Identity Crisis? How to Realign Your Career with Your Life, with Elaine Lou Cartas

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Are you a few years into a job that no longer excites you, or worse, makes you feel unsuccessful and unfulfilled? You may be having a career identity crisis, says Find Your Dream Job guest Elaine Lou Cartas. Don’t worry; you can fix this by paying attention to what matters most to you. Ignore the “shoulds” and dive deep into your values and priorities. Elaine suggests using informational interviews and networking to explore new avenues and possibilities. Elaine also reminds us that we all change, and an identity crisis at work might just mean it’s time for your next career opportunity. 

About Our Guest:

Elaine Lou Cartas is a speaker, podcaster, and coach who works with women of color and allies. 

Resources in This Episode:


Find Your Dream Job, Episode 386:

Identity Crisis? How to Realign Your Career with Your Life, with Elaine Lou Cartas

Airdate: February 15, 2023

Mac Prichard:

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Do you feel uncertain about your career, question your value at work, or experience low self-esteem? 

Our guest today says these could be signs of an identity crisis. And it may be time to revisit how your work matches your goals and your values.

Elaine Lou Cartas is here to talk about how to realign your career with what you want in life. 

She’s a speaker, podcaster, and coach who works with women of color and allies. 

Elaine joins us from Los Angeles, California. 

Well, let’s jump right into it, Elaine. What does an identity crisis look like when your career and your personal life aren’t aligned? 

Elaine Lou Cartas: 

It’s two things. One is, right now, as we’re recording, it’s the end of the end January 2023, and it could be external, where maybe you got laid off. Facebook announced laying off eleven thousand people, Google twelve thousand, Microsoft ten thousand. So, maybe you’re in an identity crisis of, I just got laid off. What am I gonna do? 

Or it could be internal, where you’re acknowledging and realizing, oh, I’m not happy here, or I don’t think I’m being treated right, or I’m doing more than my job description. I should be probably getting paid more. 

So, it’s knowing that something is in flux. Whether it is external or you’re acknowledging it internally for yourself. 

Mac Prichard:

And you mentioned external events like layoffs. Has the COVID-19 pandemic also played a part here in causing a mismatch between careers and personal lives? 

Elaine Lou Cartas: 

It absolutely has, and I wouldn’t say that is a negative thing. What I’ve noticed with my clients I’ve worked with- what, we’re in 2023- almost three years in where we were stuck in four walls. The same walls, and we couldn’t distract ourselves with dropping off our kids to soccer practice, to being busy. We actually had to sit down and realize, do I even enjoy this? Or is this fitting my personal needs? This is why the great resignation has happened, why not only are people being laid off, but people are also choosing to leave careers and industries that they’ve been a part of for years. 

So, yes. Covid has played a huge factor, not in a negative way. But, yes, negatively through layoff. But, also in, people having agency and choice to redirect and realign themselves to what’s important to them. 

Mac Prichard:

When you want to pursue a fulfilling career but paying the bills also matters, how do you strike a balance there, Elanie, between financial stability and the desire to have the best career possible? 

Elaine Lou Cartas: 

Correct. So, I know that people may grow up culturally or they were taught just go for your passions. The reality is that we do live in a capitalistic society. We do have to pay for bills. Some of you may be taking care of your own parents, who are aging. Some of you may have kids that you have to take care of. 

So, there is an importance of striking the balance between getting paid what you need to pay for bills and also what you want with a job. So, striking that is being willing to have those conversations. I know in this podcast episode; it’s gonna be in mid-February, people are starting to have the annual review conversations. So, that’s the best time to have conversations if you want to get that raise. So, that is one.

Or, two starting to look. Doing informational interviews of other jobs you might be interested in wanting to pursue that do meet the requirement of salary in order to pay for bills, and also not just pay for bills, but maybe you want to go travel with your family once a year or once a quarter. 

Mac Prichard:

You’ve got some tips about how to strike this balance and deal with an identity crisis. Before we jump into those, I wanted to ask you; you were talking about external events like a layoff or the COVID-19 pandemic. When I think about when someone starts a job, they’re always excited about it. Obviously, they wouldn’t say yes unless they were. 

