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  • Amina Aitsi-Selmi

Anatomy of a career and how to avoid confusion


As a first year medical student, a rite of passage was to attend anatomy classes and dissect a human body.

We learned how a body is put together: where the organs are positioned, the skeletal structure that protects them, the muscles that move the structure and the intricate architecture of nerves and blood vessels that animate, nourish and detoxify the whole system.

However, knowing the anatomy of a body didn’t tell us its purpose.

Is it to reproduce? To think great thoughts? Something else? Each organ told a story of its own importance. Even the appendix.


Similarly, a career can be elegantly put together: it can be composed of a succession of great jobs, good relationships, moments of glory and be infused with evolving talent and political nouse that keep it moving to greater heights up the ladder…but for what purpose? A stellar career can be made without any greater meaning to it…

Just like the body, a career has to find its place within a greater context to carry fulfilment and aliveness.


Research shows that careers tend to follow stages. We fumble and explore at the beginning before setting our sights on something and pursuing it. Around the mid-thirties, a crisis tends to hit that can last two decades before we find peace with our own limitations and mortality and eventually focus on a legacy…

But why wait until later in a career to start building a legacy? Why not expand our perspective now to see how we fit into the bigger picture, then act on this deeper understanding? Whether it’s providing for our families, peace keeping in the Middle East or finding the cure for cancer, our careers can be a real contribution now. But it has to come from a genuine attitude of contribution and love, and not one of allaying our anxieties around worthiness, status, security and achievement.

We can’t always change our jobs but we can change the way we do them and what we expect from them.


So much confusion and disappointment around our careers revolves around a lack of clarity and perspective. Yet they are not unattainable. Much confusion stems from unrealistic expectations of timelines and a misunderstanding of what it takes to truly create something new.

Ambiguity, uncertainty and failure are part and parcel of the trial and error underpinning the creative process. This means emotional work is needed alongside planning and execution in creating a meaningful career. Yet emotional work is neglected at best and despised at worst.

Our post-industrial model of a good life still dominates. It demands that we learn everything we need at school, then lead a productive life until we retire. This model is starting to crack and many of us are creating 2 to 3 careers over time and exploring entrepreneurship in the process.

This requires a different model of effectiveness and change. Our model of change is usually something like:

  1. Decide what you want to do

  2. Do it

A more realistic model based on what we know of the psychology of change is more like:

  1. Relax

  2. Declutter and grieve the old

  3. Envision and plan

  4. Fuel up

  5. Act up

  6. Receive and celebrate the new

  7. Review and repeat

The first two (Relax and Declutter) are the ones that are most likely to be neglected. However, in our high speed culture, these steps are probably the most important as our diaries and mental space are usually full which will thwart any effort to change.

So we need to slow down to speed up: being present is more effective than rushing around when you’re deliberately creating something in your life. When we make space in our routine to allow our mind and heart to see with greater depth and perspective, our next steps become clearer.

Questions, comments or interest in Transformational Coaching? Email me on

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