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It’s your life. It’s your career. Stop apologizing.

Three times this week, (and it’s only Wednesday), I’ve had clients say to me, “If only I’d …”, or “How am I going to explain this gap in employment?”, “What will ‘they’ think, when they see …?” and other, self-deprecating comments about their career and the choices they’ve made in their lives. To which I gently SHOUT, “Stop apologizing for events and decisions you cannot change. Find the value or diminish the event, but stop carrying it around everywhere you go.” (Easier said, than done. I know.)

Photo by satguru via Flickr

Too often job seekers and careerists focus on the one thing they perceive as a lack and forget to dig deeper and find value in that one thing. To add fuel to the fire, not only do they apologize for life choices, they throw them up as red flags and roadblocks during interviews. Rather than keeping conversations focused on what they learned, they make excuses and apologize for the fact they weren’t “gainfully employed” or “weren’t in a normal cookie-cutter situation” while learning new, exciting, and marketable skills.

We all, intellectually, know we’re in a completely different job market. Fifty years with the same company and retiring with a gold watch are pretty much a thing of the past. Frequent job changes, gaps, sabbaticals, conscious decisions to take a break, relocate, go back to school, just sit and be are common pieces of today’s careers story. YET, we continue to act as if we took more than two seconds off since the age of 16, something is wrong and must be “explained away.”

I worked with a young man last year. He made astute investments and managed his money wisely. When he married, he and his bride traveled Europe – for a year. A dream vacation for them both; they had the time of their lives.  He came to me, ready to re-enter the work force. One of his first questions, “How do I explain the fact I didn’t work for a year? That looks bad doesn’t it?”

Hmmmmm. Let’s see. His target was financial analyst for organizations with a global reach. He saw a gap. I saw someone who:

  • Invested, saved, and managed his money well enough to support two people traveling for an entire year in Europe.
  • Learned about currency exchange and market fluctuations, first hand.
  • Embraced many different cultures; became versed in behavioral nuances and social expectations in each one.
  • Made lifelong connections building a solid foundation for a global network.
  • Troubleshot and responded to last minute changes and emerging situations.
  • Planned and arranged international travel.
  • Communicated frequently with non-English speaking locals, eventually attaining understanding.
  • Honed interpersonal skills through meeting so many people from so many different countries and navigating the first year of marriage. 🙂

After looking at the trip through career-value eyes, he no longer saw the time spent traveling as a roadblock, but rather a differentiator. He had the skills needed, like “every other financial analyst,” but now, he knew how to capitalize on the extra layer of expertise, derived from his travels, he brought to any employer.

I could tell you about the aspiring office manager who volunteered for a local charity during a two-year gap in employment. She thought she just answered the phone.” With prodding, she shared she built a donor database for the organization enabling targeted donor campaigns and boosting overall fundraising. She also helped create content and managed mail marketing campaigns. She thought she “didn’t do anything” for two years because she “didn’t get paid. In reality, she’d built solid office management, collaboration, and marketing skills.

Or we could discuss the person I spoke with the other day who started the conversation, “I’m sorry, but my degree is only in history ….” She didn’t see the value, knowledge, or skills derived from attaining the degree – time management, teamwork, research, communication, subject matter expertise. She’d decided that her degree in “history” was no help to her current career goals and led with a statement pointing out that fact. She didn’t see the thousands of people who would LOVE to have the opportunity to earn and hold a degree, or that (I’ve read repeatedly) a good many folk have drifted away their majors only five years out from graduation. She brought her own job search and interview roadblock with her and quickly flopped it into the middle of a conversation about her career goals.

{As an aside, she was doing marketable things in operations management and logistics. By the time she’d dazzled with all she could do from an operations, efficiency, and cost saving standpoint, a potential employer probably wouldn’t care if her degree was in eating bon-bons.}

Bottom line: life and career choices make up the wonderful fabric of you. Job searches and career moves are difficult enough without feeling like you have to apologize for anything falling outside the “fifty-years and a gold watch” scenario. Look at what you learned during the “non-traditional” times and rather than apologize for being different, embrace, tout, and flaunt the value being different brings.

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  1. You are right because whatever happens, happens for a reason. I studied HR but joined a bank and left it only to continue as a writer in an NGO. But, I never regretted being in a field that I pursued studies in because I think that I am successful in the writing field because of my skills and there is where I was meant to be 🙂

    • Dawn says:

      Looking back, and connecting the dots (a la Steve Jobs), we can see how every event in our lives brought us to the point your are now — exactly where we ARE meant to be. (Just like you said.) Excellent add Marie. Thank you!

  2. Jane Alice says:

    I agree with you. Not all our plans will come into fruition but that does not mean we should feel sorry for ourselves.

  3. Keith Koons says:

    Yeah, I agree as well. Part of that is the way people view us for sitting at home and making good money; in this case, society really has it wrong. I’ll never be ashamed of following my dreams and it’s good to know that I’m not the only one who feels that way.

  4. Rodrick says:

    Wow, that was great! I never thought that we can view that one year vacation of the young man in that way. So it all goes down to perspective, right?

  5. Dawn says:

    Jane, Keith, and Rodrick –

    Thanks for stopping by and contributing to the conversation. Roderick is right, “Perception (perspective) does pay the bills.” 🙂

  6. I like the perspective you put on it, Dawn. So often us career pros can get carried away in our advice to job seekers that they are often made to feel like any bump or detour in their career path is devastating. I heard a job seeker say recently that after listening to all the advice shouted out on Twitter that he felt overwhelmed by a standard he couldn’t live up to. He’d taken a sabbatical. He’d had financial troubles. He’d been downsized. I had to remind him that the people on the other side of things (aka the hiring managers) weren’t perfect either. Somehow I think that gets lost in the translation.

    • Dawn says:

      Hi Sheree –

      Excellent point. Job search is difficult enough, without starting from a “there’s something wrong with me” perspective. We ALL have ‘luggage’. Thanks for sharing.

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