Right around the 15-minute mark of my first phone call with Rebecca Fraser-Thill, an "aha" moment occurred.
I was describing how I'd behave differently once I had earned the title of senior reporter at Business Insider — I'd feel confident that I was the right person to be tackling the stories I wanted to write, and I'd think more carefully about the stories I pitched to my editor.
"It is interesting," Fraser-Thill said, "because it strikes me that both of these are certainly things you could work into your current life."
"I'm not a full believer in 'fake it till you make it,'" she added, "but there's also the piece of sometimes we do have to act as if."
Fraser-Thill is a career coach, and for the past two months, I've been one of her clients. I pitched this story to my editor because it had occurred to me that while I use career coaches and leadership coaches as sources for stories somewhat often, I don't know what they do on a daily basis.
Admittedly, I didn't think I needed that much guidance. There have been times in my professional past when I've felt confused or overwhelmed, but when I approached Fraser-Thill, I felt pretty good about both my job and my career more generally. Signing up for coaching was more about getting a firsthand look at how someone with this job works.
Spoiler alert: I did need guidance, or at least more than I thought I did. Working with Fraser-Thill made me realize that for years, I'd been leaving my career development to chance.
A "jump start" package with Fraser-Thill, which includes two 45-minute phone sessions, costs $497. Pivot comped my registration for two jump start packages, meaning I had a total of three hours with Fraser-Thill — plus I could email her whenever with questions or updates.
Before our first phone call, in May, Fraser-Thill emailed me to ask what I'd most like to discuss. I'd told her I wanted to advance at Business Insider, eventually earning the title of senior reporter.
From the second she answered the phone, Fraser-Thill radiated enthusiasm: There were lots of "yes!"s and "mmm"s and appreciative giggling when I tried to be funny by saying something self-deprecating.
On that first call, I realized I'd been waiting around for a specific job title to step up my game at work — but the only way to earn that title was to step up my game at work. This idea is hardly rocket science, but I'd never really stopped to think about it in the context of my career.
There were two weeks between each of my phone sessions with Fraser-Thill, during which I was supposed to be completing the "action work," or challenges that we came up with together.
After our first session, my action work involved brainstorming certain types of story ideas in my beat — something that didn't seem too difficult but that I managed to put off until the afternoon before our second session. It seemed like every day something would come up that was more pressing than whatever challenges I'd been assigned.
I told Fraser-Thill as much during our second phone call. We hit on the idea of setting a calendar reminder to do my action work, which was effective for a few days, after which I ignored it.
There's this trite but true aphorism about job-searching — "Looking for a job is like a second job" — and that's kind of how I felt about career coaching. Working on my professional development was like taking on an additional set of responsibilities at Business Insider, except I couldn't be fired for not completing them, and it was tempting to keep putting it off.
I realized, too, that there would never be a great time for me to launch into what Fraser-Thill calls a professional "sprint." During that second call, Fraser-Thill suggested I sign up for a writing class — but after researching some ideas, I told her I wouldn't have the time or attention to devote to the assignments this summer.
But there will always be some obstacle — an upcoming vacation or simply an already full plate at the office. The best thing, at least for me, is to stop making excuses.
So I threw myself into the rest of the action work — specifically, inviting senior reporters and editors throughout the newsroom to coffee to talk about a) how they got to their current role, and b) what their job is like now. That's when things really started to change.
Up until then, I'd kept my conversations with Fraser-Thill about wanting to become a senior reporter mostly private. My coworkers knew I was working with a career coach, but they didn't know what my specific goals were.
So when I mentioned it to the first senior reporter I had coffee with, I felt like I was admitting to wanting to take over the world. I thought maybe he'd laugh at me because it was obvious I'd never get there. Or maybe when I asked him how he got to that position he'd feel uncomfortable, as though I'd just queried him about his salary history.
To my relief, he seemed happy to share some solid journalism advice based on his experience, and so did the other reporter and editor I met with. I learned there's no shame in being open about your professional ambitions — in fact, it's advisable. If you don't make it clear what you want, how will anyone help you get there?
During our last phone session, Fraser-Thill asked me what personality traits I had to draw on to complete the coaching work. I thought it was a weird question, until several answers started popping up — first and foremost, humility.
"It's OK to be confused," I told her, specifically about how to advance in my career. What's more, I learned that it was OK to ask for the advice I needed — from my editor, my coworkers, and, yes, even a career coach.
As far as I could tell, no one saw me as incompetent. Instead, it seemed as though most people remembered what it was like to be in a similar position and could easily relate.
Ultimately, career coaching left me feeling more empowered to go for what I want at work. That said, growing professionally is an ongoing process — even though I won't be "sprinting" all the time, I'll still need to be setting goals and making a plan for hitting them.
I suppose I could have skipped the whole career-coaching thing and initiated these challenges on my own. I could have brainstormed story ideas, taken my coworkers to coffee, and started talking to my boss about where I saw myself in a year. These aren't such innovative ideas.
But I wasn't initiating these challenges. Maybe it's the kind of person I am, but when someone experienced tells me something is a good idea — and that they're going to check in with me in two weeks about whether I used it — I'm more inclined to do it.
It helps, too, to have a cheerleader. Over the course of coaching, I learned that, for the most part, no one knew how much "extra" work I was putting in — except Fraser-Thill, who congratulated me at the beginning of every phone call for making inroads on the action work and wrote things like, "You are on fire!" in her follow-up emails.
Obviously, she couldn't see me, but I grinned every time.