How to Start a New Chapter in Life

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Start a New Chapter in Life

“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”– Martin Luther King Jr.

For decades, counselors and life coaches approached career development like a big matching game. They believed that finding the “right” career was a matter of measuring a person’s strengths, talents, interests, and personality, then choosing the path that aligned most closely. 

You can apply this “matching” approach to choosing a partner, or a place to live, or a new hobby. It’s a handy paradigm for making decisions — but it’s not the only paradigm. 

The “life design” or narrative approach to counseling and coaching starts with the assumption that you are an adaptable, malleable human being capable of tremendous growth and positive change in pursuit of your most important goals. 

By approaching your life as a narrative that you’re actively constructing day by day, you become empowered to change your story about who you are and what you’re capable of. 

Change Your Story

When you reflect on the story of your life, which plot points stand out to you as times when you were at your best, tapping into your potential, and truly sharing your gifts with the world

These likely weren’t the most comfortable experiences of your life. In fact, they may have been incredibly challenging. But they gave you an opportunity to grow and adapt, and the result was increased self-confidence and a deeper sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. 

If you can discover what it was about those experiences that put you in touch with your best self, you will have a North Star to guide you in the direction of meaningful, rewarding work that you love

Starting a New Chapter In Life

If you’re feeling stuck in a rut, or have a nagging sense that you could do more and be more, that’s a sign that you’re ready to start a new chapter in life, at work or in another area. 

Start by reflecting on how you got where you are. How did you choose your current path? Which decisions were really deliberative, and which just felt like the thing you were supposed to do, or the logical “next step?” 

Your answers here will tell you a lot about the values, conscious or unconscious, that have been shaping your story up until this point. Once you have a clear sense of what your values have been, you can decide whether to carry them forward, or shed them for values that are more aligned with the new story you want to create. 

Getting Unstuck

When you’ve invested a lot of time (and money!) on education and training to break into a specific career, it’s not easy to admit to yourself or others that you’re unhappy. 

To get unstuck, it helps to examine your expectations about how careers are “supposed” to go. If you’re like most people, you chose your career path as a young adult, and you likely expected to work in the same field until retirement. 

But in reality, major career changes are incredibly common. If you’re unsatisfied — with your career, your relationship, or any other major life circumstance — are you really willing to endure your current path for another decade? Or three?

This is the “sunk cost” fallacy at work. It’s a very human mindset, but it doesn’t lead to courageous, empowered decision making based on the life you really want. 

Instead of focusing on the investments you’ve already made that can’t be recovered, focus on the new insights you’ve gained about what you want out of life, and the opportunities you have here and now to begin creating it. 

A New Chapter Begins

For many of us, the coronavirus crisis has been a time for re-examining how work fits into our lives. 

We’re seeing the result of all that reflection in what some are calling the “Great Resignation,” an economic and labor trend in which tens of thousands of workers have left their jobs since the beginning of the pandemic. 

While the labor shortage has caused serious stress for business owners, it’s a signal that our collective attitudes toward careers are shifting, and that people are beginning new chapters with new values in mind. 

Writing My Next Chapter

When we’re unhappy with some area of our lives, we often feel an impulse to get away and start something new as quickly as possible. We may quit a job to pursue a shiny new opportunity, or leave a partner and immediately enter a new relationship, for example. 

But it’s important to step back and think about your own role in creating whatever circumstances you’re eager to leave behind. If you skip that step before making a major change, you’re likely to find yourself in a similar situation again. 

It’s not easy to take responsibility for a relationship, job, or any other pursuit that didn’t go as you’d hoped. But by looking at past patterns and recognizing your role in creating them, you become empowered to write an exciting new chapter. 

A Fresh Start

The New Year is upon us, and so many of us are feeling energized to make major, positive changes. 

What would you like to bring into your life in this New Year? What would you like to leave behind? 

I hope our conversation gives you a chance to reflect on these questions, and some guidance on making real changes that stick. I’d love to hear your answers in the comments below. 

Cheers to the next chapter, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Music in this episode is by Wet Leg, with their song “Chaise Longue.”

Under the circumstance of use of music, each portion of used music within this current episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, i.e., Fair Use. Please refer to if further questions are prompted.

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How to Start a New Chapter in Life

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Have you been feeling like it’s time for a new chapter in life? A fresh start? A new beginning for your relationship? Or maybe it’s time for a career change? Maybe it’s time to change your story — the one you’ve been telling yourself about who you are, what you’re worth, and what you can expect from the world because learning how to rewrite your story is one of the single most powerful things you can do, not just to change your life, but also how you experience it. That, my friend, is what we’re going to learn how to do on today’s show with the help of my expert guest, Dr. Lisa Severy. 

Now, I am going to go ahead and give Dr. Lisa a proper introduction here because she is so incredibly modest that she would probably never tell you about what a big deal she really is if I gave her the opportunity. You should know that Dr. Lisa is not just an amazing therapist, not just an amazing career counselor and career coach, she is also a past president of both the National Career Development Association and the Colorado Career Development Association. She is the former Director of Career Services at the University of Colorado Boulder. 

