Photo Credit: Christin Hume,

Written by Shanfan Huang
September 11, 2020

Many people seek out career coaching when they hit a low point in their career—when they’ve felt stuck. The same was the case for me—I sought out iPEC’s coach training when I couldn’t see the light in my career.

It’s unsurprising that career advancement is at the center of our minds. For most of us, our career’s the source of our financial wellness, as well as the source of our self-esteem. I thought so. The image I had for myself was a driven, self-motivated, high performer at that time. I thought once I completed my iPEC training I was going to be a career coach for sure.

In the following year, however, I realized that the career frustration was just a symptom, the root cause is often something else.

“I worked so hard last year! I worked over the weekends and on my vacation. I raised my hand every time when there was a stretch opportunity. Yet what did I get? They still wouldn’t promote me!”

Does this sound familiar to you? Two of my clients came to me with the same bitterness and ended up pursuing different paths.

Liana’s Story

Liana felt stuck at work at the same time when she felt she was doing great at work. She thought she deserved the promotion she didn’t get and her frustration was exacerbated by the fact that she felt her boss wasn’t able to evaluate her fairly. We talked through different strategies of getting noticed and she scratched them all.

In the next two months, we went through her entangled thoughts and feelings. On one hand, she had in mind that a few years down the road she would want to start her own business. We took a closer look at the business she aspired to start, then discussed what she could take away from her current job to fuel the next stage in her life, and concluded that she didn’t need more responsibility at work. The extra hours she had to put in already made her bitter and undervalued. It was in her best interest to cut back the extra hours at work and to spend more of her personal time working on her dream business. 

On the other hand, since she felt that she was performing above her level, the better strategy was to ask for a raise rather than a promotion. In light of that, she shared her reluctance to ask for more money. She thought she was already doing very well financially, and it would make her feel greedy if she asked for more without taking up more responsibility. As we worked through her belief between money and responsibility, she agreed to at least go to her boss for a try. 

It turned out that her boss much appreciated her contribution, and was feeling sorry there wasn’t any promotional opportunity for her. So when she asked for the raise, her boss advocated hard for her and got her a 20% bump. 

She’s satisfied now. With more dollars in her savings account and more time to work on her own business, she’s confident that her dream will come true sooner than she thought.

Iris’s Story

Iris had spent many years getting her finances in order. She made smart investments, earned a great salary, and felt confident and powerful—until she felt undervalued and became unrested.

“This has been my pattern: I work hard. I aim for the challenges. Then a few years pass, the company doesn’t recognize me and I look for a higher position somewhere else. But I’m tired of job-hopping. We bought this beautiful house when we moved here for this job. I thought I could grow with this company and settle down a bit. But now I can’t see any way out except for looking elsewhere again.”

We spent the first few months talking about her work, through which we called out how she easily felt victimized at work, and how she always came out of any mess with her opportunistic optimism. Gaining self-awareness helped her to be more intentional when her energy shifted from feeling like a victim to looking for new opportunities. She came up with many new ideas—working on her side hustles, earning a couple of professional certificates—but she had difficulties with following them through.

Then, we examined her wheel of life:

She enjoyed talking about her career and finances—and didn’t mention any other parts of her life. As we talked through different aspects of life one by one, she finally realized that her life was out of balance. Underneath the confidence in her personal power was a deep dissatisfaction.

While she was full-steam on her career goals, she’d ignored her health, her relationships, her joyfulness, and her spirituality. She realized that all those different parts of life are connected together. Ultimately, it’s not about that promotion per se, it’s about the overall happiness and her sense of freedom.

She’s the type of woman who will get anything once she sets her mind on it. In the next few months, she redesigned her diet and her exercise routine and lost 10 pounds. She set aside more quality time with her husband and family. She made more donations to the local charity. 

Strangely, as she developed more balance in her life, she became more clear about her purpose, thus more careful about weighing trade-offs when it came to career advancement. She thought deeply about who she was as a wholesome person, and what kind of contribution she really wanted to make. 

Now she feels less triggered by “petty annoyances” (in her own words) at work. She’s become more detached. By focusing on her life vision, she reframed the journey she was on. Instead of viewing success as hitting the next target at work, she viewed everything as part of the grand plan to reach a fulfilling life.


It’s such a humbling experience to work with these excellent people. Coaching them made me see myself more clearly. I’d aspired to be a top-notch professional all my life too—yet, when faced with challenges, I had to ask myself, “what is this all for?” I thought career and corporate coaching is where the money is, but found myself yearning for spiritual growth.

The “career” is a wonderful 20th-century invention, but life comes in a full package. At the end of the day, we all have to answer what true happiness and success means to us. It sounds corny, but we all have to live up to the best version of ourselves in order to feel the peace in the chaotic ups and downs of life and to make the contribution that we’re meant to make.

This article contains interpretations of the concepts taught by the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC).

Photo Credit: Christin Hume,