The joy and fulfillment we get from doing the things we love are immeasurable and greater than random work. Becca Carnahan always loved sports, so she started her career as a sales representative for the Boston Celtics. Now, Becca has her own business, which focuses on helping parents find more fulfilling jobs that they love without giving up the flexibility that they need. In this episode, she shares valuable insights on building relationships, authenticity, finding your own voice, and enjoying what you do.
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Becca Carnahan - Career Coach, Author, Blogger, Mom
On Her Journey From Running A Summer Camp At Age 10 To Becoming An Entrepreneur
My guest today is Becca Carnahan, whom I have come to know through our work together on PathWise, which offers career management support for early to mid-career professionals who are looking to move up or move on. Becca is a career coach, author, blogger, and mom. Her firm, Next Chapter Careers, focuses on helping Millennials and Gen X professionals, particularly working parents, make job changes and find more joy and fulfillment in their careers.
Prior to going out on her own, Becca spent several years working at Harvard Business School, providing career coaching for alumni and career services for HBS students, along with performing a mix of employer engagement, event planning, and technology management. Prior to that, she spent a few years in the Executive Education Division of HBS, working with organizations that were considering sponsoring one of their executives for an HBS program.
She started her career as a Sales Representative for the Boston Celtics. She's authored three books. Two children’s books called Belinda Baloney Changes Her Mind and Benji Baloney Learns to Be Brave, and a more adult book called When Mommy Grows Up: A Guide to Parenting Yourself to a More Fulfilling Career.
Becca earned her Bachelor's degree in Business Management with a Concentration in Marketing from Boston College and a Master's degree in Higher Education from Harvard University Graduate School of Education. She and her husband and two children live outside of Boston.
Becca, let's start at the beginning. Where did you grow up? What do you remember wanting to do when you were growing up?
I grew up South of Boston in East Bridgewater, Massachusetts. One of the first things I remember wanting to be when I grew up was an artist. I loved to color, draw, make up stories, and all that. That's going to come full circle certainly as we get further on in my career story. I love your question because it's so interesting to look back on the things we wanted to do when we were kids and how much of that still sticks with us throughout adulthood.
One of my three kids knew from about the age of ten that she wanted to be an architect. She stuck with it. They had AP Architecture classes in her high school, and so she was able to get a pretty good running start at it. The other two weren't quite as sure early on but it's great that you had that thought. Does that mean you illustrate your kids' books?
I didn't illustrate my books but this idea of creativity stuck with me. When we all look back on the things that we were interested in as kids, I find it fascinating to pull out the themes. For me, it was the creativity and storytelling piece of it. I can sketch out a little drawing. It's not going to be nearly as good as what my sister-in-law, Sarah, who illustrated my children's books, can put together, but this idea of creativity, vision, and story has interwoven through a lot of different parts of my career.
What was your first paying job?
My friend and I started a summer camp. We were probably ten years old. I was very entrepreneurial at a young age. We had already done the lemonade stand and the yard sale. My best friend growing up lived around the corner. We created a little mini half-day summer camp for the kids who were probably four years younger than us.
The parents loved it because they dropped off all their kids. They had these 10-11-year-old kids who were going to entertain them for three hours. When I look back on that, I was like, “I was already thinking about being in this helper or teacher type of role and being entrepreneurial.” There's so much stuff that came along the way, a series of jobs after that working as a more official camp counselor and all the other jobs that you can possibly think of, like doing the catering at a banquet hall. All kinds of stuff that you do and test out to make some money as a kid.
Presumably, when you were a 10-year-old, running a summer camp for 6-year-olds, there was an adult in the vicinity, I hope.
There was an adult. I have to give a lot of credit to both my mom and Megan's mom, who were around in the summer. They were sitting on the deck, making sure that we weren't doing anything nuts, but if I remember correctly, we were leading the charge there with all the kids.
I know you went to Boston College, as I mentioned in the intro. Why did you choose BC, obviously apart from the geographic proximity for you? Why Business Management with that marketing specialization?
