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EP 22 Zia Hassan: Core Values and Career Choices

In this episode of The Teacher Career Coach Podcast, I sit down with my close friend Zia Hassan to discuss the importance of your core values when it comes to decisions about your career. Zia is an educator, tech consultant, and self-described systems enthusiast. He has some incredible insight to offer regarding how exactly you can discover what your core values are so that you can spend more time and energy focusing on what’s truly important to you in your life and career. This is an incredibly powerful episode for anyone who is striving for more alignment in their career or life in general. Connect with Zia for coaching or check out his podcast Gently Down the Stream.

Listen to this Teacher Career Coach Podcast episode in the podcast player below, or find it on Apple Podcast or Spotify.

Recap and BIG Ideas:

Redefining what being a teacher means, beyond someone working inside the walls of a classroom, can help you understand how your skills and passions can translate into other careers

✨It’s important to find clarity around your passions and core values when you’re making big life decisions, like considering a new career path. When you do, you’ll never have to fully start from scratch. 

✨ Once you figure out what your core values are, they become anchors to your ship— no matter what you decide to do or where you decide to go. 

✨You can look toward people you admire and things that irritate you to help you find clarity around your core values. At the end of the day, no one knows your core values as well as you do.  

✨ It’s not enough just to know your core values, but you have to figure out how to use them to make decisions that speak to you

✨ Instead of faking it until you make it, remember that there are often big rewards at the end of something that feels scary. Besides, the only one who thinks you’re faking anything is you

Being realistic with your goals and breaking them up into smaller, more manageable tasks is essential to big accomplishments and transformations. 

While Zia has a variety of jobs under his belt, education remains a theme no matter where he goes or what he does. 

Daphne: Hey Zia, thank you so much for joining us here today.

Zia Hassan: Hey, Daphne, thanks for having me.

Daphne: To be fully transparent, you and I actually work together as educational technology consultants, which is how we met and became close friends. But for anybody who has no idea who you are, can you give a rundown of your career history? 

Zia: Sure. I started my career working with colleges to build systems for housing and residency. So, I was sort of a head RA and I was building these systems for all the different housing-related things at the University at American University. That led me to a job with IBM, where I continued building systems for much bigger clients, including the government. That was really where I developed a love of user support and just teaching others in general. 

So, after six years of working at IBM in the realm of technology, I completely changed gears and became a teacher. I was trained in elementary education through the Inspired Teaching Program in DC, which was rooted in many things I loved, like improv theater. But after teaching for a number of years, I left the classroom to return to technology as an EdTech consultant as a way to combine the two experiences. 

I’ve been working as an independent EdTEch consultant for almost four years now. Through doing that, I actually landed a job as an adjunct professor at a local community college. So, I also get to teach a course in Human Growth and Development. 

Daphne: With all the different careers that you’ve had, there’s a theme of education and teaching others. What do you think makes that the right choice for you?

Zia: In almost everything that I do and have done in the past, the common thread has been creating tension. So, in addition to all of these jobs that I do, I’m also a singer/songwriter. In all of these situations, I find myself creating tension, and then allowing someone else to relieve that tension. There’s always learning that happens throughout that process. 

Even when I was working with IBM, I created tension with customers and then allowed them to discover a feature for themselves or discover how to do their job more productively. As a teacher, there is this tension you create with students. Anyone who’s taught in the classroom for any number of years knows that you don’t stand in front of the classroom, write something on the board, and suddenly the students know what to do. 

No, we create problems for them to solve or create tension for them to release because that’s where this growth process happens. Moving into my role as a tech trainer or as an EdTech consultant, the same thing occurs. A lot of times people assume we’re just going to tell them how to use products during trainings, but you and I both know that it’s about putting them in situations that are relevant to their job and allowing the tools to enhance their productivity. 

So, through all of these different facets of my career, I find myself creating tension. It’s funny because I was thinking about the word ‘teach,’ and how we say students have been ‘taught’. Taught actually means tension, and so it just reminded me how I create tension in almost everything that I do

Redefining teaching helped Zia find his sweet spot between his passion for education and his skills in technology. 

