About Amy Van Court
Helping professionals find themselves in meaningful careers
Good Days and Bad Days
When I was a little girl we used to gather at the supper table at 6pm every evening. One night after returning from a business trip, my dad told us of his experience touring a manufacturing plant. This particular factory produced canned pork & beans (Hey, they’ve got to come from somewhere, don’t they?). Anyway, while walking through the plant, Dad came upon a man whose sole function in the process was the final touch of placing one square of pork on top of the beans before the lid was sealed on the can. This fascinated my dad — not so much the actual process, but the fact that a person did this all day long for a living. So he began asking the man about his job.
“How do you like your job?” inquired my dad
“It’s okay.” replied the man
Dad: “How long have you been doing this?”
Man: “Oh, about seven years.”
(seven years???!!) At this point my dad, who is an inherently curious person, became even more intrigued by this factory worker. After all, how often does one encounter a person willing to perform such a repetitive and seemingly uninteresting job for so long? What makes a person like that tick? What would keep them in that job? And so Dad asked:
“I’m wondering, sir: How do you tell the good days from the bad days?”
Honestly, I don’t remember the man’s answer. Or even if he had an answer. I don’t even know if my dad intended to make this a teaching moment for his little girl at the dinner table or if it was simply a story of a day in his work. But what I took from that story was a profound and enduring lesson that informed and affected the rest of my life. I received the gift of learning that work — and life — wasn’t about expecting only the good and avoiding the bad. It was about knowing the difference between the two. Every single day. A fulfilling career isn’t one with no bad days; it is one that offers good and bad days. And most important of all, a heart-singing, rewarding, “jump out of bed in the morning” career gives us the ability to be who we are — and to feel valued — regardless of the kind of day we’re having.
When Intuition Says “No”
Many years later I entered the job market with a college degree, a fair amount of smarts and a tremendous desire to put myself in rewarding work. I was accepted into a prestigious management training program in a large local bank. According to the head of this program — a Senior Vice President — the goal for all management trainees was to be talented and fortunate enough to be offered a job in one of the bank’s departments within 18 months. So off I went on my journey as management trainee, where I was assigned to a variety of positions to “learn the ropes” and ideally gain the attention of a department head in a position to hire me permanently. And to the great relief of my boss and the surprise of others, I was offered a permanent full time position within 6 months — literally in a third of the time it typically took.
To which I said, “No.”
This was unheard of! Being offered full time placement in one-third of the usual time?! And to have the audacity to turn it down?! How dare I! Well, I dared because I knew in my gut that the job wasn’t a good fit. It paid well enough, and I had performed my responsibilities in the department well, but the work just didn’t light me up. I couldn’t have articulated it this way back then, but now I see that what I was feeling was an inability to show up and be valued for the things that made me me. So I turned it down.
Success on Someone Else’s Terms
And then, the greatest gift of all came my way: the head of the training program threatened to fire me if I didn’t take the job. So I took it. I was “successful” in my new position, garnering positive performance reviews and raises. I worked hard, gave it my all, and cared deeply about doing a good job. And I hated it. The stress of being who I was, holding integrity about doing a good job for my employer, and having to show up as someone else at work began to take its toll. My health began to suffer. The story of the pork and beans factory employee echoed in my head.
The Blessing of Being in Crisis
So, out of desperation to regain my health and figure out where I went wrong and what to do next, I finally did the single smartest, luckiest thing I’ve ever done: I sought out and hired a qualified career counselor. Her name was Lucinda Miller, and the work we did together over a few months gave me the gift of being able to know and honor the traits and values that define me, and to work with my fear and uncertainty, regardless of the circumstances. I will be grateful to her forever. Today, more than 25 years later, the investment I made during those brief months of career counseling continues to pay off in big ways.
Collecting the Dots
Since the time I worked with Lucinda, I have experienced four –count ‘em, four — career changes. Some were planned, some were not. Sometimes my work evolved from something I loved into something I didn’t, without my realizing it until I was firmly planted in a place I didn’t want to be. I was hired into big-title, high-paying jobs, some of which were deeply rewarding, while others sucked the life out of me. Along the way I also managed to demote myself into jobs that filled my heart with gladness. The circumstances changed. And every dot led to another, though of course I didn’t see those connections at the time.
(Y)ou can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something–your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
~ Steve Jobs
Here are My Dots
Management Trainee and then IT Operations, Colorado National Bank of Denver
Marketing Manager, Patrick Media Group
Sales person, promoted to Vice President of Regional Advertising Sales, U.S. News and World Report and Fast Company magazines
Vice President, Director of Regional Software Sales, Worldweb.net
Vice President and National Sales Director, BigFatWow!
Operations Team Leader, Pet’s Choice Animal Hospitals/VCA Animal Hospitals
Senior Sales Executive, Bankrate.com
Internationally Certified Professional Co-Active Career Coach (self employed)
Connecting the Dots
All of those career dots connected to this place, where I am now. A thread that’s difficult to see from all those job titles has been my deep desire to counsel people who were feeling lost, stuck or unhappy in their work. Sometimes it was part of my job responsibility. Often, helping colleagues, co-workers, job candidates and pretty much anyone in need of an understanding ear and a truthful perspective was just something I couldn’t keep myself from doing. The things we “can’t not do” are so often pointers to our most fulfilling work. So it makes sense when I look back now that I became a career coach and counselor. My professional coaching journey began in earnest in 2008, when I attended the Coaches Training Institute (CTI) and after a rigorous 18-month training program, became dual-certified with both CTI and the International Coach Federation, which is the worldwide governing body for coaches.
Success on My Terms
Since 2008, I have coached several hundred people into heart-singing work. With over 2,000 hours of coaching under my belt, I can truly say that it is the most challenging and rewarding work I’ve ever done. That dinner table lesson from so many decades ago has come to full fruition: it’s easy for me to distinguish the good days from the bad days, and they’re all so much better than even the best day in work where I didn’t feel I was making a meaningful difference. I have learned that my work — my purpose here on this spinning blue ball — is to pass on to you what Lucinda Miller gave me more than 25 years ago: the ability to return to who you are, in a meaningful career, with confidence, courage and humor. For me, that is the ultimate success.
My passion is helping you find and live yours. ~ Amy