One of the other clear ideas I had growing up, which I am not doing now as a career, is I wanted to be in sports marketing. I'm not sure that I ever understood what sports marketing was but I knew someone who went to college for it and thought that it was cool. I loved sports. Growing up, I was a three-sport athlete. My family always watched sports. I thought I wanted to incorporate sports into my career in some way. I liked making posters for homecoming dances and stuff. I was like, “That's marketing.”
I was looking for a school that had two things, a good marketing program as well as a good sports program. I wanted to be around Division I athletics that would give me an opportunity to do some sports marketing, not that I was going to play but I was going to be involved in sports as a business. The mindset was right there.
I feel like I nailed it in terms of finding a strong business school with a sports element. I loved my experience at BC. I interned with the Athletic department all four years. I was there and had a great experience. It's not what I'm doing now, but I still look back on that as a great time to help build my career and learn important skillsets.
My stepdaughter is the one who's an architect, and her husband was in sports marketing. He's since moved over to the entertainment side of the Madison Square Garden Group business, but for a long time, he was doing sports marketing. He worked for the athletic department. He went to Seton Hall. He had a similar experience. I've gotten it indirectly from him over the years, since we have known him since he was about 23.
You were an RA as well for a few years. Is that where the idea of helping people as you do now in your coaching practice took root for you? Did it go back earlier than that, as you talked about before?
[bctt tweet="People miss opportunities that are almost right in front of them because they just don't raise their hand or do something and see how people react to it." via="no"]
The real reason I became an RA, I will be completely honest with you, is that it paid for room and board. That was something very appealing to me in terms of being able to pay for more of my college education. It’s also not surprising looking back that I was attracted to a role like that because it was in that helper capacity. Many of the roles that I have been drawn into have been in this helper role, where you are coaching, mentoring, and working with students in some way.
In that RA capacity, I was able to dabble with that a little bit. Probably even more so, though, in the summers in between college. I worked at a summer camp with early high school kids, 8th and 9th graders. That was a formative experience because I even taught those kids how to write a resume. I didn't know what a career coach was at that point, but I was teaching them how to become camp counselors one day. When I think back on that experience, it had a very direct correlation to what I do now.
That's amazing that you were doing that back at that age. You went to work for the Celtics after college, which fits very well with the idea of sports marketing. What did you do to land that job? That's a pretty tough job to get.
It was a very interesting year that I landed that job. There were a couple of things that I did. One was that I had four years of experience of interning in a sports marketing capacity. That helped set me apart from other candidates for that role in that I had shown a vested interest in and had references from people who knew me that I worked in sports. The second piece of it was that it was a sales role. My dad was in sales his entire career, still to this day.
I had a certain appreciation for what sales could be. It was more about listening and asking questions. I was able to demonstrate that and did that in my role, certainly to build relationships, as I got a lot of that from him. The third thing is timing, though. This is oftentimes the case in career decisions and moves - timing plays a factor. The Celtics were really bad the prior year. [The following year] ended up being the year they won the championship but Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett had not yet joined the team.
It was before that deal got done.
I joined probably a month before that deal got done. The timing could not have been better because they needed some eager beavers trying to sell tickets. It was a hard sell to call people up and say, “We know the Celtics are the worst team in the league now,” because they were, “But do you still want to buy season tickets?” That was a hard sell, but since I had built up some good relationships and had conversations, even in cold calls, when Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen came to join the Celtics, that's when the ticket sales started flowing.
[From] those relationships that I had built, people were calling me back and saying, “I want to buy eight tickets for the season.” With a partially commission-based job, that wasn't a bad gig. We had a lot of fun that year. It was a great learning experience, fun to be out on the floor, and getting to interact with sports in a way that I always had imagined that I would.
Did you get a ring?
Here's another timing part of this. The group of us that were brought in right out of college were brought in on a contract. Most years, since the team had been so bad, the contract employees rolled over into full-time but our contract was up at the end of February. There was nothing to do. All the season tickets were completely sold out. There were waitlists. We were twiddling our thumbs for a little while and interacting with our clients, but we weren't needed anymore.
Our contract ended. At this point, I was out of school. I had been out of school for ten months. Now, I found myself unemployed. I did not get a ring. I did go to the final game, though. They got us all tickets back in to see that final game, which was amazing. The ring would have been nice but the experience in itself and being there for the game was fantastic.