Daphne: When you decided to switch roles or pivot from one career to the next, did you find yourself struggling with a learning curve for each of the jobs that you’ve taken on?

Zia: I think with any new career there’s always a learning curve. There are new skills to acquire and customer needs to adjust to. But there is consistency in what I believe and what my values are. And those have remained the same across the spectrum of jobs I’ve had. And if I let those values drive my beliefs and my actions, then even when there are new things to learn, I’m never actually starting from scratch when I make the pivot. 

Daphne: I think that’s one of the things that a lot of teachers who are listening are struggling with. They’ve been in a profession that they chose as their forever career. For some, it might be their first and only profession. They went through the whole process, took all the steps, thinking this profession was going to be their forever career. They never anticipated feeling that something about it wasn’t right.

For those of us who have actually left the classroom, or have more experienced with a career change, it’s a little bit easier.  For example, I’m more open to change now. I’m not as afraid as I used to be. But many people listening right now haven’t taken that leap yet. So, how did you feel one of the first times you actually switched careers?

Zia: Even when I was an IBM consultant, it didn’t feel like my heart was really in it. I was always thinking about my next career move. When I was a teacher I loved it and truly thought that would be it. 


But when I left, I had to figure out what else a teacher with a very specific skill set could do. So, the questions that I asked myself when I was going through this transition were, “What does it mean to teach? What does it mean to be a teacher?” Suddenly I realized my definition of a teacher, and what I suspect many people’s true definition of a teacher is, is actually much wider than the job description of someone who works in a school building and teaches math or reading to children. 

After I reevaluated and expanded my definition of a teacher, I realized a teacher is somebody who facilitates learning. So, if I can create that tension with somebody, then in some way I’m teaching. Once I embraced and believed that mindset, a whole bunch of paths illuminated in front of me. So instead of flailing around wondering what was next, I had the confidence that I was still a teacher, even if it wasn’t in the way society always thinks of it. 

Daphne: That’s something that so many people struggle with, and I talk about it all the time. I just interviewed a real estate agent and we talked about what that transition period was like for her. Real estate was not her first choice because she felt on paper that it wasn’t going to be intrinsically motivating and wasn’t going to scratch that edge. It was really hard for her to envision herself in that position. Once she opened herself to the opportunity, she realized that there’s actually a learning component to working with first-time home buyers. 

She realized she can bring teaching into almost any environment. And that’s something that I always explain to teachers who are struggling to find that next career that brings those same feelings. It might not look like it on paper, or in a job description, but you’re going to bring your values and morals to whatever position you take. You can always walk away if it doesn’t serve you in the way you want it to. 

Zia shares his core values and discusses how systematic thinking allows him more time and space for what is most important. 

I liked that you talked about choosing careers that are aligned with your core values, so can you tell me some of your specific core values? I’m really interested in hearing that. 

Zia: As part of the training to become a life coach, I had to go through a program where other people coached me and I coached them. We discovered our core values together. And so one of the things that I discovered was really important to me is systematic thinking and figuring out ways to implement that to my life. If I can figure out a way to automate the more routine, less inspiring aspects of my day then my mind can focus on what’s really important. 

It gives me more time to take care of my son, be present in front of my spouse, or reconnect with my parents. Those are more important than cleaning. So we bought a robot vacuum that cleans on a schedule. That’s one less thing that I have to think about. It’s a system that I’ve created. There are so many things in my life like that, but we’d be here forever if I talked about them all. 

Another one of my core values is integrity and doing something that you believe is worth doing. There are people who work so they can go on vacation. And that’s fine for them if that’s one of their core values. I could never do that. I attach a sense of integrity to what I want to put into the world because what I want to create is really important. 

Another core value that came up in that session was self-discipline. It’s about learning how to get into routines that are healthy and productive so I can meet my goals in life. I value having the discipline to find ways to create those habits. So, habit creation is another core value of mine. 

The importance of finding clarity around your passions and core values when you’re considering a new career path (and how to start identifying yours). 

Daphne: I think that people really struggle with this part of the job-hunting journey because there’s a lot of focus on finding something they’re extremely passionate about without having clarity around what their passions are. It involves figuring out who you are as a person and how you integrate into someone else’s corporation or culture. 