So, when do you see these kinds of identity crises happen? Is it typically in the second, third, or fourth year in a position? Or is there even a cycle you can point to? 

Elaine Lou Cartas: 

It’s interesting you’re giving the numbers. Two, around two years, I notice with my clients that they’re realizing that, oh, I’m not happy here. That’s when I notice it. 

Mac Prichard:

And what do you think is special about the two-year mark? 

Elaine Lou Cartas: 

Within two years, you’re starting to get into the groove of things. The patterns and the rhythms of doing your day-to-day and the visionary things. And when my clients start sharing with me their frustrations, what’s interesting is I ask them, well, have you shared that frustration with – example is, that the systems are outdated. 

Like the tech, there’s no chat. Everything is communicated via email. Have you communicated that? Well, they know everybody’s upset. Have you tried to do it in a solution-based area? We did, but nothing changed. 

So it’s usually people acknowledging and realizing the culture, the systems that are happening in the company. They have asked questions, and nothing has changed, where two years, it’s like people are thinking, I don’t think I could keep going on and doing this. 

Mac Prichard:

Well, let’s talk about what to do when you reach that stage. You’ve got some ideas about how you can bring your career and your personal life into alignment, and the first one is you recommend doing a personal audit. Tell us more about this, Elaine. What does that look like? 

Elaine Lou Cartas: 

Yeah, so don’t worry. This is not just like a financial spreadsheet audit for those folks that aren’t so excited about numbers. But numbers could be a part of it. 

So a methodology I like using is the life balance wheel. So, think of a circle. A pie and this methodology was created by Paul J Meyer. And in that pie, they’re different slices of your life, and you can choose what slices there are, but I’ll give some examples: health, romantic relationships could be another slice, money could be another slice, recreations another slice, friends, family, personal growth, career. 

So, within that pie, with the different slices, I want you to number one to ten, ten being the highest, of, you know, I’m really great in my health. I work out five times a week. I feel very energetic. But romantic relationships; I haven’t dated in three years. I’ll give that a two. 

So, when you look at this whole wheel of your life, and remember, you get to define what slices are in it, then you could see these are low points. Is this actually really important for me to try to improve? And from there, you could see how is your career matching the other parts of your life? 

For example, let’s say family is a six out of a ten. But you know deep down, family is really important to you. You have two daughters. You want to spend time with your partner. But it’s six out of ten, and you’re acknowledging it’s because I’m working late hours. When my kids come back from school, I’m trying to be present during dinner, but I’m checking my phone and acknowledging that, and maybe there’s a shift. 

This happened to my client, where, you know, one of my goals for a job I want to look for, yes, help pay for the bills. But also, I want to be able to walk my daughter to school every day. I want to be able to pick her up every day. 

And you get to define that. What’s important for you in your life when you measure that? And then you can start creating goals and intentions from looking at that pie, that life pie, and start making steps towards the goals you want to create. 

Mac Prichard:

Hold that idea. I want to take a quick break, Elaine, and when we come back, I want to talk more about the components of that wheel and your best advice about how to measure how you’re doing in each of those areas. 

So, stay with us; when we return, Elaine Lou Cartas will continue to share her advice on how to realign your career with your life during an identity crisis. 

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Now, let’s get back to the show.

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Elaine Lou Cartas.

She’s a speaker, podcaster, and coach who works with women of color and allies. 

Elaine joins us from Los Angeles, California.

Elaine, before the break, we were talking about how to realign your life with a new career during an identity crisis, and you, in the first segment, talked about doing an audit, a personal audit, and using a wheel with different categories, and measuring how you were doing. Not the life you wanted but how you were doing in a kind of current state. Can you just tell us more about the most important categories of that wheel and how to be honest with yourself about how you’re doing? 

Elaine Lou Cartas: 

So I want to remind everyone this is your wheel. It’s not the wheel your parents told you to create. It’s not the wheel that you are pressured from society to create. You get to choose that. And also acknowledging that this is the wheel you’re creating at this current, present time in your life. 

For example, I work with a lot of clients in their mid-thirties and later, and so often, they compare themselves to their twenties. Well, in my twenties, I had so much energy. I was able to wake up at four-thirty in the morning, and I was able to work twelve to eighteen hours. But now, I can’t do that, and I just don’t have time. I have kids now. I have a partner. 

