Often in careers coaching, clients approach me stuck in a miasma of too much career choice mixed with a seemingly insurmountable surfeit of pragmatic barriers (mostly related to financial & familial commitments) to achieving a satisfactory work-life balance. Whether precipitated by an out of the blue redundancy, a sudden change in personal circumstances or, as is oftentimes the case, a chronic period of feeling unhappy, unappreciated or unchallenged at work, this fog is usually characterised by a lot of confusion around what to do next.
Once we work through the process of rediscovering the adrift self, by fostering enhanced self-awareness, this confusion usually dissipates as the client gains greater clarity around the types of things that this rediscovered self actually enjoys, and/or is often really good at.
Problem solved? Not quite.
Whilst developing self-awareness is the first crucial step in career development, what happens next can be a terrifying experience for the novice career coach – the moment after which the client engages in self-reflection and reviews a number of potential industries and occupations of interest. This is the moment that the client determines their shortlist of favoured career paths. The conversation usually goes something along the lines of this:
Client: “Ok. I have decided on my top four roles”.
Career Coach: “Great. What are you thinking?”
Client: “Either accounting, bookkeeping or maybe something else financey…”
Career Coach: “Yes, very good. We can work with that, and the final one?”
Career Coach: “Ok…sure. Sorry, did you mean to abacus…? I’m pretty sure they have calculators and computer software for that sort of thing…”
Client: “No. No, I mean circus arts – you know, with the costumes and trapezes and sequins and what not?”
Career Coach “Aha. Hmm…Ok. Excellent Choice. [Read: sound the tocsin, I’m not cut out for this coaching stuff]”.
However, as difficult a problem as it seems on the surface, this ‘accountant vs acrobat dilemma’ is not insurmountable. Indeed, this is probably the main challenge for the career development practitioner; to somehow align seemingly irreconcilable occupational choices such as puppeteering and firefighting, Chinese medicine and dredging or professional cuddling and iceberg moving (Yes, I did google ‘obscure jobs that actually exist’).
Intertemporal decision making.
Essentially, intertemporal decision making is the art of understanding what and how we choose to do certain things at a certain point in time, when these decisions will influence what options we have available to us in the future. This situation of knowing what to do, how to do it, and when to do it, is particularly relevant to careers development. Especially when we are stuck deciding between what are essentially two entirely discrete careers with seemingly absolutely nothing to do with each other.
Applying an intertemporal decision making approach doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to combine the two careers at the same time (acrobatics during the week and accounts on the weekend), or search for transferable skills and then somehow blend them together (encouraging the client to become a ‘flexible’ accountant, for example – NPI), at the same time. Nope. And thankfully, nope. It means that you should consider the likely outcome/s of choosing to pursue each option now, versus in the future. Specifically, in our current example, this involves considering the likely positive and negative outcomes of pursuing circus arts versus accountancy now (e.g. a good salary, job security meaningful work, like-minded colleagues etc) versus the likely pros and cons of entering each occupation at different stages in the future, perhaps using realistic intervals such as in 5, 10 or 20 years down the line.
Rather than weighing up passion and practicality, you can have both by weighing today’s passion and practicality against tomorrow’s passion and practicality against next year’s passion and practicality. It’s about reconciling the different sides of your personality, your manifold interests and skills, your mind and body and how you can best invest them, an invest in them, now and in the future.
So, if you are in your late teens or early twenties, circus arts may be a viable option to pursue now – if you are sans children and mortgage, super fit and itching to be part of a dynamic and creative team of mobile performers. Then, accountancy could be a study option later, once you have established yourself in the circus industry. Because, if you have an inherent aptitude for and interest in numbers, then you can always do it later without the need to be in peak physical condition.
However, if you are further along in your career, out of shape, with a sizeable mortgage and a wealth of accounting experience in say…the IT industry, then the likely outcome of joining a circus arts troop right now may be serious injury and / or acute financial loss. In this case, another option in the shorter term, might be to apply those high-level accounting skills to a new role in the Arts and Entertainment industry, instead. This will help you to get a feel for the sector, as you train your body and practice the skills needed for the performance art of your choice. Now, this may or may not ultimately be circus arts, but what it will be is part of a longer term career goal to explore your untapped creative potential and hone your physical skills.
If you are independently wealthy and the financial payoffs of accountancy versus acrobatics are a non-issue both now and in the future, then you are in the rare and fortunate position of only having to consider the likely non-fiscal outcomes of each trajectory now, and in the future. If I were in that position (it’s nice to dream) I’d probably choose funambulism earlier rather than later, but the whole point of intertemporal decision making is that it is subjective, highly personal and takes into account a range of variables – those related to meaning as much as those related to money.
There is no silly or serious option, only different options that may seem silly or serious to others or anywhere in between, but they are still your goals, your passions and your interests. So despite my irreverence and increasingly tenuous acrobat-accountant example, remember it’s not about choosing between one occupation or another, it’s about defining your key areas of occupational interest, thinking about the process of moving towards these areas of interest, then contrasting the likely outcomes of taking this action at different points in time; then you don’t need to choose ‘whether or not’ but rather ‘what, when and how’.