Michelle Ward (CPC, PCC) has 1 question for you: What do you want to be when you grow up? She’s answered that question for herself, and today she helps women transition out of soul-sucking jobs and into work that feels like play. You may have seen or heard her on The Huffington Post, Etsy, AOL Jobs, Newsweek, SXSW, Freelancers Union, Psychology Today, the Forbes Top 100 Websites for your Career list or 100+ other media outlets. She’s the co-author of The Declaration of You!, which was published by North Light Books, and the teacher of the 2nd highest-viewed course on CreativeLive’s Craft & Makers channel, Create Your Dream Career. Or sign up for her free webinar, How to Discover Your Meaningful Biz (in 5 Easy Steps).
As another year wraps up and we enter into a new one, many of us find ourselves reflecting and reevaluating our life goals and priorities, especially as a mom. Whether you’ve been casually tossing around the idea of a change in career or have decided 2015 is the year to take the plunge, creative career coach Michelle Ward gives us a little insight in herself, how she made the leap, and how she helps others find their dream career.
When someone comes in looking for a career change, what is the first thing you ask them?
To me, it’s all about their whispers and inklings. What is it that they think might be next for them? That might not be what they end up doing, but it’s certainly a great place to start.
How do you set realistic expectations of a career path? I feel like probably any work you do day-in and day-out will eventually have sticking points and bad days, how do you know when it’s time to call it quits and start explore other options?
It’s really all about energy. If the work you’re doing leaves you repeatedly depleted – not to mention deflated, anxious, sick, stressed, all those fun emotions – then that’s the wake up call that something needs to change.
You’ve been through quite a few career transitions of your own – you went from musical theater to corporate America to your own special blend of life-career coaching. I’ve made a few not-so-big career adjustments and even they were pretty nerve-wracking. How did you work up the courage to make your dramatic career changes? What was it that you were looking for career-wise and how is working as a career coach fulfilling those goals?
It’s funny, because when I was growing up and my Dad would come home from work, he would respond to the question, “How was your day?” with “It’s called work because it’s not play – but I guess I’ll go back tomorrow.” I’ve rebelled against that my whole life. I think it was because I was pursuing a career as a performer – which was my dream since I was 6 – that it was so unacceptable to me to then spend the last 35ish years of my working life in a job that I wasn’t passionate about. And while I set out to find a “stable” career that I’d love, I found friggin’ life coaching and had an “oh crapballs” moment. By then (this was 2006ish), I knew that I wanted to be working in an area that allowed me to use my relationship-building skills and communication skills, as well as making me feel helpful. I also couldn’t deny the fact that becoming an entrepreneur fit into the lifestyle goals and dreams I had for myself. When I realized I could be the career coach that I needed at the time – the one who’d understand creative types – it became a no-brainer for me.
I found the courage to pursue it by not ditching my job right away to delve into a life coaching business. Instead, I got a day job as an Executive Assistant (that allowed me to only work from 9a-6pm without overtime, travel, or a Blackberry) and enrolled in my life coaching certification program the very same month. It took 2 years and 7 months, but I graduated from the program, got engaged & married, and built up my business enough that I felt comfortable and confident making the “leap” into entrepreneurship. In March 2010 I became a Women of the World (aka full-time entrepreneur), and I haven’t had to look back!
I often think when people make dramatic career changes, they can bring a skill-set that’s completely outside of what someone who has always followed a career path have and have the advantage of seeing the work from an outsider’s perspective. Did you find any surprising skills that you were able to transfer between the different work even though on the face of things they’re quite different? Is that something you see a lot in your work as a career coach?
Oh sure. I think we always have to take our entire journeys into consideration when we’re looking for work that will fulfill us. A lot of times we discount everything that doesn’t fall under “professional” experience, but that’s really a detrimental stance. We need to realize that our personalities, how we choose to spend our time, the things we’re excited about talking about… it all count. I’m constantly bringing my performance background into my work as a speaker, and my love of writing into my copy and books and posts. I bring my musical background into my marketing and my former sales jobs into my business. It all ties together.
