Dr. Jim Bailey
Guiding You to Work that FIts

Work-Life Blog

About Your Work-Life

Using the Space In-Between Jobs

Recently two events in the lives of my clients overlapped. The overlap wouldn’t be apparent to anyone else, but there was a shared theme in their situations that was clear to me. Both of them were, respectively, In-Between.

One client is a young man in his first post-college job who came to me for career coaching. It was a situation that he looked at as the beginning of a long career with an organization he believed in and loved promoting. He’d entered as a middle manager at a local branch office and could anticipate himself rising through the ranks over time, with ever increasing levels of responsibility and commensurate pay raises. Last week he was caught off guard when his boss suddenly, and without warning, informed him that his position was being terminated as a part of a company restructuring. He was devastated.

The other client is woman in the height of her professional life who came to me for executive coaching. After years of working her way up through her company’s structure she is in a team management role with many employees under her supervision. For some time she’s been focused on building the culture of her team so that they function as a well-integrated and very effective unit. They’ve reached the point where they need to take on another person to share the workload. My client wanted to be sure she approached the hiring process the right way.

In the past few weeks both of these people are at one of the “between” places that life can occasionally give us. They are not where they once were, with all of its familiar ways of thinking about things, nor are they at the “next” place, with the new ways and approaches we will use when it’s become part of our daily lives. By-and-large we human beings dislike being in-between.

In our work lives in-between feels uncertain and unteathered. The things we’ve come to rely on as foundations for our lives are no longer present or reliable and those things that will replace them in our new reality haven’t yet been presented. We have become like metaphorical trapeze artists – the “flyer” who has let go of the trapeze bar and is now in mid-air and has not yet been grasped by the “catcher” suspended from the bar that’s our goal. Disconnected from the certainty of one but not connected with the certainty of the other, we float, vulnerable on the air between the two places.

Most people don’t tolerate in-between very well. My young career client wasn’t simply hurt by losing his job; he was also scared (even terrified) by the idea that he hadn’t established some sort of vocational safety net for himself. Awash in feelings, he shifted in our conversation from expressing his pain, then his feelings of anger and betrayal, then to his fear of unemployment and an unseen future, and then back to pain again. So the cycle of his emotions played out.

In answer to these he immediately began proposing options and the actions he could take to remedy his unemployment as quickly as possible. “To Get a Job” was his solitary focus. Even if this meant the job he obtained was a poor fit for him or had a risk of quick, unanticipated termination similar to the job he’d just lost. Resolving the discomfort of the in-between was his driving goal.

My executive coaching client took a different approach to filling her team’s need. She wanted that next employee to not only fill the task-related need of her team, but to also fit well in the culture she’d worked so diligently to build with them in the prior 9 months. In addition to task-competence she wanted to ensure the new person would participate as a team player, interacting with her or his new colleagues in ways that maximized team morale and productivity.

She identified key attributes that new person needed to possess, using her team’s input to ensure she’d painted a complete picture of an ideal candidate. They talked about the primary team members with whom that person would interact and what that implied for the communication style and attitudes the candidate needed. They also discussed potential workday scenarios that person would encounter with clients and coworkers and the implications these held for the personality and character of their candidate. Finally, they discussed the kind of person they’d want as a part of the “family” they’d worked hard to create.

By the time they’d finished their conversations about the “new guy or gal” they’d built a well-defined model for the type of person to bring into their team.

Ironically, that’s exactly the type of process I recommended for my young friend. First, I suggested he take a few days to process the feelings losing a job can give any of us. Getting some emotional distance from these would be a key to ensuring that he didn’t make emotionally driven decisions in his next job search. Then I asked him to write an account of what worked well – and poorly – for him in the job he’d just left; and not just the tasks that were required of him but interactions with his boss and the work culture in the place as well.

My point was for him to approach his job search in a thoughtful, considered way where he would be more of an investigator of jobs than a “job seeker”. The in-between space offered him an opportunity to carefully consider every aspect of his next position and how he wanted it to fit his life, rather than approaching it as a simple stress-reliever. With this information in hand he could search for jobs with a more complete idea of the exact qualities and characteristics he needed it to fill in his life.

Being in-between will probably never be comfortable for an average person, but it offers us opportunities to explore and delineate more explicitly where we want to go, what we want to accomplish, and other qualities we want to have in place when we “land” in our next place. Rushing through the in-between phases of our lives risks missing out on the reflection and contemplation required to set good targets for our search.

In many ways In-Between is a gift given to the person who wants to be wise about taking the next step in their career path.

James Bailey