561: Intentionally Changing Careers To Fit Your Life Design

Learn how Karen stepped away from her all-encompassing job as a Dean and redesigned her career and life to find true fulfillment



Karen Guttentag, Student Development Coach

When Karen realized her all-encompassing career as a Dean was taking away from the rest of her life, she decided to redesign her life to revolve around her true priorities.

on this episode

There’s a pervasive belief in Western culture that your fulfillment must come primarily from work.

However, if you look up the word “fulfillment” nothing about work is mentioned – so that thought is simply something our society has created.

Nevertheless, we often allow work to become representative of who we are versus being who we are and figuring out the role that work plays within that. 

“We look to work to meet so many of our needs, around our sense of efficacy and our social agendas, and our political agendas, and our professional growth and our sense of purpose, and when we put all of those eggs in one basket, and the basket falls, then all of these different dimensions of your life are implicated. Which was exactly what I had experienced in the last 20 years of my career.” -Karen G.

When we begin working with people to make a career change, many of them have to go through a major mindset shift of the role they want work to play in their lives. On top of that, they must figure out how all of the areas of their life work together to create true fulfillment. This includes family, hobbies, religion, health… anything that plays a role in your life can add or take away from your fulfillment.

Life design is about crafting a life that aligns with your values, passions, and goals. It involves consciously designing various aspects of life, including career, relationships, health, and personal development, to create a fulfilling and meaningful existence.

The tool we use to do this is the Ideal Career Profile. It helps you define your minimums and must-haves in different areas of your life so you can figure out what you need out of your next job. 

Karen had worked with the Peace Corps, was the Associate Dean of Middlebury College for 18 years(!), and then became the Dean of Students for a private boarding school. 

When the pandemic hit at the same time as multiple family emergencies, Karen realized her work was keeping her from her true priorities, and she needed to make a change.

What she ultimately realized she needed was a job that fit her life better. She had always had an all-encompassing job and found much of her fulfillment from having an important, impactful career.

Her family emergencies opened her eyes to the fact that she was giving too much of herself to her job. Her job was keeping her from her true priority, her daughter, and the demanding nature of her role was negatively affecting her mental health. 

She decided she needed to take a step back from her career to redesign what her life should look like at this stage. When she began to try to focus on what that next step would be, she realized she didn’t have the energy to continue her current job and focus on career change simultaneously, so she took a career pause. 

“I was trying to ask these big life questions about where and what and how my life was gonna look like, but I didn’t have the bandwidth to do it all.  Several people had to tell me the same thing before it finally sunk in — I just needed to put the career change off, and say, you know what let me get through the rest of this year, and then I’ll take a break.”

One of Karen’s biggest obstacles during her career change was coming to terms with being unemployed after 30+ years in high-level roles. She felt like she had lost her identity, but she needed to figure out who she was and what she truly wanted (and needed!) the next chapter of her career to look like. 

I bought into the model of career ascension, you know, you go from better, to better to better and that’s the direction things are supposed to go. And it’s always heading up and it’s always heading bigger, more responsibility, better title more money. And so going from being a dean of students to being unemployed, and kind of losing that work identity was hard for me.”

Karen’s mindset shift was redefining her success beyond career achievements. Her fulfillment had always been through her career accomplishments, but this no longer aligned with the stage of life she was at. The most important element for her at this stage of life was being there for her daughter, and protecting her mental health. 

“I really needed to take into account, my health, my emotional health, my physical health, my child and the level of availability that I wanted and needed to have for her after school and in the evening, and on weekends, you know, both sort of temporal availability and emotional availability.”

Karen realized her job did not have to check every single one of the boxes to fulfill her – she could gain true fulfillment by aligning all of the different areas of her life.

“I used to joke for years about oh, look, it’s five o’clock, I think I’ll close down my computer and leave it here and come back the next day and not think about work. Ah, you know, as though that were sort of a fever dream. And now that’s my life”

Karen’s intentional shift in her career to align with her life design has paid off significantly. She now has a role that she enjoys that complements her priorities and allows her to lead a more balanced life. By prioritizing her well-being and family, Karen has found true fulfillment, illustrating the power of intentional life design.

