Career Exploration with Kali Wolken

In our 22nd episode, Sofie is joined by Kali Wolken, a licensed counselor and career coach, to discuss career exploration. Throughout the episode, Kali shares valuable insights that have arisen from her professional knowledge and personal experience changing professions. In Kali’s eyes, the journey is not always linear and she believes that it’s perfectly fine to change your mind and take the scenic route. She also emphasizes that our childhood passions and interests are key elements that help clarify the pieces that make up the full picture of an individual’s future career. Her insights provide valuable guidance for those wanting to make strides in their career by building a stronger sense of self.

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About the Guest

Kali Wolken

Kali is a career coach for young professionals dedicated to helping them discover and pursue careers that truly matter to them. After working for 13 years in the mental health field, she learned that what you do matters well beyond a paycheck. It can fulfill you, energize you, and help you feel truly aligned with who you are. She empowers her clients to align who they are with what they do to find even greater career fulfillment.

Kali’s “when I grow up” story was that she went from wanting to be a zookeeper, to a vet, to a counselor, to a coach. It may not seem a like a connected line to most, but when you hear how they’re all connected, it starts to make just a little more sense.


Career Coaching Program Group:


Sofie: Hello everyone and welcome back to Claim Your Potential, the empowerment podcast. I’m your host Sofie and for this episode we are joined by Kali Wolken to discuss career exploration.

Kali is a licensed counselor and career coach dedicated to helping young professionals discover and pursue careers that truly matter to them. Having spent 13 years working in the mental health field, Kali has learned that what you do matters well beyond a paycheck. Choosing the right career can fulfill you, energize you, and help you feel truly aligned with who you are. Kali empowers her clients to align who they are with what they do to find even greater career fulfillment. Her when I grow up story was that she went from wanting to be a zookeeper to a vet, to a counselor, to a coach. It may not seem like a connected line to most, but when you hear her story, it starts to make just a little more sense. Please welcome Kali Wolken. Thank you so much for being with us today, Kali.

Kali: Thank you Sofie. It’s so good to be able to talk to you.

Sofie: And we’re so excited to have you on and you’ve had such a well-rounded experience and I love that. You’ve mentioned what your when I grew up story is because so often we have that five-year-old dream and then it changes when we’re seven and then it changes when we’re 15. And then in university it changes again. And then as an adult it changes again after that. So I’d love to begin our conversation by hearing a little bit about your past career interests and how they connect to what you’re currently doing.

Kali: Sure. Yeah. I’ll start with that story because I always love telling it. I always tell people I wanted to be a zookeeper until I found out they worked on Christmas and then I was like, “I don’t really feel like it.” Really where the story starts to connect, you go from animal to animal, I thought I wanted to be a vet all the way up close to college and I did even kind of like college visits, things like that and ended up deciding on pursuing psychology because as I looked into kind of what I wanted to do as a vet, I realized that I wanted to help people who were grieving when their animals were having to be put to sleep. And I thought, well, that’s not actually the primary job of a veterinarian, so maybe I need to change course here. Then transitioning into being a coach has just been more organic in a way because I’ve just been able to explore and kind of pursue interests as I’ve gone and they do, they change and they transform and it can be just beautiful to see how things that don’t seem very connected actually are.

Sofie: Yes. Thank you so much for sharing that. And I’d had no idea that zookeepers worked on Christmas, so good to know there. Yeah, I would definitely say no to that if I were you as well. It sounds like you had that very organic transition. I like that you mentioned that you had a very organic transition between what you were doing before and what you do now. So I would love to know what is your process for helping your clients identify what a meaningful career looks like for them, some of those best practices that you were able to use?

Kali: Yeah, I probably should say there’s a zookeeper out there that says I don’t work on Christmas. It was probably my five year old brain that was told that at one point. With my clients, I actually do tend to start with asking about their history, their dreams and their goals. I tell people don’t pressure kids to define what they want to do when they grow up because the reality is they don’t know. We don’t even know when we’re in our twenties or even thirties, we go through all these transitions, but I spend time just kind of exploring what those interests or dreams were with people because even if it’s not a direct path, it starts to paint a picture of some of the pieces of our story that are going to be important to us. So we start with that history and then we move into talking about, okay, what are your interests now? What kinds of roles in life help you feel the most alive and what roles help you feel the most drained and we talk through how those integrate into a career path for people. So that’s like a really shortened version of my process with clients but that’s a big piece of what it looks like.