So, I just want everyone to remember that we evolve as humans. Our priorities shift, or maybe something drastic has happened in your life. Maybe you found out that one of your parents is ill and you want to spend more time with them. Go with them to the doctor’s office, and that’s okay. We change. 

So, you get to decide what’s important to you. So, for example, let’s go to the example with your parents being ill. So maybe family is a ten for you right now. 

Maybe you have a personal goal where you want to get a down payment for a new home by the end of the year. So money’s going to be important to you, making sure you have a job that matches, gives you the money you need so you can start saving money for that. 

Or maybe you’re acknowledging relationships are important, and you want to work at a company where you get off early at five pm so you can spend time with your friends, your partner, your family. So, I just want to remind people, you get to define that and be very intentional. 

So, when you are creating this life wheel, maybe get outside of your office. Go to a coffee shop. Go to a park. Journal, and making sure that you are defining what’s important to you. 

Mac Prichard:

So the first step is look at where you are now, and then your second step, which you’ve touched on, is to ask yourself the life you want to create, where you want to go. Tell us more about that, Elaine, and how you help your clients do that. 

Elaine Lou Cartas: 

So, the life you want to create and where you want to go. So, when I work with my clients, I help them identify, what are your three goals in life, including your career, and because I work with such ambitious career-driven women of color and allies, all of them tend to be career-oriented, and I have to remind them, okay, one of them needs to be personal. 

And the reason why I say three is because our human mind; it’s actually brain science. We remember things in three. So, think about it, red, yellow, green; tic, tac, toe; ready-set-go; even phone numbers are in threes and fours. So identifying what those three goals are one of them having to be personal. 

And the other two, maybe, for example, one of my clients was I want to be making six figures, and a second one was I want to be in an innovative culture. So, identifying those three and then seeing is my current career aligning with that? And if not, what can I do to shift and change that? 

So, it may not be having to change careers. It might be as simple as I need to have a conversation with my supervisor. It’s really important to me that I’m more innovative. Can we talk about how I could start doing that more? Or here are some ideas that I have. 

Or maybe, you do have that goal, and just the culture of the company doesn’t allow you to be innovative. Then it’s starting to- I know we’re gonna be talking about later in the podcast- starting to do informational interviews with other companies or people that you know of that have that ability to be more creative. 

Mac Prichard:

Well, let’s talk about that because that’s your third recommended step to bring your career and life into alignment. It’s to test your ideas where you want to go, and what you want with others. And you mentioned informational interviews, Elaine. 

How can informational interviews help you test those goals, and are there other things you should be doing besides having these conversations? 

Elaine Lou Cartas: 

So, for those avid listeners in your podcasts, you probably have heard about informational interviews from other episodes because I have, listening to this podcast, and informational interviews does two things. 

One, internally, for you, I like comparing informational interviews to dating. Right? You’re dating around to see what type of job or industry that you might be interested in, and similar to what I’ve shared in the whole podcast episode, you get to decide that. 

So, for example, I had a client who was a chemist and was interested in either staying in chemistry or possibly going into sales. And he started doing informational interviews with different people within his industry outside of his industry, and because he was able to converse and connect with other people, he started gaining industry knowledge, as well as trying to understand how he has transferable skills from one industry to another. From all of the conversations he’s had, he was able to update his LinkedIn. Then, a recruiter approached him, and he went from $60K being a chemist to now making $150K as a sales rep. 

So, that was because he was able to connect with other people and understand the lingo from these different industries. So, that is one thing. That’s what I mean by internally. You’re dating to test that out. 

A second thing informational interviews do is externally, where you’re connecting with other people, really interested in getting to know the industries or companies or the skillset that they’ve gained. So that you are networking and you are putting your name out there. So that, when they’re connecting with a colleague or a friend, and someone says, hey, there’s this marketing position that’s available. Do you know anyone? They remember you. 

And I know a lot of clients get stuck mentally where I just don’t want to waste their time. Or I just don’t know if I should. I just want to remind people this is what we do as humans, in general. 

