The Birth of My Professional Sense of Self

What do you do when you get a clue that external forces have actually shaped your early decisions about professional work significantly more than your own self-knowledge and informed exploration and choices?

I have decided to highlight the pattern of this phenomenon in my experience in order to encourage mindfulness and awareness, so that others can avoid the pitfalls of operating on professional auto-pilot.

As I made my way through the K-12 education system, the subjects and courses that I could take were determined by the government, the school system, my teachers, and whatever demonstrated aptitude I displayed in school. I can see now that my educational decisions were made for me.

Were my investigative or decision-making skills ever intentionally engaged by an educator or a parent who asked me about what I loved learning or what I wanted to explore? Not that I can recall. In this environment, classic 80’s movies had more impact on my professional choices, due to missing facilitation from adults in my early life.

In the process of making my decision about what college or university to attend, I let the SAT Exam system mold my decision because I had no real clue or guidance through this process. I checked the box on my SAT exam to receive information from different schools about their programs. Through that fateful decision to accept promotional materials, I received information about Carnegie Mellon University, which I had no previous knowledge and was not on my radar.

While I was offered a scholarship to attend New York University in my dream city, another full-tuition scholarship offer from Carnegie Mellon and the significantly cheaper room and board expenses caused me to choose Pittsburgh over NYC. Fortunately, CMU, as an educational and social environment was a phenomenal match for me despite my youthful inexperience in making decisions!

I recently realized that Carnegie Mellon’s career center and the employers attracted to or recruited by the university determined where I would work after graduation. Did I explore any companies or fields of work outside of the organizations participating in the on-campus job fairs and in the career center’s interview processes? Yeah….NO. It never crossed my mind to explore professional options outside of what I was offered during my junior and senior years on campus. Did I know to ask myself about what I loved, what I valued, or what was really important to me? Click to hear my response:


When I arrived at my junior year internship, I was told what industry and project that I would join. Did I think to ask about other projects or explore other industries during the three months of my internship? Wow. The painful truth is no, once again. Consequently, when I arrived on my first day of the official start of my professional career, I continued simply to accept where staffing managers and senior managers decided to place me.

When my professional discontent became almost unbearable, I finally made the leap in awareness and explored other competencies and sectors within the firm. Thinking on this now, the first glimmers of my true professional sense of self were birthed at that time. After some initial exploration, I decided that I wanted to work with people more extensively as a trainer and change management consultant. I set my intentions, worked through the “proper” channels, and received a transfer into the Public Sector industry to perform work that I had finally determined for myself.

OpenEnded-Jobupdate copyDespite my efforts to shape my path, managers on a subsequent project, who learned about my past technology skills informed me that I would be assuming a technology role during a colleague’s extended leave of absence!

I expressed my frustration about this event and was informed that their decision was final. A few months later, I interviewed for and accepted a new position and finally resigned from that company.

As I have reflected more on the idea of the first generation professional, I have begun to think that my original definition of this term can be expanded.

Any person, who has not yet recognized the value of intentionally developing their work perspective and creating a vision for their career may also have an under-developed professional point of view and face similar challenges to someone who is officially a first generation professional. That person, who may have parents or other relatives who have embarked on a professional path, may indeed be the first in their family to think more mindfully about their work and how they want to more skillfully influence the course of their career life. Facilitating the understanding and development of a strong professional sense of self is at the core of my mission.

Developing your professional sense of self is the path to shape and influence your own path.


  • To what extent have external forces controlled and shaped your professional development?

  • To what extent do external forces continue to control and shape your professional development?

  • Have you birthed your professional sense of self?

7 thoughts on “The Birth of My Professional Sense of Self

  1. Mark W Barnett says:

    Our stories are so different. You were so organized and directed from early on. And mine was very knotted and tangled; growing up and after high school, I had no idea about work or a future; and to be honest I still don’t.

    # To what extent have external forces controlled and shaped your professional development?


    # To what extent do external forces continue to control and shape your professional development?

    I can honestly say they no longer control me. It is the process that turned me completely around and it has been 20 years since I started this interior work–I believe it was my calling.

