Dr. Lynn Chang Explains Career Zen, an Eastern & Western Approach to Career Joy

One thing I love about my job is that I meet people like Dr. Lynn Chang. I first met Lynn in a class I taught at the University of Texas. Many years later, we reconnected and I learned about Lynn’s unique approach to career counseling. I interviewed Lynn about her integrative approach that blends Eastern and Western perspectives.

Dr. Lynn Chang

Lynn, one of the main ways you help clients with career satisfaction is by facilitating something you call a “Career Zen” session. Can you please explain what that is?

“Career Zen” means doing what you love and loving what you do. Like a yin-yang symbol, these are two complementary halves coming together as one.

“Do what you love.” What are you curious about? Who are you at your core? How are you using your gifts to better the world? It’s my belief that we are here to serve the world, and our individual strengths and motivations are clues as to how we’ll each do our part.

Sometimes we stop pursuing our interests just because we can’t foresee how it could be a viable career. Unfortunately, that can be a rather short-sighted way of viewing life fulfillment. By not engaging in activities that intrinsically bring us joy, we step out of our flow and miss connections with the right people and right opportunities. The process of finding work that you love is actually non-linear, indirect, and mysterious. I’ve found the easiest way to navigate this system is to be honest with yourself and do what you love, even if it’s in the form of a hobby or volunteering. From there, things tend to fall into place each step of the way.

“Love what you do.” Happiness comes from within. No matter your current circumstances, even if you’re not in a great career situation, you can begin today to summon gratitude and peace. From this higher-level perspective, your circumstances will actually improve to reflect your gratitude. “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change,” said Dr. Wayne Dyer.

It’s common for us to experience emotions based on our current circumstances. If we don’t enjoy our work, it’s easy to feel frustrated or discouraged. But what if you could change how you felt by changing your thoughts? Consider focusing on what’s going right, what your mission is, or what you enjoy and appreciate about work. See what happens when you place your attention on positivity. See what happens if you add a little more love to your work each day.

A “Career Zen Session” is a 2-hr consultation based on these very principles. I help people identify their interests, talents, and motivations and explain how these can come together as a career. I also educate people on how to take ownership of their own happiness and fulfillment because it’s ultimately a conscious choice. Knowing what you want to do has little to do with a specific job title and industry, and has everything to do with what makes you come alive. That’s the ultimate goal: to find work that doesn’t even feel like work; work is simply a natural extension of who you really are and were meant to do.

What does Eastern spirituality do well that adds to Western approaches to career counseling?

The Western approach to career counseling is great to understand the self, the world of work, and how the two intersect. I love using card sort activities and career assessments such as the Strong Interest Inventory to explore what you want to do. There is true power in seeing concrete ideas that either validate what you’ve already been considering or generate new ideas you’ve never considered. The interpretation of these results is key; you want to avoid taking the results at face value. There’s a lot more nuance to it and a good interpreter will fine-tune the results to empower you on your journey.

Shortly after the exciting process of exploring career paths, I often see apprehension and fear creep into people’s eyes. “But what if I make this big career change and it doesn’t work out?” “What will happen to my family’s finances if I can’t find a job?” To me, it’s natural for human beings to fear change and to feel anxious about the unknown. Even if you see evidence pointing to the direction of greater fulfillment, it can feel scary to take this next big leap. This is where the Eastern approach empowers people.

Understanding the nature of the mind from an Eastern spiritual perspective allows us to live more freely and confidently. Why does the mind flood us with doubts and fears just when we’re making progress? Through yoga and meditation, we can observe the thoughts that arise and momentarily detach from them. Our thoughts influence our feelings, which then influence our actions. But the hard part is discerning which thoughts are true or untrue and then how to act in accordance. I often teach guided meditations and yoga philosophy in my sessions because accessing the inner wisdom inherent in all of us is ultimately the best way to “know” what to do. Another way to say this is that deep down, you already know the answer to your question. It’s my job to teach you to listen to and trust that guidance.

What types of people tend to experience success with your method?

Each of us was born with a purpose on this planet. By staying open to the signs all around us, we can create a path full of discovery, curiosity, and fulfillment. Those who are “successful” by society’s definition but feel that something is missing can find true fulfillment if they’re open to this process. My wish is for everyone to feel fulfilled in life, be kind and generous, and feel nourished in return.

I view myself as an educator because I teach people the process of finding fulfillment. Perhaps because I come from a long line of professors in China, I resonate with the concept of “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” Most of my clients have been trying in earnest to create career zen for themselves for years but without success. By the time we meet they are open to my process and motivated to take action. In just one or two consultations, they’re able to learn the process for life and career fulfillment and move forward on their own!

Career Zen

Photo credit: “Zen Balance” by pixel2013 – Pixabay – CC0 Public Domain

I know you encourage clients to prioritize fulfillment, but how do you respond to a client who says they need to support a family?

I teach life fulfillment and that ideally, career is a part of this. Most of the time I work with people who have been very unhappy for quite some time and are only staying in their jobs for the paycheck. We take a step back and assess their wellness overall: Does their career dissatisfaction negatively impact their physical health, emotional well-being, or social life? What is the quality of their time with family when they come from work? What implicit messages are they conveying to their children about career and money?