You recently adopted the cutest little sweet pea! Congratulations! Has becoming a mom changed your perspective on your work?
Absolutely! I think the perspective I’ve had since we brought her home in mid-June is how lucky I feel to work from home, to plan my own schedule, to be able to be present with my daughter so often. I remember spending a couple hours on a blanket in the park in the middle of a Tuesday this summer and thinking, “This is why I do what I do.” Not having to “go back to work” when maternity leave is over, and having complete control over the childcare that I want my child to have – not that I have to have. It’s really freeing and empowering.
One of the things I found hardest about being self-employed and starting a family is you don’t have anyone to take over in situations like maternity leave. How did you prepare work-wise for becoming a mom? What is the single most important thing that has made your life easier when juggling a baby AND running your own business?
While we’ve obviously been actively trying to become parents for the last couple of years, we only had 5 days of preparation from when we got the call until we brought her home – so it’s been all hands on deck since mid-June! We had a feeling that it’d happen this summer, though, so I purposely kept my client load light. But the single most important thing that’s made life easier is that my husband’s been able to work from home, too! He’s been a freelancer for almost two years, and sometimes he has to go in to an office to work with a client and other times he doesn’t. Thankfully, his most recent gigs fell into the latter category. I joke that between the two of us, we maybe have a full-time job. In the near future, we definitely see some hours with a nanny for our daughter – but we won’t have to do it until my husband gets the come-to-our-office gig.
After working with so many women, have you found any ways moms can make their work and family life more harmonious?
We have to be better taking time for ourselves – talking to our partners and kids about what’s needed week-to-week so we can do the things that fulfill us. That doesn’t mean that we have to put ourselves in solitary with the books we wanna read or the painting we wanna paint or the blog post we wanna write. Instead, we can see how we can bring our kids into our work/hobbies. While you’re writing that blog post, can they write a story? When you paint, can they? When you read, can they have “quiet time”? By communicating what you’re doing, why it’s important, and how they can help, you’ll all get closer and have more fun (and not feel so guilty!).
Are there any resources (websites, books, magazines, courses, etc) you’d recommend for moms who are interested in becoming career or life coaches?
I did my certification in ’07-’09 and things have changed so much since then. The ICF would be the place to start, though – they’re the ones that actually approve the certification programs, and you can get an overview there of what you’d need to be certified (which you don’t *have* to be in order to coach).
I went to ICA & would definitely recommend it along with Courageous Coaches Training, CTI and Martha Beck’s program – I’ve heard great things about all of them. Definitely sign up for a free info call and see which program resonates most for you.
I think we all struggle with figuring out our own career paths but as a moms, suddenly I also want to help guide my children (eventually) into some sort of personally meaningful and fulfilling career. Any advice for moms helping their kids suss out a career path?
I think the best thing to do is to not have them focus on the “practical” or the “stable”, because honestly – there’s no such thing anymore (and if you don’t believe me, here are 35 Careers You Won’t Believe Exist – and that are lucrative!). Encourage their creative spirit, talk to them about their overall life dreams, and don’t force them to Pick One Thing!
There’s been a shift with recent generations for careers to be fulfilling and less about it’s just a way to earn money. However, many times it’s just not possible to find the career to completely fulfills you and pays you the amount you desire. Or maybe the job doesn’t quite fulfill you the way you like, but offers you the flexibility to find fulfillment elsewhere. How do you think people should look for and approach this balance?
I think you have to really dig deep and know yourself well. For some people, they might be thrilled to “punch a clock” and have the time and energy to do the things they love off-hours. For others – not so much. I sometimes get asked about what the “perfect” day job is, and I think for those who already know the work they wanna be doing – the work that feels meaningful and fulfilling – then nothing else will do. It’s like what I’ve been told about acting: Don’t do it unless you have to. I could say the same about changing careers, or being an entrepreneur! It’s definitely the harder road, but when you have to, you have to!
Thanks to Michelle for your inspiring and insightful answers!