Held hostage by your retirement benefits? Five steps to break free. by Barbara Babkirk – July 27, 2015

Golden handcuffsRetirement benefits are a welcomed amenity offered by many employers. It is a win/win situation if you enjoy your work and can imagine yourself comfortably remaining with the organization until you are adequately vested.

However, if your job is not working out and the pension or retirement plan becomes the only reason keeping you in your job, then you’ve lost some control of your work life.

You might think that your options are black or white: either you remain with the job and put up with your dissatisfaction for the time it takes to receive the benefit, or you forfeit the benefit and find work that is a better fit. Because neither option seems satisfactory, you could end up feeling stuck and frustrated. You might begin to experience a loss of interest in your job, notice a decline in your performance or even feel depressed.

If you find yourself in this situation, here are five steps that could change this course:

  1. Get the facts and numbers straight. Meet with human resources to clarify “what, when and how much” regarding your particular benefit package. Explore the option of an early retirement incentive package or a partial phased retirement program.
  2. Recognize that you have options beyond the two most obvious. Perhaps there is another position within your organization or another way to define your job that would better suit you and your needs. Before investigating this idea, take some time to identify specifically what is wrong with your current job as well as what you want at this time in your life. Perhaps the question: “Under what conditions would this job be acceptable?” might provide insight into a new direction or a conversation you might have with the person to whom you report.
  3. Shift your attention from work toward other important aspects of your life. See what happens when you develop a new or existing interest, attend to lapsed friendships, commit to community service, or take time for yourself and your well being through a class or organized activity. Being too focused on where you are stuck will not bring about the change you desire. Perhaps by giving yourself a break from this dilemma and diverting your attention to nurturing activities, you will open up to new ideas and options.
  4. Update and refine your résumé. Even if you don’t apply for another job, the process of identifying and summarizing what you’ve been doing can have a positive impact on how you regard your work and your capabilities and can lift your mood and spirit.
  5. Explore the marketplace. This does not require a decision to quit your existing job. An effective way to regain a sense of control is to realize that you could land another job that might be worth the change. With this knowledge, you’ll be back in the driver’s seat of your work life and thinking about your options rather than feeling that you have none.




Approaching a transition? Don’t go it alone. by Doug Babkirk – July 13, 2015

Two boys whispering
“Ask for help and allow yourself to yield to forces stronger than your will or ego’s desires.” Angeles Arrien


Living into the second half of life is filled with change – some of which we shape and some that is shaped for us. Rarely are significant life transitions successfully embraced as a solo act.

Looking back on the significant changes in life roles in my life, there has always been a release of the familiar, the known before I could fully open myself to the unknown. What I was not prepared for in each transition was the loss and accompanying grief of letting go of what was and the uncertainty of who and how I was to be on the other side of the transition.

In retrospect, by giving myself permission to feel sad, confused and somewhat lost, I was slowly able to open up to seeing new possibilities in my life. Having the support of others who could listen deeply to me without giving advice was essential to discovering my own wisdom to move ahead.

In her book The Second Half of Life, Angeles Arrien speaks of this time of transition as one that requires “that we ask for help and allow ourselves to yield to forces stronger than our will or our ego’s desires. As transitions take place during our later years, a fundamental and primal shift from ambition to meaning occurs.”

As you approach your significant life transition, who can listen deeply to you?

Note: We will explore this theme of support through transitions in our Autumn In Maine retreat for men in their second half of life, October 5-7, on Damariscotta Lake in Nobeleboro, Maine.

Space is still available; for more details and registration by 9.18.15: http://tinyurl.com/retreatformen




What happens when you take a leap of faith? – by Barbara Babkirk – June 29, 2015

Anglefish Jumping Into Bigger FishbowlI’ve seen several clients recently who took a leap of faith around their work, so I decided the topic was blog material.

While in each scenario, the circumstances surrounding the leap were unique; each person experienced a similar outcome.

Take for example, the person who, after many years as a master teacher, quit teaching, even though he did not have a specific job or even a concrete alternative option in mind.

Another, after a dozen years as a “stay at home mom”, took a business idea seriously and enrolled in a course to help aspiring entrepreneurs get their businesses off the ground.