Often just the fear of less money, without objectively calculating the family’s needs and expenses, stops my clients from even exploring possibilities. I recommend this honest conversation with their partners to see where they stand on their finances. Are they actually in pretty good shape and could afford a drop in salary if needed? Are they able to coast for a little while on one salary until my client finds a better fit? Do they need to downsize how they live or tighten their budget?

Initially, it may be difficult to broach this conversation at home, but my clients tend to report overwhelming support from their partners. My clients had many assumptions about how their partners would react and were surprised to learn that the majority of their fears were self-created. In truth, partners have a difficult time watching their loved ones suffer day in and day out, and that they welcome the opportunity for my clients to find more rewarding work. When I’ve followed up on my clients months later, it seems that their financial conversations and career decisions have brought them even closer as a family and have established a greater work/life balance.

That said, sometimes finances can’t budge and families realize that they cannot afford to switch jobs at this time. We use our session to discuss how to find fulfillment outside of career. Your life was meant to feel good. How are you spending your free time? How do you want to role model happiness to your children? Make a list of everything that brings you joy and makes you feel more like yourself. Sometimes it’s the mere intention of prioritizing your happiness that gives way to greater fulfillment and life satisfaction. And truly, when you’re feeling better in general, things start turning around in your favor. Whatever way you can start to enjoy life more, do it! It has magical ripple effects.

How do you help people who are frustrated creative types who may feel that society doesn’t value what they do so making a living has been hard?

There’s a reason creative people are born with that particular talent. It’s a divine gift and it needs to be honored. Unfortunately, in our society, there are currently not a lot of high paying, stable jobs in the arts and creative fields. When I work with creative types we talk about the importance of nurturing this talent while still being practical about living expenses. The term “support career” refers to a job that you can do well and is reasonably enjoyable so that it provides financial stability, but also affords you time to devote to your true craft. For example, if you love filmmaking, find ways to challenge yourself with new projects and seek out mentors. Create an online portfolio and build a creative community around you. Your support career might be a 9-5 job as a healthcare admin that uses your natural people skills and gives you the financial support and structure to continue nurturing your creativity.

You don’t have to love your support career with a passion, but the work should be pretty enjoyable and you should like the people around you at work. If your support career drains you, then you’ll be so depleted when you come home that you won’t have any energy left for your true creative passions. So choose wisely! Once you’ve established a support career, devote your free time to your creative pursuits, build upon your skills and enhance your networking. Successful artistic careers are hard to plan because you never know when they’re going to take off. But the better you become, the more exposure you get, the more likely your career will naturally launch when it’s supposed to. That’s when your support career ends up taking a back seat to your passion, which then becomes your primary career. But even if your creative career never fully launches, you’ve still been honoring your gifts and expressing yourself creatively all along the way. Feeling alive and finding your joy is what this journey is all about.

You practice face-to-face in Austin, Texas, right? Do you offer services in any other locations?

Yes! I love working with my clients in-person in Austin, TX. I also offer consultations by video conference. This has been a fantastic way to work with people from coast to coast, even across continents.

I also provide workshops, presentations, and wellness retreats in different parts of the world. Personally, I love to travel and I find there’s so much to be gained from new experiences and cultures. The more I travel, the more I realize that I am not in the world, rather the world is in me.

What else do you want readers to know about you and your process?

Growing up, most of us didn’t have classes that taught us how to make decisions about school and career. Somehow we were supposed to just know exactly what we wanted to study and pursue, and that we would be happy once we achieved “success” in the eyes of others. And if at any time you had doubts, it was easy to think something was wrong with you because everyone else had it figured it out. The truth is that nothing is wrong with you. You are enough and where you are now is perfect. Everyone is on their own journey toward discovery. Trust yourself. Everything you need is already within you.

You recently published a book, The 10 Day Career Cleanse. I would love to hear about it.

Work can feel stressful and challenging. The 10 Day Career Cleanse is an invitation to try simple and fun techniques to infuse more joy and lightness into your workday. The wellness techniques come from positive psychology, Eastern spirituality, and neuroscience. The book covers 21 techniques over 10 days to help you establish a daily routine. Here’s an example of how you can start each work day with positivity!

The Daily G.I.V.E.

Gratitude – Really feel in your heart what you are appreciating about your life.

Intention – How do you want your day to feel? Intend it and set it free.

Visualize – Visualize yourself getting more done with less effort today.

Energize – Keep your body moving. Take the stairs or dance in your office.

Life isn’t perfect and neither is work. Learn how to create inner peace and happiness so that you can access it anytime regardless of your work circumstances. The result of this daily practice? Your work will come to be a source of inspiration and joy for you.

Thank you, Lynn.

Coming from a long lineage of professors in China, education runs in Dr. Lynn Chang’s blood. She teaches people how to listen from within and to make courageous choices that fulfill their lives and help the world. Dr. Chang completed a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from Colorado State University in 2003, worked as a university career counselor at The University of Texas at Austin for 13 years, and established CAREER ZEN in 2013.

In her work, Dr. Chang’s Eastern spiritual studies greatly inform her work with clients. She infuses career principles with yoga and meditation, spirituality and philosophy, positive psychology, shamanism, and quantum physics. She says, “All of these studies come together to explain our life’s purpose.”

For more information about Dr. Lynn Chang and the career counseling services she offers, please visit CAREER ZEN.

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