She is the author of numerous book chapters devoted to the art and science of career counseling and professional development counseling. Dr. Lisa does career counseling, executive coaching, life coaching, and therapy. She has a PhD in Counselor Education, and a master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling. She currently serves on the boards of both the National Career Development Association and the American Counseling Association. I am so proud to call her my colleague here at our practice of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. 

Dr. Lisa, welcome.

Dr. Lisa Severy: Thank you so much. I love to hear that. Such a confidence booster as we lead right into this. Thank you so much.

Lisa Marie Bobby: It’s so true. I don’t know if I ever told you this, but when you first applied to join our practice, our colleague Rachel sent over your materials, and I looked over your CV, and I spit out my green tea a little bit. I was like, “Oh,” because you have just — seriously such an amazing career. You’ve been such a leader in the field of career counseling, but you are so modest about it. When we were working on your bio to put on our website, we were like, “No! You have to tell people about all of those things.” And you’re like, “Oh, okay,” so nice about it. I mean, it’s just amazing. 

Here’s the first interview question, Dr. Lisa. Why are the most genuinely accomplished people so humble, while kind of questionable and marginally qualified people are shouting to the world about how great they are. I think Sarah Silverman made a comment not too long ago, “One in five residents of the State of California are now some kind of self-anointed life coach or success coach of some kind.” They’re happy to tell you all about it, but not the real deal. Inquiring minds would like to know, what do you make of that?

Lisa Severy: It’s probably funny because it probably has a lot to do with cliches about practicing what you preach. Of course, all the clients that I work with, that’s a major part of searching for a new job, changing careers, reaching out to your network. There are introverted ways of doing that. But still, it’s really hard to do partly because, I don’t know about you, but for most of life, you just doing what you do. Something comes up, and you respond, and you do what you do. You don’t usually think about it in that holistic way. 

But I certainly do feel privileged to be a part of working with individual clients and then having conversations at the national and international level about everything that’s happening with employment and unemployment, and professional practice things like licensure, and making sure people are practicing within their scope so that clients are protected. There’s just a lot going on, and I love those conversations. It’s a lot of fun for me. It’s nice to have it framed in a nice package. But it really does just feel like — I just kind of do what I do each day and try to keep up with what’s going on in the field, which is ever changing and a lot of fun.

Lisa Marie Bobby: That was awesome. Well, the world needs standard bearers such as yourself to make sure — but that’s wonderful. Clearly, you love what you do, which is, I think, the goal of so many people. That’s why I’m just so thrilled to get your perspective on our topic today because you are — I know you’re a therapist, but you specialize in career counseling and career development, career coaching. 

The reason why I really wanted to talk with you today is because you use a particular theory of change to help your clients figure themselves out, and create a meaningful, meaningful path forward. It is a narrative approach. If somebody is listening to this and is ready to create a new chapter — a fresh start to go in a different direction, perhaps with their career or another part of their life — Tell us a little bit about why that narrative approach is so powerful and important.

Lisa Severy: Yes, great. I’d love to. I think it might be helpful to start off how I came to become aware of this. 

Lisa Marie Bobby: Tell us your story.

Lisa Severy: Exactly. Because when I was in graduate school — in my master’s level program, I had a basic class in career development basically geared towards how to pass the National Counseling Exam, which is great. Of course, career makes up a big chunk of that, but it was very much focused on career development practice that had been since we launched. The National Association actually celebrated its 100th anniversary back in 2013. It’s been around for a while. But it was, and appropriately at the time, when it came into being, it was a lot about matching. So matching —

Lisa Marie Bobby: You’re talking about the field of career counseling right now.

Lisa Severy: The field. The approach to career counseling was called person-to-position fit. The idea was if you test the heck out of the person and you characterize a position, or a place or a type of job, you just measure the heck out of these things, and then match them up. That was really the career development mode we used for most of the last 100 years. It worked very well, especially when large groups of people were returning to the workforce — like people coming back from war and those types of situations where we had to do it quick. 

Lisa Marie Bobby: Electrician, plumber, right.

Lisa Severy: Exactly, “So here’s what we know about you. Here’s what we know about this world of work. Let’s match up.” It worked, as I said, for a long time. I remember going to a conference and hearing a theorist talk about a different approach, which really is much more proactive, and it fits under two categories, I think. One is positive psychology; so it’s very much focused on strengths and what people bring to the world. I mean, the world of work is really how we bring ourselves and our talents to other people. Otherwise, our family and friends know us, but the way we interact with the world is through work. 

The question then became, “Does this really work?” I always think of the quote from Shrek, where he’s trying to describe to Donkey that, “Life is like an onion. It has layers, and you just peel it back.” We kind of approached career like that. There is a deep calling. There’s a career somewhere inside you, and we just have to find it. That’s wonderful for those people it worked for. 