    # Have you birthed your professional sense of self?

    Not yet. I believe it is there, and I believe I may be surprised when it surfaces (or not):

    “I can say , speaking from my own experience, that this is a temptation that I very easily fall into. One become tired at this stage [of the process] and various things suggest themselves–interesting ideas–and it is very easy to snatch at what comes along and do something with it. Of course something will happen, but perhaps something very much bigger has been missed.” JG Bennet

    “This reversal [a turn from doing first to being] a humbling of our minds which returns mind to nature, which soaks mind in the humus of the anima mundi, the world soul. … This turn about is an abysmal moment, a moment when we are brought to the edge and reminded of our hubris. It is a painful moment and one which more often than not invites grief for what we we experience as absent in our lives. The danger in such a moment is that we will become busy and active to fill that absence, that we will substitute in the place of grief an activity born of fear.” Robert Romanyshyn

    Both these quotes have been with me for the past couple years…telling me to be patient, it will come.

  2. Kellie says:

    You’ve really started me thinking L. First, I admit and have come to accept that I am profoundly affected by external forces. This was how I learned to defend and care for myself growing up in a family system where I was often left to fend for myself. So, my coping strategy in life became “watch others, find out what they want and give it to them.” My experience around education was very similar. Luck would have it I went to one of the best high schools during my high school years so I had access to AP classes and was aware colleges would appreciate my education. In addition I also went to a high school where most of my classmates came from highly educated families, some worked or did research for Princeton University (I grew up in Princeton, NJ)…so they had guidance and expectancies. Often I found myself completely at a loss as to making decisions, with no one to assist or point a direction. As a teen I was embarrassed by my family and often hid my lack of educational background from my friends.
    Knowing I was smart was one thing but even the glimmer of an idea that I should have a plan was not to be found. I assumed (quite incorrectly) that if I went to college and received a BA –in anything mind you–I would get out and a job would be waiting for me…
    (Have I mentioned my high propensity for denial and fantasy?)
    I can recall watching the movie “Reality Bites” during my first year at the University of Delaware. A sinking anxiety began to creep up at the bottom of my stomach watching these college educated twenty somethings bumble about and smoke cigarettes. But then it was the grunge years and somehow my depression, anxiety, and lack of direction was “cool”, after all I am a gen-X-er, this is how it is supposed to be, right?
    Truthfully, even at this point having come cross country and participated in the most amazing graduate program and attained a Masters Degree in Transpersonal Counseling Psychology, I’m still unable to conjure up a clear view of myself as a professional. Again, I came here seeking the personal growth and a community of like-minded individuals assuming through the process my professional self would be born. I attempted to follow a similar path to my colleagues and quickly found that was not for me either in possibility or desire. I’ve investigated and talked to many others out there and still, I am at a loss for a true vision of myself as a professional. What to do then?
    Feedback from my community is very positive yet moving to a completely new place and only knowing what doesn’t work for me often leaves me feeling frustrated and even now completely unaware how to do it differently this time.
    I agree with Mark and yet I struggle to get a handle on when to wait and when to take action. My supervisor said to me yesterday that I will be successful, just to trust. Love her for her belief in my ability and yet if it will come, will it come in time to pay my bills?

  3. Robert says:

    Thanks, Latoya, for another soul/mind/body stirring post.

    Reading your post, I realized that my professional sense of self was birthed when I rejected the life my college internship portended for me, and decided to join AmeriCorps to enact and embody my values by serving others and by growing myself.

    After two years of Americorps, I decided that I needed to grow and be educated in a graduate program teaching Transpersonal Psychology, and just as importantly or more importantly, to surround and embed myself within a community that valued and understood desires for growth, service, self-awareness, etc.

    I did not have a desire to become a therapist, and decided to become a therapist because the JFKU TP program did not have a non-therapist track (at least not officially). Becoming a therapist seemed logical: my unique self/path would be used to serve others and would also provide income. After two years (I am sure you remember :)), I realized (like during my college internship) that becoming a therapist and the ensuing life was not in alignment with my unique self/ professional sense of self. If I became a therapist, I would become a ‘professional’, but would lost my professional sense of self.

