Turning Your Job into Your Personal Development Academy

personal development

“I hate Mondays,” Kathy lamented as we finished our sunny Sunday morning walk.

Kathy had disliked her job for a long time. As her friend, I listened patiently to her stories of disrespectful coworkers, clueless leaders, and unstimulating work. In an attempt to lift her spirits, I often reminded her of the great benefits she enjoyed and the flexible hours she loved.

On this day, Kathy dismissed my optimistic reminders with a wave of her hand. “I don’t think you understand just how lousy my job really is,” she insisted.

As a rule, I try not to coach my friends. It has been my experience that my friends and family do not appreciate never-ending coaching. I have chosen to establish boundaries to prevent myself from carelessly stepping over the line between friend and executive coach. Sometimes, though, I ask for an invitation to violate that boundary.


I looked into Kathy’s frowning face. “May I ask you a question?”

Kathy nodded with a slight smile, indicating to me that my shift into coach mode was approved.

“Why do you stay?”

Kathy recited all the familiar reasons: the benefits, the flexibility, the location, the familiarity, and the years she had already invested. Further, she explained, she had applied for several other positions. The positions she was contacted about were well below her skill level and, perhaps most importantly given her family situation, below her desired compensation level.

We sat down on the curb on the side of the street. It was the halfway point between our houses and where we usually parted after our walks to head back to our homes. But, today, it became our office space – perfect for an ad hoc coaching session.

During that discussion, I learned that Kathy really wanted to stay at her job for all the reasons she had listed. However, she also wanted to enjoy her job and experience some level of fulfillment from it. Unfortunately, she also realized that she had very little control over the behavior of disrespectful coworkers and clueless bosses.  

This left one option that would allow Kathy to stay:

She could work on herself.

“What can you do to make this job into a personal development opportunity?” I asked. Before she could respond, I went on to explain that Kathy could convert the sources of frustration at her job into her very own character development academy. Instead of being dispirited by each lousy element of her job, she could use those situations to practice new mental or moral qualities she sought to develop. At the very least, in the face of the unstimulating aspects of her job, perhaps Kathy could find fulfillment in the fact that she was growing as a person and a professional.

Kathy’s eyes lit up as she recognized the value of shifting her perspective in this way. “My own character development academy,” she repeated to me as a broad smile crept across her face. Clearly, she was delighted with the idea of reclaiming a sense of empowerment over her job satisfaction.


As morning turned to mid-day, I listed the mental qualities of character, which include the ability to reason, make decisions, focus, anticipate, choose your responses, demonstrate confidence, be resilient, create, and adapt. We mapped out recurring situations where she could practice using those qualities differently and better over time.

Then, I listed the moral qualities of character: honesty, integrity, fairness, courage, respect for self, respect for others, fortitude, and loyalty. We dissected scenarios at work where she was not living up to her ideals regarding those qualities, and Kathy established goals for herself. She endeavored to exercise her definition of morality at work based upon the qualities we discussed.

Knowing our families would be wondering where we were by now, we stood up from the curb. Coaching session over, Kathy seemed to feel good about her plans for herself. She expressed a hope that, in addition to her own growth and personal development, she might be an example to others in her workplace.

We hugged and said our goodbyes. Kathy was undoubtedly reviewing her plans for a renewed sense of intentionality and purpose at work as she walked to her house.

As for me, I was looking forward to the next time Kathy would extend an invitation for a coaching session. I couldn’t wait to introduce her to the seven stages of character development to give her an even greater sense of empowerment. I would wait until my friend sought greater insight, I told myself, and I turned my face up to the sun to take in the beauty of the day.

This guest post was authored by Terri Jacke

Terri is the author of Is This a Lousy Job or Is It Me?: A Real-Life Guide for Achieving Success at Work. For more information, please visit https://inspiredtraining.net/

Ms. Career Girl

Ms. Career Girl was started in 2008 to help ambitious young professional women figure out who they are, what they want and how to get it.

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