How can you make sense of all the emotions involved with starting over in your career? Erika Boissiere, a former investment banker turned couples counselor, shares insights on the emotions of letting go of one career for another, the impact your career has on your relationships, and the art of starting over. In the Mental Fuel® segment, I also share some thoughts on the how I dealt with the “loss” I felt after leaving one career behind to pursue something else.
Key Career Insights
- Thinking about your future self can help you can clarity on your present self.
- Can you look yourself in the mirror and say, I’m proud of what I do for a living.
- Leaving one career behind for another can mimic the emotions of loss.
Tweetables to Share
- Understand how to manage the emotions of change by downloading my free 7 Stages of Career Change Roadmap. You can also check out a little animated video of the 7 stages below.
During this episode’s Mental Fuel segment, I talked about the difficulty of saying goodbye to one career so you can pursue something else, how that really does challenge our self-worth and confidence. If you have recently made a major change in your career, and you’re struggling to maintain your motivation, my challenge to you is to remind yourself WHY you chose this path. And even if you haven’t achieved that yet, to take comfort in the fact that it’s still a worthwhile pursuit.
About Erika Boissiere, Couples & Relationship Therapist
Erika Boissiere is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who specializes in couples counselling, she founded the Relationship Institute of San Francisco. She’s also an adjunct instructor at Golden Gate University, teaching Masters level courses to students learning to be marriage and family therapists. After working for nearly a decade in the financial services sector for firms such as BlackRock and other buy-side and sell-side firms, Erika followed her passion to help others lead more fulfilling lives, and changed careers to become a couples and relationship therapist. Be sure to follow Erika on Twitter and Quora.
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Thanks to General Assembly for Supporting this Podcast
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Episode Interview Transcript
Teaser (first ~15s): To be there now, eight, nine years later and to be at the beginning again, it was really, really hard. I think that idea that at the time I felt like, ‘Gosh, all those years spent in banking just felt like a waste.’
Joseph: Hello, Erika, and thanks for taking time to speak with me here on Career Relaunch. We’re going to talk today about your time as an investment banker and how you eventually started your own counseling practice. To kick things off, could you just start off by sharing what you’re focused on right now in your career and life as a couples and relationship therapist?
Erika: Right now, I am hyper focused on building a business here in San Francisco that’s focused on couples counseling and relationship therapy. What I humbly realized is it takes quite a bit to launch a business. I’m well underway, but to grow your business is sort of where I’m at at this point, trying to climb the walls of Google and make brand awareness the focus.
Joseph: What do you think has been the hardest part of starting your own practice so far?
Erika: I think all of us, at some point, when you’re sort of hanging your shingle so to speak, you have a vision of what you want it to be. I remember that vision a long time ago when I first started my Master’s program at University of San Francisco. To create that vision, it takes just an incredible amount of work, whether it’s building your website, setting up a call, call central for all the therapists that are on our team, to SEO, to writing blogs, just the amount of work that it takes to create a business.
Joseph: I definitely want to hear more details about how you founded your practice. Let’s come back to that. I would love to start by going back in time a little bit, to the days when you were working in the financial services sector. Can you tell us about your work as an investment banker?
Erika: I chose my career like many of us did. Around 22 years of age, I had graduated college, and that budding question that almost every single human being on the planet was asking me, which is, ‘What are you going to do with your degree?’ I didn’t entirely know. I had graduated with an economics degree from University of Colorado and was setting my sight on San Francisco. At the time, finance felt like a safe option. It felt like something that I could explain to people easily. It had a really easy trajectory, hypothetically good income if you’re good at it.
Back then, I chose that career for the ideas of safety and what would impress people. I just made a decision and then sort of went for it. I didn’t spend an insane amount of time really sort of vetting all the career options. It felt like I was thrust into the corporate world and having to make a decision on which way to go. I like the idea of the stock market, and I like the idea of having that intense job. It’s always where I thrived. So I went into banking entirely conscious I don’t think. That’s how I get started at least.
Joseph: When you were thinking about going into investment banking, I know you mentioned that it was sort of this vague impression of what could be an interesting career. If you were to pin down one or two things about investment banking that you felt were most attractive to you, what do you think those were at least in your former self when you’re looking ahead?
Erika: I wanted a career that people would be proud of me. Saying that you worked in finance sort of has an appeal so to speak that you’re good with numbers and you can work really hard. That was a huge driver. I wanted that career path that was just sort of laid out. I’m an athlete, and so the idea of sort of training, and if you do this much for this long, then you’ll get to this sort of point. That was really attractive to me.