    I decided to join the Integral Theory program, and I relaxed at a core level (although at more superficial levels I doubted my decision and worried about the consequences). However, my sure track of becoming a therapist disappeared, and now within the IT program the decision was up to me.

    I still do not know what I want to do next professionally. Nothing out there calls me, really calls me. There is a lack of a specific calling, and yet I feel an overwhelming calling to do something.

    Still, fortunately and gratefully, I see that I use my current job to birth/fund/support my unique self in an indirect and direct manner.

  4. Mark W Barnett says:

    L and Kelly:

    I hope you [Kellie] don’t mind me responding:

    I was really touched by your sharing [Thank You]. I mentioned that my story was different from L and yours actually… . I was raised up believing that I was dumb. Upon barely finishing high school, I had no where to go, and didn’t know what to do; I drifted from one blue-collar job to the next for years to my utter dissatisfaction. At 28 years old I entered into an interior meditation process, that of which I have recently reached the twenty year mark, and as a result I have undergone a very deep introspective process — when I started I had no idea where that process would lead, but it took me on a “wild ride” (quoting Mary Oliver). This process took me into deep mystical experiences and states that few experience. This process became everything to me, it was all I had–the only thing that appeared to be working for me. My returning to school at 35 for my undergrad. and eventually my graduate degree in Transpersonal psychology (JFKU) was more the result of this process: I never returned to school for the sake of job or career, but used the programs to deepen this interior process. I would say that just recently I have just come out the other side of nearly 20 years of dark night of the soul. Before I started, I was dumb, depressed, and blocked (I felt I was a misfit and did not belong to the human race). Now I am open, available, and although I have not been put to the test, I believe I may be quite intelligent w/capacities I never knew I had; these capacities were always there but they were severely blocked. So, now I feel as though I am really a *different person than I was in my late adolescence and early adulthood. [*This process, for one, makes you look deeply at your past, to resolve it, and move on from it, which give the person the sense of a “new” experience]

    Now I am facing the same plight that you both are. And that is finding my place in the world professionally. Again, my direction is coming from the process I have been practicing and so it may seem like quite a leap of faith, i.e., the idea of waiting for the idea to seemingly come out of thin air; that would be very hard for someone to swallow who has not walked a similar path (i.e., the painfully initiated)-and I would never advocate it to someone who hasn’t walked that path. And as well, it is hard for me to do even though I did walk that path: I still get overwhelmed with anxiety over my uncertain future. So it isn’t any easier–I still have to face this aspect of the journey you both are. And yes, I have financial pressures as well. But I am optimistic now, more than I have been at any other time in my life. And although I have mentioned anxiety over the uncertain future, somehow I know (inside) that I am right where I should be. And that there is movement, even though I cannot clarify what is really happening, I just know on a subtle level that something is happening. Since this information isn’t tangible it is hard to distinguish, i.e., it may not be useful to anyone looking into my situation for support.

    So I really want to thank Latoya for this space. At least I am able to put it out a=on the table rather than it be locked up inside.

  5. Latoya J. says:


    I’m glad that you discovered Americorps and could serve and grow in the way that you needed. Having that experience of recognizing that a certain life would simply not work and choosing not to contort yourself to fit a “job” demonstrated your integrity early on.

    I pretty much just accepted things how they presented themselves back then. I didn’t question. “You gotta do what you gotta do”…”you gotta just get through it” were two of the deeply rooted messages that I received from my family about work. In fact, both my grandmother and my grandfather gave me the same messages when I visited home in September.

    I’ve transformed enough to see the messages for what they are…an attempt to survive and adjust in situations that feel out of a person’s control. I know that I can influence the course of my life in a direction that is aligned to my unique self.

    “Still, fortunately and gratefully, I see that I use my current job to birth/fund/support my unique self in an indirect and direct manner.”

    I’m with you. Even though the vision/calling isn’t clear, the act of intentionally and mindfully using the current situation/employment to support and fund your unique self is the path to walk because your self is in alignment with that calling.