The only way to discover true fulfillment is to figure out what that means to you, because it’s different for everyone. Once you know what you want and need, you’re much more likely to find it!

“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” -Paul Coelho, The Alchemist

What you’ll learn

  • The importance of intentional life design in aligning your career with the rest of your life
  • How prioritizing personal well-being over career achievements can lead to greater fulfillment
  • The challenges and rewards of transitioning careers to better align with personal priorities

Success Stories

The biggest thing in CCB that's changed my life, it helped me understand that I had an abused way of going back to the unhealthy environment in my current workplace without even realizing what it's doing to me. Once you helped me see that and once I got out of it, all the other areas of my life also improved! So it wasn't just CCB I noticed this career changing and wasn't just a career change. It was like a whole improvement all areas of life.

Mahima Gopalakrishnan, Career and Life Coach, United States/Canada

I convinced myself for many years, that I was very lucky to have that job, and I would be crazy to leave it. I convinced myself that the team needed me even though I was miserable. And ultimately, it took me getting physically sick to realize I needed to leave! One of the biggest things that I learned out of the signature coaching was on designing my life. And this is another thing that I had really never, it had, I don't know, if it had never occurred to me. I just never believed it was possible until now.

Michael Fagone, Mortgage Loan Officer and Finance Executive, United States/Canada

Thank you both for inspiring me to always ask, "Why NOT me?" and stick to my values for what I want for my life. I couldn't be happier and more excited for this new life!

Lisa Schulter, Special Projects Manager, United States/Canada

I would definitely say that I could not have put all the pieces together. The tools and techniques were important, but maybe more so than that, the mindset and the confidence. So I really, really needed that extra input and confidence boost and reassurance that I had a lot of strength and a lot to offer in the future. And I was feeling so rough because I was in a bad fit, stuck situation. Even though we all also recognized that situation wasn't inherently terrible. I would recommend, if you're starting to have that feeling like, either I'm crazy, or the situation, you know, is not that this bad, then I think that's a cue to reach out and get some, some guidance and a community of people that are struggling with the same things. And then suddenly, you'll feel that you're not crazy, after all, and it's just a tough life, situation and challenge, but you'll be able to get through it with that support, and accountability and confidence boost.

Jenny -, Research Scientist/Assistant Dean, United States/Canada

Karen Guttentag 00:01

I bought into the model of career ascension, you know. You go from better to better to better, and that's the direction things are supposed to go– more responsibility, better title, more money.

Introduction 00:21

This is the Happen To Your Career podcast with Scott Anthony Barlow. We hope you stop doing work that doesn't fit you. Figure out what does and make it happen. We help you define the work that is unapologetically you, and then go get it. If you feel like you were meant for more, and you're ready to make a change, keep listening. Here's Scott. Here's Scott. Here's Scott.

Scott Anthony Barlow 00:45

Why is our culture so obsessed with job titles and job status? Just think about how often we ask and are asked by others, "So what do you do?" This inflated importance of career causes people to believe they have to find all of their fulfillment and everything they could possibly need within the constraints of their career, which can very easily lead to work consuming your entire life. And when, not if, when that all-consuming job begins conflicting with your priorities, like, health, family, whatever it may be, something will have to give. So then the question becomes, what is the life that you want to build? And where does work fit into that?

Karen Guttentag 01:30

You know, I used to joke for years about "Oh, look, it's five o'clock, I think I'll close down my computer and leave it here and come back the next day and not think about work. Ha ha ha." You know, as though that were a fever dream. And now, that's my life.

Scott Anthony Barlow 01:45

That's Karen Guttentag. Karen worked with the Peace Corps, was an associate dean of Middlebury College for 18 years, and then became the Dean of Students for a private boarding school. When the pandemic hit at the same time as multiple family emergencies, Karen realized her work was keeping her from her true priorities. This caused her to begin asking some pretty big questions about what she really wanted her life to look like. And ultimately, she took a career break from everything to figure that out. Karen challenged herself to deconstruct her belief around what work should be and realize that the roles that aligned with the life she wanted to live, well, they weren't as high status as her previous all-consuming roles have been. Now, if we fast forward to the end, Karen landed a new role that she loves, that gives her all the components she was looking for in a career as well as the time and space to be with her daughter and do other things she enjoys. But I just skipped a whole bunch of pretty important details, including a lot of challenges Karen overcame. So let's get into that conversation.