Joseph: Then when you actually got into investment banking, how do you think the reality compared to what you perceived it to be?
Erika: In the beginning, my first corporate job, it was really exciting. You got up, and you got work clothes, and you had a paycheck. I’d worked before obviously, but it never had like health benefits and bus pass. Those things were exciting, and living in the city. I don’t know what the exact timing was, but then I think that wore off. I started to realize I just wasn’t excited about what I was doing. Yet I think there was a huge part of my psychology, like what I was telling you earlier. I’m an athlete, and so I was like, ‘No, I’m just going to pound this out.’
I woke up and did a great job and as best as I could work, but there was sort of a slow humming in the back of my brain that this was not it. It was exactly that. It was a slow hum. It wasn’t this loud, ‘Oh my gosh, I got to get out of this job. It’s awful.’ That was not my journey. My journey was very much, ‘This job is okay. Most people would kill for this job. I should be grateful, but I’m not fulfilled. Is that enough to leave a job?’ I sort of wrestled with that for a number of years.
It wasn’t something that was keeping my up at night per se. It was just, like I said, those moments where you’re like in the elevator, and you’re like, ‘Is this really what I’m supposed to be doing?’
Joseph: I remember back in business school that investment banking was one of the three most popular areas that people wanted to go to after their MBA, along with consulting and marketing. For those people who aren’t familiar with investment banking, can you just give us a glimpse into what your day-to-day life was like? What were you actually doing?
Erika: I worked for what’s called a buy-side and a sell-side firm. The traditional investment banking idea is that we research companies to potentially take them public. If they already are public, to raise some additional money to further their business.
Another part of the investment banking that I worked for a good while was in their equity research team. That’s essentially where we do analysis on companies that are already public, and we forecast how well we think they’re going to be doing in the future. This gives the market information on the health of a company. Every quarter, we would get up very, very early and listen to their quarterly release calls. That essentially would tell us how well they did and how well our forecast was.
A lot of writing, a lot of number crunching per se, and we did a lot of PowerPoint. Back then, it was only PowerPoint, but they’re called pitch decks, and they were like the bane of my existence because on the 99th slide, it had to be absolutely perfect – not a period out of place, not a pixel off. We did a lot of PowerPoint decks on sort of selling our services.
Joseph: I know you mentioned that there wasn’t a moment in time where the skies kind of parted and you decided you want to do something else, but at what point did the analysis and the forecasting and the PowerPoint slide creation start to bother you or start to make you think, ‘Maybe I should consider doing something else with my days?’
Erika: The best analogy I can give you is, if you have an injury, like your ankles hurt or your knees, it keeps aching and aching and aching, and eventually that pain gets so loud that you have to recognize it, I think that would be the way that I would describe it. I was sort of limping along in finance. In finance, you work for lots of different people and lots of different personalities, and the personalities tend to be a little on the harsher side.
I had a couple of experiences where you’re just sort of going into work, and those devil in the details that I was mentioning earlier, like that PowerPoint deck and just having managers really upset with you because, on the 118th slide, you didn’t do something correct. That wore me out, and I started to look a little bit deeper inside myself. This is in now my late 20s.
I sort of slugged it out for a number of years, and I just started to ask some bigger questions with myself, which is, ‘Is this really what I want to be doing 5 years, 10 years, 15 years? How do I imagine myself at 50 years old? How do I imagine myself at 60 years old? Am I here in this bank? Am I this person that I’m working for?’ When I started to look out a little bit more rather than just straight down, that really helped me. I was like, ‘No. The answer is no to that. I don’t want to be here.’
There’s more to life than being moderately happy or moderately satisfied with my career, which is something that I think I’ve always envisioned even as an adolescent. It was something that I really wanted to be proud of. I wasn’t really proud of what I was doing because I really wasn’t proud of myself.
Joseph: Once you started to get these rumblings that maybe this wasn’t where you wanted to spend the rest of your life and when you looked upward in the organization, those roles didn’t appeal to you, what did you decide to do next?
Erika: When I was originally in my undergrad, I had originally signed up for my initial major as psychology. I was a freshman at University of Colorado. I was like first semester in, and I got cold feet. I was like, ‘Psychology? I can’t do psychology. The pay is terrible. What does a psychologist really do?’ I just freaked out.
At that time though, the reason that I’d chosen psychology was because I had an idea, at the right age of 18 years old, that I wanted to become a therapist, but that felt very, very far and just too hard of a path and too vague. So I swung over to economics, and that felt, like I was telling you earlier, about sort of the earlier part of my journey, that just felt very, very safe. It impressed people and all the things that I named earlier.