A third person altered his original “three year plan” of disengaging himself from his family business and decided to leave in a year without any guarantees that his idea to reinvent himself would be successful.

Despite totally different career paths, marketable skills and economic backgrounds, these people had some significant factors in common in their leap of faith stories.

  1. Each had been involved in a long term work scenario that, although not entirely satisfying, was
    comfortable and secure in its own way.
  2. None of the individuals was being forced into a change by external circumstances—the impetus
    was entirely self-driven.
  3. And most interesting to me was that they all experienced a rush of unanticipated support from
    a wide range of places and people once they began to talk about their idea. From offers of
    places to rent for a new business and chance encounters with people with appropriate resources
    and information, to a conversation with a relative that lead to the naming of the
    business—each person felt overwhelmed by the amount of positive energy that their leap of
    faith seemed to release.

The phenomenon of a convergence of helpful resources that counters a somewhat risky endeavor is not new to me. In fact, it’s very common for a person to come in for a career counseling session, identify something they are particularly interested in, and also state why it is a risk.

They create an impasse in their minds and stay in that stuck place. In the instances when the person tips the scale in their thinking in favor of the leap of faith, it doesn’t mean the fear has vanished—it’s just that they have decide to move ahead in spite of it.

In the latter case, I help the person take a few steps toward their desired career to determine if the direction seems right and to gather some momentum for the transition.

A couple weeks later, I’m always delighted to hear a familiar opening remark when the person comes in for a follow-up session: “You won’t believe what happened!”
Then their story unfolds and I hear myriad examples of how their leap of faith idea took on a life of its own and gathered supporters in the process.

After many years witnessing this phenomenon through clients’ stories, I’ve come to believe that there are rewards for taking a leap of faith risk. It would seem that Eleanor Roosevelt had a premonition of these positive outcomes when she said: “Do the thing you think you can not.”

Pursue what engages you – by Barbara Babkirk – June 9, 2015

Bee on flowerImagine that you have no other place to be for an entire day and you find yourself in the most fantastic of all bookstores. Books and magazines artfully displayed on any topic imaginable, along with cozy chairs and a well-stocked café, are at your disposal. Take a moment and give in to this fantasy, then step back and notice where you go and what you do.

Are you wandering from aisle to aisle to see what catches your eye, or do you immediately seek out that one particular section that gets your heart pumping at the thought of it? Is it understood that you’d be lured in by biographies, or another topic such as home repair, health, art history, gardening, sports trivia or mysteries? Perhaps your passion for cooking has you hovering over the latest tips on grilling or studying the array of food lovers’ guides to Paris.

Take a moment to picture yourself in the midst of such resources with no one dictating when or where you have to be. Where do you naturally gravitate and what holds your attention?

…Now consider your life beyond the bookstore and the topics of interest you sought out during your day there. In any given week, how often do you make time for these interests? Is that amount of time adequate? If not, how much more time would you like? Is there a particular interest you would like to pursue, but have not made the time for it?

It’s common for me to ask my clients about their pursuits outside of work as a way of understanding what engages them. While some people do turn hobbies into moneymaking endeavors, they are not the norm. I am not typically fishing for a new career direction from their list of leisure time activities.

Rather, my question has more to do with whether or not they are involved in activities that truly engage them. When a person’s life lacks meaning, they might think that a new job or a career transition will fill the void that may have more to do with life outside of work. In that case, they may have named the wrong suspect and that could confuse and delay the career planning process.

The antidote: Live a full life that includes activities in which you can wholeheartedly engage. Hopefully, your work will present many of those opportunities. But, after all, unless your work IS the fantasy bookstore, it will always have its limitations that must be addressed by other pursuits.





What is your longing? by Barbara Babkirk – May 28, 2015

Longing photo for LII’m continuously touched by my clients’ poetic and poignant statements expressing their struggle and desire to find work that aligns with who they truly are.

In a whisper of a voice a client said: “I have a yearning.” Hearing those words, I responded with an empathetic sigh and leaned in to hear more of what she had to say. What followed was an explanation about an intense desire to reclaim a part of herself she had abandoned long ago.

