Seeing all the Pieces of the Forest

(If your name is Dani and this story reads like a story you’ve lived, It’s just a coincidence.)

Dani had that All American Girl look, the one the Ivory Soap commercials used to feature; scrubbed, fresh-faced, healthy, outdoor gals who exuded intelligence along with good taste in facial cleansing products.

She was having trouble with her career, feeling a little stuck, and not knowing what to do about it.

Dani had gone to a college of her parent’s choosing, and majored in her father’s preference, business. His reasoning, sound as always, was that she’d be able to earn a substantial income with that degree and blessed with her intelligence she’d have no trouble mastering the coursework required of her.

Dani had always been conflicted regarding a career direction. Her biggest problem was that she didn’t want to think about it. Her father had been trying to focus her attention on a career as long as she could remember. His mantra was always the same: you’re smart, school comes easily to you, and you can do anything you set your mind to.  That was the rub. She didn’t want to set her mind to anything. She was an excellent student who didn’t have to study. She spent her free time doing what she loved: drawing, reading, taking walks in the woods, her dogs always by her side.  She loved art and always had a sketchbook in hand. As important as art was to her, she had an even greater passion for the outdoors.  Typically soft spoken and low key, she surprised herself and others with how strongly she felt about protecting, conserving, and advocating for the environment.

As a student, Dani excelled in math but had no desire to do anything with it, an issue her father repeatedly raised when asking her to examine her career options and the potential of each. He insisted that she didn’t need to love her work to excel in it. It was only logical that she major in business. Case closed.

“Listen to me. You’re my only child. I want what’s best for you. Why would I steer you wrong?”

Dani had no trouble gaining entrance to the college of her parents’ dreams. She dropped out after spring semester of her freshman year, and moved in with some artist friends she had known when she was in high school. She stayed away from college and parents for several years, taking part time  jobs at a veterinary hospital, a city recreation department, a natural science center, and a nature conservancy. She wasn’t able to make peace with herself and felt directionless in her work.

Over time she reconnected with her family but carefully avoided any discussion of her working future. Her parents, catching on that forcing the issue forced their unwanted separation from her, learned to avoid the topic. They were as concerned as ever, but over time and reluctantly, let go of their need to control Dani’s future for her.

Relieved that her parents were providing her the space and tentative acceptance she needed, Dani returned to school. This time it was one she chose. It wasn’t as highly regarded as her parents’ choice, but it was located in the town where she lived and she could afford it. She attended year round, working part time jobs to pay her tuition, and accepting, sparingly and gratefully, a little financial support from her parents. They worried as much as usual but wisely kept their concerns and counsel to themselves.

Dani combined her natural interests and competencies, majored in Forestry Management, and to her own relief and the enthusiastic applause of her parents, received her degree five years later.

That’s almost the end of the story. If you remember, Dani was at a stuck place in her career. She loved her work but there was something missing and she didn’t know what it was. Perhaps you’ve guessed. She’s an artist, a natural, yet she hadn’t picked up a sketchpad since her first attempt at college (“I lost my desire to paint or draw anything, that’s how miserable I was back then” she said.). Today, Dani has as rich a life outside her work as she has within it. She volunteers at the local children’s museum and “Y”, teaching youngsters the nature and wonder of art and ecology. She enjoys life. The Ivory Soap people would be proud.

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Yes! You may use this article by Executive and Career Coach, Joyce Richman, in your blog, article in your blog, newsletter or website as long as you include the following bio box:

Joyce Richman ( has been specializing in executive and career coaching since she started her own practice in 1982. She works in a variety of environments including: higher education, manufacturing, sales, marketing, media, technology, pharmaceuticals, medicine, banking and finance, service, IT, and non-profit sectors. A member of the adjunct faculty at the Center for Creative Leadership, Joyce is certified to administer a number of feedback and psychological instruments. Joyce is a weekly guest on WFMY-TV and the career columnist for The Greensboro News & Record. She is the author of Roads, Routes and Ruts: A Guidebook to Career Success and co-author of Getting Your Kid Out of the House and Into a Job. A popular speaker, Richman conducts seminars and workshops throughout the United States, Canada and Europe. Her coaching profile can be found at

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