I was talking recently with a woman who was feeling frustrated in both her job search and her career trajectory overall.

When I asked her what she felt was getting in her way she immediately said ageism. She felt that companies were not interested in hiring women mid-career (she may have a point by the way! Look for an upcoming announcement where we will be focused on just this problem that I call The Mid-Career Stall).

She said her belief was that ageism was stopping her from advancing her career. We talked a lot about the fact that ageism is a thing. You can’t deny it.
And we went nowhere.

It felt like a lead balloon. She was discouraged and this was draining her energy and enthusiasm which she needed to keep a fire lit in her job search. I knew we needed to create space for movement because staying stuck in a problem does no one any good.

What do you do when you have a valid problem that won’t go away?

While she was talking, I was reminded of a Martha Beck coaching tool called the Designated Issue.  The Designated Issue is the problem that we focus on and give the majority of our attention and time, while other problems sit in the background unnoticed but fully felt.

Like the definition of insanity, spending your energy on your Designated Issue expecting something to change and feeling bad when it doesn’t, gets you nowhere.  It is time to try a different tact.  I may have just the thing.

Try This:

Step 1:  Name it – Write down that big problem, your Designated Issue, that is causing you angst.
             Your Problem: Companies are biased against women in their 50’s. “I will never get hired and advance my career at this point.”

Step 2:  Imagine it solved – This can be hard because I am asking you to suspend your reality and imagine your problem is solved.
              Your Problem Solved: Say to yourself that this is no longer an issue. You are no longer going to buy into this idea that you cannot get a job because of your age. It just is not true. When you begin to think the thoughts about ageism you stop yourself. You say, “this is no longer my reality”.

Step 3:  Ask what else? Now that this is no longer an issue it is time to see what else is going on in your life that is bugging you. What are the Background Issues?
              Fill in the blank: Now that I no longer see my age as an issue, I am also feeling angst about:  _____________,
and   ____________,
and   ____________,
and   ____________,
and   ____________…

Keep writing until you can’t think of any more things that are weighing on you.

Step 4:  Pick one – Select one of the other Background Issues and do something to solve it. You will be surprised as you look down your list of Background Issues that there are many you could knock out fairly easily. Like fixing that dripping faucet, updating your LinkedIn profile or making your annual physical appointment.

Step 5:  Repeat – Go back to your Designated Issue. Feel free to fret on this for a few more minutes then go back to step 2 and repeat the exercise.

Notice any change? What usually happens is that as you take some time focusing on the Background Issues your Designated Issue begins to feel lighter. The more you remove those other issues the more you have created space to find a solution to your Designated Issue or, at the very least, your attitude around it changes. You decide that your Designated Issue is not going to get in the way of your joy. It is not going to be the reality that decides your next steps.