For most of us, no, I don’t really have a latent career in there that’s waiting to be discovered. Why don’t we design it? The whole function of life design, really, is in this group of theories called “constructivist theories,” which is basically, “Let’s not just try to figure out something that’s there. Let’s kind of make it up as we go.” That might be kind of scary for a lot of people. I know it’s scary for me, but at the same time, there’s a lot of power there. In narrative career counseling, really, take a few steps back, and instead of assessing things like skills and personality type and values, it’s kind of clustering it all together under the umbrella of themes. 

What are your life themes? They could be positive or negative. I mean, all of us, but some have had awful things happen in their lives and in their careers. It becomes a part, I think, of the narrator — that voice in the back of your brain that is narrating your life. Sometimes those messages that are coming out, “You’re strong. You can do this. You’ve survived a lot.” Others, quite frankly, not so helpful, right? “You’re stupid. You can’t do this.” Like all of those things that are negative too. 

The idea behind the narrative career counseling is helping a client to develop, “Okay, these are the themes that I want. These are the themes that I want to keep moving forward here. The ones, maybe, I want to reframe, and rewrite. They, maybe, served a great purpose at the time, but they’re not helping me anymore, and I need to reframe them and reuse them.” Then, figure out okay, “Now that I know my themes for my story, what do I want my next plot step to be?” Those things just go hand in hand.

Lisa Marie Bobby: As you’re talking, what I’m hearing through my framework — that themes are really those like values, and that, “What is most important to me in the whole world? What am I put here to do? What am I about?” This is wonderful. This is what I love about your work, and why I wanted to talk to you today is because of the depth that you bring to career counseling. 

I think there are so many parallels to all kinds of different life changes. I know you’re a coach and a therapist too. Just even the way you talk about career stuff, it’s so holistic. I think that you still kind of think about that career counseling as being very cut and dry — like you go see a career counselor, and you take an assessment, and you get the results, “Okay, it looks like I should be a forest ranger. Now, I’m going to research national parks and put out a resume, and now I am standing in the Grand Canyon, swearing in Junior Rangers, and we’re done.” Like that kind of thing.

What you’re saying is, it’s so much different. You’re really cracking into who people are, what they are about on very fundamental levels, and where have you been, where are you going, what is meaningful, what is important, and not just with your job, but almost your entire existence. Now, let’s talk about how that career path fits into that, which is a totally different thing. The truth is, I think a lot of people could actually do many different things successfully and well, and make a nice living. That’s another form of paralysis, right? How do you even choose where you want to go next

Lisa Severy: Absolutely. Well, it’s always funny to me because so many people, still, will talk about work-life balance. I don’t know what that looks like anymore. It’s not that we leave work at work, especially as a result of the pandemic. I mean, look, right now. We’re both in our houses, right? It’s just a very funny thing. Because generally, our work and life are so enmeshed with each other, that it’s funny that we still kind of talk about them separately. 

I think in terms of that, really diving into the metaphor of storytelling, and thinking about not what the last chapter is going to be, but what your next chapter is going to be because I completely agree with you too. Most people would be happy and successful in a lot of different career fields. Interest is certainly a huge part of that. What is interesting enough to you that it will hold your attention for 40 hours plus a week? That’s, of course, important. 

But in terms of the things that are really reinforcing to you, that you do the things that you do well, and you’re working with people that you like and enjoy, and feel a sense of teamwork, and a sense of community — all of those pieces are just as important as your actual work function that you do each day. I like to think of it — I think I’ve shared this with you before — but I think of two layers related to career and stories. If you think about it for a moment, maybe it’s Lemony Snicket, I don’t know. 

Lisa Marie Bobby: I love that show!

Lisa Severy: If you think of your favorite story, and some people think iconic things — Gone With The Wind or whatever — just a really important story to use — Star Wars. Think about what’s happening. There’s generally things happening on two levels. One is the story itself, and that’s the part that you get all excited, and you describe to a friend,  hopefully with no spoilers. But you describe that to a friend, “This happened, this happened, this happened.” Then, if you ask them, “Okay, what’s the underlying theme?” Most people will share something slightly different. Some things are universal, but some things touch each of us as individuals at a very different level, either personally or because you’re at a certain period of your life that you just kind of attach yourself to a certain theme. That, to me, is the difference. 

Things like a resume have been at this plot level, right? You outline, “I was at this job. I was at this job. I have this many supervisees,  this many billable hours.” Whatever the case may be, but the theme underneath is really different for everybody. I think about that. Well, the interesting part is, whenever you ask someone to tell a story — does not matter the topic — they’re going to tell you their themes. If I were to ask you, “Tell me about your very first memory.” Because we’re humans, and we categorize things, you’re going to tell me a story that has something to do with the themes in your life. 

When I work with a client, that is my only goal at the beginning — is just to get them to tell stories about themselves. Not necessarily — it could be work related, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. An example I use is when I was in high school, I was part of the soccer team and part of the choir. Nobody else overlaps between those two. But I was the person on the team that wasn’t “the party person” or whatever. But whenever anybody had a problem, I was the one that they came to — with family, boyfriends, whatever the case may be. 