Karen Guttentag 02:50

I was an English major at a school in Minnesota, English and African-American Studies. And I remember sort of thinking, "I guess this is kind of an important summer. This summer, before I graduate, I should do something with it." So I went into the summer, feeling like I really didn't know what I wanted to do. But I had this idea, "You know, I'm an English major in African-American studies, I should try publishing." And so of course, this is speaking of age back at the time of the phone book, and I, you know, living in Massachusetts, and I had no idea of how to find a job in publishing. So I actually opened up the phonebook, literally, and called every publishing company in the state of Massachusetts, of which there were many, I must say, more than you might imagine, probably at least 30, and did my chippie little liberal arts graduate, you know, our liberal arts college student thing and said, "Hi, you know, I'm an English major, and I'm interested in learning more about publishing. And would you be willing to create an internship for me this summer, so I can work in your office and learn more about publishing?" And I finally got a job with Zoland Books, the last publishing company listed in the phonebook.

Scott Anthony Barlow 03:59

You went A to Z, all the way through.

Karen Guttentag 04:02

Yeah. And it ended up being great. And my next job, I sort of went about the same way in a new location. So it was kind of a tacky little operation. But I think it instilled within me this idea that I can create opportunities for myself. And that was pretty empowering. And that's exactly what I did after I graduated from college. I still didn't know what I wanted to do, but a friend and I decided we wanted to live in Portland, Maine. So that's where we went. And I called up all the publishing companies there and lo and behold, I got a job with Intercultural Press, which was this publishing company that did all kinds of materials on multicultural, cross-cultural, international, intercultural topics. So, topically, it was fantastic. The experience was completely demoralizing. And I probably shouldn't have said the name it doesn't actually exist anymore. I think they went out of business, which is kind of shocking because they had like a niche market at that time.

Scott Anthony Barlow 05:04


Karen Guttentag 05:04

Nobody else was doing this kind of stuff. But I was miserable. I was behind a computer the entire time, I was an editorial assistant and Assistant to the President, I was making $8 an hour, which was tough going. And it was my first job after college. And I really had this sense of like, oh, this is going to tell me who I am as a professional. And my boss was really quite abusive. She was very unpredictable. And she really had me believing that it was a huge favor, that she was even paying me a salary because I just had nothing to offer the world. So it was really crushing to me in terms of my sense of myself as a professional. But during that time, I was so miserable, I again, sort of decided, "Alright, I'm gonna research this. I'm going to figure out. I'm gonna do the self-assessments. I'm gonna go to the library. I'm gonna do the tests and figure out what I want to do. I'm gonna start informational interviewing with people", which was very helpful. And started to put together my list of criteria, which started with everything opposite from what I was currently experiencing.

Scott Anthony Barlow 06:13

That's always where it starts, right?

