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by Jane Allen | March 10, 2009


A Vault career change message board poster writes:

I was laid off from my job in July 2003, but I personally see that as a blessing. I had been planning to make a career change to - interestingly enough - career coaching for career changers, and the layoff gave me the severance funding and the time to start pursuing my dream.

I'm halfway through my MBA program and will graduate in 2005. I have just been certified as a job and career transition coach and am about to become certified as a resume writer. I'm now working with a local career coach, have created my own coaching/counseling resume and am looking for entry-level career counseling jobs/internships, so that I can gain experience and training. My ultimate goal is to open my own coaching practice within the next three to five years. In short, I think my career change plan is proceeding rather nicely.

Unfortunately, my family has finally figured out I was serious when I said I wanted to change careers! They've noticed that it has been seven and a half months since the layoff, and I have not gotten another job in my former industry. They know that living off of my savings will cease to be a viable option for me within four to six months. I am planning on getting that entry-level career-counseling job (or at the very least, a paying stop-gap job) very soon to deal with the need for living expenses. I've been honest with my family about the pay cut I'll be taking to start fresh in a new career, regardless of how soon I become re-employed.

My problem is that while I accept the financial trade-offs I'm making to do something that truly makes me happy, my family does not accept it and they're not happy that I do. They're constantly asking the Dreaded Question, "So how's the job hunt going?" and then telling me I must be lazy, dumb, doing something wrong, etc. because I do not have a job yet, and - even worse - I still do not want a job in my old field, despite the bigger starting salary I could get in that field (assuming I find such a job in the current market - but that's another story).

The conversations I've had with my family lately have been unproductive and demoralizing to me. How do you maintain good relationships with family/friends, while at the same time not allowing them to undermine your self-confidence/resolve? In all areas except my professional life, I benefit greatly from my relationships with my family. I cannot simply put them out of my life or ignore their commentary for the next two to three years while I build my new career. What are some firm, calming, loving, and respectful answers I can give family/friends when they ask questions like:

  1. How's the job hunt going? (Translation: Well? Haven't you found a job yet?)
  2. Why aren't you doing anything about getting a job? (Translation: WELL? Haven't you found a JOB YET?!)
  3. Aren't you at all worried about what you are going to live on when the money runs out? (Translation: WELL?! HAVEN'T YOU FOUND A JOB YET?! WE'RE SCARED NOW! WHY AREN'T YOU?!)

(Author's note: this post was edited for length.)

Dear Career Changer:

Let's assume that the people who are asking these questions have your best interests at heart. They want to know that you are OK and will be OK. Maybe they have trouble saying that to you? Maybe they think this coaching stuff is crazy, and they're hoping you will "come to your senses" and forget about it. Are you letting them know that this is what you really want to do, that things are going as planned and all is well?

First, come up with a brief statement that starts with "I appreciate your concern, but ..." Tell them that all is proceeding as planned, you're keeping a watch on your finances, you're very excited about the new career. Give them a target date for what's next (such as, "I'll have my resume certification in [number of] weeks, and I'll get paid to rewrite resumes"). End your statement with something like, "I know you're worried about me, but I will be OK. You really don't have to worry."

Now, the second part is more difficult. If your information and request (for them to quit badgering you) doesn't stop them, try using an assertion technique called "broken record." To each question and objection, you say basically the same thing. Make it a brief statement. Make it your own statement that fits your situation. Do this gently but firmly without getting angry or defensive.

Example: "Things are on track. You don't have to worry about me." Or "I'm doing very well. And I would really like to have your moral support." Or "Dad, things are going as planned. You don't have to worry." No matter what the other person says, don't get into a defensive Q&A session. After a few of these "broken record" exchanges, you can try changing the subject.

Example: "Everything's on track, Dad. Try not to worry. Now can we change the subject? Tell me about your fishing trip." Or give them something to brag about (parents love to brag about their kids) as a subject change: "Everything's OK, Mom. Really, you don't have to worry. Did I tell you I got an 'A' on that paper I've been working on?"

Broken record keeps you from getting sucked into those black holes ("but ..." discussions) - "But you really need a job. But you're going to be out of money soon. But I think you should try to find a job as a [fill in the blank]."

Don't expect to convert them to your way of thinking. But with this technique, you'll be able to escape the relentless, unproductive Q&A that can lead to anger and hurt feelings.


Filed Under: Job Search