Feeling pigeonholed and underestimated professionally? You’re not alone.
Feeling pigeonholed and underestimated professionally? You’re not alone.

woman pigeonholed professionally by family businessRecently, I was talking to a young client, who was eager to find work outside of her usual role. Ever since middle school she had been groomed by her parents and grandparents to run the family business – a store that was literally attached to their house. She had been pigeonholed professionally by her family.

This young woman had been helping run her family’s business for over a decade. Now she was starting to find her role stifling. “I need to break away and find my own career path, not the one assigned to me since birth,” she told me.

This client went on to say:

“I felt like I didn’t even have another option. Everyone just assumed I would continue the tradition of keeping the family business alive and well. It was as if saying no would mean the end of all their hard work and seem like a major insult to them. I didn’t want them to think I wasn’t appreciative of the privilege of having built-in job security straight out of school, something most of my peers did not have.”

Listening to this woman I understood that her need to switch careers and ultimately change the trajectory of her life was a major challenge on many levels. The financial aspect was one of her main concerns since she had always counted on the family business for her day-to-day financial survival. In addition, her living environment would probably also have to change since she wanted to move away to work and live elsewhere. Changing jobs is a difficult transition for most people but when your career is literally attached to your home, it’s even harder.

“It was always assumed that I’d live at my parents’ home and take over the daily management of our store. I knew I needed to move and get a job lined up or at least get a loan to go back to school.”

Her family couldn’t understand why she wanted to leave her home and the family business when both had been such an essential and positive part of her life since childhood. There were hurt feelings among her family members which made it unrealistic for her to count on their financial or moral support.

Often, we rely on our close family and friends during hard times, including the major transitions in our lives. Our family and friends are often our biggest cheerleaders when planning to acquire post-secondary education or other ‘adulting’ milestones like establishing our careers or moving into our own homes.

On the other hand, when we’ve been pigeonholed by our family and/or partner, we can’t reasonably count on their support for breaking out of the mould that they want us to stay in. In my client’s case, her family clearly had a vested interest in keeping her in the role they were used to seeing her in.

Although I’d never even attempt to become someone’s substitute family, I am comfortable being a cheerleader, confidential advisor, and someone who truly (and objectively) has my clients’ best interests at heart. When I can help my clients succeed as a result of our work together, it’s a tremendous win-win scenario.

I acknowledge this client’s insights for recognizing that job security isn’t the only legitimate goal or pursuit in life. Sometimes a work role just isn’t a good fit for a person’s personality, interests, or skills. Most of us spend a lot of our time earning a living, so we should not underestimate the importance of having meaningful employment.

Too often I have interacted with someone who is at or beyond their breaking point and can no longer stand their work role and/or their work environment. This can trigger periodic calling in sad from work, or more extended time off on short- or long-term disability leave to deal with burnout or other mental health problems.

In the end, this client decided to pursue and enter another career path, one that suited her disposition. She is now a fully licensed realtor. Her career is still in its infancy, but she is no longer pigeonholed. She already feels more independent, professionally fulfilled and more hopeful about the future.

This client was professionally pigeonholed by her parents and grandparents instead of a traditional employer. It’s easy to assume that her family had good intentions but somehow failed to see that their daughter and granddaughter might want to follow her own personal and professional path.

Regardless of who does the pigeonholing or underestimating, it can be difficult to break free of the labels and perceived constraints. I also understand that when contemplating a career change there are personal and professional implications.

Life transitions, whether personal or professional, can be stressful and disorienting. There are many things to consider as we approach a new career path and roles.

professionally pigeonholedWhen we’re pigeonholed and underestimated, it can take a lot of effort to get ourselves seen in a different light. Sometimes this happens when we’ve taken a job that we’re overqualified for out of desperation – and we stay longer than we planned. Other times, we outgrow our jobs yet can’t get beyond a level because our employers have pigeonholed us and want us to remain in a specific role.

Getting past these uncomfortable moulds might start with changing our own mindset and possibly adapting so that we’re more open to trying different roles that are a better fit. This might include battling the impostor syndrome. Sometimes our transition starts with pursuing some additional training and taking a fresh look at our resume and/or cover letters.


If this blog post resonates with you (or someone you know) I invite you to contact me privately by phone (I offer a no-obligation, free 15-minute initial phone consultation)emailTwitterLinkedIn, or Facebook.


If something urgent comes up, I’m also available by a voice or video on Magnifi, an expertise-on-demand app (this will allow you to squeeze in quick calls between the appointments on my official schedule and/or some evening and weekend options).


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