Karen Guttentag 06:14

It was. Yes. And I was really lucky because I didn't know that it always happens this way. And it didn't really happen to me this time. But I have the experience of, you know, through a series of conversations and interviews and continuing to sort of zig and zag, and hone and refine, I hit on the job. And I knew exactly what it was. And it was like the three cherries on the slot machine and checked off all of my boxes, which was college admissions. And I had all my different criteria that events planning and doing something that felt meaningful and being in a beautiful environment and having variety and having... And one of the things was I wanted work that had a sense of completion at the end. And you know, I found that when I was working on editorial stuff, we always had like seven or eight things going on at once. And there was no point at which you sort of said, "We did it! You know, and now we're moving on to something else, we're growing something, we're changing." You know, it just felt like it was sort of an endless cycle. So all of these different components, so I was in Portland, Maine, and not far from Bowdoin College. And I had gone to a small liberal arts college. And so I reached out to the Director of Admissions who I did not know being in admissions, and asked him to go to coffee with me and did my little proposal and said, "If I quit my job, and I know I want to do admissions, I have no experience whatsoever. But it's what I really want to do. And if I quit my job and come volunteer for you, can you give me enough experience so that I can be a viable job candidate in the spring?" And he said, "Yes." And it was no dummy free labor. And so I ended up just doing this volunteering for three months. And I was right. It was everything that I wanted to do. And lo and behold, I was a viable job candidate. And there weren't any openings at Bowdoin that year. But there was an opening at Lafayette College, and I got it. And then as soon as there was an opening at Bowdoin the next year, I came back and worked there for another four years. And I loved it. I was absolutely right about all the things that I would love. What I had not anticipated and what had not particularly been on my list of things that I was looking for, was working with college students. I hadn't realized that that was any sort of component of the job. And it's not a huge component of the job. But I directed the tour guide program. So I worked with all of the student tour guides, and then I ultimately took on international admissions, and there was no white person at that time for international students. So I kind of became the de facto Dean for international students. And all of the students that I got to know during the admissions process I felt some sort of connection to and responsibility for. And we tended to do expanded programs for minoritized student populations. So I spent more time with them in the admissions process. So I had a strong connection with them. So I was doing all of this deaning, which was not really my job, but I just loved working with these students. And I think for them, I was a person who they felt had kind of seen them through the process and knew where they came from and created some sense of affirmation and continuity for them. And people kept sort of saying, "You should be a Dean. This is, like, why aren't you doing this?" And part of me said, "Yep, this is what I love. This is what I want to do." But I had two qualms, one of which was that if I followed that path at that point in my life, and went and got a graduate degree, and then got a job as a Dean at a place like Carleton or Bowdoin, that my whole life would be in these ivory towers, and I was 28 at the time, and I wasn't quite comfortable with that choice. And the other was that most of the students I was working with, as I said, were sort of the minoritized population or international students, or in some way, marginalized, and working with them was raising a lot of social justice issues that they were experiencing, about inclusion, about community, about access, and structural issues. And I wasn't totally sure if what I loved about working with them was the working with students part or all of the social justice issues and community problem solving and access issues. So I decided to punt and I took in the Peace Corps.

Scott Anthony Barlow 10:45

That is the left turn that I did not see coming in the story. I think I knew that was in there someplace, I didn't know that was it.

Karen Guttentag 10:52

That's where it was. And a big part of that was because I was working so closely with the international students. And I was just so inspired by their courage and the transformation and the challenges that they were experiencing going around the world to put themselves in these new environments. And I felt like I wanted to have that growth experience too. The Peace Corps conversation could take a really long time. So I'm not going to get into the details of the story in great depth.

Scott Anthony Barlow 11:18

I'm curious also, what else took place that led up to you making this most recent career change?

