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Swimming out of Your "Career Riptides"

Growing up on Southern California Beaches I learned the hard way about riptides. Seeing the brownish water in the surf I felt myself pulled out to deeper water. Getting back in was a chore, even though I was a good swimmer.

Through trial and error and listening to lifeguards, I learned how to spot riptides and successfully navigate them. It's actually simple. In a riptide you have three choices:

  • Swim back to shore while fighting the the strong riptide current.

  • "Go with the flow" letting the riptide take you into deeper water.

  • Swim another direction and exit the riptide to quieter waters. That direction: parallel to the beach. You swim to your left or right.

Riptides are a great analogy when facing tough career choices, or even negative voices. A client, Victoria Chen elegantly wrote about the latter.

Victoria had a goal and methodically worked to achieve this. She took jobs that helped her add to her knowledge and experience.

"I tried to share my dreams with those around me, hoping to get the extra push — the external validation — to act on it. Most times it was met with doubt, ridicule, and suggestions that I instead pursue a more conventional path so that I do not end up destitute."

"I know my story, but others do not because they are not me. I know why I am pursuing this goal, even if others do not understand. I know all the ways I have been working toward my goal already, even if others do not see it.

The more I internalize this confidence in my story, the less beholden I am to the riptide formed by external expectations regarding how I should live my life."

If this feels like you, here are some questions to consider:

  • Am I moving towards my aspiration, or being "pulled out"?

  • How much of my effort is going into "swimming against the riptide?"

  • What's the source of your riptide?

  • What can you do to change directions and "swim out"?

Once I learned how to deal with riptides they no longer took a lot of effort. I had a model: swim parallel to the beach and that model worked well.

The questions above should help you develop your model to notice a "career riptide" and have methods to swim out.


If you’d like to discuss the ideas in this post or other areas where Career Coaching might help - I’d love to help. All initial conversations are free, no pressure or push.

My email is

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