The Final Episode of “When Work Stops Loving You Back”

(In this series we will follow Lisa, a Financial Services executive who finds herself at a crucial moment in her career.  Lisa is a composite character based on many women in leadership I have worked with over the years.)

When last we saw our hero, Lisa, she was feeling discouraged, to say the least.  Having just heard from her manager that she was doing an about-face on an agreement they had reached, which Lisa had already communicated to her team, she was stunned.  She felt disrespected and invisible.  

She sat, looking at the recruiter’s email, eyes locked on the phone number within it.  She picked up her phone.

But where would that conversation lead?  Did she have a clear message to convey about what she wanted, other than “OOOOUUUT!!!”?  She had thought she would be taking her career to the next level at this company.  That was starting to feel untenable.   She felt angry, sad, and, honestly, betrayed.

Lisa put the phone down.  “Angry, sad, and betrayed” was not the look she was going for while speaking with someone whose job was to assess her readiness for another role.  

So, now what?

Some of her friends offered support, sympathy, and good advice.  That helped her psyche, but talking to her friends hadn’t really changed anything.  Maybe those conversations were not helping her look at the problem any differently than she had already seen it.  

If anything, conversations with friends seemed to cement her point of view, leaving her feeling somehow simultaneously justified and helpless.

Can you relate?

Over the past decade, and the past few years in particular, women have been leaving the workforce at increasing rates. Research from management consulting firms shows that this has a lot to do with flexibility policies, lack of advancement opportunities, and unrecognized work.

But if you can relate to Lisa’s story, it may be that there is something else, which can most charitably be described as putting up with nonsense. On a darker day, it may feel more like you are being marginalized.

If your career has taken you to the executive level, work is important to you, full stop. It is a integral part of your identity. And so when that is disrupted, it is painful.

In my coaching practice, I see situations like Lisa’s on a regular basis. The most important thing for Lisa right now is to reconnect with her confidence, broaden her sense of identity beyond work, and recover her sense of career direction.   This takes time and work, but with the right focus and support, this time of discouragement can turn into a career-defining moment. 

  1. Get grounded. A frustrating work environment can have two potential consequences related to confidence. One is that it can undermine it significantly. We have competence amnesia: where we forget about the skills and talents that got us as far as we have come today. The second possible consequence is that we really double down on our version of events, blocking out parts of the story that don’t serve our narrative. This is self-protection and a perfectly natural place to go. But staying there is unhelpful. Getting grounded is about trusting yourself at the deepest level to know what to do, and that no matter what the world throws at you, you will be ok.
  2. Find your True North. Discovering what matters most to you, which battles are worth fighting, and how you want to use your talents to contribute to the world are all part of finding your True North. Guided by this, navigating the challenges of work becomes simpler, if not easier.
  3. Get Going.  It can be tempting to rush to action. But blowing past the first two steps can be counterproductive. When the time is right, take small steps that lead to big change. If you are considering a job change or a bigger career change, focus on the very next thing that is going to get you closer.

Back to our story…

Lisa took a deep breath, and released it, along with the weight of the tension she had been feeling.  She had been doing her best.  

But she was starting to see that she had been approaching this as a battle to be won; and the harder she fought, the more ground she lost.  

She was tired of the same old talk track.  The frustration, the blame, the anger.  

She requested an appointment with Tonya for the afternoon and canceled a couple of meetings so she could brainstorm some options before that call.

And then Lisa made another call, to a coach she had met recently at a party.  If she was going to reclaim her career, she was going to have to try something new.  

This was just the beginning.

Are you ready for a new beginning?

Join Wendy for her free webinar on January 31st, at 11 am EST: 

The Executive Woman’s Guide to New Beginnings: How to Move Forward When Your Career Feels Stuck, Stalled, or Sabotaged.

Wendy Hultmark, CPC, ACC, is a coach who helps executive women own their stories and write the next chapter. Learn more at