Lisa Marie Bobby: I could totally see that.

Lisa Severy: Now, I’m a counselor, right? That theme absolutely followed me throughout. Again, when I’m working with a client, regardless of what it is, I use a lot of various techniques, various questioning to get people to think about, what are their underlying themes, and how does that come out in the stories that they tell? How can we build that into their story moving forward?

Lisa Marie Bobby: Got it. Got it. Getting away from the facts, the circumstances — you had this job, and you had that job — and really thinking more about the things that feel important to you that are almost patterns that come up over and over and over again in your life, times when you felt flow, or sort of maybe were using your natural talents, or just taking pleasure. I bet it felt nice to you when people would come and talk to you. 

Lisa Severy: Absolutely!

Lisa Marie Bobby: That sort of quasi-counselor role after soccer practice or whatever — because that was just what you are supposed to do. Without thinking about those times of… When was I being my — I hate to use such a corny phrase — but “best self”? You know what I mean? When was I just being my — this is so vital because I think what you’re also shining a light down is the path towards having a career path and work in your life that is genuinely enjoyable and pleasurable, and fun. 

I think that for so many people — which is crappy to think about — but getting hooked into jobs or careers, situations where they’re just showing up, they’re doing it, they’re getting the paycheck, and their life is — it’s almost like they’re enduring their time. It’s like you can actually love it. I mean, we all have days, but, I don’t know about you, if I won the lottery tomorrow, I would come right back here, and be sitting at this desk and doing the same thing. Do you know what I mean? Because it’s not connected to that for me. It’s like I just like it.

Lisa Severy: I talked to some clients before about an 80-20 rule. I find in general, if you like it 80% of the time, there’s always going to be stuff that you don’t necessarily like. It’s not all rosy types of careers. There are careers that are very necessary and very rewarding that are really difficult. One of one of my many career paths was working as a victim’s advocate. That was very hard to do. It wasn’t the content that was necessarily reinforcing but the ability to make a difference in the lives of those victims who’d been through some very traumatic things — of course that’s rewarding. 

Especially for some very high functioning folks who get sort of into traps. They’re making a lot of money, or they’re in a very prestigious position, but it’s not really connected to who they are. We all know people who are the opposite who absolutely adore their jobs — they do. Like leap out of bed to go do the work that they do because they’re enjoying it so much. I know in various positions in my own past, I thought, “That’s what I want to be like. I’m here because it’s comfortable.” Comfortable might be a terrible word for us. We might want to just get rid of that level.

The thought is, “Can it be better?” When you improve, as with everything else, it bleeds into everything. You could say, “Well, I’m doing this job. I kind of hate it, but I’ll keep doing it because I have a family to support, and I need the health insurance.” And whatever. All of those things are valid and true. That level of stress and anxiety is going home with you. Your general sense of not feeling engaged at all in what you’re doing. Again, 40 plus hours a week — you can’t really be a full healthy human if you’re experiencing that, and we all deserve better than that.

Lisa Marie Bobby: I agree. It’s such a devil’s bargain in some ways. I’m just the parallel of just enduring a really terrible relationship. So much of your life energy is going into that as into a career that is just not compatible and not congruent with who you fundamentally are, and what your life is really about. That’s a hard spot to be in, even if intellectually, it makes sense. Also, let’s all just acknowledge that there’s a lot of privilege involved in being able to do exactly what we want to do all the time. There’s that. 

Okay. This is super helpful. I know that we have people listening right now who would love to get some of your insights on how to launch this growth process inside of themselves. With your permission, I’m just going to pretend to be one of our listeners here for a minute. Let’s say, I show up to see you for a first session with you, and I say: 

“Dr. Lisa, I feel so stuck. I have a job. It’s okay. I don’t love it. I feel like there has to be more to life. I know that I can be more and do more, and feel more fulfilled. Not just by my career, but my whole life maybe, right? But I’m just having so much trouble getting a handle on what I should be doing instead. I think about things if I start to feel overwhelmed and paralyzed by all the options. I just don’t, right? I managed to fill up my time with distractions. I keep trudging along in my little rut, and oh — look, another year has gone by, and here I am. Dr. Lisa, what do I do?”

Now, I know career counseling is a whole process, and you work with people for months — no, really — like months, helping them dig in and sort through all this stuff. A podcast is not the same as doing this with you. I mean, what advice would you give to a listener who is in that space and really eager to begin doing some of this deep existential work? Making contact with their themes, and trying to figure out like, “Where’s my lighthouse? What should I move towards?” What are some questions you might ask, or things you might invite them to think more about, or ask themselves? I mean, I know everybody’s different but —

Lisa Severy: Well, I think — as with a lot of counseling of course, my first part of the process is to ask way too many questions. I’m sure that’s what it feels like as a client, right? Just like trying to get it everything. I think a starting point is really to ask people how they got where they are. Because most people don’t start from, “Okay, I’m going to try to find a mediocre job that I can just slog through.” Sometimes, people’s jobs have changed dramatically from when they started. It could be that they kept getting offered — again, self-disclosure. When I was the director of the career center, or even working in a career center, I kept getting offered jobs with more responsibility. Eventually I found myself as an administrator not working with clients. Bummer! It was all positive; that all worked. 