It's not a bad consolation prize to see the clinching game of the NBA Finals.
That ticket was a great memory.
I know you ended up over at Harvard Business School in the Executive Education Division. How did that come about for you?
At that point, I was unemployed. I was looking for a new role and thinking, “I want to stay in sports.” There are plenty of colleges within the Boston area, some professional sports [as well], but more colleges to choose from. That's what I was looking toward originally. I was [looking to stay] in a marketing role in the sports industry at a university. I wasn't finding it. The timing wasn't working out. I didn't have the knowledge of career development and job searching that I do now as a career coach.
Things weren't sticking. I wasn't finding a role in sports marketing. I did find a role within a university. There was an overall marketing part of it, and it had a bit of that sales element that I was bringing from my Celtics experience. I started to branch out a little bit from purely sports roles to looking at universities and hoping that I could transfer within the university to work in sports eventually. It didn't end up happening because things changed along the way, but that was the goal at that point.
I know it was around then you went to get your Master’s from Harvard in Higher Education. How did that come about? What drove that?
After being at Harvard for a year or two, I started to remember all the things I learned from being a camp counselor. I'm like, “Higher education is this transformative experience for students.” As much as I loved working in sports marketing, I also loved my college experience, the education, the people that I met, and the relationships. I started to dabble in some classes because that was a benefit of working for a university that you could start to take some classes, and I thought about potentially doing an additional business degree to go down the marketing route.
I had this idea around education like, “Why don't I take a class with the School of Ed because I'm enjoying this experience of working within a university setting.” That clicked immediately. I took a class. I was so engrossed in the world of higher education. That’s when I knew I wanted to pursue it. I started taking more classes as a non-degree student, then got into the program and did it part-time while I was still working at the university.
You benefited from the fact that you were working for the university. You could go take classes for free in the early going.
[Not free but] pretty much at a very low cost.
I’m sensing there's a hustler aspect to you, Becca, in terms of going back to when you were ten years old - the lemonade stands, the summer camp, the taking advantage of the RA opportunity in school and the class opportunity when you were first at Harvard.
There's a definite theme there. When I think back to where I am now as an entrepreneur, having that little bit of an edge and finding ways to make things work, I have been doing that for a long time. It's fun to bring all those different pieces together now.
We will get to your entrepreneurial focus in a bit, but help me understand the years that you then spent at HBS. You were working with students and alumni. You had a nice range of roles. How did that time round out your skillset and give you some added experience that you continue to tap into now?
Those many years were with the Career and Professional Development Office, and I still am very closely connected with the Career Office at HBS. These people helped launch this next stage of my career and taught me so much that I could never possibly repay all the learnings that I got from that experience. What started to drive me into moving from the executive education space into the career and professional development and career services side of higher education was some classes that I started to take while doing the Master's program.
Finding myself drawn to student services-related work, classes that talked about the bridge between education and the world of work, I thought about the impact I wanted to make. It wasn't only within the 4 years of undergraduate or the 2 years, whatever it is, for graduate work. It was that bridge between how you can take everything that you have learned and experienced through higher education and then translate that to a fulfilling career and making your impact on the world throughout the rest of your career.
[bctt tweet="Write things that feel authentic to yourself, and find your own voice." via="no"]
When I found myself drawn to that work, I started doing some informational interviewing, things that I talk to my clients about doing now, putting it out there to my network that this was the work that I wanted to be doing. I was working in the career services space and had made some good connections. I had some good informational interviews and was quickly brought into the fold of the Career and Professional Development Office, starting as a recruiting coordinator based on my experience working with companies, helping them think about executive education matches.
It was the right fit for me to build that, to parlay that into working with companies from the career services side. I always had been drawn more toward the student experience. I was constantly raising my hand when there was any opportunity to be working with students, moving into more of the coaching element. I was raising my hand over and over again for those opportunities.
When I look back at my career history over those years, I had several different roles because I was always saying, “Hi! I'm here! I want to take on this next opportunity.” That helped me get closer toward a position more focused on working with students and with alumni in a coaching capacity, while still being able to do some writing, that creativity of the storytelling that I talked about early on. I was able to mold my role to include more of the writing, and the coaching, then eventually move that over into my own business.
