The Influence of Gender on Parental Expectations of Your Career


Please excuse the academic-sounding title of this post!

Just the other day I received an email from a concerned mom who was worried that her son, recently graduated from an excellent university, was floundering in his job/career search. She wanted to talk with me about the possibility of working with her son to “put him on the right path.”

I get emails and phone calls like this several times (or more) a month, and what strikes me is that the parents who contact me (yes, dads reach out to me too, but more so moms) is that the overwhelming majority are requesting assistance for their SONS. At least ten times more frequently than requests to help their daughters. 

I can’t help but wonder why this is so, and have come up with several hypotheses:

1.  As a man I am a relatively rare bird in the career consulting field. The vast majority of career coaches are women; perhaps parents feel that a man will have a better chance of helping their sons than will a woman (although out of hundreds of contacts I have only heard this rationale used once by a parent). In fact I do believe that young men can relate more comfortably with another man around issues of "success," which despite tremendous societal changes is still an issue that appears somewhat more salient to men than to women.

2.  It may be that the changes in career possibilities and expectations for women and men (mainly the expansion of possibilities for women) have led to diminished confidence on the part of young males as it relates to work. Popular culture (TV, movies, books, and of course social media) features women pushing the boundaries of what was previously "acceptable" for them as workers and in career choice. As young men see more competition from capable women, might that lead to greater insecurity?

3.  The parents who contact me, all of whom are Baby Boomers, might be stuck a bit in the past, expecting their sons to be the primary breadwinners and therefore feeling that they need to get an early and confident start out of the gate. Of course they want their daughters to also have good careers, but to many Baby Boomer parents the possibility of marrying into success seems larger for their daughters than for their sons. This is particularly true of parents who contact me who are immigrants from traditionally male-dominated cultures in Asia (South and East, not to mention the Middle East). There is surprisingly little information on this subject online, and it apparently has not been researched to any significant degree. I am curious to hear from my readers any other ideas they may have to explain this phenomenon. It seems to me that uneven career success expectations based on gender are not only unfair but also seem to be having a depressing effect on quite a few of the young men with whom I work, an effect I work hard to counter.


Work Life Balance Part II - Realigning Energy


Having the proper kind of energy is essential to realigning your work/life balance. I’m not just talking about “energy” in the sense we usually mean: “get up and go,” or “fire in the belly,”  but more about a positive attitude from which energy is generated, an “anything is possible” (or more modestly “anything might be possible) attitude.

Clients often come to me with feelings of being ground down, of pessimism, fear, anger, resentment, victimhood…..They all suck energy out of one’s sense of agency, of self-confidence, and make the possibility of change seem out of reach, or so difficult to attain that it’s not even worth contemplating.

Recognize that change IS possible. Begin to implement some of the suggestions I made in Part I ( )

A somewhat different approach to the path forward consists of a shift in perspective. Rather than looking at the glass as half (or more likely 95%) empty, consider what benefits are offered (or potentially offered) by the challenging situation you’re in. An opportunity to improve your efficiency, for example? An opportunity to mellow out on perfectionism? An opportunity to develop systems and processes to help you perform at your best?  An opportunity to finally tackle procrastination? An opportunity to place hiring an assistant or enlisting an intern at the top of your priority list?

Also, it can be helpful to recognize that the imbalance need not persist as far into the future as you can see; the situation should be viewed as a temporary one, and that with the proper amount of effort you will be able to effect change for the better.

Your energy (in the sense I'm talking about it here) can also be greatly enhanced by doing anything that feeds your inner sense of calm and of "rightness." This can vary from attending church/synagogue/mosque/temple services, to reading an inspirational author (Wayne Dyer? Tony Robbins? Stephen Covey? Dale Carnegie? - as long as you then deal with any guilt that may come up around your not being inb the place they're urging you to go), attending an AA or AlAnon meeting, or connecting with nature in any one of a hundred ways.

Finally, rather than aiming exclusively for readjusting your work/life balance, begin thinking of and then working towards the possibility of creating a worklife, as outlined in the outstanding career book “Roadmap” by Roadtrip Nation. Worklife is about integrating work and the interests currently in your life that lie outside of work. When that integration occurs the whole issue of balance shrinks markedly.


Reluctant to Ask for Career Help through Networking?


Arguably the single most effective means of advancing one’s career - whether that takes the shape of choosing a career, switching careers, getting hired, or getting promoted - is networking (I’m using networking in a general sense here; a broader and more inclusively accurate term might be “creating and leveraging relationships to help move ahead”). After all, often career success is determined less by what one knows than by who one knows. Yet over the years I’ve discovered that a surprising number of people are anxious, reluctant, or even outright refuse, to utilize this means of advancement.

Why? Some people are painfully shy and find it virtually impossible to reach out for fear that they will somehow look silly, weak, a failure, or inept. Others (a greater number it seems to me) are reluctant to “impose” on others. To them it feels like they’re “using” relationships in a selfish manner for their own advancement.

Well, yes. The ultimate aim of networking is to help one advance. And it is true that some prime networkers out there are definitely “users,” who would lie, cheat, steal, or casually throw a colleague under the bus to get ahead. But most people are not like that. Furthermore, what is often overlooked is the fact that mutual benefits are incurred in most cases - to the networker and to the “networkee” (if I may coin a term).

The benefits to the networkers are obvious: information, introductions, personal recommendations. To the networkees? Feeling good that they’ve extended a helping hand, of course. But also the possibility of looking good or gaining credit because they chose to help advance a worthy individual who can add value.