I had always, in the back of my mind, there’s like that deep desire, a place of wanting to be a therapist but way too scared to admit it to myself, to chart that course so to speak. I would say that that had stuck with me throughout my journey through finance as this low-grade thought that I had of, ‘That would be an interesting career,’ and ‘Could I? Would I? What does that even look like?’
Joseph: What do you think held you back from making that leap over to psychology more quickly?
Erika: Part of it was logistics. I just couldn’t get around the hurdle of like, ‘What do I actually physically have to do to realize that dream?’ and the idea of like a Master’s versus a doctoral program. How would I get the loans? How would I support myself, rent and my cellphone bill and whatever, all the other expenses that go into a life? That was the initial holdback. I don’t even know how I went to put this plan together.
The second part, which is, ‘Am I capable of this? Am I capable of leaving this lily pad and doing what felt, at that time like I was crossing the Grand Canyon?’ Whether it was telling it to my friends, telling it to my managers, telling it to my family, telling it to myself, it felt way bigger than I actually think it was.
Joseph: I think that is quite common. When you look ahead, it seems really daunting, and when something’s quite vague, that doesn’t help. How did you start to put the pieces together? How did you get over that feeling of the chasm being so great between where you are and where you wanted to go?
Erika: I started to put pen to paper. We teach that a lot in psychology. Just as you had described, there’s this huge unknown that I was experiencing. When I started to get a little bit more inertia, a little bit more momentum, I started looking at programs. At the time, I don’t even know you could get a PhD, Master’s, and which route I wanted to go, and that there were night schools, like University of San Francisco. I started to brain storm a little bit. Could I hold a part-time finance job and go back to school night time?
I actually started to do like that of a rough draft, started to sketch out what my possibilities are, what the numbers looks like. This was all done very independently, late at night, randomly. I would sort of play with it a little bit, and then I started to pick up more momentum when I realized, ‘Wow, there’s a lot of options out there for me.’
University of San Francisco had spoken to me because they had this night school program. At the time I was at Blackrock. I was wondering, ‘Could I potentially ask my manager, “Could I work part-time?” and, “Could I go to school part-time?” Is that even an option that they would support?’
It was rough drafting. It was realizing I had a lot more options than I had allowed myself. I mean I just didn’t know there’s a lot of options out there when you start to be a little bit more resourceful and not so narrow-minded, which is where I initially was.
Joseph: When you eventually moved on to your first psychology role, I think that was at the University of San Francisco Center for Child and Family Development, what was that like for you to get into your first role in what is a completely different industry from I-banking?
Erika: That’s such a good question. I remember not knowing what to wear. It’s a school-based counseling program. It was not ultimately what I wanted to do. I knew throughout my Master’s program that I wanted to be a couple’s therapist, but the State of California has a rule that you have to accumulate so many children hours. You have to work with children for 500 hours to get licensed, which makes good sense.
I remember I was on the San Francisco Uni in what felt like really relaxed clothing. In banking, you wear slacks and heels and collared shirts and pearls. It was a funny moment. Showing up at the school, and I was what they call in California a trainee, which is sort of the lowest. If you can say the hierarchical road to becoming a therapist, this is sort of the lowest marker.
I remember just that moment of being like, ‘Wow, I am at the beginning of this,’ and, ‘How humbling.’ I was already at the beginning in banking when I was young, at 22, but to be there now, eight, nine years later and to be at the beginning again, it was hard. It was really, really hard.
I think that idea that at the time I felt like, ‘Gosh, all those years spent in banking just felt like a waste.’ No one really cared that I had done all these that I thought were really cool things. They didn’t care at all and was like, ‘Okay, how do you work with kids?’ I’m like, ‘I haven’t. I mean I’ve been a camp counselor,’ and so to sort of schlep what felt like a lot of grueling hours in banking.
Where I am now, it ended up not being a waste, but at that time, it felt like all those years in banking was just sort of chucked to the side. It was a hard moment.
Joseph: I know one of the things that really dissuades people from making a career change, Erika, is this exact idea that you’re talking about, of having to start over and to feel like you’re throwing away all that you’ve invested in your other career. How did you handle that? How did you ultimately come to terms with that?
Erika: Initially, I didn’t want to go. Even in my Master’s program, I’m like, ‘Yeah, I used to work in investment banking.’ In psychology, that is just not their jam. They sort of look at you like, ‘I mean cool I guess.’ They were not impressed by it.