So, think of it, it’s like maybe your hairdresser or barber moved out of town, and you’re looking for a new one. And your hair, it needs to look good. And you remember your friend, person A, was talking about her amazing hairdresser. So, you’re gonna ask your friend, person A, hey, my hairdresser just left out of town. I heard you love yours. Can you give me their name? Or hey, where did you get your nails done? Or I need to get new piping. Do you know someone? 

We already do this naturally in our personal lives. It’s going to be natural in terms of work. This happened with one of my other clients. She was doing informational interviews, and through conversations, she was able to find another job. It was really important that she had more experience in terms of managing, that there was growth, and now she’s a director, and she was able to get that job through doing informational interviews by networking with other people. 

Mac Prichard:

How often do you see people go through this process, Elaine? Many of us will be in the workplace forty years, maybe even longer. Is it normal in the clients you work with to reinvent themselves every five or ten years? 

Elaine Lou Cartas: 

It is normal because priorities change. Things in life may shift. Like I said, I mean, we just grow older, and there’s nothing wrong with that, where priorities shift. So, it does change, one. 

And then two, realizing that there are things out of your control. Right? We can’t control if all of leadership changes. We can’t control if we notice that there is low retention at the company you’re working with, and maybe there’s no control that you have when it comes to you wanting to grow within the company. 

And when you acknowledge that you have done all you can, maybe speaking up for yourselves, providing recommendations, and you not being heard. Frustration happens, where then things need to shift and change. 

But I always tell my clients, I know so often Hollywood, maybe because I’m from LA, people think I just need to leave this job and go find something else. But I will also say, have you tried to advocate and ask those questions? 

It happened to one of my clients where she wanted to get a raise. She wanted a new promotion. She never asked, though. And when she finally had that conversation with her supervisor, it took three months, and she did get the raise she wanted. What was interesting about that is that even though, yes, she was happy, she realized, oh, actually, I don’t like the culture at this company anymore. And now she is at a different job, getting paid more again. 

Mac Prichard:

Wow. Well, it’s been a terrific conversation, Elaine. Now, tell us, what’s next for you? 

Elaine Lou Cartas: 

Yes. So, I also have my own podcast. It’s a business and career coaching podcast for women of color and allies to create a more sustainable career. You could find that on Apple and Spotify. It’s called Color Your Dreams. So, that’s one way. 

And the second way is I also provide a complimentary career review call with me where you get three individualized action items toward your goals. So, to schedule that, if you’re interested, you could go to, and once again, that’s 

Mac Prichard:

We’ll be sure to include that URL in the show notes. 

Now, Elaine, given all the great advice you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want a listener to remember about how to realign your career during an identity crisis? 

Elaine Lou Cartas: 

It’s making the discernment that the things you want in your career is what you want, as opposed to the other expectations of other people. Now, I get it. Maybe you and your partner are deciding, I want to have a down payment for a new home by the end of the year. That’s okay. But what I mean by making sure it’s not the expectations of other people is, oh, you should do this, you should do that. I heard that this type of job or career is gonna provide you stability. So, it’s making sure you’re making the discernment. 

And I do want to add a second one, is when you’re starting to have conversations, making sure when you’re having these informational interviews with others that you decide, after reflecting on the conversation of, did I like that? Not the person. But did I like what they were sharing about the company or the industry they were working with? No, I don’t think I’m interested in that. Let me stop looking into it. Or actually, I am pretty curious. Let me talk to other people in this field. 

So, you have agency. You have choice. And you get to choose what aligns for you. 

Mac Prichard:

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Next week, our guest will be Kat Kibben.

They are a keynote speaker, writing expert, and LGBTQIA+ advocate. 

Kat teaches hiring teams how to write inclusive, unbiased job postings that attract exceptional talent.

Go online, and you can find hundreds, even thousands, of positions that might interest you. Some are well written, some not so much.

How do you decide which ones deserve your attention?

Join us next Wednesday when Kat Kibben and I talk about how to read between the lines of a job posting.

Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.

This show is produced by Mac’s List. 

Susan Thornton-Hough schedules our guests and writes our newsletter. Lisa Kislingbury Anderson manages our social media.

Our sound engineer is Matt Fiorillo.  Ryan Morrison at Podfly Productions edits the show. Dawn Mole creates our transcripts. And our music is by Freddy Trujillo.

This is Mac Prichard. See you next week.