Sometimes we forgo options in life that seem more appealing in favor of those choices that allow us to keep our responsibilities or commitments in tact. The choice of the more pragmatic road, while satisfying in its own way, can have an impact on us that we do not realize until later in life.

It may not be until you hit 40 or 50 that you notice a pull in a different direction, perhaps in the work arena. This tug is often vague at first. But, if you give it attention and allow yourself to be curious rather than fearful or discounting, you will begin to get glimpses of what is calling you.

The poet, David Whyte, writes about this experience in his poem “Easter in Wales”:

A garden inside me, unknown, secret,

neglected for years,

the layers of its soil deep and thick.

Trees in the corners with branching arms

and the tangled briars like broken nets.

Sunrise through the misted orchard,

morning sun turns silver on the pointed twigs.

I have woken from the sleep of ages and I am not sure

if I am really seeing, or dreaming,

or simply astonished

walking toward sunrise

to have stumbled into the garden

where the stone was rolled from the tomb of longing.

The experience of giving in to a deep longing can be one of the richest in life. But it is important to understand that the path to its discovery needs attention and appreciation, much like the garden that needs cultivating.

It would be a gift to yourself to explore your longings.

As you ask the question, allow an inner response, even before your mind tries to figure out what it is. Work with your images, write down your thoughts and feelings, work gently toward clarity. Your longing awaits.

The paradox of the comfort of crowds by Scott Woodard – May 19, 2015

Stand out from the crowdAn interesting dynamic often occurs with new clients. They may sign on, initially because their current job search isn’t working. They have a traditional resume, one that lists, in chronological order, the responsibilities of the positions they’ve held over the years. They may have posted this resume on job boards and used it in applying for positions of interest they’ve come across on the boards or company websites. They’ve waited for someone to contact them. And they’ve waited some more.

Naturally, they get discouraged. They reach out to us. They want help; they can’t do this on their own. We show them something different: A framework where they differentiate themselves from everyone else. We help them write a new resume, one that emphasizes their accomplishments over their responsibilities. We coach them how to articulate their value verbally, virtually and in writing. We help them build their brand. We coach them on how to network effectively, hold strategic conversations with key people in their field and create relationships with decision makers.

They get very excited. This is different. It will work. After all, the process they’ve been following hasn’t produced results; it’s been a black hole.

So, they begin anew with great energy. They have a brand new resume that shows how their brand works; and a LinkedIn profile that reflects their brand. This is really different. They’re really going to stand out.

They reach out to people on LinkedIn; they join Groups; they follow companies. They post their new resume on the job boards, replacing their old one. They send it in when they apply to positions posted on company websites. They wait for someone to contact them.

Recruiters who tell them that they need a resume that shows their responsibilities from every company they ever worked for, in chronological order may contact them. They come back as ask for a new resume that looks much like their old one. They’re concerned that they don’t look like everyone else.

I had a recent conversation with a recruiter. I asked her how she saw the year shaping up for new hiring. Her response was that it would be a great year for people who can articulate and demonstrate their value to prospective employers. Those who rely solely on skill sets, not so much. The interesting thing is, with published positions — those posted online, either on job boards or company websites — skills are how HR people determine candidates’ qualifications. Decision makers, on the other hand, focus more on value.

If you’re in a job search and you’re relying solely on your skills you blend in with the crowd. Like the gunslingers of the Old West, there will always be someone younger, faster and cheaper. It may feel safe in the crowd, but you don’t get noticed.

Value isn’t necessarily related to tenure or budgets. Value relates to accomplishments rather than responsibilities. It appeals to the people who care; the people who make the decision whether to hire or not. Skills may get you in the door for an interview, but it’s your value that will get you hired.

Value stands out; it’s what makes you unique; it becomes your brand. Skills are necessary, but not sufficient. They don’t trump value.

So over to you…do you feel safe by running with the crowd, by blending in with everyone else? Are you indistinguishable from others? Or do you take the risk and stand out? Can you articulate and demonstrate your value? Can you stand out from the crowd?


When it’s time to choose a career counselor by Barbara Babkirk – May 11, 2015

Infinity Time SpiralFew would argue that there are times when it’s best to seek out a specialist concerning certain medical conditions. The same can be true when your career needs a check up or a serious intervention.