Karen Guttentag 11:26

The most recent career change, it was sort of a two-part change. So I was in the Peace Corps, and then we were evacuated, and then I worked for a nonprofit, and then I was ready to become a Dean and went to graduate school and became a Dean and was at Middlebury College for 18 years. And that position ultimately unfolded in a way over a period of time that it was no longer meeting my needs, it was no longer pleasurable, I had sort of taken on a lot of work that nobody else really wanted to do that I actually happen to be quite passionate about, and that was the nine-five work. But between that and doing Student Conduct work, both of which I cared about a great deal. But I found that the positions really compromised my ability to have the kind of relationships with students that I wanted. I was able to enact the structural changes that felt important to me and meaningful and felt like I was doing the right thing by students in building these programs and deepening them. But in the community itself, I felt increasingly isolated. Because when you are associated with, wherever you are associated with, you know, with Student Conduct work, you just don't have the same kinds of relationships with students. And in some ways, it wasn't appropriate for me to have those kinds of relationships with students. And in college administration, the higher you get, the less you're actually working with students, the more you're doing either crisis management or budget, or politics or policy, and I felt like okay, well, I like some of that, I like doing the structural change, I like thinking about systemic, and cultural issues and all of that. But I don't want to sacrifice my ability to actually be working in the weeds with students. So it seemed like a good idea to take the Dean of Students position that I think, at the college level would have had me more isolated, and translate it to a high school level where I understood that I could do both, that the administrative machinery was not so deep that I couldn't both work really closely with students and also have some big picture responsibilities. And so it seemed like it was going to be a really great combination. And I also felt like I had the idea of the opportunity to kind of be in charge of a community in this way, with all of the things that I had learned about student needs. And students that I had seen show up in college, really in need of certain skills and experiences and knowledge that they weren't getting in high school, I felt like let me have this, like, this is awesome, I'm gonna get to really create something special and build on a community and help them really to develop in ways that both will create a really meaningful experience for students at the high school level and set them up for success beyond. And I found a progressive school that really aligned with my value system. And I thought that I had just nailed it. And so as you do in a new job, you say, "Okay, well, let me just take some time to get the lay of the land first and then figure out how I can help and make sense and get a better sense of what the community's needs are and start to figure things out." So I took my first few months to do that. And then the pandemic hit. And then it all bets were off and it just became two and a half years of reaction of reactive work of trying to help an institution navigate at a very human level, at an institution level, a global crisis. And from a position of responsibility in a community that I was really only beginning to understand, and everything that I knew about it was about to be changed. So it was a very, very challenging period of time. And I was also... I'm a single mom and had a fourth grader who needed pretty full attention at the time when my job was requiring me to be literally all hands on deck all the time, living on campus and trying to parent her and help her to get through this experience in a way that was going to be best for her, while I was also responsible for 227 other students, and the experience of the entire staff and faculty, you know, with a pretty small administrative team, kind of doing all the decision making was really quite impossible. And had a number of personal challenges occur along the way, it was a really unfortunate period of time where the first of September, my best friend died.

Karen Guttentag 16:27

And next fall, my mom got breast cancer. That winter, my dad died. That spring, my dog got... Just like I just couldn't kind of get out of it. So by the middle of the third year, I had really wanted to stay for at least four years, I wanted to sort of see it through the crisis and help to rebuild, but I just was depleted on every level, and was roadkill.

Scott Anthony Barlow 16:27

Oh, wow.

Scott Anthony Barlow 16:58

I think at some point, you have no more left to give too. So I understand the thought of being able to stay and finish it out. And I think that comes from a good place. Also, at the same time, it sounds like the state you were in, at that point in time, you had given much of what you had been able to give and already served in that way. So what happened from there?

Karen Guttentag 17:22

Well, and I think for me, it also came down to I just felt like I was an absentee parent. I felt like I was really, really, like, my child was number 227 that I was responsible for and that just was not okay. So I think my initial plan was, as I said, do what I've done before, you know, figure out what do I want more of, what do I want less of, what does that look like, and how do I get that job. But at that point, my whole landscape was just so different. It wasn't just, I need a new job. It was, I don't even have the vision to figure out what that should be. I'm scrapping the whole plan. It's not about what I need more of and what I need less of. I just need this to stop. And I didn't have a vision for what was going to come next, which was different for me. Normally, I had been able to kind of rely on that calculation to help me figure out with, not with ease, but with success.

Scott Anthony Barlow 18:27


Karen Guttentag 18:28

What was going to serve me better? And in this stage in my life, I just, I was so exhausted that I couldn't even get there. And trying to do that, while I was also in the middle of this chaos, and still actually needing to show up as the Dean of Students. And while I was trying to ask these big life questions about where and what and how my life was gonna look like I didn't have the bandwidth to do it all. And several people had to tell me the same thing before it finally sunk in that I just needed to put that off and say, "You know what, get through the rest of this year. And then take a break." And you can't catch the next trapeze because you can't catch anything, right? You need to drop in the net right now. And my mother was thankful enough to say, move back home, as I've said we'd lost my dad, and take as much time as you need to just regroup, figure things out, take your time so that you can make a really good decision. So that was a pretty important decision for me to give up the idea of, you know, to get comfortable with the idea of being unemployed for a while. And psychologically, it was pretty uncomfortable.

Scott Anthony Barlow 19:50

What was the most uncomfortable part for you?