Generally speaking, after “How can I be helpful?” My second question when somebody is in that place of, “I don’t know what I want, but I don’t want this” is to really ask someone, “Okay, how did you get here?” To really be thoughtful about, not an elevator pitch, not what you tell someone in the seat next to on an airplane, but how did you get where you are, and which pieces were very deliberative in your decision-making, and which things kind of — you were speaking about privilege earlier — which things were sort of, you did them because you were supposed to do them next, but they weren’t necessarily part of your process of making meaning out of your life and your career. That would be my starting point, is to really look at the career path, career trauma that has happened because all of us have had that, some horrible supervisor or everybody gets laid off. 

Man, the pandemic caused trauma for a whole lot of people work related. I love reading articles right now about the “Great Resignation,” as a lot of people are saying, “No, it’s not worth it.” Now that I’ve seen what life is like in a different way, not going back. Whatever that process was will tell both of us a great deal about your story and your themes up to this point, and how you got to the place where you made the proactive decision to go find help. Listen to a podcast, have a session with a career counselor. 

Even talking to family and friends about it because once you start to talk about your story with family and friends, they’ll tell you from their perspective what your story is. You can decide which pieces fit for you and which don’t. Like if you were writing a novel, you need to do all of that background research and figure out all of your characters. Every hero has a backstory. What is your backstory? Where do you want to, sort of as a starting point, moving forward from here?

Lisa Marie Bobby: Wow, gosh! This is so good and so helpful. I’m so glad that we’re talking about this because it’s so authentic. You have to get radically honest — but I tell you because I’ve actually done some of — not related to career specifically so much, but I’ve done things in my life that I’ve regretted and felt bad about afterwards. I think that kind of work that you’re talking about that, “What was my motivation at the time? What were my intentions?” 

There’s also so much, I think, self-compassion that can come out of that because when you really go back and put yourself as that person in the past, and just making the best decisions you could at the time, it’s a very healing process I think in some ways. I think people can release a lot of the shame and the regret because hindsight is always that 20/20. With so many things in life, it’s okay to say, “I’m a different person now five years ago when I moved to Delaware, or took this job, or started this relationship. Like this is what made sense. When I think about how I got to this place, it makes sense to me. But I also know that I don’t want to stay here.” That’s that empowering piece.

Lisa Severy: Hopefully building in a sense of hope around various pieces because I really think — you used a great word earlier that I hear often, and that’s stuck. What is it that is the stuck part? Is it not wanting to — I don’t have a resume that I’ve done in the last 30 years, and I really don’t want to do that. Or is it again, the financial piece that you’re stuck? Is it benefits? Why? Why are you stuck? Do you not want to tell someone that maybe you have a position that’s prestigious? You want to do something totally different? Some of the career fields that people go into and leave the most are things like dentistry and law. Those require a huge amount of school and investment of tuition money, and time and all of those pieces that somebody’s like, “I can’t leave that now. I’ve invested too much of it.” 

There’s this Economics 101 of diminishing returns. But do you see yourself doing this until the day you finally get to retire because you really don’t like what you’re doing? Or is it time to, “Okay, but don’t wait another five years. I’ll change eventually.” That’s the other one. You’ve earned it, in other words, you’ve earned the chance to change. I think about the fact that historically, our — well, maybe in the last 100 years — that the trajectory has been very much, “You go to school for however long that period of time is. Then, you work for however long that period of time. Then, you retire and you have a period of leisure.” That’s not the way we exist anymore. 

Students take a gap year before they go to college, or maybe after college. Before they start work, they go back to school after years of being in one career. Maybe they want to advance. Maybe they want to change fields entirely — whatever. Same thing. Maybe you take a year off to do that. Now, we’re doing, I think, more, which is very fun — fun to work with folks who are willing to, “Well, let’s shake that up!” That very linear kind of timeline of school, work, leisure. What if we mix that all up and took leisure when we were healthy, and could travel the world? All of those sorts of questions, and a sense as exactly as you were talking about — giving ourselves — we’ll do it for friends — but giving ourselves permission to let go of some of those “shoulds.”

“I’ve reached here, how could I possibly leave?” Whatever the case may be. And it does, it happens in relationships — relationships with people, relationships with work. It’s very similar. How do you sort out what’s working and what’s not? As you said, give yourself permission to make a dramatic change. You can do that in a very calculated way so it’s not as risky as it feels. Baby steps are okay too. Some people just want to leap, and that’s fine as well. But working through those pieces so that there’s a comfort level in change, not just a comfort level in stuckness.