Sofie:  Yeah. I couldn’t agree more there. I think a lot of the time when you’re younger you have that overarching goal that you mentioned such as, oh, I want to help people who are grieving. We have that overarching goal, but we don’t really know what that looks like in terms of a career. We don’t have yet that specific name that we can put to it. We don’t know that, alright, I’m going to be a mechanical engineer. We know that, oh, I really want to build stuff, that’s kind of the level that we’re thinking at from a young age. So I love that when you’re approaching how to interact with a client and you’re approaching trying to figure out what career works for them, that you’re doing it from that big picture lens and that’s how we should be doing it, even on our own, is thinking about it from that big picture lens of don’t get so stuck on, oh, I have to have this title, I have to be this specific occupation. It’s, well, what do you want to do and is there an occupation that just happens to align with those goals that you think you’d be happy in?

So, thank you so much for sharing that and I couldn’t agree more with you there. A lot of this conversation, what I really want some of our listeners to take away is that it’s okay to feel stuck, but you don’t have to continue that feeling with your career, with your current job. So do you have any advice for listeners who are currently in that stage of being stuck where they feel stuck in their current job and they’re not really sure what they should be doing next or how to get out of it?

Kali: Yeah, so my coaching business is called the Lookout Point, specifically because it’s meant for people who are stuck. When we’re on a journey of road trip, whatever it is, if we get lost, it usually helps us to kind of stop and look around us and see kind of where we’re at and get our bearings before we plot a course forward. And so when I work with people who are feeling stuck, a lot of times, even if somebody says, “I really think I want to be in the healthcare field, but I just don’t know.” Even if they have kind of a semi-direction, we’re still going to stop and evaluate or kind of go through. I always joke, like I do a lot of things for free because you’re always already kind of like paying for the cost of coaching or whatever, but we stop and we do some assessments or evaluations that go over kind of those basic pieces like interests, work values and these roles. And as we get a picture, then we look at, okay, where do we want to go? What is the destination we want to get to and how do we get there in the best way possible? So I think that’s the best way to kind of help ourselves is to pause, explore what’s the information we have about ourselves and about the career opportunities around us, and then move forward after we’ve figured that out.

Sofie: I’d love to transition a little bit of that advice into maybe those that aren’t feeling stuck, but also those that are feeling undervalued. And so are there pieces of that advice or other elements for women who are currently experiencing that feeling of being undervalued in their workplace?

Kali: Absolutely. I feel like a lot of times there’s this belief that we have that we can only kind of speak up one time and then if somebody says no, we’re like, okay, like I guess I tried. And the reality is that as we look at kind of what matters to us and how we approach that, it’s so important to understand that those values are not just icing on the cake. They’re not just something like okay, it would be nice if I had that, but that they are crucial to our satisfaction in what we do. And so when we’re in a position at a job and we’re feeling that undervalued kind of experience, it’s being able to again, take a step back, think about what’s really getting hit there and how do we approach that in a meaningful way. I’m trying to think of how to explain it. I will oftentimes talk through, it’s almost like negotiation tactics and being able to talk through, okay, how do I speak in the right way that helps the person I’m talking to believe what I believe too?

Sofie: Oh, exactly. Yes. I love the way that you said that because I think a lot of the time, especially we as women, we’re so afraid to speak up and say that there’s something wrong, there’s something wrong and I can’t put my finger on it. Maybe you can, but there’s that gut feeling of, I don’t really like what’s going on with my supervisor, I don’t really like what I’m feeling about my role or things like that. And so often we ignore that gut and we don’t check in with our gut enough and we have those moments and then we don’t check in with it and then it’s too late. And then we get to a point where we’re like, oh my gosh, I just feel so undervalued. I don’t want to be here anymore. And you mentally check out. So I feel like what we should be doing really is checking in with how we’re feeling on the job all the time, going, alight, how did I feel today? Oh man, that was a really hard day today. Why was it a hard day today? Was it something that I said? Maybe I didn’t manage my time enough or was there something external?

