I'm a career therapist, and people love to tell me their stories. Specifically, all the things that have gone wrong in their careers, along with the personal weaknesses and limitations that are responsible for these failures and setbacks. I'm always fascinated by these stories. Why? Because of the simple fact that they're total fiction. Career stories are subjective interpretations of a set of events in our lives. Fact: If I were to share your career story with 10 people, they'd all see the series of events in a different way and end up with a different narrative. Which means your career story can be changed at any time. As the famous saying goes, "Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change." But how exactly do you do that?

What if there's nothing wrong with you?

Recently, I came across a fascinating TED Talk by Susan Henkels. She shares her personal research into the power of asking, What if there's nothing wrong with you? To prove its impact, she offers the story of a successful film producer who approached her with claims of having all sorts of personal problems. As he shared each problem, she simply responded with, "Why is that a bad thing?" Each time, he would offer another self-loathing explanation of his weakness, to which she would again ask, "Why is that a bad thing?" The result was a huge aha! moment for the film producer. He suddenly came full circle and realized the things that he claimed were wrong with him were exactly what helped him be so successful. He made peace with an internal struggle that had been torturing him for years as an adult.

Want greater happiness? Drop the rocks!

Henkels's approach is a good example of how we can be our own career therapists. In my experience, giving people the tools to change their thoughts is powerful. For example, I teach a career reinvention challenge. In it, I show participants how each experience in their career narrative labeled as "negative" is like a rock. The more negative experiences, the more rocks. And you carry them wherever you go. Soon, you have pockets and a backpack filled with heavy rocks of perceived career failure and professional regret. It slows you down, making you tired, sad, and unable to get excited about the future. I mean, if your past attempts at professional success already have already given you this many rocks to carry, why would you want to move forward with your career? Dropping these rocks by processing past career experiences so you no longer see them as negatives but as powerful learning experiences that have helped you learn, grow, and get stronger is vital to successful career reinvention. 

P.S. We're all equipped with the same capacity to drop the rocks

Sometimes, people say to me, "J.T., my situation is so much harder. I'll never have the success of people like Oprah or Richard Branson. I've had too many setbacks." But this is simply not true. Mega-successful people have had just as many failures and setbacks, likely even more than you. The difference is, they've gotten so good at dropping their rocks that negative experiences never get the chance to slow them down. They fully process them when they happen, freeing them up to learn and grow. It keeps them light, nimble, and able to continue at the speed of light toward their desires and destiny. With a little practice, so can you.

Published on: Jan 22, 2019