Lisa Marie Bobby: Right. I’m just sitting here thinking about the — going back to that idea that we first started talking about the narrative, about the story. Until you are able to change that internal story that you’re telling yourself, you can’t change the external circumstances — that plotline. It’s like doing that internal work around the “shoulds,” and the, “Do I actually have to do what I’ve been taught I should do? No! I don’t,” being able to write new mythologies, so to speak, like the world according to me.

Lisa Severy: I just love all of these superhero movies in the last 20 years or so. As they said, they all have this origin story. Clark Kent, who’s working in journalism — doing very well at that, and all of those things working — “Okay, so now I’m going to go save the world.” Okay! Maybe you’re going to miss a deadline here or there with your story. Obviously, not everybody is going to develop superpowers.

Lisa Marie Bobby: I was thinking that he probably would have taken an aptitude test, pointed him in the — I mean, he can fly and throw cars. That’s fairly specific. You have to wear the tights, and the underpants on the outside if you have that thing.

Lisa Severy: I can’t think of that showing up on any norm referenced test though. Very first question on some of those like, “Would you like to be a dentist, or no?” And it just goes through career by career, by career. I don’t know that superheroes are on it — but it should be. It absolutely should be. Because how can you contribute to the world? 

Lisa Marie Bobby: I think we all have a superpower.

Lisa Severy: I think so too. Absolutely, I do! So, discovering what that is. A lot of people who come into counseling or coaching with career, they do know. They do know what their superpowers are. Some don’t. That’s a fun process of discovery. Often, they do. What’s interesting to me is half the time, they’re not doing any work related to it. That’s like a side kind of occupation, if you will. Talk about integrating those things. It’s wonderful if you have your act together, and you can do that at 18. I don’t know many people who do or did.

Lisa Marie Bobby: I couldn’t. I could barely be a waitress. Like I wasn’t even a good waitress — forget stuff, sell things on people. Can we just go back briefly to a thing that you started to mention a couple of minutes ago when we were talking? You are mentioning this sort of new movement in the world, which I think is fantastic. People feeling empowered to leave their jobs. I was kind of curious to know, what you make of this? I mean, I think you just alluded to it. As people were sort of more in their actual lives maybe, and less in this inhabiting a work world all the time, they were like, “Wait a minute, I like my life. I want to do more of that.” Do you think that’s what it’s about, or is there something else going on?

Lisa Severy: That’s a really good question. I think there’s a mixture of a lot of different things. I think a lot of people reached a realization where they said, “You know, this isn’t worth it.” Whatever they’re having to give up — whether it’s safety, or safety of family and friends, kids, parents — that whole piece, and really thinking about the fact that we all have time, treasure and talent that we bring to the world. A lot of people feel like, for the first time, they’re having that realization, “I don’t think that people I’m working for right now value that in the slightest. They don’t value my health. They don’t value my well-being, what’s happening in my life.” 

As more and more news stories get written about how employers can’t hire — I’m going to go find someone who can. On one hand, it’s not particularly great for a lot of employers, especially small businesses, and they’re struggling. At the same time, I do feel like there’s this sense of empowerment. There’s so much going on with the world that you as an employer have to show me that this endeavor is worth it which is a very different sense of — I think in the past, people have just felt like, their employer — they owe something to their employer as if they’ve given them some gift of a job. 

There’s just been this fundamental shift in terms of the way that people think about things of, “No, I bring this to you. In return, you give me a salary and benefits.” And really thinking about that equation, and am I on the positive side of that equation? A lot of people are coming to the, “No, I don’t think so. I feel like I’m getting used.” So, bye! Again, it’s great, especially if you don’t have something else to go to. That to me, I have a lot of admiration for that.

Lisa Marie Bobby: Take this job and shove it. But I love this, and this is so interesting because like there’s this emotional component. It’s almost like people have been trying to have almost a one-sided relationship, and coming to the conclusion, “These people don’t care about me. They don’t have empathy for me. They don’t value me. I’m going to find somebody who does.” 

Lisa Severy: I think the flip side of employers is also customers. That’s been a challenge as well. Certain industries — like talk to a flight attendant right now about how abused they are. It’s not always just employers, and I get that. You could have phenomenal people to work for. Again, if you don’t find any meaning and purpose in working in a career that you’re in, and knowing that there are options out there now, especially in things like customer service, that people are saying, “Okay, I’m going to go find something else.” I think it’s great. It’s scary, but it’s great.

Lisa Marie Bobby: Yeah! Well, I think — and changing the system truly, like with our — back 100 years ago, there were unions, and people unionized, and they changed the big systems. Now, we’re sort of still doing it collectively, but just in a different way. I’m so curious to see what happens.

Lisa Severy: Me too. I mean, we’ve worked for so long to try through legilation and things — to change the minimum wage. Now supply and demand is — okay, nobody will work for minimum wage where I am in the world. It’s not necessarily everywhere. That’s driven it up. So it’s interesting — you’re right — to see how those dynamics are going to play out, that circumstance. The world went upside down for sure. Back to normal, it’s not something I even talk about because, “No, no! We want to go forward to normal, and really create something new and just full circle.” I think that’s what’s so fun about working with narrative career things is that you’re really writing it and creating it. It’s not like you’re going to take somebody else’s script, and start reading off of that one. 

