“How did you go from being an engineer to a career professional?” That is a question I am asked from curious clients, colleagues and friends of CareerCycles, the career management social enterprise I now lead. The question itself emerges from a collective curiosity about significant career and life changes that seem unusual, mysterious or discordant to the casual observer. However, when we dig deep into the stories behind those changes, the dots do connect and bridging patterns emerge.
At the risk of oversimplifying the career change process, my story begins in America’s largest handgun factory. Let me take you to the clanging and kinetic shop floor. At 29, I was working as a management consultant with a prestigious consulting firm. My job was to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of operations, as I had done time and time again in other industrial settings - factories manufacturing fast food apple pies, industrial sprinklers, boxes of chocolate, cases of beer, among others. The ultimate goal in this particular instance was to make more guns, faster.
As a trained industrial engineer with seven years of work experience at the time, I thought that I was in the right place in my career. After five years with a technology company I’d arrived at one of the top management consulting firms through a key contact I’d made during my summer work experience between third and fourth year of engineering school. Though I wouldn’t have been able to articulate it at the time, my career move to management consulting was driven as much from a push from behind as a pull from ahead. The push was a feeling of burnout from the work I’d been doing in the technology firm – so much energy focusing on the firm’s one key product made me feel uneasy and worried I’d become too narrowly focused so early in my career. The pull from ahead was a fuzzy desire for prestige that I’d associated with the world of management consulting.
But this job at the gun factory wasn’t the same as the previous consulting projects - something just wasn’t right. Amid the roaring metal stamping machines, the glint of gun metal as pistol and revolver parts dropped into steel containers, and my breathing in the smell of machine oil wafting from the factory floor, an inner voice finally yelled, “What am I doing here”? I’d been working in hundreds of different factories throughout Canada, the US and Europe by that point in my career but I’d never quite felt this discordant internal conflict, a battle going on inside my own head and heart.
What I really wanted was to help people, and my own value system was telling me that at this gun factory, I was indirectly hurting people. Instead of contributing to humanity’s overall wellbeing, wasn’t I contributing exactly to its opposite? Like the narrator says about the villain at the end of a good-guys-bad-guys show, “if only he’d used his powers for good, instead of evil." Wasn’t I deploying my strengths, my time and energy – my career – for the wrong purpose?
I was stuck and I didn’t know what to do about it. Armed only with a clear desire to help people, and a contrasting ‘don’t-want’ of harming people, or at least contributing to the harm of others, I went about an intentional exploration of possibilities that soon led me to a masters degree in counselling psychology, which led to other serendipitous moments and more connecting of dots.
Now that I am a career professional I can more easily look back and say that I was experiencing an acute conflict in values, or a grossly unbalanced tradeoff in desires. I valued helping people yet here I was hurting people by making more guns faster. On one hand, I desired a prestigious job with a reputable and respected employer, yet on the other hand, I desired making a positive difference in the world.
How did I connect the dots from management consultant to career counsellor? What I thought I was doing was having a prestigious career in management consulting. What I was really doing was setting up the conditions for me to pick up the trail of clues that I would eventually act on, to lead me away from the problematic career trajectory and onto the path I eventually took: returning to university for that masters degree which led to positions in two universities as a career counsellor which led to my own practice, which led to my developing a narrative method of practice which led the CareerCycles practice I now lead, and the creation of the Career Buzz radio show I host, all of which allows me to fulfill my deeper desire of helping people make satisfying career and life choices.
Using the natural strengths that I’ve cultivated in my engineering career – such as utilizing a systems approach, and drawing on both analytical and big-picture thinking – I have developed a systematic framework for career professionals to work with clients so that, through connecting the dots in their stories, they become proactive and empowered in their career and life choices. This is the CareerCycles narrative method of practice that hundreds of career professionals across Canada, the US and Europe now use with their clients, in turn helping thousands of clients connect the dots in their career stories.
My dots finally connected. Yours will too.
- Reflective Activity. Look back in your own story and pinpoint a moment when you had a career experience that made you uneasy, when you felt something was wrong. Go back there and recall as much as you can: where were you? Who else was there? What were you doing? How did it look, sound, smell? How did you feel?
Now, in retrospect, ask yourself: What was the real problem? What exactly didn’t you want that was happening? Boring tasks? Unsupportive boss? Meaningless work? Unfriendly colleagues? What did you want instead? How important is that desire today? There’s nothing else to do now, other than holding that desire in mind, for example, ‘working with like-minded people,’ watching for relevant clues, and taking action when you’re inspired to do so!
Mark Franklin,M.Ed.,P.Eng.,CMF, is practice leader of CareerCycles, a career management social enterprise with 3500+ clients across Canada. Mark created the CareerCycles narrative framework and method of practice, and has trained 200+ professionals in the method, many in the educational sector. Mark developed the new Who You Are MATTERS! career and life clarification game, and produces and hosts Career Buzz radio show, and has interviewed over 300 guests. Active in the career community, Mark’s perspectives have appeared in The Globe and Mail and Toronto Star, as a guest blogger at ContactPoint and CCPA’s Counselling Connect, and as a writer, most recently in a chapter of Career Development Practice in Canada. Prior to founding CareerCycles, Mark helped thousands of post-secondary students connect the dots between their education and career, as a career counsellor in two of Canada’s largest universities, drawing on his earlier career and experiences in engineering and management consulting.