On the point you made about raising your hand and being willing to do these different things, I find so many people I talk to feel like they need to be asked. It doesn't cease to amaze me that people miss opportunities that are almost right in front of them because they don't raise their hand or do something and see how people react. It's good that you figured that out pretty early on in your own career.
I had great coaches and mentors. I was fortunate that I was in a Career Services Office, so there were a whole bunch of people [around me] dedicated to helping people advance their careers, whether it was students or alumni. The employees of that office were no exception, and they were constantly investing in the people [in the office]. My manager did that for me. We asked each other questions about, “What is the work that gives you energy? What are the skills you want to be using? How can that contribute to the organization in a different way?”
I think back on some of those people who pushed me a little bit. It’s like, “Becca, you were good at this. Maybe this is an opportunity you want to consider.” I would be like, “All right, hand up,” or like, “Becca, have you considered this?” I'm like, “No, I haven't but now I will. Hand up.” When we, as managers, whether you work in an office where the culture already is around asking people and helping people to understand how their skills can be developed, to how they can be doing work that gives them energy, more managers should be doing that. How much better off would your offices be? They would be working in their best capacity and helping to develop people within.
What's crazy is that you have all these people who sit around frustrated that they don't feel like they are being used to their fullest advantage, and yet, they suffer and don’t say anything.
Say something. Use your words. Put it out there. Hopefully, you have a good manager that is going to push you a little bit. Ultimately, the onus will be on you to say, “I have an interest in this area, so I want to volunteer to be part of this project or I want to put in the extra effort and time to work on this. It's a little bit out of my job scope.” Those are types of things that can make a big difference.
Now you have what I think of as somewhat of a portfolio career. Can you describe the different things that you are doing professionally?
I think "portfolio career" is an appropriate way to put it, and that's how I would describe it myself. I left my full-time role at Harvard Business School in September of 2020. That had been the goal for a while. The timing was a little strange because of COVID. Having kids was a big turning point for me. When my kids were born, I was starting to think more about, “What do I want my work life to look like? I want and need to be working, but is this commute still working for me? Am I using my talents and energies in the best way in my everyday work or is there something different I could be doing?”
Those questions were mulling around in my head, and I was starting to think, “I want to have this flexibility and do the work that I control and how much work I'm doing in coaching versus writing.” Putting all these different pieces together. My solution to that was to start my own business, and that's what I did. I started my own business, Next Chapter Careers, where I focus on helping parents find more fulfilling jobs that they love without giving up the flexibility that they need as part of their lives.
I had been coaching myself for years. A big part of my work now is doing the career coaching with Next Chapter Careers with my business. I also do some coaching and writing for Harvard Business School. It's hard to pull me out of that. I wanted to stay connected. I'm also an author, as you mentioned previously. I have a couple of children's books that are like sparks of imagination and storytelling.
I was like, “Who is to say I can't do this? I can write a children's book. I have this idea for it. I'm going to write it.” My sister-in-law illustrated them. I also have a non-fiction book that I wrote, When Mommy Grows Up. I have put less boundaries around what could be part of my career and what had to be something on the side and found different ways to monetize both writing and coaching in these different elements, and have a certain amount of flexibility around all of it.
On the kids' books, a lot of people have this dream of writing a children's book. They love to tell stories and make things up with kids, at bedtime or whatever. How did it come about for you in terms of the process, getting it published, and all of that?
What I tell people is that if you want to write a children's book, you can write it and have it out within the next year. Full stop. That's because there are so many different ways to publish now. When people tell me, “This is a dream of mine.” I’m like, “All right, let's go do it.” There's literally nothing that's stopping you because you can publish it for free. You can publish it with help. You can publish it with a publisher and all of those different routes.
Some will take more time than others. Some do have a little bit of monetary investment but some are completely free. For me, I have three books out. One was traditionally published by pitching to editors, agents, and publishers. That's my adult book, the non-fiction book. My sister-in-law illustrated the children's books, and I wrote them. She and I decided that we wanted to make sure we had full creative control over the book. We wanted to self-publish it.
