What’s the worst that can happen?

Kathryn Crawford Saxer Career Transition

A new coaching client lashed out at me. Tears in her eyes, she spat out how much she hates her job, how stuck she feels, how unhappy. She snapped at the irrelevance of some question I had asked.

I didn’t mind. I’ve been there. I get it.

This client is highly trained in her field. Doctorate level. “I can’t just walk away,” she told me.

“Why not?” I asked.

She talked about how she is afraid doors would close behind her if she walked away. She told me she’d never find work in her field again.

“What’s the worst that could happen?” I asked her. “If you leave and try something else, what’s the worst?”

She sat there with her head bowed.

“I’m afraid of being embarrassed,” she said finally, embarrassed.

“I had a manager early in my training who questioned my ability,” she explained. “I’m afraid of proving him right.”

I looked at her, this strong, capable, smart, driven, awesome woman sitting in front of me.

“You’re staying in a job you hate, stuck in a miserable cul-de-sac, because you’re worried about what people might think?” I asked, just to be clear.

That would be what Mark Manson, author of “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a ____: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life,” would describe as a “poor value.”

“When we have poor values — that is, poor standards we set for ourselves and others — we are essentially [caring] about the things that don’t matter, things that in fact make our life worse,” Manson writes, although he uses a saltier expression than “caring.”

“But when we choose better values, we are able to divert [what we care about] to something better — toward things that matter, things that improve the state of our well-being and that generate happiness, pleasure and success as side effects,” according to Manson.

My client and I agreed that managing her career to repudiate a cruel, destructive manager from her past was probably a bad plan. She was caring about something that doesn’t really matter and that was, in fact, making her life worse.

She told me that she had gotten into her field to help people.

“So how do you want to do that?” I asked, watching her face light up as she imagined a career path aligned with that value.

I’ve been there. I get it.

First published in The Seattle Times. Read my archive of Seattle Times Explore columns.