One of the most persistent themes in counseling and coaching sessions in my over-25 years in practice, specializing in therapy and coaching for gay men and gay male couples, has been guys wanting to move up in their careers, expand their self-employed business, and earn more money. It’s just one of the factors – along with things like health, mental health, fitness, and relationships – that come up over and over again when guys do work on themselves in session.
One of the many advantages I have after working with hundreds of guys over the years, learning about so many guys’ lives, is that I hear about many different kinds of work fields, skill sets, settings, and financial lifestyles, from the very modest to some of the wealthiest people in our country. I’ve been able to discern some of the consistent and time-honored qualities that lend themselves to career and income growth.
Since I work in a private practice, the guys I work with usually already have good jobs, or run their own business, but being ambitious or entrepreneurial, they want to get support from our work on how to take it to next level. Sometimes this can be through therapy to overcome a depression, anxiety, or self-esteem issue that’s holding them back. Other times, there isn’t a major obstacle like that, but they want career and financial coaching to reach the next steps. In the services I offer in therapy for gay men, I help with both.
Each person is different, but over many years, I’ve come to identify certain key areas that need to be discussed and changed (or at least refined) to get to that “next level”:
Overcoming How Homophobia Affects Income: There are theories (and I believe them) that gay men and lesbians actually earn less, overall, because the effects of almost constant anti-gay stories in the news media, and even our own family background, have undermined our self-esteem, and our ability to earn what we are worth. Our self-esteem can get eroded by bullying, abuse, and the relentless anti-gay rhetoric we hear about globally in the news. To earn a good income, we have to specifically counteract these; we have to develop a strong Sense of Self and apply critical thinking to all the crap we’ve endured, and learn to thrive in spite of it. Success doesn’t just usually “show up”; we have to specifically go after it in strategic ways.
Income to Expense Ratio: Some guys need help to figure out why and how their expenses are always exceeding their income. It’s basic cash flow balance. By discussing what is really important to you, you can develop a budget so that you’re never maxing-out (or even using) credit cards. That’s very liberating.
Spending Priorities: Similar to cash flow, if you can have a gay therapist or gay life coach (um, like me) help you discuss your spending and put a relative priority on each item, over time, you will find that you have money for the things that are most important to you, and if there isn’t enough for everything on your list, at least the important things were accomplished first.
Short-Term QOL vs. Investing for the Long Term: This is a tricky one, because you might want to splurge on something (a vacation) in the short term, just for Quality of Life, but that might mean sacrificing what you really want more in the long term (such as buying a house or opening your own business). This can get very existential, because if for someone reason (illness, accident, meteor, alien invasion, etc.) you don’t live a long, normal life expectancy, you’re going to be glad you had some joys where you could get them. But if you do live a normal life expectancy, you’re going to be glad you planned for some “delayed gratification” by consistently saving for your later years. You achieve this balance by talking it out and sticking to a consistent plan that addresses both short-term and long-term goals.
Planning Career Choices with a Long-Term View: So many younger guys do just “jobs” in the short term, wherever they can find them, and aren’t looking strategically at building their skills for the long term. You don’t have time to waste working at The Gap unless that is somehow strategic to your long-term goal of being an architect. There has to be a “connection” that ties your present work “just to pay the rent” and your future professional goals.
Building Your Skill Set: What can you do better than anyone you know? How can you learn to do it better? What do you like to do more than anyone you know? How can you monetize this into a living? What have you gotten paid to do so far in your lifetime? What can you do that you could be paid more for, than what you’re currently doing? These, and others, are questions in career coaching that need answers in order for you to really reach your full potential, and to be doing (and loving) what you want, and still making a good living. Too many guys ignore this process, and this how people get “stuck” in jobs they don’t really like.
Expanding Networking and Mutual Relationships: One of the skills in career coaching is identifying how to expand your current network of people who can support you, and people whom you can support. The old saying, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is really true, not only in show business in LA, but in pretty much all fields, everywhere. If you’re shy or if you have social anxiety, I can teach you some strategies from Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy to help with that. Networking is critical to any kind of career success; some would say it’s more important than your actual skills, but this is controversial. Let’s just say a robust career is made up of many elements, and if any one of them is weak, you won’t be as successful until it’s strengthened.
Occasionally Making It About Pay: You can have a good skill set, and even a good job. But if your goal is to cultivate and grow your income over time, there are certain times when it needs to be about money. If you work freelance, you need to determine what your fees must be to stay profitable and even comfortable, while still being competitive. If you work at a more traditional job, there are times when you need to ask for a raise, or negotiate the rate of pay you’re getting when you’re hired or promoted. These times can’t be ignored, because if you ignore your income, it will ignore you. When, again, shyness or social anxiety gets in the way of your being “good at” this, we do things like conversation role-playing, relaxation exercises, building your case, or other things that build your self-confidence in advocating for what you’re worth. You won’t get what you want unless you ask for it. I have a model I teach called the Six Steps of Assertive Communication that can help with this. This is where therapy or coaching directly helps you, that is customized just for you, an interactive, that you can’t get just from reading a blog (like this!) or reading a self-help book (it’s also why therapy or coaching sessions are such an investment, because you are building valuable life skills for the long term).
Commitment to Lifelong Growth: One of the things I teach my clients, my clinical supervisees, and my students (in my role as a professor of psychotherapy/clinical social work at USC), is the idea of Lifelong Learning. Any field that we work in, or any work we do, is constantly changing. If we don’t change with it, we will get left behind. If you want to continuously grow your income, you have to continuously grow your relevance to your field and to the paying public – no matter what it is you do for a living. In session, I help guys identify and follow through on the learning steps they need to master order to reach the next level. While constant learning can sound like it’s a burden, it’s actually an exciting opportunity, and that way, your work never gets dull. I’ve been a therapist and coach for over 25 years, and I’m still waiting for the “boring” day, because it has never come. When you love what you do, there is always something new to learn about it.
Love Yourself, Love What You Do: I don’t know how it is in other countries, but I still believe in the “American Dream” of being able to do what you want to do (within reason). The reason why I combine psychotherapy and coaching, sometimes with the same person, is because the psychotherapy part helps you to love yourself – or, more accurately, learn to stop trashing yourself, in some cases – and the coaching part helps you to love yourself in the context of your career and income (and all the practicalities that go with that).
This is an overview, but for these tips to really make sense, they have to be applied to you, your dreams/goals, your current income situation, and your future goals. One-size-fits-all doesn’t work; it has to be applied. And, yes, coaching has a fee, but what I’ve learned myself in many years in business is that you have to spend money to make money; it’s a circular investment process to help you grow and build over time. Let’s discuss if an investment in this work might be valuable to you. If you’re interested in learning more, text/call me at 310-339-5778 or email me at Ken@GayTherapyLA.com