In 2007, I did a fair amount of work with corporate executive teams on the subject of coaching their entry-level employees – also referred to as Gen Y. I had been hired to explain the mindset of this new generation of workers and how to coach them in their careers. It was a subject I had come to care a lot about. In the year leading up to the corporate work, I had seen a dramatic increase in the number of young people coming to me for coaching. The confusion and distress over their careers was so intense, I would use the term “on-set career crisis” to describe how acute the pain of early career development was for them.
A Generation Punished by Rewards
When teaching the executive sessions, my favorite reference to explain what Gen Y was experiencing professionally was a book by Alfie Kohn entitled, “Punished by Rewards: The Problem with A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes.” The book had been written long before we adopted the terms “Helicopter Parents” and “Boomerang Kids” (Also known as KIPPERS – Kids In Parents Pockets Eating Retirement Savings.). Kohn was ahead of his time. In the book , he points out how Gen Y was a product of a society that used too many external motivators to get them to take action. The result was a generation who lacked intrinsic motivation – a/k/a the desire to do things for the sake of doing them. Moreover, it showed that all the positive reinforcement they got (i.e. everyone gets a trophy for showing up) created a very negative side effect: Gen Y was petrified of not being able to live up to the potential society had told them they not only possessed, but were obligated to make good on.
Gen Y Expert Told Me Off
The reaction to my presentations had been positive enough that it made me think I should explore ways to coach young professionals on a larger scale. I decided to start researching ways to do that. I looked for fellow career experts that were coaching Gen Y and reached out to them. One of them had become a very outspoken proponent for the generation. This person’s work was cited in the media and had a new business that focused on helping young professionals which was growing nicely. So, I reached out and asked if we could grab a call to discuss the topic of Gen Y and got a “yes.” I was psyched.
Since I initiated the meeting, I lead the conversation. I shared how I got into career coaching and talked about my experience with the Gen Y and the managers who were frustrated in leading them. I outlined my recent work with young professionals and how I thought we could be serving them better. I then asked the question, “What are your thoughts?” What I expected was an engaging conversation about the topic. What I got was the following:
“I think you should stick to coaching mommies like yourself. You don’t know what you are talking about.” I’m pretty sure a few more things were said, but at that point, I was so struck, it was lost on me.
Then there was…
Finally, an out-of-body experience where I remember saying something to the effect of, “Oh. Wow. Really? Well I guess I appreciate your honesty. Thanks for your time.”
Anger, Fear, Sadness & Anger Again (Thank Goodness!)
I hung up the phone and was fuming. I mean really, really mad. Then, the self-doubt kicked in. Was this person right? Was I off-track? This coach certainly had a lot of success in the space if you based it on media attention, so perhaps I sounded like a complete idiot and got justly put in my place?
My anger turned to fear and sadness. I spent the afternoon in a haze of confusion. How could I have been so crazy? What was I thinking? Geez. Did I just humiliate myself, or what?
I processed the event for several more hours until my husband came home from work. At which point, I promptly sat him down and gave him the blow-by-blow. I could feel my energy rising, my anger showing, and my voice speed and tone increasing. I got it all off my chest. When I was done, I stared at him.
Then there was…
Finally, an in-my-body experience where I remember watching a huge grin cross my husband’s face and an even bigger laugh come out of his mouth as he said. “Good. I’m glad it happened. It’s clearly lit a fire under your ass. That always gets you doing your best work. Go prove the coach wrong.”
Your Passion for Solving a Problem Doesn’t Require Validation – So Don’t Ask for It!
My hubby was right. (But then, he has a knack for being helpful. Read here…)
How could I possibly let one person derail me from what I felt was right? Why couldn’t I do it my way? And more importantly, why was I looking for this expert’s approval? The only validation I really needed was from the young professionals who benefited from my work. That would be the true and only test of whether what I was doing was worthwhile. I was guilty of looking for an external motivator, when all I needed was to follow my internal one. I wanted to help Gen Y and, darn it, that’s what I was going to do. End of story. No validation necessary!
Thanks for the Insult – No Really, I Mean It!
Fast forward to today, and I’ve worked with hundreds of recent grads to show them how to find career satisfaction on their own terms. I absolutely love working with young people because they are incredible learners. They still see the world is full of professional possibilities – all they need is some guidance, 20 seconds of career courage, and the skill development necessary to make their career goals a reality. That I can do.
I look back now and have to thank that expert for the insult. Without it, I’m not sure I’d be where I am today.
How about you? What insult got you to pursue a new avenue in your career?
Or, did an insult or criticism make you give up on pursuing a career path? If so, I hope this story inspires you to use their negativity to your advantage.
P.S. – First time reading my posts? Thanks for taking the time to stop by! Not only do I write for Linkedin, but I’m also founder of a popular career advice site,CAREEREALISM,and currently run the career coaching program,CareerHMO. I hope you’ll check them both out!