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Career Focus

Linking Career Crisis with Spirituality

By SONNY WONG - September 10 2018

By John Sendim and Sonny Wong

We don’t have a choice how crisis comes into our lives. Sometimes, we see it coming and we can prepare for it, while other times, we are just thrown into it by surprise. One common type of crisis, which is often not talked about, is career crisis. Career crisis can be events, such as: a new graduate transiting from school to work, a professional who experienced reorganization and displacement in the labour market, denial of a well-deserved promotion, or retirement as a new life stage. These external conditions of transition can provoke fears leading to problematic self-dialogues thereby intensifying the crisis. What if we challenge the career crisis? Could it be viewed as an adventuresome opportunity leading us to an enlightened path?  

This article is co-written with my friend who is a student in Spiritual Care and Psychotherapy in Buddhist Studies from the University of Toronto. A career crisis can be looked at as a spiritual concern/struggle. According to Dr. Christina M. Puchalsk spirituality is “a dynamic and intrinsic aspect of our humanity through which persons seek ultimate meaning, purpose, transcendence, and experience relationship – to self, family, others, community, society, nature and the significant or sacred.” Many years ago, when one found meaningful employment – it was described as a true vocational calling. These individuals are energized as they perform work.  They feel that they are contributing to a greater good.  Moreover, their sense of productivity in the labor market, the status of the occupation/organization they belong to, professional/personal relationships along with their income power help solidify their self-identity. If you don’t believe us, think of a time when you went to a party and you encounter the question: “What kind of work do you do?” And when one is unemployed – the sense of self is challenged because others have difficulties locating where they fit within the social context.  

Job seekers have reported that their peers/professionals suggest that they engage in tasks, such as: creating an online profile, attending job search networking events and/or conducting informational interviews – to reclaim their career identity. In times of crisis, teaching or telling people what to do may not be the most useful first step. Instead people want to be listened to or heard without words being said, they want to be understood and have validated that what they are going through is difficult. This is a time where working on our spirit can reconnect our deepest self with something enduring beyond the self for strength and renewal. 

The key is switching the focus from career crisis to a spiritual crisis then, as Robert Gerzon mentions, attending to our spiritual life enables us to access inner resources of strength, keeping us energized with hope and faith. Attending to the spiritual aspect of our life allows us to tackle the career crisis we are facing. We develop our spirituality – the core essence of our being that allows us to get through the emotional and psychological difficulties. It may be during this period that we may find a solution which has nothing to do with the crisis at all and that can fuel our spiritual practice.

This can be any form of spiritual practice – prayer, meditation, communing with beauty, nature, spiritual support groups, creative expression, journaling, simple acts of kindness and also reconciliation with self and/or others. These spiritual practices can provide you with comfort in coping with the struggles.  Finally, through practices such as meditation, clarity arises and a sense of peace comes from within us. The self-awareness and spiritual development brings one into a clearer path that, when working with a professional, will allow for further exploration of our vocational calling visions.

Remember, a career crisis is not something to “get-over” but to uncover or rediscover the underlining spiritual concern. When one experiences a career crisis – the inability to utilize his/her problem-solving skills to find resolution is hindered for them. Would people suggest someone who has lost a loved one or who has ended a marriage or been diagnosed with an illness to get over it? People would most likely suggest ways to get through those types of crises. If you are not working with a Certified Counsellor or a Registered Psychotherapist, how can one better cope with their present career crisis? Having a spiritual teacher/mentor or community can help one tap into ways of coping through the present career crisis. The first step is to eliminate the word “confident” – and try replacing it with words like “comfort” “curiosity” and “clarity”.  

Comfort:  “A house is a home when it shelters the body and comforts the soul.” ― Phillip Moffitt.  What is it I need today which will give me comfort in coping with this career crisis?   By asking this question – you can search for steps to deal with your struggles. You may book an appointment with your financial advisor to go over your finances. You may determine that it is not work you need to focus on but your own well-being.  You may discover that you want to reconnect with your old friends to talk about good memories to lift your spirits. If you do not come up with an action it may be that you need to be inactive for a while – that is an action in itself – rest and allow your emotions to catch up with the reality. You may begin to recognize that you need to put yourself first and that you have been taking care of others for a bit too long.  

Curiosity:  “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” – Shunryu Suzuki.  Engaging in positive self-talk involves reclaiming your sense of curiosity.  Let me ask you…when did you stop asking, “let’s see what happens if…?”  Many people who are experiencing career crises are less likely to find solutions because they believe that the solution is dependent on the problem. Increase your curiosity by asking yourself:  What if the solution has nothing to do with the problem? Try it, you may find that the intensity of the problem is lessened for a few moments. 

Clarity:  “More important than the quest for certainty is the quest for clarity.” – Francois Gautier. Ask yourself, “since the intensity of my problem is less – how can I maintain these moments and make them last longer?” Take your curiosity to the next level during your clarity moments and allow yourself to wonder. For example, you may say:  “I wonder what would happen if I took a small step and make a small decision?” I wonder if I had a cheerleader what would my cheerleader say I could do?”  The key is engaging in positive self-dialogue during this transitional stage.  And take comfort in knowing that everything has an expiration date…and this crisis can bring new beginnings.

Sonny Wong (MEd, RP) is a Registered Psychotherapist who specializes in healthy career identity development. 

John Sendim (MPS candidate) is a student in Spiritual Care and Psychotherapy in Buddhist Studies from University of Toronto – Emmanuel College.

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