That was a decision that we made. We had a clear vision of what we wanted the book to be. We decided to publish it or work with a hybrid publisher that helps you format the book, the aspects of distribution, and all of that. We didn't have to go through the process of pitching the book to anyone. Now, our two children's books are out in the world, and people get to enjoy them. They are in libraries, on Amazon, in all the [same] places as you would [have with] a book that you traditionally publish.
That's pretty awesome. I'm sure your kids appreciated that you had this story that you probably first told to them that you turned into something that, as you say, is now out in the world.
My son laughs because the name for the first character, Belinda Baloney, came from when he was wanting to name all of his Hot Wheels cars. Every single car needed to have a name. I was sitting on the floor with him, naming these cars and tapping into those creative juices. One of them was named Belinda Baloney.
I was like, “That's a good character name for a book. I should hold on to that.” It was in the back of my mind. Later that week, the whole idea for the book was spraying into my head, and I spoke it aloud on my commute into my phone. I wrote a whole book and then it was done. I was like, “I have a book.” I talked to my sister-in-law, and then it went from there.
You are also a blogger.
Yes, I should have mentioned that.
A lot of people, again, have this idea of writing a blog. You've done it. You're successful. What do you think it takes to break through the noise of the blogsphere, especially now as more people are making a go of it?
Some people will have a blog, and that will be their full-time gig. They'll write a blog and monetize it, and that will be their full income stream. For me, it's not. It helps as part of my thinking about my portfolio career and my business. I think about my blog as content marketing. For my business, it's an income stream in some ways, certainly through advertising and things like that.
I'm also writing and speaking to that same audience that I would be serving as customers for my books, as well as customers for my coaching practice. When I think about the blog, I think about it like that as a piece of the business, as an additional way for me to build the "know, like, and trust" factor with my ideal client. It’s because I have a clear sense of who that person is and what are their pain points. What are the things that they are struggling with now? It is through a lot of conversations that I have had with people. I know what to write about and what to include in that blog that's going to be interesting to them.
That will make them want to say, “I'm going to sign up for your email list because you "get" me. You know what I'm facing now. You know the problems that I'm up against, so it makes sense for me to continue to engage with you as a blogger and as a coach.” Part of that is, again, knowing your audience, talking with people, and speaking their language in a way that feels authentic because I only will write things that feel authentic, my own voice.
[bctt tweet="When you have a personal brand that is authentic to you, it's so much easier to communicate." via="no"]
Also, search engine optimization too. I will say that for people who are thinking about their businesses or blogs, making sure that you tap into the power of Google and see what people are Googling. If you have great content that you are putting out there, make sure it's searchable by using the same terminology that people are searching for.
How much do you find that your blog drives business for your coaching practice versus word of mouth?
I get a lot of referrals but some of those original referrals found me because they found me on social media, through my writing or blog, and joined the email list. It's almost hard to break it down specifically because some people fall into [mulitple] categories. They might have followed me a lot, followed my blog or Instagram. Also, their friend was like, “I worked with Becca too. I have been following her." Then people think, "Maybe I'll reach out for coaching as well.”
There's a big mix. What I will say is that I know I will certainly not drop any of the writing that I do because it's fun for me. I enjoy it very much. I find it as a way to connect with this audience to add value in that way. I know that it does bring in people because they will say how they have been referred to me. It's like, “I found you through this person I talked to, but also I have been following you on Instagram or your blog.”
You have a very nice writing style. There's a whimsy to it, as we have talked about in the past. If you tie your coaching practice to the book that you wrote to what you do in your blog, there's a very consistent theme, to your point about "know, like, and trust." They feel like they have a sense of you, and it's very consistent in the things you are doing, which is certainly something that people talk about as part of personal branding. There's a very strong sense of personal brand that I have always sensed in our own interactions and what I see you do on social media. That's got to be a big advantage for you.
It's 100% true. When you have a personal brand that is authentic to you, it's so much easier to communicate because I'm not trying hard to communicate my personal brand. I'm a parent. I'm a professional, and I want to help other parents do both. Do it in a way that feels fun and brings joy.