Karen Guttentag 19:53

Not having a great new shiny title to be able to say, "I gave up this and now I'm doing this", you know, I think you sort of buy... I bought into the model of career ascension– you go from better, to better, to better, and that's the direction things are supposed to go. More responsibility, better title, more money. And so going from being a Dean of Students to being unemployed, and kind of losing that work identity for a significant period of time was hard for me and not so hard that I wasn't willing to do it but uncomfortable nonetheless, and something I kind of had to make peace with.

Scott Anthony Barlow 20:37

What helped you? Because I think that that is a huge challenge we experience for many people that we get the opportunity to work with. And when we see that firsthand, a lot of times people expect it not to be as uncomfortable as it can be, that identity challenge, that I can't now represent or I don't know, hide behind whatever way you want to look at it. But what specifically worked for you as you were maneuvering through that challenge?

Karen Guttentag 21:10

Well, it hit me at different points. I mean, I guess I would say it was kind of a two-part experience. Part one was being unemployed. And part two was ultimately taking a position that on an org chart was a significant step down from my previous position, and they were two different but related challenges. And I would say, probably the, what did help me to get through it. I mean, what helped me, one thing was, I did not have a choice, you know, I could not take a job right at the time I was leaving my previous job, I just was so exhausted, I was really roadkill, and so I sort of had to. And I think what helped me was being able to articulate, being able to feel like I was still being productive like I was on a journey, I wasn't just sort of hanging out, you know, I was actively trying to figure things out, I was actively working to explore possibilities and talk with people and reflect and read and research, and that was my full-time job. So I guess I always felt like there was motion. It wasn't just I was sitting on the couch watching TV waiting for something to fall into my lap, I was actively engaged in a process. And it was not always a clear process. I didn't have the cherries on the slot machine experience. Earlier of being like, "I know what I want, and I know how to get it." And that was really hard too. So I would say for that stage of it, you know, the unemployment stage, it was getting comfortable with my elevator speech, I guess being able to say, "I left a job, and I'm really not sure where I'm going next. So I'm taking the time to, you know, I'm really lucky to have the time to be able to really figure it out and do some thoughtful research before I make my next move." And that's where I'm at right now.

Scott Anthony Barlow 23:10

Yeah. Let's talk about the process of career change this time around. So specifically, you mentioned that in the past, you sort of knew what to do, and had certainly some experiences that had caused you to build confidence and how to make past changes. This time around, the season of life was very, very different. And one of the things you and I chatted very briefly about before we started recording was the idea of it being too late. And I think that this is part of why many people feel like it is too late in some ways to make another significant change in one way or another in your, not just career, but life. And so I guess what I'm curious about for you is, what caused you to feel like this was a must for you? And what was so different in this season of life for you compared to previous?

Karen Guttentag 24:15

I think in my previous job exploration moments and job shifts, my primary questions had been, "What do I most want to be doing now? What job is going to be the closest to the optimal reflection of work that matters to me that I think is important, that allows me to use all of the skills that I love the most, and a community that's going to be a great environment to work in with a salary that's going to allow me a certain lifestyle that I want?"

Scott Anthony Barlow 24:53


Karen Guttentag 24:54

And I am really lucky that I've been able to have positions like that. And this time around, I realized that that could not be... I think I wanted it, I think when I first started the job search, that's what I was aiming for. And I realized that that calculation was just not reflective of what my needs were at this stage in my life, that I really needed to take into account, my health, my emotional health, my physical health, my child, and the level of availability that I wanted and needed to have for her after school and in the evening and on weekends, both sort of temporal availability and emotional availability. And that if I were solely going for the job based on that initial goal of me and most fulfilling to me and the work that's going to be perfectly hitting my challenge level, and you know, the right level of responsibility and all of that, that in all of my past experiences, that's not nine to five work. That is high stress, high responsibility, often evenings, often weekends, and often emotionally entangling kind of work that was really incompatible with the kind of availability and focus that I knew I really needed to offer to my child at this stage in life, and having to sort of realize that I was not going to be able to thread that needle was a really big aha moment for me and a little bit of a sad one, but a really important one.

Scott Anthony Barlow 26:44

What made it sad for you? Was that back to the, how you viewed in your identity, or was it something else?

