It’s easy to get stuck in a career rut. Even if you’ve landed what you thought would be your dream job, you may not be feeling that same passion years down the road. So what do you do if you wake up one day with the realization that you’re unhappy with your career?
Ayako Lainez is an investment banker-turned-journalist, college counselor, and consultant. At a recent seminar, she joined former NBA star Ivan Rabb and GLOBIS USA president Tomoya Nakamura to talk about finding a kokorozashi, or personal mission in your life and career.
We spoke with her after about her non-traditional career journey, practicing empathy at work, and further advice on how career concerns can be the catalyst for a transformative experience.
Getting Started Is the Hardest Part
Insights: You’ve had an incredibly diverse career journey. Before we dive in, tell us what you’re doing now.
Lainez: I’m currently running my own educational consulting business. I teach executive functioning skills to neurodivergent students and help guide them through the college admissions process. I also support their families as they navigate the complexities of finding the help their children need.
I also do pro-bono work supporting a small business launching an equine-assisted learning program, volunteer at a local charity horse show, and write articles to help shine a spotlight on para-equestrian sports across the world.
Insights Your career started on a very different path, though. Can you take us through that journey of discovery?
Lainez: Fresh out of college, I found that I could “sell myself” on my strong English skills, so I looked for positions that could benefit from them. I was fortunate enough to be hired as an analyst for an investment bank and began my career.
I didn’t have a finance background, so felt I was a bit behind from the start. I would work for hours trying to get things right. I enjoyed learning and conducting in-depth research, but as I continued to work in the department, I recognized my limits and reconsidered if that environment was the right fit for me.
I eventually found my happy place as an interpreter for equine-assisted, therapy-related seminars and coaching sessions.
At the same time, a part of me felt compelled to return to the US as an adult, because that’s where I spent a large portion of my youth—so I returned to study business. As I continued my studies, working for non-profits, and interpreting, I found the world of special education and felt that it could be a great career for me given my past experiences.
I decided to go back to school to get a teaching credential and master’s degree, which set me on the path of education and coaching. A few years later, I was introduced to the concept of empaths and highly sensitive people, or HSPs. I knew I had a strong sense of empathy and desire to help others. It sometimes got in my way, but it was comforting to know there were other’s out there like me.
Honoring Your Thoughts and Feelings Pays Off
Insights: So you transitioned from a banking career to a job that utilized your empathy at work. How was that experience?
Lainez: As a special education teacher, I struggled. Finding the balance between dealing with legal paperwork, lesson planning, and teaching was a big challenge. My empathy made me extremely dedicated to helping my students and their families get the support they needed, but the pressure took a toll on my health and personal life. I couldn’t relax. I wasn’t balancing a life outside of my career, so I took a year to work as a substitute while contemplating my next move.
Eventually, I found a job as an administrator at a private high school where I helped to plan courses for the students. I realized I needed more knowledge, so I completed a certificate in college counseling.
Now I utilize all this experience to help students find their way.
That’s how I found my sweet spot. I’m finally able to fully enjoy my life inside and outside of work.
Embrace Empathy in the Workplace
Insights: It sounds like you found the perfect career to balance a data-driven approach with empathetic soft skills. Did you stay involved in special education?
Lainez: Special education gave me a lot of direction. As I was finding my footing career-wise, I went to volunteer as an interpreter at the National Equestrian Competition for People with Disabilities organized by the Japan Riding Association for the Disabled in Hyogo, Japan.
I had the pleasure of interpreting for a fabulous international coach and was immediately embraced as part of the group.
It helped me find a sense of belonging in a place where I could utilize my skills. I was so excited to be a part of an amazing community where I could help facilitate communication. I returned to help for several more years and joined other clinics as an interpreter for riders with disabilities if a non-Japanese guest was invited.
Insights: What made you want to move on?
Lainez: I kept myself involved in the equine-assisted activity and equestrian sports community as a journalist and interpreter for a while. But eventually I decided I wanted to have my own voice and make my own contributions, rather than interpret for others. I also needed some time to regroup and take care of my mental health.
I still had an administrator’s mindset, so I went to UC Berkeley Extension in the San Francisco Bay Area to study business management and marketing—but I didn’t want to give up on my passion for working with horses and people, either. I found a therapeutic riding barn in the area where I could volunteer and continue my experience, and I eventually became a certified instructor.
Take Advantage of What’s Around You
Insights: You were able to try your hand at a lot of things, and even move between countries. What’s your advice for those who don’t have that level of flexibility?
Lainez: There are so many virtual options available these days. GLOBIS offers online options, and there are colleges that offer professional certificates in various industries. My college counseling certificate was 100% virtual, for example. There are also free platforms out there that are great for learning something new, even if you’re not sure you want to make a career change just yet.
I also attended networking events where I met various professionals from a variety of industries. I recommend networking locally to learn more about your field of interest and what skills you might need. I’ve found LinkedIn and Facebook groups to be a great tool, as well.
Insights: What do you feel are your biggest lessons learned?
Lainez: I learned a lot by taking time off and jumping into my passions. I learned that there was more to life than making money.
While I was exploring career options, I saw folks finding joy every day, regardless of whether or not they were getting paid. I was inspired to be true to myself and took the leap, leaving behind a role that wasn’t the right fit.
Your company will stay afloat if you take a day or two off for yourself. Just like a teacher can find a substitute, there are others that can take your place in an organization. But you’re irreplaceable to family and friends. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s scary at first, but you’ll be happier in the end.