Theresa Sullivan BBA '98 didn't gravitate to career coaching at first, but her life kept moving her in that direction until she found her true calling. Theresa ended up founding a career coaching company called Wayfinder Advisors and is now one of a handful of ND alums who serves as a career coach through the Notre Dame Alumni Association. These coaches are available to alumni in a career transition, with the first coaching session being complimentary.
How did you get started in the career coaching industry?
Theresa Sullivan: I turned to a life coach the year I turned 30 because I felt so unfulfilled in my professional life, even though on the outside it was the picture of success. That experience set me on a path of self-discovery that actually led me a few years later into coaching myself.
Through that process I noticed over the course of my life that people - often times people I didn't even know well - seemed to gravitate toward me and share their sadness or struggle when they were going through hard things and it always felt so natural and interesting to me to listen to them, understand where they were coming from and offer support as well as inspiration to do something about whatever was holding them back. If I would have recognized that gift as a young adult, I probably would have chosen a different formal educational path than I did, but I'm proud that my life kept nudging me toward this type of service and I finally had the courage to listen and just do it. I trained to be a coach over the course of a year while working full-time and then moonlighted as a coach on weekends and weeknights for a couple of years as I built a practice, eventually finding a partner and founding Wayfinder Advisors.
What makes you passionate about this work?
Theresa: There is no doubt in my mind that what I'm doing now is what God put me on earth to do. Every time I'm able to help a person get closer to living a life and building a career in alignment with their own truth and purpose, I feel joy. My focus isn't on developing a professional's exterior skills or talents - it's on finding what really matters to them and helping them bring it out into the world so they can live purposefully. People using their talents to serve others makes the world a better place, which has always been what I aspire to.
What are two or three things that younger business professionals can be doing now in order to put their career on a solid upward trajectory?
Theresa: Stop focusing on what you want to achieve in the future and start focusing on the now. Being engaged in your work or what you are studying today is the best indicator of long term success. Sometimes professionals go on auto-pilot chasing titles, money and "security," feeling disinterested or bored in their work, but with the thought that the future will bring fulfillment and success. It won't. That belief is a classic recipe for burn-out. The key to a solid, successful career is to find what motivates you from within, right now, and work hard to keep getting better at it. You can't lose if you build a career around your strengths AND innate interests because it's an energy source that is constantly replenishing itself.
The other thing I would say is that if you made some education or job role decisions that have led to a career that doesn't suit you, don't keep doing it. Most of us can plan to work for a living for at least 50 years. If one thing isn't working any more, it's not too late to try another. Finding a career that truly suits you is about the best thing you can do for yourself and your family. When either inertia or money is driving your career decisions, the purpose and passions in your life drain out and you lose the motivation to be great at what you do.
Can you share a little bit about how you are involved with the career coaching program through the Alumni Association, and what an alum can expect if they speak with you?
Theresa: I'm ecstatic about my affiliation with the The Alumni Association's coaching program, because I get to speak with very talented fellow alums every day who are looking to make positive changes in their careers. The program is like a referral program, so that the NDAA helps alums connect with an already vetted, qualified coach who shares the Notre Dame connection with them and expertise in the career issue they're facing. Alumni receive a complimentary session to have a chance to speak with a coach and see if there is a good fit. If they get value from that conversation, then they can choose to keep working with that coach at specially negotiated rates through the program.
Often on my first call with a client, they explain what they think their dilemma is but by the time we finish, they have a new definition (and solution set) for their issue. For instance, a client might tell me that they've been looking for a new job for six months, they've barely had any interviews, and they assume they must be doing something wrong in the application process. My job is to help them see new ways to look at that issue based on asking pointed questions, which usually results in a shift in the definition of the problem and uncovers new, workable solutions. In this example, our conversation might lead the client to realize the problem is that they don't really WANT another job in the same field - it has nothing to do with the application process. It's easy to think through an issue so many times that you feel stuck, because you're actually missing the bigger, truer definition of our problem. A good coach helps their clients work through that process so they can get some relief from whatever is holding their progress back.
To learn more about the career coaching opportunities available to Notre Dame alumni, visit the Alumni Association website. Other career services are available as well, like resume reviews, interviewing tips and job search strategies.