Karen Guttentag 26:50

I think a couple of things. Logistically, I realized that what that meant was that in order to live independently, I was going to need to get a job that paid that much, and that involved that much responsibility. And that the idea of taking on that big a job in order to live independently was going to mean, I wasn't going to be able to be the kind of parent I want it to be as a single mom, that I couldn't do all of those things, that if she and I were still aiming for independent living, I was going to need an all-absorbing job. And that the trade-off was therefore going to be the parenting that was a primary motivation for making the change. And I couldn't figure out how to check all those boxes. Again, it felt like I was trying to thread a needle, a job with all of these great qualities and meeting all of my professional needs that was also going to let me leave at five and have plenty of flexibility on the afternoons where I needed to, you know, drive around or whatever and not take homework on the weekend, I don't think it exists. Or if it does exist in a way that would appeal to me, I couldn't find it. And so I realized that I was going to have to make some trade-offs. And that if I really wanted to prioritize my child and my own health and well-being, I needed to decide that I wasn't going to be able to live independently, that we were going to stay living with my mom, at least for the next five years for her to get through high school in ways that would allow me to take a lower paying lower stress job in order to prioritize the availability for her and my parenting and my health. And it's interesting, that concept came to me right before Phillip actually recommended a book to me that kind of crystallized that idea, a lot of what I had been thinking and experiencing, which was the good enough job, you know, which is not rocket science, but he pulls together the themes very effectively of the perils of all of the reasons why we have developed in this culture and in many cultures in ways that center our work as the primary focus of our identity. And everything else sort of revolves around our work identity, and we look to work to meet so many of our needs around our sense of efficacy and our social agendas and our political agendas and our professional growth and our sense of purpose. And when we put all of those eggs in one basket and the basket falls, then all of these different dimensions of your life are implicated, which was exactly what I had experienced in the last 20 years of my career, both in my job at the college and my job at the boarding school, was everything focused on my work life. And I mean in the boarding school I was literally living at work. You know, work-life separation was not a possibility.

Scott Anthony Barlow 30:05

It was not a thing.

Karen Guttentag 30:08

Right. And so, from this book, you know, what he talks about is really the importance of rethinking what role do you want work to play in your life. And how can you ensure that all of the other dimensions of your life are rich and meaningful and areas that you can develop independent of whatever it is that allows you to earn money, and not look to your work to be all of those things? And making that shift was what allowed me to say, "Okay, I'm going to find a job that I think will be enjoyable, that will allow me to go back to for me, what was the core of why I got into higher ed in the first place, and that was working with students and come in at a level of responsibility that is not going to overwhelm the rest of my life, that's going to allow me to really prioritize these other areas." In a million years, I did not see myself living with my mother, in my childhood home in the suburbs of Massachusetts. But also coming to recognize that for my daughter, being in this period of limbo, was really having a poor effect on her that she was in this prolonged state of, in a new community. And I wish she just started a brand new middle school in seventh grade coming from a school in which she was, you know, one of 12 6th graders to being in a 900-person middle school. And this experience of not knowing when she was going to leave, and if she was going to leave and where she was going to go and what was coming next, and how long she was going to stay was making it very hard for her to actually put down roots in this community and plug into her school experience and plug into her social experiences and her friendships. And I really saw that, and that she really needed the stability of knowing where she was going to be for the next few years. And that I had to make a career decision that was going to meet, not just my needs, but her needs, which I'd never really had to make before. Other than that, most of my career decisions were meeting her needs to the extent that it was allowing me to live independently, that's what it meant and not travel. And this time, it meant staying where we were in a good school system and a financial situation that would allow me to take a job that would let me be available to her. And that's been... It's not what I thought this stage of life would look like. And yet, I have to remind myself of all, you know, there are trade-offs, for sure. But this is actually the healthiest that I have ever been. I mean, you know, I used to joke for years about "Oh, look, it's five o'clock, I think I'll close down my computer and leave it here and come back the next day and not think about work. Hahaha" You know, as though that were a fever dream, and now that's my life. I have taken a smaller job, and a more flexible job, I'm able to show up for her in ways that really matter right now. And at this, it is and at the same time I find that I still have some old tapes playing that there are times at work where you know, my work is fun and simple most of the time. I work directly with students and I'm a sort of coach advisor, I support a great population of international students. And my job is to help them figure out what they need and how to get it and what they want and personal growth and development. So it is pretty easy. And if I get sick, or if I need to change a meeting because I've got to pick up my kid or whatever that may be, it is flexible. It is super flexible. I get to work from home two days a week, which was not even on my dance card.