I think I just took a deep breath and realized that while my finance days were valuable to me, I had to come to terms myself that, yes, the banking days taught me a ton of unique skillsets, and I had to sort of shelf those for a bit, going, ‘You know what? I’ll pull from that sort of inventory at a later date, but right now, I have got to turn that humility part to my personality higher and realize that I am at the beginning.’ I just had to swallow that pill and go, ‘I don’t know anything about really working with kids in a psychological setting. I am new to working with couples. I am new to working with depression,’ and really come to terms with the fact that I am at the beginning.
Joseph: Ultimately, you decided to stay in the world of therapy and psychology. What kept you going in that field? Because I know you mentioned that there are these elements of having to start over and having to learn the ropes. What ultimately kept you in this new industry versus falling back into what probably would have been a convenient move or just staying in the investment banking industry?
Erika: I spent a long time thinking about this career change. For me, it was eight years, and so I was going into this career change very conscious, very aware, having done homework, having all the things that I probably should’ve done when I was 22. When you’re doing that career change, you’re like, ‘I’m leaving a lily pad to go jump onto another lily pad, and I really want to make this work.’
For me, I didn’t want to bounce to another career change, and so I entered that Master’s programs what I felt like sort of guns a-blazing. I’m like, ‘I’m going to do this job, and I want to hit it out of the park.’ I want to get a group practice. I want to start my own business. I want to swing for the fences, because I’m leaving something that was very safe, and I want to create that same safety, but I’m going to create it for myself.
Joseph: Were there any particular clues that you felt or saw along the way that helped convince you that you were doing the right thing?
Erika: It is a feeling that I have when I’m sitting with a couple and even when they’re in their darkest hour and I would absolutely say that couples, when they come into counseling, usually, they’re just having a tough go. They’re unhappy, and yet they believe in each other or else they wouldn’t be spending the time or money. When I’m sitting with that couple, and I’m working with them, I just know that I’m where I’m supposed to be. It’s a feeling that says, ‘I figured it out. I love my job.’
There’s moments where it’s hard. It’s hard to see a couple ultimately decide to divorce. It’s hard to see a couple not realize their dreams. It’s hard when a couple is undergoing grief. There are parts of my jobs that are absolutely heartbreaking, but to put it into context against banking, I never got that feeling with banking. With banking, it was sort of like, ‘I think this is okay, right? This is okay. I think, is it okay? No, this doesn’t feel right. Maybe it’s okay.’ It was this wrestle. It was this constant sort of unhappiness.
I think the antithesis again, if I was 85 years old and looking back at my life, I remember having this clear thought in banking. I’m like, ‘Would I have been proud of what I’ve done with my life?’ I knew the answer was no if I stayed in banking. If I’m 85 and I look back and look at my life now and ask that same question, I would absolutely say yes. That makes me feel great.
Joseph: I can definitely relate to some of those sentiments you’re talking about. I know that when I’ve been roles where I haven’t been happy, I feel like I spent more energy wondering if I’m doing the right thing than on the actual task at hand. I think when you’re doing work that you really enjoy, what’s really liberating about that is you don’t deploy all this excess energy toward wondering if you’re doing the right thing. You focus on the actual work that you’re doing, which is a very different feeling.
Erika: You hit the nail on the head. That’s exactly my experience.
Joseph: Let’s talk a little bit about your time now as a couple’s counselor. How did you decide to start your own practice?
Erika: I love working with couples, and in San Francisco, I would say in general, the therapy community, we’ve done a great job on certain things. We’re pretty good with depression now and anxiety and many of the disorders in the DSM, but with couples, the research is actually horrible on the success rates with ‘marital therapy.’
Because of my banking experience, I think when I was in my Master’s program and then following my Master’s program, I trained under sort of the best of the best couple’s therapists. There’s a bunch of names out there. I wanted to stake my claim on building a group practice that specializes in couple’s counseling and that we do really specialize work under these masters. That best of breed model where our best attempt furnish the best skills and tools and resources that we can give couples, I sound like a banker right now, but I wanted to bring that to market, which I felt like was a gaping hole in the community at the moment.
Joseph: Since you specialize in couple’s counseling and since we talk about career topics on this show, I’d love to finish up by tapping into some of the insights you might have about how one’s career can affect their relationship. Are there any sort of career related issues that commonly pop up with the couples that you see? If so, what are those?
Erika: Kind of what you were describing before, which is that if you’re wrestling, if you’re putting more energy into trying to figure out your career, when you’re going into whatever job that you’re at, you’re wrestling with those same thoughts when you come home. For me, I can speak and also for my clients to some degree, I tried my hardest to shelf my unhappiness or my existential crisis. It’s not I think called the quarter-life crisis, but it’s okay. I tried to shelf it. I tried to leave it at the I-bank, but I couldn’t. You can’t shelf unhappiness.