    There is loads more that I want to write on this site. I have two notepads of ideas related to this unfolding subject. However, I have to spend time this weekend applying for new positions. So, you all probably won’t see a new post for a few days!:)

  6. Latoya J. says:


    I’ve had to create a pretty wide net for myself in terms of my vision for my professional self. Very similar to you, I’ve felt like I’ve spent most of my life figuring out what I don’t want instead of discovering what I do. There are an infinite amount of things that I don’t want and I did not want my life to continue to be dominated by those experiences.

    Working with my bodily felt sense and intuition has been key to me becoming more clear. I know that I want to build relationships with people that are committed to continued growth and learning. I’ve always wanted to attend professional conferences and be so passionate that I read journals/articles in my field(s) of work. So, I started to become more aware of what I tend to read with little or no effort. I actually love reading about higher education and environmental sustainability, so I’ve explored professional work in these areas. At the same time, I’ve had these long-term questions/concerns about vocation/career that have called me to explore this area.

    It’s taken awhile for my vision to become more clear. Last year, I got the sense that I wanted to have something “to work toward.” That understanding came from a deep part of me. After feeling that intention, the idea of career counseling popped into my head one evening. I had considered career counseling on and off for years. So, I finally searched for training programs, found a program in Raleigh, enrolled, and felt like I had something to work toward/look forward. I ask myself some “felt” questions and some guidance or ideas eventually arise in me.

    While taking the career development training would and did not solve my ongoing concerns about my financial livelihood or my vision, I knew that I was responding to my inner needs. Also, somehow, by the grace of the universe, I have been able to support myself for the past 5 years on limited or no income.

    When I was listening to Joe Dispenza’s work, he shared something that really made sense to me. He related that our current situation is actually a residual image of who we used to be…our actions in the past have determined this present reality. This reminded me of how I was told, as a child, that when we look at the Sun we are actually seeing it in the past because it actually takes a while for the Suns rays to reach the Earth. With that perspective, I have focused on directing my attention, energy, and actions in the direction of what I want to experience. I’ve always thought it would be fun to go to professional conferences…I went to my first career development conference a couple of weeks ago and had a great time!

    At the same time of planting seeds and cultivating what I want to experience, I’ve taken a low paying/mismatched “job” for income. I felt the pressure to take this “job” because my savings got too low for comfort and because I’ve basically neglected my financial self for several years now and intentionally limited the flow of my income. I didn’t realize that pushing my financial self aside for a focus on interior/relational work would result in my current financial situation. I’ve realized that I have some magical thinking going on too! I didn’t quite project how my actions over the past years would affect my reality now. I get it now! So, I’ve also focus attention and action on opening my income flow to a more optimal level through reading about money-management/creating income, playing with money, visualizing more income, offering consulting, etc. I have also made a point of investing income from this mismatched job in the direction of my vision. So, I used money from my first check to pay for the registration fee for that conference and to join the North Carolina Career Development Association!

  7. Latoya J. says:


    Yes, I was super rigidly structured…a survival mechanism that I adopted as a child. And like Kellie, I was also a watcher. In my case, I noticed the skills that other people had and then copied and integrated them into my life. It also became clear to me, very early in my life, that most people just want to be seen or heard. So, I’ve spent much of my life witnessing, seeing, and hearing other people. I liked both of those quotes and Robert Romanyshyn’s quote really hit me.

    I received this quote in my inbox today “A sheltered [interior] life can be a daring life as well. For all serious daring starts from within. ~ Eudora Welty

    For most of my life, I’ve always considered how I can share information and skills that I learn with others. So, making a direct structured offering to the world is essential for my professional self. However, the previous 5-6 years have been focused on a great deal of interior work in order for me to heal and grow more whole. It sounds like your 20 years of work may be deeply rooted in transforming yourself, healing the profound alienation (?) you experienced, and redeeming your family legacy.

    I’ve recently felt as though I’ve “returned” to the world. I’ve been somewhat resistant to that return and I know that a new phase of my life has begun. I needed to commit to that return before this work/path coalesced…my personal heroine’s journey. 🙂

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