Scott Anthony Barlow 34:27


Karen Guttentag 34:27

But that's pretty amazing. And there are times when I sort of forget what it is that I'm looking for from this job and I think, "But is it fulfilling enough? And how will I grow and how will I make these, you know, these sets of contributions?" And I have to remind myself almost manually shift the gears and say, "That's not why you took this job. You took this job to meet different needs." And if you are feeling like you need a sense of fulfillment in your life, you need to look, you need to create that for yourself outside of your job. And so that's kind of the process that I'm more actively engaged in right now, even as I sometimes forget that I didn't take this job to fill all this space that my previous jobs used to fill.

Scott Anthony Barlow 35:17

What advice would you give to someone who's in that situation where they're trying to figure out what does the next stage of life looks like?

Karen Guttentag 35:25

I think it's being willing to really radically reexamine the role that you want work to play in your life, what your needs are way beyond what your work needs. You know, and really recognize how many of your life needs have you assumed were going to be met through your work. Maybe because they have been, or maybe because you always wanted them to be, and not make premature assumptions that they have to be met in your work position. And I think also just really debunking this idea that for everyone at every stage of your life, in every circumstance, that perfect job is out there that could meet all of your personal and professional and emotional and political and financial needs. And it doesn't mean that all of those needs might not be met, but they might not all be met through your job, and not feel like you're compromising. If you take a position that is allowing you to meet the needs that are your top priorities, and recognizing that there are trade-offs. And that you want to be thoughtful about your trade-offs, and make sure that your trade-offs that you are making the decisions and compromises that are going to allow you to meet your priorities. And that sometimes that's not every single dimension of your life happening all at once at this particular moment.

Scott Anthony Barlow 37:03

Most of the episodes you've heard on Happen To Your Career showcase stories of people that have taken the steps to identify and land careers that they are absolutely enamored with, that match their strengths and are really what they want in their lives. If that's something that you're ready to begin taking steps towards, that's awesome. And we want to figure out how we can help. So here's what I would suggest. Take the next five seconds to open up your email app and email me directly. I'm gonna give you my personal email address, scott@happentoyourcareer.com. Just email me and put conversation in the subject line. And when you do that, I'll introduce you to someone on our team who can have a super informal conversation with and we'll figure out the very best type of health for you, whatever that looks like. And the very best way that we can support you to make it happen. So send me an email right now with conversation in the subject line.

Scott Anthony Barlow 37:55

Here's a sneak peek into what we have coming up in store for you next week.

Speaker 3 38:00

I had to think through the worst-case scenario and realize that worst case, I would be okay. I would leave the company. I would go figure out something else to do and it'd be fine.

Scott Anthony Barlow 38:12

Big decisions. You know how these work. Our brains usually fight us and they want us to stay in our comfort zones. Plus, if you're like me, you can turn nearly anything into logic. Yes, I know I'm not loving work and my boss is a little way overbearing, but there could be another opportunity four months from now. Many people find themselves torn when it comes to choices like staying in the same place versus making a career change. They know, you might even know, and feel deep down inside that something's not right. But we still struggle with taking a chance to actually make a change. Why on earth do we fight what we know to be true in our core? That's the question we're going to dig into today. We see how others reach their goals and we think we must follow in their footsteps to reach the same success. But the truth is, we don't have to follow them. If you want to take more control of your life, this episode is absolutely for you.

Scott Anthony Barlow 39:11

All that and plenty more next week right here on Happen To Your Career. Make sure that you don't miss it. And if you haven't already, click subscribe on your podcast player so that you can download this podcast in your sleep and you get it automatically. Even the bonus episodes every single week, sometimes multiple times a week. Until next week, adios. I'm out.

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