That's authentic to me. That's how I want to interact with the world. That's aligned with everything that I do. I try to bring that sense of fun to coaching. It's a career development book but it's filled with funny stories about parenthood. I have children's books that talk about what you want to be when you grow up. It's all interconnected and has this level of relatability, I hope. That’s what people have told me. It’s relatability, but they also don't feel like it's this big, scary thing that they have to tackle because they are already tackling a lot of big, scary things as parents. This is something that they can tap into in a way that takes a little of the pressure off.
I know you were recently on vacation in New York with your kids, because you posted about it on social media. I won't get the quote exactly right but it was something like one of your kids saying, “Mom, this is so great. Can you quit your job so we can do this all the time?” You wrote in your post, “No,” and had a very good explanation about the importance of finding purpose and joy, and aobut work having its own purpose in providing for your family. It was good.
Thank you. My kids are so much of an inspiration for me in so many ways. They have inspired me to want that. You want that fulfillment and joy piece of work, and they inspire me in that they know [I need to work] to pay for soccer, baseball, and piano lessons. That's the motivation in there around wanting to provide the types of resources for them to go after their dreams.
It's all circular in showing them that I can go after mine, providing them the resources so that they can go after theirs and explaining to them that work doesn't have to be something that you are dragged off to. It shouldn't be, ideally. We have this one trip around the world here to make our impact, so make it be something that you love to do that also is adding value to the world and utilizing your skillset. That's possible. It's possible. People are doing it every day, so why not you?
What's next for Becca Carnahan Inc?
That's the fun part about entrepreneurship. I have found that I can take the reins and explore new things. One of the big things I'm thinking about now is how to not clone myself but try in terms of scaling my coaching practice and providing other ways to help people. I have an online coaching program now that I'm proud of. I love that it provides parents an opportunity to watch a coaching video after they put the kids to bed and go through the coaching exercises and do a lot of the work, even if I'm not there right with them on video.
That's a big thing. What I'm excited about now is continuing to roll that out more so out into the world and to give people those resources to find their own career fulfillment in that flexibility piece of it. I always have a couple of books rolling in the back of my mind too. There are a couple of children's book drafts that I will come back to at some point. Writing kids’ books is so much fun that it can be a hobby that also ends up bringing in some money. That's great if you can do both.
More members of the Baloney family to write about?
There are always more Baloneys.
Let's talk a little bit about your coaching work. As we have talked about, you spend a lot of time working with parents. You have coached HBS students and alumni. What are the common threads? What topics come up most when people raise their hand and say, “I'm ready to have a coach help me?”
The two words that immediately came to mind for me were clarity and confidence. Starting with clarity, a lot of people will come into a job search thinking, “I know that I don't want to do this thing anymore. I'm not happy but I'm not sure why exactly I'm unhappy or what I want to do next.” That's where I love to come in as a coach and help them figure that out. Not just what they are running away from but what they want to run toward, and to get that real sense of clarity.That's the same across alumni, current students, and parents that I work with. The more we can get to that place of clarity, the easier the rest of the job search is going to be.
On the confidence piece of it, a lot of people get their confidence shaken along the way, such as an HBS student who all of a sudden is a smaller fish in a bigger pond or has gotten rejected from a job and hasn’t been rejected before. Also, an alum who runs into a layoff at some point in their career and hasn’t experienced that before, their confidence is shaken. A parent who's returning to the paid workforce isn't sure how their skillset is going to be the best fit for that anymore. There are so many different confidence busters along the way that I like to be able to come in and help to rebuild that confidence muscle.
In my own life, I have seen so many people who have something happen either in the moment or over a sustained time professionally that completely takes them off their base. Those are hard situations. It often takes somebody working with you to get you back, re-centered, and believing in yourself again.
It's huge. It's the basis of almost everything, and having that level of belief in yourself, because [otherwise], you can't sell yourself to a potential client, to an employer. You're not buying it. You have to have that level of confidence, and there are ways that you can rebuild it.
I always tell people, “Make sure you have a brag folder in your email box that you can go back to and find those compliments people have given you. Ask people for feedback, because oftentimes, it's going to be positive, even if you're afraid some of it's going to be negative.” Honestly, they are probably going to say wonderful things about you. Honing in on what those skills are that you bring to the table and how you add value and have solved problems before, going through these types of exercises, can help rebuild that confidence.