Did my boss say something to me that kind of hurt my feelings or did I not feel respected in that meeting that I was in? Were people talking over me? So I think that a lot of the time we don’t get in touch with that. We just power through it thinking, oh it’s fine, it’s fine. It’s just a bad day. People are having a bad day. It is what it is. So I think a lot of that contributes to those feelings of being undervalued to even feeling stuck. So are there any exercises that you can think of that we can really employ to check in with our gut and how we’re feeling at the end of each day?

Kali: Yeah, so I do a couple of things with clients where one of them focuses in on kind of that energy piece, really paying attention to what is making me feel so drained today. That one kind of looks at, what kind of things did I do today? A lot of times I’ll have clients kind of write out, like give me the whole routine today. What did you do from the moment that you kind of woke up, to starting your work, to leaving your work to getting home and as detailed as possible? Then we look at that and we actually label them red, yellow or green. Red are the things that drained us. Green are the things that energized us. Yellow are kind of these neutral things that we didn’t think much about. If you look at your day after you’ve color coded it and it’s just full of red, that’s a big indicator that we’re doing a bunch of things that we don’t like and that takes all of our energy away from us.

I tell clients, think of them, they are stoplight colors for a reason. Think of them like a stoplight. Imagine if you drove to work or drove somewhere and every light you hit was red. It would feel so incredibly frustrating to you because you would just want to get wherever you were going. In the same vein, like stoplight rules are that we go from something green to yellow to red and then we go to green again. If we’re constantly doing something we love and then slamming on the brakes to do something we hate, it also really messes with how we’re feeling. So when you look at a day and you see a lot of reds, it’s being able to ask yourself, what makes this red for me? What am I getting drained by in this particular part of my day and are there any things that I can do to change it?

Sometimes the question of changing things, we’re going to get a no answer. No, there’s nothing I can do to change it but if you get a yes, if it’s, yeah, I could actually schedule those meetings for a different day, then make those changes where you can and that kind of balance of getting some reds out of the day and kind of balancing your week to have more greens and even focusing on the things that you can change, both of those pieces can be really empowering for people.

Sofie: Yeah. Thank you for sharing that exercise because I think that is an incredible approach and I always say gut check, which it’s very open to interpretation there and I think not a lot of people know what that looks like in practice. So I think that having a more tangible exercise that you can do where it’s, okay, let me separate out my day and assign different colors. Then I love that analogy there, I think that’s incredibly helpful for our listeners who don’t know what that would’ve looked like in practice and now have something that they can use. So thank you for sharing that with everyone. 7I think as people are trying to navigate these emotions, it can really hold us back from a lot of our potential. Other than that, are there other factors that could be holding someone back from career advancement and how can people overcome these challenges?

Kali: I think one of the biggest ones is that we do have family or friends that can influence us. That can be good and bad all at the same time because sometimes family and friends, they’ll look at kind of what we’re doing and they’ll make suggestions that they think are helpful and maybe they’re based on their own personal experiences or they’re based on kind of a one dimensional kind of knowledge of the person but friends and family tend to be a big influencer that keeps us either stuck where we’re at or even cause us to pursue the wrong career paths. So a lot of times what I will recommend to clients is that we need to take a second to understand who we are and kind of going back to that, what are our interests? What do we value? What are the roles that fulfill us the most kind of look like?

Essentially create an elevator pitch to tell friends and family to say, “Hey, guess what? These are the things that I know I’m interested in. I know that this really energizes me.” So if you can think of things that fall in line with that, if you can think of careers or jobs that fall in line with those pieces, please let me know. That gives other people a specific way to look. I always tell people it’s like an I-spy page. If you look at an I-spy page, it’s filled with a bunch of stuff and people are going to look at different things and give different answers of what they see. But if you tell them, hey, I’m looking for two pairs of scissors, then all of a sudden everybody’s focused on the same thing and they’re looking in the same direction as you.

Sofie: Oh my goodness. Yes. These analogies, I’m just loving them.

Kali: Like a metaphor, I use them all the time.

Sofie: I really liked the I-spy one and as you were speaking, I was thinking back to some of the experience that I’ve had with family as well where, I was talking about what I wanted to do, big picture and all these suggestions were flying my way and for a while I was pursuing what was wrong for me because I was like, “Oh well, this is what this person said is the best fit for what I want to do overall, so maybe I have to do that. Let me try that out.” While it’s great to try new things, it ultimately makes you feel bad when you are in it and you go, wait a second, I don’t like this. This isn’t what I want to do. Why did I follow this person’s advice here? This wasn’t what I was looking for at all. We have those moments where we think that we put all of our trust into our family and they’re great and they’re there for a reason.