One of the best takeaways that I figured out from changing careers was that I’m a people person. I need a mix of social and alone time. I also need autonomy. So, I have to find careers that offer a little bit of each, because if I don’t have autonomy, I will 100% check out because I have that creative part of me that wants to create and own something. 

People who are creative and want to have some sort of creative role assume they have to be something like a graphic designer. The truth is, you could be a corporate trainer too because you get to create presentations and own the design of that presentation. You just have to be open to different options beyond the obvious path. 

Zai: The interesting part about figuring out your values, which is a lot of the work that I do with clients, is that a lot of times when you ask someone, “What are your values?” They’ll readily tell you things that they think are their values, but when we actually do the work of diving into their person’s core values, many of their values are ones they adopted from others. That doesn’t mean that they are one of their core values. 

Simply asking, “What are your values?” is not a good way to figure out what your values are. Think about this: Think about someone you admire. What kind of qualities do you admire in that person? It’s likely that if you’re attracted to someone’s qualities, the things that you appreciate about them are speaking and connecting directly to your core values. 

Another approach is to ask yourself what pisses you off and makes you angry about the world. Then, think about the opposite of that thing. When you get riled up or irritated, it’s an indication that something is messing with your core values. So, if you think about what that thing is, and what the other end of the spectrum of that thing is, oftentimes you find the core value. Those are two ways to start figuring those values out. 

Daphne: So, I feel like I got a little mini life coaching session from you right there because the first words that came to mind regarding the person that I look up to are integrity and doing things ethically. That’s something that’s very important to me and behind everything that I do. And then the second one would be being unapologetic. I want to be in a situation where I feel confident, standing firm on whatever it is. I want to feel confident and own my opinions, as long as I’m being empathetic towards other people’s perspectives. But I want to have that ability to be unapologetic for who I am and what I bring to the table.

Zia: You know yourself best, but I can ask you this: What would 70-year-old Daphne say about those values? Because that can help validate your beliefs. 

No one knows your core values like you do, so you have to do honest work to uncover them. 

Daphne: We barely talked about your work as a coach. One of the reasons I brought you one here is because you’re an expert at asking these types of questions and helping others discover their core values. Can you tell me a little bit about what you’re doing as a life coach and how you help others?

Zia: Coaching is a very special relationship. And when I use the word coaching, I’m talking about it the way that I’ve been trained to coach because there are many people that coach, but give more advice or consulting. What I do is more about the wisdom that you find in the client we’re working with. It’s not like therapy, where there’s a patient, we’re actually a business.

It’s a special relationship in which I create tension and facilitate learning, but I’m not using my own content knowledge to help this person. In fact, one of the very first times I coached, someone came to me with a productivity dilemma that they were having about having too long of a to-do list. While that’s my area of expertise, I wanted to tell them all sorts of books to read and strategies to try, I had to hold my tongue. The end result was so much better than anything that I could have ever told them to do because they worked to get the result and release the tension. 

As a coach, I believe that the client understands themself better than anyone else. If I really am being honest, my opinion of your core values doesn’t matter very much. Many people don’t trust themselves and so part of what I do is teach people to trust themselves and their own wisdom. 

Daphne: The first thing that I always say for teachers considering changing careers is to start to explore changing grade levels because it could just be a grade level issue. If the classroom management of handling a third-grade classroom is a little bit too much for you, maybe sixth grade would be a little fit more with your personality or maybe you have more support from your grade-level team. If not, change schools or districts altogether, because it might be an issue of culture. Maybe you have a toxic administration, or just find a more supportive administration or a school that’s a better fit for you. 

After trying those changes and maybe going to therapy or focusing on self-care, that’s really where you can start to understand whether or not you exhausted all other options within this career. After that, you’ve exhausted your options and you can know that it’s okay to trust yourself and to walk away if you no longer feel like the position is serving you. There are steps to put in place before you make that ultimate decision because nobody wants to leave. It can be a process and a difficult decision to make.

Why you need to let your core values guide you in your career and in life in general. 

