Sliding Right Into a Career U-turn

Along with providing something for the media to obsess over during August, Steven Slater has become single-handedly responsible for creating new workplace slang. “Hit the slide” and “slide on outta here” have taken on whole new meanings. Plus there’s a whole new verb: slatering. The word geek in me loves this! But for my money, the most interesting thing about the whole incident is that Slater wants his job back.

Enter for U Turn sign

Would that all our life u-turns were so clearly marked.

That’s right, the job he seemingly hated or at least didn’t really like, and quit with such earth-scorching flair. He was so fed up that he lost it completely, but now he’s over that? I kinda doubt it.

Slater’s desire to climb back to safety, even though it was a miserable kind of job safety, reminds me of a lot of people who have left, oh, say law practice, and a year or two later feel like they made a huge mistake. At the very least they feel uneasy about their choice, like they failed at law and if they had just stuck it out, been tougher, etc., they would have been better off by now and found that perfect legal job with the perfectly reasonable boss and environment. Maybe they’re feeling regret because they aren’t progressing in their new career like they think they should.

Or just possibly, I’m talking about those of you who start making progress in your alternative legal career search—getting interviews, making interesting new contacts—and then decide that you just can’t risk the paycut, the uncertain career path, the [fill in the blank].

There’s a term I have for this kind of thinking: a U-turn. One that takes you right back to the place that made you crazy miserable.

U-turns don’t have flashing lights and neon arrows pointing at them saying “Look at me, I’m your worst nightmare. Listen to me and in 3 years, you’ll be kicking yourself.” That’s because they’re all dressed up in your inner critic’s best finery, and your inner critic knows you well, and how to manipulate the heck out of your best self. As we discussed often in my coaching training, critics (or saboteurs or gremlins or any other term you like) usually show up the strongest when you’re on the cusp of something very, very big. Something that, in fact, has the potential to wreck the critic’s cozy existence and make her or him work a lot harder to keep you miserably safe. Or, something that will downsize the critic quite a bit. (Sorry, but the critic will never be totally gone til you’re dead. But that’s the story of another post.)

You can recognize your critic because she uses your worst fears as a battering ram.

  • “What am I doing in this interview? I have no experience in this area.” And then your critic pipes up and suddenly you hear yourself saying something really silly.
  • “I can’t possibly make time for journaling/walking/skills training/ networking seminars/ 15 minutes to myself. I have too much work!” Because really, you’re doing exquisite work while exhausted and brain-dead.

And so you remain stuck.

How can you tell, in the heat of the decision moment (revise resume or interrogatories? walk or watch Weeds?) whether your critic is shooting you in the foot? One way that Martha Beck suggests is to ask yourself which course of action tastes like freedom. “Not comfort. Not ease. Freedom.” Note another emotion that is missing from that list: feeling safe.

I get why Slater thinks he wants his airline job back: change is some scary, unknowable stuff, and at least he knew what to expect when he was miserable. Change is especially daunting when you’ve focused so much on what you don’t want (your current sucky job) and not quite enough on what you do want (where do your deep, true interests lie?).

There will be plenty of times during your alternative career search that you’re going to get scared. The trick to navigating those times is focusing on what brightens you up, and follow that as relentlessly as you can.

Don’t ask yourself what the world needs, ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

—Howard Thurman

It may not make you a Slater, but it will make you a lot happier in the end.

Jennifer Alvey is a professional career transition coach who wants to write a scene in her Great American Novel as good as Steven Slater’s real-life exit slide. What’s your great slide fantasy? She’d like to hear it. Drop her a line at jalvey AT jenniferalvey.com.

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