We are in the middle of a huge change in the world of work as everybody tries to figure out hybrid and is talking about the future of work. Do you feel that creeping into your coaching discussions? Are there different things that people are asking about that maybe they weren't asking about pre-pandemic?
It's not only creeping, it's charging into that conversation. I welcome it with open arms, because back when I was thinking about what flexibility could look like, I didn’t like to use the term work-life balance because balance seems like it sets you up for failure. It's not ever perfectly balanced, but about being able to do the things that you want to with your work and your life. I thought the only way to do that was to have my own business. That worked out well for me and my work style, but it's not for everyone. Entrepreneurship is not the right fit for every single person out there.
The more that remote work, hybrid work, and flexible work arrangements are becoming more of the norm is huge, because it's allowing all these talented people to stay in the workforce, explore other opportunities, and be their best selves at work and home. When I talk about flexibility with people, it's not only remote work, hybrid, it's finding what does flexibility mean to you. Then how you go out and find a company and a position that matches up because those opportunities are much more readily available than they were a few years ago.
The other aspect of flexibility is the "free-agent nation" if you go back to the book Daniel Pink wrote many years ago. It feels like more people are working in a [gig] capacity, keeping multiple balls in the air and doing different things at the same time. That's a movement that feels like it's even taken further root in the last few years as well.
[bctt tweet="The more we can get someone to that place of clarity, the easier the rest of their job search is going to be." via="no"]
Which works well for some people too. It's about knowing your work style. For the folks I work with, some of them were like, “I crave variety and newness. I get stagnant if I'm with the same company, but I feel like that makes me a job hopper.” No, that means you have a lot of creativity that you are trying to bring, and you thrive in an environment that allows more variety. Having contract positions could work well for you because you are bringing your best work to that company.
You have to be a bit of a hustler, certainly, because you have to be able to sell yourself and to find those positions. Some people thrive on that. That's when they do their best work because then they have to push it a little bit more to go find clients. Knowing yourself well can help you figure out what type of flexibility and what type of arrangement is going to work best for your work style.
Your point on the hustling still rings true, but now you've got these freelance platforms that, to some extent, take some of that burden off to people who don't necessarily like that part of the process. It makes it easier for people to find them.
It's true. It’s easier than it was many years ago, even probably more recently. There are so many different platforms out there. There's Fiverr and Upwork, but there are others too. There are a lot of others that have popped up with this short-term project-based work. It's a great way for you to think about getting in full-time to a company or pursue more of this contract gig-based portfolio career.
When you start with your coaching clients, what advice do you give them on how to get as much out of coaching as possible?
I will preface this by saying that every coach's style is different, but one of the biggest things that I talk with my coaching clients about is being open, because if you are coming to a coaching session and only put forth, “I need to talk about my job search strategy," there's probably other stuff that's holding you back from making a change.
We don't need to go into full therapy mode, certainly, but talking about [we need to talk about], What are your blockers? Where are you feeling stuck? Who else is in the room with you, the proverbial room, when you are making these decisions. If you can be more open with your coach around those things, you can make more progress together. That's one of them.
This is probably not going to come as a surprise, since I am a writer. I have a lot of homework that I give people. It's written-based homework. It's just not sitting and thinking about it. It's making a list of things. It's writing out sentences around things. The act of writing solidifies, and there's the science around this too, about putting pen to paper on things. It helps you remember things and helps you process. I want them to be open to writing stuff down. Typing it is fine too, so that they can look back on their own notes, reflect on them, and not be stuck in their own head.
I have certainly found that in my own experience, writing, especially when you go back and think about things that have happened in the past and try and write about them, it does help you synthesize, process them, and take away learnings. You distance yourself a little bit from whatever happened at that moment to put perspective on it.
It sounds like, from everything we have talked about and thinking back to what you were saying, particularly in your days at Harvard when you were up soaking up the advice you were getting from the other career guidance people there, you would probably say that you would have made a pretty good coaching client over the years.
I think so. Again, it would probably have depended on the coach, but I was surrounded by coaches who understood me and my motivators and how I worked. If I was to be a coaching client for myself now, based on how I coach, our styles would align quite well. I have always been someone who is pretty goal-driven, someone who likes to be given a mission to go after and figure out how to get there.