Maybe that’s how you’ve always felt. Let’s start from here. I can help you as an editor, consultant, advisor, write the next chapter of what your life looks like. But it’s you. You’re the one that’s going to do it, and take ownership of it. You really should never let, in any circumstance, nobody else should write your story. You should write it yourself, and you have lots of people to support and help you do that. I love working with clients who are doing that. Front and center; you are the author of your own story.

Lisa Marie Bobby: I’m just sitting here thinking about how important it is to do that work. Maybe this is not an accurate parallel, but when you were talking about people jumping ship to try something better — because you’re a career person, and I am a relationship person, American Family Therapist. 

It’s really common for people to feel those feelings in a relationship. They feel unhappy. They feel uncared for. “I’m not compatible.” “There’s somebody better for me,” so they abandon ship. They ended. They jump out of the plane, and they parachute down. Sometimes, I see this a lot. My relationship work — there’s almost this reflexive reaction. It’s like wanting to get away from an unhappy situation that they don’t know how to fix. But with people in relationships, they end their relationship, they think, “Problem solved.” Because of that, they don’t always do their own personal growth work in that kind of time in between, so it’s very easy to hop into a new relationship with a different person — but you’re still the same you. You have your baggage, your patterns, your ways of relating and communicating, and attachment styles, and dealing with conflict, and all the things that you might not always consciously be aware of. 

What you often see is that people will, over time, start to just almost energetically elicit the same kinds of reactions from their new partners that their old partners are having to them, and the relationship starts to feel familiar in not a great way. I’m wondering if there’s ever that — do you see that with your career coaching clients, like leaving a job because there are new opportunities available, and so they kind of jump into the next one without really thinking about it or doing that deep work that you’re describing that, “Okay. What happened? How did I get here? What do I want next? What do I want to do differently next time?” Do you find them sort of vulnerable to recreating the same patterns if they’re not fully self-aware before they make an actual change, or is it different?

Lisa Severy: No, I think absolutely. I think you’re right. I think pattern is the right word to use, which is really funny because, again, it’s easy to see in other people but really difficult to see in yourself like, “Well, I’m just attracted to the bad boy.” Hold on a second! The one consistent in all of your relationships has been you. I think because we are naturally sort of comfort seekers, so we’ll seek out a similar environment to what we had before. If I’m trying to get away from a supervisor that is not supportive or whatever, but then I get into a new supervisory relationship. Somehow, I set the same patterns and end up with a similar thing. Am I just unlucky, and I’ve always had bad supervisors, or do I need to be more thoughtful about how I establish a relationship with a supervisor? How I nurture a relationship with a supervisor? Maybe doing things I’ve never thought to do before — like finding an external mentor who can help me process some of the things that I used to unload on a supervisor. 

Just unpacking all of those stories and again, seeing what patterns are repeating that maybe I don’t want to include moving forward. “I really want to do that in a new way.” I absolutely think the relationship parallels are there because we talk about work as if it’s this inanimate object, but really, it’s a series of people doing a series of tasks. It’s not all that different. It is funny the things that repeat like, “I stayed in for the children.” That can certainly describe a marriage or a job you don’t really like that has great benefits and a great salary, those things. 

I think that pieces are relatable, which again, you described it as holistic earlier. I completely agree because, as I said, if you’re in a bad work situation, it’s going to impact your relationships elsewhere and all of those pieces. How do you kind of unpack — I mean, in the counseling textbooks, we talked about it — the locus of control, right? I don’t want to feel lucky when things go well, and unlucky when things don’t go well. You have to take more ownership and more power than that. How do I make things go well, or how do I set myself up to be in a situation that things are more likely to go well? Because obviously, we can’t control everything. But how we respond to the things that are happening to us is everything. It’s the difference between being satisfied and successful at work, versus just sort of sailing along. It’s how much ownership and control, so that we’re not — to extend that metaphor — drifting all over the place, but rowing in a particular direction. 

I do just meet a lot of people that I think, “Of course you can decide that.” Whatever the question is, or if somebody says, “Well, I can’t do this.” Who told you that? Like those types of questions that really, oftentimes, that’s what I love about the coaching aspect. You have these skills, get in the game and use them, which sometimes again, people just need that a little bit of extra external validation to go do. Maybe they have a few tools that aren’t quite there yet, so we need to work on those. Once you can get them together — but you do have to have your own sense of agency that you can write the next chapter, and you can do these things. You don’t have to wait for that lucky break.

Lisa Marie Bobby: To be the author of your own story, and write your next chapter where you’re the hero, and you do have superpowers, and you can actually do anything you want.

Lisa Severy: Absolutely. 

Lisa Marie Bobby: I love it. What a nice and empowering note for us to end on. Is there anything else that you’d like to share with our listeners who might be feeling like they’re on the cusp of a new chapter and ready to go? Actually, let me ask you more directly. If I were to ask you to tell us a story, maybe about somebody that you worked with who did this work and did go on that amazing hero’s journey, and did start writing their own story — of course not identifying details or anything — but what have you seen happen?

