When her career took an unexpected turn, Elisabeth Easther consulted a career counsellor for advice.

According to my dictionary, a career, when it's a noun, is "an occupation undertaken for a significant period of a person's life, usually with opportunities to progress". However, when it's a verb, it means "to move swiftly in an uncontrolled way".

Finding myself at a crossroads work-wise, and feeling my career was more verb than noun, I decided to take charge and engage the services of a career counsellor. I didn't even know such a thing existed until a woman I admire personally and professionally told me she'd been seeing one. Really? A career counsellor? I needed to know more.

It transpires that most serious professionals seek this sort of assistance at some stage during their working life, so I decided it was my turn. At the very least, I'd like there to be no repeat of the job interview I'd endured in London with a television travel channel.

The head honcho there took one look at my CV, then asked in a withering voice, "What exactly is it that you do?"


Good question, Madam, I'd been asking myself that for years. After all this time, I still hadn't figured it out and with the world changing so rapidly, we have to be ready for anything, especially change. One statistic I've learned recently is that by 2020 in America, 49 per cent of the jobs that currently exist will be gone. It's impossible not to find that alarming.

Making an appointment with Kaye Avery - her website describes her as a career management specialist - I wasn't even sure what I hoped to achieve but with the same questions recurring again and again, I was hoping she might have some answers.

What am I? What do I do? Am I on the right path? What are my skills and strengths? How long can I sustain the inherent hustle that defines a freelancer's life? Did I want to be ducking and diving into my 50s? Is now the time to make some big changes? And if it is, how do I make the right choices?

To be frank, I had no idea what I was letting myself in for, how many sessions it would take and whether I could afford it. But I figured a spot of counselling was much cheaper than five years of getting yet another wrong degree and, as it happened, it turned out to be just what I needed.

Avery's office on College Hill in Ponsonby can be found in a pretty little villa that she shares with politician Jacinda Ardern - a good omen, I thought - and the first appointment centered on finding out who I was and what I actually did. Avery describes this as a "narrative session" in which she draws out the client's story, explores their life influences and looks for recurring themes, aspirations and ideas, with the aim being to figure out who the person is, or could be.

"The talking is important," she says. "Sharing their story helps people make sense of things - we're sense-making creatures yet we don't often have the opportunity to talk about ourselves in this way. Then I try to figure out, what do we need to explore? What does this person want from the process? Then we make an agreement about what we need to do next. Essentially I am a facilitator, although I can also help people with CVs, interview strategies, even cover letters."

Until this point, I don't think I'd ever had to try explaining very specifically what I did. But after describing myself to Avery, I realised that my professional pie had quite a lot of pieces. Perhaps there were too many? Or not enough?

Sending me home with a swag of homework (Myers Briggs personality testing made up a big part of it), I found the results fascinating. Looking into my values, my core drivers and what motivated me, I discovered I wasn't at all who I thought I was. Apparently I have very little need for security, which I found curious - I'd have thought everyone wanted security. But no.

Given one of my many jobs had just been disestablished, that was good news indeed. I certainly couldn't have picked a better time to seek some guidance.

The second session focused on what the change meant for me, and it was rather therapeutic to talk about. Aside from interpreting the results and helping me understand what drove me and what I valued, Avery explained the concept of "business agility".

"This is about the new employment environment where organisations want flexibility and to not be tied to forms of permanency," she says. "Employability is now about flexibility and having a number of strings to your bow. This bodes well for those who are able to be self-employed, so long as they are comfortable living this way and have the resilience to match."

Regularly working with corporations in crisis, and with individuals who are facing up to unwelcome change, cultivating resilience is essential.

"The human condition," Avery says, "needs caring about and in this world, where we're often seen as units of energy that contribute to someone else's wealth, it can be hard to know where that care comes from."

All in all, my foray into therapy was very interesting. And although secretly I was hoping Avery would just tell me what to do, apparently that's not how counselling works.

"I try not to give advice, but sometimes I have to. Usually it's a process of getting people to understand, and find a rational, simple way forward. Mostly the thing is to believe that change is possible, to have a resilient mindset and have strategies around managing disappointment. There's no stability in the workplace or in large organisations, so that has to come from within."

Over just two sessions we dug up some pretty crucial stuff; probably the best thing was finding out that what I do has a name. It turns out I have a Portfolio Career, which means I'm someone with lots of jobs.

Recognising this was accompanied by a sense of relief as it dawned on me that what I do is okay, it has a name and it's valid. And while I still intend to make some changes, for me now, where I am, it is acceptable. And one thing is certain, I'm a long way from that job interview in London when I struggled to explain what I did.