues (broadly-defined) and similarly-minded folk. If I decide to launch a job search down the road, I can step up these efforts even more. Knowing people is nearly a requirement to securing employment. I hear and read this again and again, and I know it’s usually been true for me in the past.

When it comes to core issues, much is certain. Knowing this roots me when it starts to feel like everything is up in the air (and in boxes in the living room).

Jennifer Polk
Jennifer Polk is a career coach and entrepreneur. She earned her PhD in history from the University of Toronto in 2012. For more information and resources, check out her website:
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  1. deb / July 15, 2014 at 15:52

    Hi Jen,
    Hope the move went smoothly!

    I know what you mean about having “only so much of this kind of energy.” It is the same for me with tutoring. It pays really well, but my head would explode if I tried to do it full time. I wish you luck and success in getting your own full-time business off the ground!

    • Jennifer Polk / July 18, 2014 at 11:52

      Thanks Deb! And to you. Success and fun all round, whatever and however.
      The move went well and so far I’m loving my new place.