They’re there as a resource you can tap into for emotional support or to help you. But there are moments too where if I’m frustrated with my job and I’m talking to my mom about it, I have to say, I’m just venting. I don’t want advice, I don’t want you to help me, I just want to vent. I think a lot of the time we’re not clear about that enough and so what is a gut reaction of a parent or a guardian or any family member? It’s to help you and sometimes we don’t want the help, we just want to vent. We just want to say, hey, it was a really bad day at work today. I’m not saying I hate my job, please don’t tell me to quit my job but I’m just telling you it was a bad day today. You’re absolutely right there. And that’s why I was thinking about that is so often we are influenced by those external factors by family and it’s hard because you don’t want to disappoint them and you don’t want to say no to their ideas. It’s a very difficult dynamic to navigate.

I think, for all of our listeners, something I’ll definitely start doing is that I-spy approach, saying, alright, I am really interested in this. I’ve done these two roles. I’m looking for something similar to what I’ve already done in this role, rather than I am excited about, let’s say helping people. And then you get a million job suggestions from family that are not at all related to what your education is or to what you’ve done before so absolutely there. And to really wrap up this conversation, because there have been so many amazing exercises you’ve given and metaphors and everything like that, I would love to know for you, what is one thing that listeners should take away from this conversation?

Kali: So I want everybody to know or to think about career journeys as more of a journey, but also that it’s not linear. I think we get so locked into, I mean, we’re very used to, you go to school and you graduate school and you decide if you’re going to go to college or not, and you decide which college and you decide what you’re going to major in. It feels really linear but I think that successful career journeying is knowing your destination before you ever start. And honestly, I think it’s okay sometimes to take some time to do that, which might mean a gap here or not starting college right away, but that you’re spending that time looking at where you want to be and plotting your course to that point. I also, I guess kind of added to that, I want listeners to know that it’s okay to change what you love and it’s okay that if you know, 5, 6, 7 years after being a veterinarian, you decide you want to be a therapist, that’s okay. It might take school, but that’s okay.

Sofie: Yeah, it’s about taking the scenic route sometimes and you get on that train to the final destination to where you want to be in your career and in life. As you were saying, so often we try to take the bullet train, we try to take the fastest route to get there, and we don’t enjoy the journey. We don’t enjoy all the different things that life can throw our way and all the things that we can look out the window and see whether that’s new friends that we meet along the way at a job or maybe that’s finding something that we really love, but maybe it’s just not for us but we now know that we want to be in the nonprofit sector or we want to go into healthcare or whatever it may be. So often, as you were saying, we do think it’s linear. We think we need to take the fastest way to get there and it has to be the direct route and it’s fine to take the scenic train that has multiple stops and then you can get back onto where you’re going.

As someone that is in environments with university students a lot, I see the struggle where so many university students think that they are failing because they’re changing their minds. I always have to tell myself and I tell them and I always say that it’s okay to change, life is not always going to be a hundred percent the same. You’re not going to feel the same that you were yesterday. You’re a different person every day. It’s a whole different ballpark every day when you get up in the morning with different opportunities. It’s okay to wake up and say, you know what? I don’t like what I do. I don’t want to do this anymore.

Kali: Just to tag onto that, like, there’s actually research that shows students who change their mind have a higher graduation rate. So it’s actually good to change your mind in college if you want to.

Sofie: Hear that everybody, it’s okay to change your major, I promise you it’s not going to hurt you. You’re good and that’s such a struggle I see all the time. My roommate in university, she went through something very similar where she didn’t know what she wanted to do and she changed a few times and I did the same thing. I changed a few times and I’m happy I did. I’m happy I didn’t start off with what I was doing. I would’ve been miserable if I was doing what I was originally studying. So it’s okay to not follow the same path always. I want to say thank you so much for coming onto the podcast and for sharing your words of wisdom and for empowering everyone that it’s okay to change your mind and it’s okay to make decisions that might be scary in the moment, but ultimately are going to serve you in the long run.

Kali: Thank you.

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