So Many Mistakes! How Do I Start My Career Over?

Sometimes jobs go badly and we have no idea how to start fresh without making the same mistakes all over again. Although this question has so many twists and turns it would be easy to lose sight of the road, the answer contains suggestions that might be useful to anyone starting over:

Dear Work Coach,

After working for a local company here in Los Angeles County for over 10 years I was forced out. I was told I made too many mistakes, and was possibly a company spy. This was a shock to me, since I was a loyal company person. The human resources person told me if I could go one year without making a mistake, the company would give me a raise and promote me into management. I knew going one year without making mistakes would be impossible.

My family suggested I should quit, so I did. However, since I wanted my 401(k) I was told I would not get a good reference. Plus, I would not receive one anyway because of my poor work performance. I spent over 10 years at this company, and received more than once bonuses for my great work. What changed? I was told by human resources they would see to it I would never work in the corporate world again. This is the fifth time I was let go from a company, and the fifth time I was told I would never work again in an office.

Am I choosing the wrong career? Am I really a poor employee who does not see her mistakes, or did they just want to get rid of me?

I have not worked in seven years. I chose to return to college to pursue my graduate degree in Arts and Letters. I am now finding out my mistakes have followed me into the program. I did well when I took some lower division classes at the local community college. The classes included mostly theatre and some astronomy classes. At the university, as long as l was taking undergrad classes or independent grad classes I did great. I hold overall a 3.52 gpa.

Now I need to find work in order to pay back my credit cards. The cards were used to register and take classes at the university. I am part of a living trust, and part owner of rental property so I have some income, but not enough. Plus I am afraid when my mom dies I will once again make those mistakes I do not seem to be able to recognize, and cause our business to fail.
Help!
D

***

Hi D!
Wow! My heart goes out to you. This is a lot to try to figure out all by yourself. So I congratulate you on taking a great first step – reaching out to others for some help and perspective. No one should have to resolve all this without some input from the outside world – since that’s exactly where you’ll need to go to make a fresh start anyway and you’d sure like to understand what they’re thinking!

So…where to start?

Clearly you can’t undo whatever happened in the past – that’s behind you now. Regrets belong there too. In fact, in A Dude’s Journal – 60 Toughest Interview Questions we’re advised to stay away from all that and focus on what we can do well now.

“Some unprepared candidates, flustered by this question, unburden themselves of guilt from their personal life or career, perhaps expressing regrets regarding a parent, spouse, child, etc. All such answers can be disastrous. As with faults and weaknesses, never confess a regret. But don’t seem as if you’re stonewalling either. Say you harbor no regrets, then add a principle or habit you practice regularly for healthy human relations.”

Although Chandan (the Dude) is talking about interviews, this is good advice in general. We can’t undo the past, but we sure can resolve from this day forward to choose a fresh start!

Your job is to figure out what your strengths are now and build from there. But it might also help you to find out about some of those things you say you aren’t aware of. Once you know more about what’s going on, then you can take charge of helping to fix things for yourself. In this case knowledge can be power!

So…first and foremost, it might help for you to get some feedback from people whom know you – especially in a professional capacity. If you aren’t in touch with any former co-workers for feedback, perhaps you can go to one of your professors for some constructive tips about what to work on to improve your chances of getting a job. Maybe they’ll even know of a job that might be right for you. You never know until you ask!

Also, the State of California has some good resources (see below) for people going back into the work world. I remember taking advantage of that when I lived in California and I know they offered skill-enhancement as well as employment counseling. I think this could be helpful for you, especially since the resources are free for state residents. One-on-one sessions with a professional work coach could also be useful, but since you say you have lots of debt, this might not be the best idea for you right now – unless of course you feel you can afford it. But hopefully the State will offer similar guidance. Also there may be some career guidance services at your current school and even the community college you went to.

I don’t know what jobs you’ve had, but sometimes a person re-entering the job market has to be open to learning new work skills (if needed) and, of course, approaching the whole venture with a fresh positive “I can do it” attitude. And in your particular situation, a fresh start might include taking almost any job offered at first  (I’ve done that myself) and then doing your very best to build a new work history for yourself. You can even use the new job to focus on improving your work skills right where you are – giving your boss the best you have to offer while also preparing yourself for even better opportunities – there or elsewhere – in the future.

Thinking about it some more…starting out part-time with a low-pressure job might be a really good way to help you ease back slowly into working again – and also a great way to build up your skills and confidence. I hope one of the places I mentioned can point you in that direction. If not, there are always temp agencies. And, once you’re working again, you can take advantage of the outside feedback you got to help you start off on the best foot possible.

As for the real estate business you speak about…while I don’t know the details, I do have one thought: If managing the business turns out not to be your strength, maybe you can hire someone who knows the business to help you when the sad time comes? Meanwhile you can concentrate on your new career. And if you do want to eventually run the business, there are always small business consultants who can help you get things in order in the beginning and then advise you along the way for a fee. (See below for link to free initial counseling services by retired business executives.)

So please don’t worry about all that right now. Your main job is figuring out how to get yourself back into the work world while also brushing up on skills that can help you do things a little differently this time. And I applaud you for wanting to do that!

Oh…about those college expenses on your credit cards: I’m glad to see you’re looking to pay them off so you can stop supporting those banks! And if your rates are high and you haven’t already done this, please consider getting some credit counseling assistance (see below) to help rework the debt if at all possible.

This is a lot to think about, I know. But you only need to start with one step at a time.

Good luck, Diane!

Los Angeles, California Resources:
Employment Development Department
One-Stop Centers by County – employment assistance
By Design Solutions – non-profit credit counseling service
CORE Los Angeles – non-profit counseling for small business

 

About the author…

Ronnie Ann, founder of Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development and her own adventures as a serial job seeker. She can also be found on her new blog, and on Google+.

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