Lisa Severy: That’s a really — that’s a good question. That, to me, is the reward of the work as well. I do remember, I was working with a group of people, and we were using collages. Back to kindergarten, we’re going to cut stuff out of a magazine, and there’s a lot of pieces that really fit the narrative piece in that. Sometimes, what happens if you are to just flat out ask people, “okay, so tell me what are your life themes?” It’s very difficult.

Lisa Marie Bobby: I don’t know.

Lisa Severy: “I don’t know.” But again, if you ask them, “Okay, what sort of magazines do you read?” Or watching people as they go through a magazine. Some people pull out words to use that are very meaningful to them. Some people pull up pictures. It’s just this process, and you don’t have to think about it very much, which is great. I was watching somebody, and they laid out all these beautiful pictures of things that they liked and used very empowering words, which are great, out of magazines, and all of those pieces. There was this giant white space in the middle. We went around in the group, and people were sharing various aspects of their collages, and other people were giving them feedback. 

Then, he kept deferring — like, no, no. Somebody else should go. Finally, like, “Okay, your last. That’s it, you have to share.” So, he described the whole thing, and then held it up, and he was like, “But I don’t know what goes here.” Then, there was this giant pause, and he said, “I don’t know what goes here. I need to figure out what goes here.” There was just this — nobody even said a thing. He realized that he may have a lot of, “These are the things I kind of want, but what is my essential sort of totally ‘blank’ slate.” And that was very scary to think about a blank slate, but also incredibly empowering for him to start to do the work, “I need to figure out what’s right here.” And I thought, “Couldn’t have said it better myself.” It was great.

It was, as I said, everything that you described was in his own language, in his own words, using his own pictures. None of that came from me, which I think is sometimes the danger of, “Well, you’re very articulate. I think you should do this.” No,no. It all should come from him. Just in talking about it, that he was the one that had that realization of the work that he needed to do. It was a great launching place then for the rest of the work of the group. It was really fun. I thought, “I hope you put this on your fridge and you look at it every morning so that you know what you’re doing, and you know what you’re working on.” That right now is enough. To know that you don’t know is enough right now, and we’ll work on it from there.

Lisa Marie Bobby: Do you know how that story ended, or was it a group that maybe he kept doing his own work after that’s ended? 

Lisa Severy: That is sort of the, sometimes, the drawback. I mean, we did work on figuring out what that essential piece was, and got a lot of work done in that area. Last one, the group ended, he was still in the same position — just trying to figure out sort of what to do next.

Lisa Marie Bobby: Well, what a gift though that he got from his work with you, it was just that realization of I don’t have a central theme. I don’t have a meaningful anchor in the middle of my life to kind of hold all this stuff together. Just how cool that you were able to help him connect those dots experientially without somebody telling him that when he was like, “Wait a minute!” Everyone within the sound of our voices, get yourself a glue stick and start ripping up some magazines, and see what happens next.

Lisa Severy: Absolutely. It’s a little bit harder to do online, but those types of activities where we can because so much of career stuff is in our brains. A lot of us overthink a lot of things. Sometimes, you need to stop thinking about something. It’s like trying to think of a name. You can think of it as soon as you stop trying to think. Some of those types of exercises are when I’m asking people to tell me a story about their early childhood like, “What’s the earliest thing you can remember?” You’re not overthinking, “Should I take a manager or director position at that point.” You’re way in a different space, and that allows for that creativity to come out.

Lisa Marie Bobby: Wow, that’s yeah, people get trapped by their own minds, don’t they?

Lisa Severy: Absolutely. And I do it all the time. 

Lisa Marie Bobby: As I do, routinely — the human condition. Well, Dr. Lisa, this was such an amazing conversation. Thank you, on behalf of our listeners today, because I know that a lot of people listening to this got not just inspiring ideas, but also some actionable advice for things to start thinking about and asking themselves about. On behalf of them, thank you so much for being so generous and sharing that with us.

I would love to have you back on the show again sometime because one thing I didn’t get to ask you more about — we ran out of time — you had talked about toxic or traumatic work experiences. We’re going to plant a flag in that, and I’d like you to come back and talk to me about that again.

Lisa Severy: Yep, absolutely. That’d be great. Thank you for your time today. This is great.

Lisa Marie Bobby: This was wonderful. I’ll see you soon. 

Lisa Severy: Thank you.

About Lisa

Lisa Severy is a career counselor, coach, and leader in collegiate career services. She has a degree in Psychology from Indiana University and three graduate degrees, including her Ph.D. in Counselor Education, from the University of Florida. A licensed professional counselor in Colorado, she was formerly president of the National Career Development Association.

Lisa has co-authored two books, Making Career Decisions that Count and Turning Points. Her work was featured in professional journals, such as the Career Development Quarterly and the Journal of College Counseling.If you want to know more about Lisa, you can connect with her via LinkedIn.

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