In order to make a wise choice for your career, it’s important to know what to consider in selecting a professional to help:


  1. What exactly is career counseling?
  2. How do you go about choosing a professional?
  3. What might you expect?

Career counseling is a well-established profession with its origins dating back to the industrial revolution when jobs on farms were shrinking and new technologies were increasing. The demand for workers was an incentive for veterans returning from WWI. But, they needed guidance from career counselors to help them understand the marketplace, find training and secure jobs.

Credentials for career counselors may vary from state to state. In Maine, a license is not necessary to practice, although a counseling degree is one indication of a professional’s level of expertise. Certain types of education, training and experience can differentiate an effective career counselor from one who lacks the background to assist in all phases of the career planning process. The National Career Development Association lists career counselors in each state who have met the standards of the profession.

If you are considering a career counselor, determine if she or he meets most of the following criteria:

  • Earned graduate degree in Counseling or Career Development
  • A record of success helping individuals reach their career goals
  • Ability to guide you through a process of determining what you want to do next (if you are not certain you want to continue in your field)
  • Expert knowledge of the job search process and the most effective steps for securing employment (including the most up to date ways of using social media)
  • Current knowledge of the local and national marketplace, including where to obtain salary information

Here are examples of situations that might warrant seeing a career counselor:

  • Bored with your career of 15 years and lack motivation to go to work
  • Out of the work force to raise your family or care for a family member and you’re unclear about your marketable skills.
  • Want to raise the bar on your career and need a strategy to do this effectively
  • Have lost your job due to restructuring and want to reassess your career direction
  • Have just graduated from college and need help launching a career
  • Want to be ready for the next professional opportunity and need a new resume, Linkedin profile and a clear way of communicating your value
  • Anticipate retiring in 3-5 years and want to begin to think about your life and work in this phase of life

How a career counselor might help with those situations:

  • Assess what is influencing the desired work-related change: How is your particular life stage influencing your interest in new work?
  • Identify current needs: You may benefit from assessments or focused questions to help you understand their personality, life priorities and marketable skills. You are likely to need help determining appropriate options in the marketplace that align with your criteria.
  • Determine a course of action: Establishing a strategy for success might range from steps to better understand the marketplace and where your skills match with opportunities, to creating an impressive resume, Linkedin profile, and statement of professional value as well as interview coaching.

Career counselors typically meet with clients in person. They may charge an hourly fee for each session depending on your needs; or they may ask you to commit to a group of sessions right from the start. I would advise you to call and speak briefly with a career counselor to consider their approach, education and experience and determine how well they listen to your situation, as you make your decision.

Trust your intuition as well as the specific information you receive. Choose wisely, since this relationship could impact the rest of your life.


Are you laying bricks or building a cathedral? by Scott Woodard – April 20, 2015

Clients often express frustration that they’re not finding meaning in their work. They may have at one time, but no longer. They may feel they have plateaued in their current role and there’s no place for them to go. They may have mastered their work and are no longer challenged. Their workplace may be disruptive or toxic and they have no power to change the environment. Work, for them, in a word…well it’s not good.

They come looking for help in finding their new work. Work that is meaningful, challenging, exciting, collaborative. However, when asked to define what that work might look like, many are at a loss. They have no idea other than it is not what they’re doing now.

So, we’ll do some exercises to help them focus on purpose and clarity — what drives them and what they’re good at doing. We may have them take the StrengthsFinder assessment. We may have them write an essay that describes their ideal work day — from the time they get up in the morning until they go to bed at night.

For many, these exercises provide focus and help define what they want to do going forward. Others, however, find these tasks difficult. They struggle with how their StrengthsFinder themes help; they can’t define their ideal work day. They just know that they don’t want to continue what they’re doing.

Not to diminish their frustration with their current situation, these folks may need a reframe. I’m reminded of the story of a traveller who came upon three brick masons busy at their craft. He asked the first one, “what are you doing?” The mason looked up with a scowl and responded, “I’m laying bricks, what’s it look like? Now don’t bother me, I’ve got another hour before my shift ends.” The traveller went up to the second mason and asked the same question. “I’m helping build this wall, and we’re in a hurry; we need to lay another full row before end of shift.” The third brick mason got the same question from the traveller: “What are you doing?” He looked up at the traveller and responded, “I’m building a cathedral.”