Where I see it with my clients is they are wondering those same questions which is: Is there more to life? Am I only doing this because I’ve got a family and I need to earn this paycheck? I feel stuck, and I feel powerless. I can’t make movement. It absolutely affects a relationship in that way of low-grade unhappiness. You can muscle your way through to some degree, but your spouse or your partner feels it. Your kids feel it.
It absolutely comes into therapy, and I’m glad it does, because at least then, we can openly talk about it in the relationship. That person can give voice to their unhappiness, and hopefully, we can be resourceful and do that brainstorming exercise that is so helpful just to open up your options so that we don’t get so narrow-minded in our thought process.
Joseph: How do these things turn out? Let’s say that there’s somebody who’s really unhappy with their career, and it’s starting to affect their relationship back home. What ultimately happens to these couples or what ultimately happens to these relationships if the career issue isn’t dealt with?
Erika: It affects the relationship until you figure it out. You could go 3, 5, 7, 10, 20 years, and that low-grade unhappiness, as much as we try to push it—we push it aside, we don’t want to think about it, we can pound it out, we can muscle through it—it becomes the relationship dynamic. There’s this thing that’s a cloud hanging over the relationship. Maybe it’s not pouring rain, and maybe at times it is. It kind of comes and goes like that of a weather system.
Your career is a huge part to our journey and our life. If you’re truly unhappy or if you’re wondering about making that career move and you’re wrestling with that ongoing, that cloud is going to hang around until you look at it and try to figure out, ‘What is this cloud trying to tell me? What do I need to do to actually move this weather system so that I am happy?’
Joseph: I know that you eventually figured out what steps you needed to take to be happier in your own career. When you look back on your own career change, what’s something that you wish you had known that you now know about yourself?
Erika: There’s a lot of stuff that I had to figure out to build this practice that, at the very beginning, I didn’t think I could figure it out. I didn’t think I could figure out how to build a website. I didn’t think that I could figure out how to work with SEO and Google’s algorithm, which of course is always a mystery. I didn’t think that I would be a writer. Something that never was of interest to me is now a side passion of mine.
There are these things, these huge boulders, very sort of that black-and-white thing, like, ‘I can’t do that,’ and it turns out that, as soon as I started to get a little bit of movement, as soon as I built my first website, as soon as I started picking up just my self-esteem and like, ‘I can figure this out. There are YouTube videos. There are resources. There are people you can hire to either teach you or to build stuff that you really can’t figure out.’
What I wish I could’ve told myself once I sort of planted myself in the couple’s counseling is you’re going to figure it out.
Joseph: Before we go, if there’s someone else out there who is thinking about shifting from the corporate world into more of the clinical setting or who wants to get into couple’s counseling, do you have any advice for them?
Erika: Do your homework. It’s a huge shift. For you to go into it conscious, interview people, spend a good chunk of time really digging into that career move to make sure that it is actually what you want to do, so you don’t make that leap and then sort of like I was telling you earlier, sort of have to go through that bounce-around experience, which wouldn’t be the end of the world, but it can be a little bit of a cleaner route.
Two, open up options and brainstorming. Open your mind and just sort of throw crazy ideas on the wall and see if something else shakes out.
Number three, which is I think the overarching theme of this interview: if you do have that low-grade hum of ‘Is there more?’ I would venture to say that there is. I would be that bold to say, yes, there is more that, if you’re going to make that leap to be happier, I think that’s a wonderful thing that you’re seeking happiness. Making that leap is complicated, and it’s wrought with all sorts of different decisions, but your happiness in your career journey is pretty high priority in one’s life map. To spend some time on it and do it, I think, is a good use of energy.
Joseph: Finally, if people want to learn more about The Relationship Institute of San Francisco that you founded or the work that you do, where can people go to learn a little bit more?
Erika: My website is www.TRISF.com. I do a lot of Quora responses, so you’ll see me pop up there almost on a daily basis. It’s a fun place to ask any sort of question you ever could wonder about relationships. I like to answer those question because it taps into that writing passion of mine. You can find me there.
Joseph: We’ll make sure we capture those in the show notes. I just wanted to thank you for giving us a glimpse into your former life as an investment banker and your transitioning into being a couple’s counselor and also sharing some useful insights on how your career can affect your relationships. Thanks so much, Erika.
Erika: Thank you.