Of course if the networkee feels the networker won’t add value, or if it feels like too much trouble, or if there’s a reluctance to expend “networking capital” on that person, it is easy to turn down the request or duck out. There is no obligation on the networkee’s part to “play ball.” For example, if I ask someone I’ve met at a cocktail party or business event to have coffee, it’s easy for the person to agree (“Sure! Give me a call next week and we’ll set it up”) and then not respond to the email.

Finally, networking is now a cultural norm. Perhaps 50 years ago what we call networking today might have seemed selfish, pushy or inappropriate. But most people today (particularly here in Washington) are perfectly fine with being asked for a networking kind of favor, in no small part because they themselves have probably asked others for the same kinds of favors, or anticipate needing to do so in the future, and feel that “what goes around comes around”.

So if you’re reluctant to reach out to someone for a career-related favor, remember that it’s invaluable, and more acceptable and less intrusive, than you think!




Three Reasons Why Career Counseling Sometimes Fails


I pride myself on having an excellent record of success in guiding my clients to solutions to the full range of career-related dilemmas, whether that takes the form of showing them how to Improve the odds of landing a great job, strengthening their leadership abilities, teaching them how to improve their networking skills, or handling delicate political issues in their organization. But, there's an area of career work where my success rate is somewhat lower, namely in leading clients to the identification of better career paths. Why? I've contemplated and analyzed this question intensively, and I can trace most disappointing outcomes to one or more of three factors:

1. Unrealistic expectations of what to expect from career counseling

Career counseling is NOT job placement. Nor is it just a different version of a personality or career test that purports to provide an answer to the question: "What is the right career for me?" The counselor instructs, inspires, and guides, but in the final analysis it's the client who has to do the heavy lifting. That lifting depends of course on the nature of the client's goal, but you can be sure that in all but a handful of cases a lot of work is required. That fact leads to the second reason for failure:

2. Inadequate or poorly directed dedication of time and energy 

I almost always assign homework to be completed by the next session. Often, though, the next session arrives and the client confesses to having completed only part of the assignment (or, rarely, none of it). " It was a really busy week and I couldn't find the time" is a not infrequent refrain.

I invariably reject that explanation, and explain that it was simply a matter of not giving the assignment a high enough priority. Naturally there are times when unexpected developments derail even the best-intended plans: a sick child, the death of a relative, or a crisis at work. But those instances are unusual and hopefully very infrequent. (Another reason why time and energy aren't optimally directed can relate to one of the conditions listed below).

Another issue that sometimes crops up is the fact that looking for, and applying to, jobs online provides a quick reinforcement to the idea that meaningful action is occurring, even though the online route to career clarity or a job is generally a barren one. Sending in a dozen job applications may feel much more promising than having a dozen networking conversations, but it almost certainly won't be.

3. Behavioral and emotional blocks 

I find that my skills as a psychotherapist get tapped in working with a large proportion of my clients. Just a few of the issues that can stand in the way of success:

  •    Low self-confidence
  •    Shyness
  •    Procrastination
  •    Excessive anxiety or pessimism
  •    Depression
  •    ADD related disorganization
  •    Peer, familial, or cultural pressures

Exploration of alternatives is an absolutely essential element in making a wise career choice. That exploration should be undertaken with curiosity, openness, diligence, creativity, and some boldness. The factors listed above (and many others) can stand in the way and lead to a suboptimal outcome if not addressed. Just to take a few examples, shyness will inhibit the essential networking component of exploration; pessimism can lead to hopelessness and a loss of energy and enthusiasm; peer, familial, or cultural pressure can push someone down paths that their heart isn't in to, but which they feel obliged to pursue, resulting in half-hearted effort.


A Trip Through the Upper Midwest

I had intended to write about either the right mindset to approach the development of a Career Plan B, or about half full and half empty glasses, but I spent such a wonderful and fascinating 5 days in MN, IA, SD, NE, and ND that I'm going to share some of my many thoughts with you here.

There were many truly awesome (in the literal sense of the word) sights (a bit about them below) but most striking to me was the enormous distance I observed between life as I and my friends and clients live it in DC, and the vastly different reality lived by so many of the people I encountered on my trip.

In town after town along the way (and I made it a point of passing through and stopping in many) there was a palpable sense of hopelessness, reflected in the shriveled Main streets having fallen victim to Walmarts, Dollar Stores, and a bewildering variety of fast food outlets. I now understand in a way I didn't before why Trump (and to some degree Sanders) have done so well. Their voters are rightfully angry that their futures, and perhaps even more sadly that of their children, are bleak.

I truly believe that many of the privileged group who are reading this post can't understand the depths of the problem these millions of left-behinds face, and the extent of their anger. Their jobs, and indeed perhaps their entire industries, have evaporated, and they simply don't have access or the means to retrain. So they anesthetize themselves with fried chicken, burgers, meth, coke, booze, and cigarettes. It's easy to laugh at their obesity and their "cluelessness," but they've been screwed. Mostly not being their fault at all so please excuse my preachiness and try to understand them with a greater degree of compassion and hope/pray/work for their economic and, perhaps more importantly, emotional "salvation."

Highlights of the trip: Mt. Rushmore and the entire Black Hills region of South Dakota, Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota (with its wild horses, buffalo, prairie dogs, and magnificent views), Chimney Rock Nebraska, where the Oregon Trail, the California Goldrushers, and the Mormon migration all passed, the stunning architecture and gorgeous lakes of Minneapolis (contrasting with the devastated precincts of neighboring St. Paul), and the delicious 50 cent cup of coffee I had in Buffalo, SD.