Trump Is Making My Clients (and Me) Ponder Career Change

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A special kind of career change.

The presidency is supposed to age the president, not the public.” Jon Stewart said that a couple of weeks ago.

Well, I certainly feel like I have aged over the past month. And as a woman in her forties, that’s not a feeling I’m enjoying, and I’m going to blame the current president for making me feel this way.

These days, I’ve been blaming President Trump for a lot of different things, everything from my slightly raised blood pressure to the days I feel especially cranky around my rowdy kids.

The pro-bono lawyers camped out at airports are heroes.

The truth, partly sparked by my outrage at the current political situation, is that I’ve been yearning to take more risks professionally and personally. I’ve been asking myself, what would be my personal version of what the ACLU did, making a public declaration of its commitment to defend freedom and justice for all just one day after the Election? I’ve seen people like the Acting Attorney General Sally Q. Yates and even the Republican Senator John McCain use their voices and positions to uphold what is important to them and to our country. I’m madly in love with all the pro bono attorneys who camped out at the JFK International Airport and other airports all over the country to help legal immigrants, legal visitors and already-approved refugees claim their right to enter the country.

To be honest, I’ve been mostly watching and listening so far, not feeling confident or strong enough just yet to spring to action. One likely reason I haven’t taken concrete action yet is I’m in the profession of caring for and empowering other people — so just quietly living my life makes me feel like I’m contributing in some small but important way to the world, and that makes me feel pretty good. But I know in my heart that there’s more I can give, and there is more I want to do.

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Through my coaching work, I’ve spoken with clients who are long-time public servants under the Democratic government who are grappling with whether to stay in what now feels like a hostile workplace and fight the good fight to have the impact they wish to have, or  whether to leave for a new path in the nonprofit or another sector, where they feel they will have more opportunities to make impact. This “I’m at a crossroads” sentiment I am hearing from my clients is beautifully captured in a recent podcast of This American Life, Act Six of the episode “The Revolution Starts at Noon,” where two civil servants who do not like our president weigh whether to leave their jobs. It’s a scary situation and hard for them to know with confidence what to do.

Considering a career change
can feel like a crossroads. / via

My work gives me the opportunity to speak to people who are considering big changes in their lives similar to this, or wishing to be more intentional about their careers and lives, regardless of what is happening in the political environment. So I’m not going to say Trump is responsible for sparking all of the changes I’m hearing lately from my clients and friends. But he does seem to be triggering people to re-evaluate how they want to show up in life and work — from an ambitious career woman admitting that what she really wants to prioritize is starting a family, with or without a spouse, to a couple deciding whether to stay in their marriage. A longtime friend of mine even said, “I know it sounds weird, but I think this election really changed my life.” Something about chaos and crisis brings what we care about most to the forefront.

One friend of mine is thinking about training to become a doula as a response to the current threat to women’s reproductive health. The Trump administration’s plans to eliminate funding to Planned Parenthood, where millions of women receive life-saving healthcare, birth control and cancer screenings; end access to abortion as a constitutional right; and set many other imminent risks to women’s health into motion were the stimuli she didn’t know she needed in order to weigh the benefits and costs of starting a new career. Not an obvious link to others, but that was the impact on her.

I also spoke with a young manager who recently passed up a promotion at work. She said she could see that it was a role she “should” take as a natural next step, if she were to stay in the line of work she fell into after college and had loved — but in light of the current political chaos, she wants to pause now to think about whether this is the path she wants to stay on.

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For me personally, I’m someone who has decided to prioritize family and balance for the past four years as part of my desire for meaningful work, fun and spaciousness in life. Prior to that, I led a rewarding, yet intense and stressful, work life for fifteen years. I’m a little uncertain and afraid of making big changes of any kind that may upset the harmony I’ve finally achieved. Things have been so nice over the last several years for my family and me.

Chaos and crisis make us focus on what’s most important.

Now, however, I don’t think I can just remain “comfortable” in my life in this new age. As I think about the changes I may want to make myself — taking on more ambitious and impactful projects or jobs that will require more time and personal sacrifice? — it’s hard to know if what I am thinking about is the right thing. What do I really want and what are the costs of reaching for those things? What’s really important to me? Are the values I hold dear, such as fighting for more causes I believe in, and the values that anchor me, such as my precious time with my fast growing kids with ever evolving needs, coming at odds with each other — and if so, is it possible to find balance? How do I feel confident that I’m making the right calls?

To all of those who have shared the changes and life shifts they are yearning to make — and are waiting for the confidence to make them — I feel compelled to share what I heard on one episode of the podcast Modern Love, which I scribbled in my notebook because it resonated with me so much:

Confidence just comes from repeatedly doing the same thing over and over again. When you are doing something for the first time, you need courage. In order to take that first step, you need courage. For those people waiting for that confidence to show up, take the first step in a moment of courage.

I invite you to consider: What first steps in moments of courage will you be taking this year to live a more resonant life in these uncharted waters? I’m wondering as I ponder about mine.

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Caroline Kim Oh

Caroline Kim Oh is an executive coach to nonprofit leaders. She dove right into the nonprofit world after college and spent twelve years running and growing iMentor in New York City prior to coaching. Frequent speaker and advisor on a variety of nonprofit management issues, she’s also a cheerleader for all who experiment to find and tweak the optimal work-life-happiness mix.
Find her on LinkedIn and on Twitter, or send her an email.