Here is the full transcript of Ashley Stahl’s TEDx Talk: Three Questions to Unlock Your Authentic Career at TEDxBerkeley conference
Ashley Stahl – Entrepreneur
At age 22, I was completely immersed in this world of spying the Pentagon and counter-terrorism. Everything that I did in my adolescent life was to prepare me for my fantasy career.
But I’m here, just a few years later, as a career coach to hundreds of millennials. So how and why does this happen? That’s exactly what people asked me when I quit my job in Washington, DC, and booked a one-way trip home to Los Angeles. And I tell people that my answer is simple: political science is what I love, but career coaching is what I am. This dance that we all do between finding work that we love and finding work that aligns with who we are is what I want to talk about today.
So I remember, four years ago living in DC and going through my quarter life crisis, and I was just chaotic, desperate for answers, lots of pints of ice cream; and I also remember hiring a career coach, and this fundamentally changed my life.
And in the process, I realized that there were three key questions that helped me unlock my authentic career. And I want to share them with you today. The first question is: what am I good at? Second question is: what do people tell me I’m good at? And the final question: ask yourself, “What’s holding me back?” These three questions sit at the foundation of my career coaching practice.
So, let’s start with what am I good at. We’re told early that we need to find our passion. When we get to college, we need to pick a major or a passion, way before we’ve given much thought to who we want to be in our careers and in our lives. As a result, some of you here have majors that fascinate you. But there are others who simply picked the topics so you could get your bachelor’s degree out of the way and move on with your life.
But here’s the problem. Your interest in a subject does not guarantee your success in a career with it. And that’s why I’m here to remind you to do something that you are not just what you love. I remember four years ago getting a phone call from a defense contractor that I was hired to run a program for the Pentagon. I was ecstatic, and then I panicked. I just remember, you know, reading about this program that prepared senior government officials to deploy to Afghanistan where they would then serve as advisers to high-level officials in the Afghan government. As the only woman in the room, and definitely the youngest employee in my firm, I felt like I had the world to prove.
So, like many of you probably understand, my job took over my life I spent ten-to-15-hour days in Washington, DC, and a lot of my weekends ended up on military bases in the Midwest, where I would oversee these training programs and weapons qualifications. And I’ll never forget one particular Sunday: one of the advisers called me over, and in the midst of our discussion, he asked me if I could hold his gun, so he could tie a shoe. I realized without hesitation as I threw my hand out that this was going to be the first time I ever held a gun! This gun just dropped cold in my hand, and I just remember these chills going down my spine. I felt like I was holding death in my hands.
So here is the great question. How was I going to be a spy if I couldn’t really hold a gun? That set me into a tailspin, because I remember feeling like my career, my passion, my identity were all in conflict with one another. And I felt so alone, but guess what? I wasn’t!
Seventy five percent of the US population, according to Reuters, is hiding some part of their identity at work. I wasn’t the exception, I was the rule. In order for me to succeed in these National Security niche that I cared so much about, I had to hide my feelings, my fears, my insecurities, and probably my identity itself a lot of the time.
I’d say ten pints of ice cream and at least 30 episodes of “Sex in the City” later, I got off the couch, and I realized it’s time to ask for help. And that was when I hired my career coach. And in our work together, I realized how important it is for all of us to tune out the social pressure to find what we love and tune in to something more significant for your career and your life: who you are. It’s never too late, and it’s never too early for you to ask for help.
My second question for you to ask yourself is: what do people tell me I’m good at? So some of you here may be thinking, “OK, Ashley, I don’t really know what I’m good at, I don’t know what my values are,” and that’s OK.