Having that level of like, “We have this level of accountability. We are working together on this. We have a goal that we are shooting toward. Let's break it down and work toward those steps together, and here's the home work to do it.” As a coachee, I have worked with coaches on the other end, even after HBS too. They would say probably that I was a pretty solid coaching client. I'm ready to listen and dive in.
Do you have a coach that you work with now?
I do, yeah. I've worked with two different business coaches. That can be a good thing to do, tackling different things. One [focuses on] setting up more the financial structure of my business. One helps me think more about scaling up the business. I've become more open to asking for help, and that sets an example for my coaching clients to say, “At any stage you are in, having an outside perspective, having a coach can be incredibly helpful for you to take where you are now and to up-level or to get unstuck.” They have that different perspective, and that expertise has been hugely valuable in my career.
Who is inspiring your work now?
I've been working on this from different angles. [Most people] look at mentors and people in business that they admire. I'm going to go back to my family and say that when I think about why I started this business, and why I have the career that I do now, it's so that I can get my kids off the bus but I can put also still be making the income that allows us to go on a trip and see family and things like that. That's always the "why" for me. It’s like, “Why am I doing this? I'm doing it because I want to. I love this work and helping other moms and dads do this for their families, and I'm doing it for my family too.”
Any final career advice or other thoughts you want to share before we break?
This has been so fun to talk about career journeys. That would be my takeaway or the last piece of advice I would give people is to go out and ask people questions about their careers, as long as we're [already] engaged in small talk and talking about the weather and our sports teams and all that. Nothing against sports teams.
When we get into these deep conversations and ask people about their careers, it sparks things for us. It gives us new ideas about how to approach our own careers. It can give ourselves permission to do something different by hearing someone else's story. The more that you can go out, talk with people, and ask them questions like this, the better off you will be in tackling your own career challenges.
That was my motivation for starting the show, to be honest with you. People learn a lot from other people's stories. You and I haven't known each other all that long. Some of the people that I have caught up with, I hadn't talked to in decades. These are people that I was close to or who I worked with at one point in my life. It's fascinating to go back and hear, “What have you done over the last 20 or 25 years? Why did you do that? What did you learn from it?” I take something away from every one of these conversations. This is maybe episode 14 or so but it's still early days but I'm having fun and learning a lot from doing these conversations. Thank you for spending the time as well.
Thanks for having me. For anyone, you can have a podcast and do this. You can it without the podcasts. You can pick up the phone and call these people in your network, have these conversations, have your own versions of reconnection, and learn things that can inspire your next steps. Thank you for having me. It was fun to reflect back on all of these things and tie those pieces together. You even mirrored back some things to me that I hadn't thought about before, probably in terms of that hustle and entrepreneurship that maybe I hadn't put some words to before.
Thank you again, Becca, and have a good rest of your day.
- Next Chapter Careers
- Belinda Baloney Changes Her Mind
- Benji Baloney Learns to Be Brave
- When Mommy Grows Up: A Guide to Parenting Yourself to a More Fulfilling Career
About Becca Carnahan
Becca Carnahan is a career coach, author, blogger, and mom. Her firm, Next Chapter Careers, focuses on helping Millennial and Gen X professionals, particularly working parents, make job changes and find more joy and fulfillment in their careers. Prior to going out on her own, Becca spent 10 years working at Harvard Business School, providing career coaching for alumni and career services for HBS students, along with performing a mix of employer engagement, event planning, and technology management as well. Prior to that, she spent a few years in HBS’ Executive Education division, working with organizations considering sponsoring one of their executives for an HBS program. Becca started her career as a sales representative for the Boston Celtics.
She has authored three books, two children’s books called "Belinda Baloney Changes Her Mind" and "Benji Baloney Learns to be Brave", and a more adult book called "When Mommy Grows Up: A Guide to Parenting Yourself to a More Fulfilling Career." She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Business Management, with a concentration in Marketing, from Boston College, and a Master’s degree in Higher Education from Harvard University Graduate School of Education. She and her husband and two children live outside of Boston.