“How did I get here?” I hear this question often from my clients. Typically this conversation is in regards to their job or organization, but it could easily be a question related to their life or a relationship. It is a question that is often asked. In some of the cases, my clients are wondering how they got to a point where they are not engaged in the work with their current organization. They joined the organization with high hopes of the contributions they could make, the challenges they could tackle, the professional development opportunities, the cultural fit, their relationship with their manager, etc. However, now it no longer feels fulfilling. They don’t know why or what went wrong.
The Marble Jar
Oftentimes, we talk about this scenario through the lens of Brene Brown’s concept of trust and the marble jar, though mine is a slightly different take here. We discuss the concept of when they started at the organization or in their new position, they were given a jar that was full of marbles. Over time, some of the marbles were taken out of the jar. The reasons why the marbles were removed vary for each individual, though it could be because:
- they were reprimanded by their manager in front of others
- they were promised vacation time but received emergency calls throughout their time off
- they were promised projects that did not come to fruition
- training opportunities were removed
- their manager was not open to their new ideas
- team members acted disrespectfully toward one another
Over time, though, some marbles were likely added in as well. For example:
- they were put on a project that developed their skills
- they were recognized for their contributions on a project
- a client sang their praises to their manager
For some individuals, though, more marbles came out of the jar than were put back in. It doesn’t typically happen all at once, however, I will get to that scenario later in this post. If each year, more marbles came out than were put back in, the marble jar may only be half full or less. This is typically when my clients recognize the pain of being at an organization or in a position that does not fulfill them.
What are your marbles?
Now is the time to start exploring. First, it is important to understand what your “marbles” are. These are unique to you. They likely come from:
- your values
- your goals
- the work environment you want to work in
- how you develop/maintain relationships
- your perspective or outlook on life
Then, tackle the following questions: What is the likelihood that more marbles will fill your jar in your organization/position? What needs to be done? Will it happen? What is your level of willingness to stay at an organization that continues to take marbles, but is not filling them back-up? What are your thoughts on finding a position/organization that may keep the marble jar more than half or three-quarters of the way full? What level of risk are you willing to take to leave the current organization/position for the opportunity to find a better fit? What are your ideas on how to mitigate that risk?
When your marble jar is smashed.
For some of my clients, they had a fairly full jar of marbles at their organization and then one day it was smashed on the ground. This happens through demotions, layoffs, company acquisitions, etc. When this is the case, it is extremely important to recognize and process the loss that was experienced. Many of my clients want to move straight into “action” at this point. They want to put the marble jar back together as quickly as they can. However, in order to move into intentional action that will get them to the right place to refill that jar, they first must work through the loss. It is an important step that can’t be overlooked.
This concept of trust and the marble jar, as outlined by Brene Brown, can easily be used with individual relationships, friend relationships, romantic relationships, etc. It can also be applied to many parts of your life. I really resonate with the visual she described and I hope it provides you with a useful metaphor to look at your job, your life, your relationships. Comment below if you have recently had marbles added to your jar?
Amy Wolfgang is a career coach who founded Wolfgang Career Coaching and co-founded Coaching 4 Good. She brings over 15 years of corporate and coaching experience to help organizations boost employee engagement while simultaneously helping her clients excel in their careers. She is a certified PCM (Professional Career Manager) and has a Master’s degree in Educational Psychology from The University of Texas at Austin.
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