A recent conversation with my son brought this home. He is in his first professional job at a national foundation that supports the educational advancement of promising students in financial need. When he was first hired, he was excited about the opportunity, believing strongly in the mission of the foundation. Almost a year in to his job, he’s discouraged that all he seems to do is manage budgets and manipulate spreadsheets. Trouble is, he’s not sure what he wants to do next.

Then he told a story of how he helped one of their students obtain internet service at her home. The student’s parents couldn’t afford cable in their inner city apartment. The foundation agreed to pay for the service so the student could access the internet for her studies. My son negotiated with the internet service provider to install service. It took nine months. Knowing that service would be paid by the foundation, the provider was willing to install the necessary cable and modem…between 1 and 3 PM…on a weekday. An adult would need to be present to sign for the installation. The major problem was that both parents worked at low wage jobs and could not afford to take time off to be available for the installation. My 23 year old son — the budget manager and spreadsheet manipulator — negotiated with the global internet service provider to install the necessary equipment. It took him nine months, but he was successful and the bright, young student now has access to internet to supplement her schooling.

I’d say he did more than just lay bricks.

Over to you. When you’re frustrated with your job, do you see yourself just laying bricks? Can you reframe and refocus your thoughts and your activities so that you’re building a cathedral? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

What anchors you in transitions? by Barbara Babkirk – April 27, 2015

Child Walking In Woods To Glowing Red DoorTransitions by their very nature make you feel less secure. But even in the midst of a transition that has you feeling lost and afloat in a sea of unknown outcomes, you can regain your bearings and get grounded.

Constantly focusing on what is unclear or confusing in your life, can make you feel frustrated and anxious. While it is common to try to imagine answers to “what’s coming next”, it can be counterproductive to dwell on what you can not control or figure out immediately. The following line from a poem by the German poet, Rilke tells you why:

“…Do not now seek the answers which cannot be given to you, because you would not be able to live them.

Instead of churning on the unknown, consider the exercise of focusing your attention on those aspects of your life about which you are certain and clear—your “life anchors”.

Your anchors can be as concrete as naming the people whom you love and who support you, where you want to live, and the specific job you seek, or as abstract as “I want to wake up looking forward to work.” From this exercise, create a list of your anchors and let it be a work in progress, writing additions as they occur to you throughout the day.

Taking this exercise a step further, begin to integrate your awareness of your anchors into your daily routine.

As you awake on any given day and before you rise from bed, remind yourself of what you are certain in your life. Accept your response, whether simple or detailed, without judgment. As you rise and your feet touch the floor, breathe deeply several times in recognition of these certainties. Your anchors will have a grounding effect on your life as you reflect on what is true and real, especially when you lack clarity about other things.

In doing this, you’ll be aligned with Rilke’s guidance as you honor the flow of your life’s path:

“…Live the questions now. Perhaps you will gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answers.” – Rilke




When you’re having a bad day, keep this in mind – by Barbara Babkirk – April 13, 2015

Hot pink rose copyWhether you have recently lost your job, feel discouraged by the lack of developments in your job search or you’re just having a bad day, you may need something else to focus on instead of your bad luck or troubling circumstances.

In his book, Beauty, Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donohue explains the essential place beauty occupies in our lives.

O’Donohue, in a voice that is confident and inviting, states that beauty “stirs passion and urgency in us”, and “awakens the heart.”

When you feel down or even a bit hopeless, your heart may close as a way of protecting you. In this mode, you’re not available to opportunities that have the potential to shift your mood or circumstance.

What if you were to embrace the notion that noticing beauty in your life had the potential to transform your day or a difficult moment? How might that shift your attention?

Think simple or extravagant, go on a hunt or turn your head to notice the beauty that’s around you. See what new perspective this might stir in you.

“In difficult times you should always carry something beautiful in your mind.” – Blaise Pascal

Heart At Work Associates offers career counseling and outplacement services for your life stage in Portland, Maine and globally.

career counseling • outplacement & career transition services • relocation services • retention programs