Zia: That’s the beautiful thing about figuring out what your core values are. Once you actually figure out what they are, they become anchors to your ship and no matter what you decide to do, you can always look at it through the lens of your core values. There are times when I’ll work with a client who is at a crossroads. Maybe they’re figuring out if they should change jobs or do something different with a relationship in their life. Regardless, once we define their core values, the answer they are looking for becomes incredibly obvious. 

So, for some of your listeners, if they’re feeling those nudges that this might not be the right career for them, I encourage them to get clarity around their core values. Once they do, they can look at another grade level and say, does that work with my core values? I don’t think so. Does this particular school’s culture work with my core values? Well, maybe it does. And maybe that will fulfill me in a way that my current job didn’t. So it’s not always necessarily the profession itself.

Daphne: And sometimes it’s struggling with feeling stagnant and just having a routine that’s the same day after day after day. I think COVID has taught that to a lot of us. I’ve gone a little bit bonkers staying within the same routine day after day. Even without COVID, that stagnation can come about if you feel like you’ve been in a role where you’re not being challenged enough. Maybe you’re using the same curriculum and doing the same thing again and again. You might want to explore opportunities after school to create additional side income or just explore some creative outlets. That might be the puzzle piece that’s been missing that could make you feel more fulfilled. 

Zia: I like what you said about being nutty. That’s really what it takes sometimes to shift perspective, which is another thing I do as a coach because people often get locked into a very narrow view of things without realizing it. So, when you suggest something that’s completely outside of that view, they feel like they could never do it. 

When you start to widen your perspective of what is possible, you realize there are many possibilities. Some may not be feasible and some may not be logistically possible, but the fact is those possibilities are there. And a lot of your listeners probably know about the work of Carol Dweck regarding mindset. She really believes that it’s about not being able to do something yet versus not being able to do it period.

Zia explains some of the common challenges his coaching clients experience and how he helps them find direction, including taking the next step in any transformation. 

Daphne: What other challenges have you seen your coaching clients go through as far as just evaluating their life and where they need direction or validation?

Zia: A lot of my clients are at certain points in their career, whether it’s teaching or something else, where they’re looking to figure out what they want to do next with their career because they’ve gone so long being told what to do by someone else. Now, sometimes we have bosses or customers that we have to tend to and it’s not always possible just to do the thing that we want to do, right? But that’s the question that most of my clients are asking themselves. 

Another thing I often get is people who find that they have certain roadblocks when it comes to getting things done. And I don’t mean managing their tasks or needing a new calendar app to keep track of their responsibilities, but that they have emotional blocks around actually taking the next step on what it is they want to do. If you don’t know what the next step is or what you want to do, it becomes very challenging to take any step at all. 

For example, when my wife and I were seniors in college, she was writing a thesis for her Capstone. I remember she showed me her to-do list one day, and the to-do list said “buy eggs, make bed, do thesis.” I mean, I don’t think those first two are the actual items, but you get the idea. There were like these small things that she needed to get done that she could just do, followed by writing a thesis. That’s a humongous task that requires many micro-steps. Most people look at their next decision as that gigantic step. 

Being realistic with your goals and breaking them up into smaller, more manageable tasks is essential to big accomplishments and transformations. 

So, what I like to focus on is how to change your life in small pieces, because all of those add up to a large transformation. And so, not knowing what to do next is simply a matter of not understanding where your values are and knowing how they fit into the context of your life. So of course you have to figure out your core values, but you also have to figure out what to do with them and how to use them to make decisions that really speak to you. 

I find that when people decide what they need to do next, it’s always something that’s really tiny. If someone came to me saying, “I need to change jobs,” they might leave knowing they want to go talk to such-and-such person or go online and look up three different types of jobs that they might be interested in. And it’s this tiny little thing that they could do in an afternoon. 

That tiny little step moves them much closer to their goal than they would have by sitting there and saying, “I don’t know what to do next. I’m just gonna wait it out until it hits me.” And it might just hit them one day, but that waiting takes a lot longer than sitting down and actually evaluating your desires and letting them guide your decision.

Daphne: Yeah, that’s how I structured the Teacher Career Coach Course. I hate to burst anybody’s bubble, and I wish career transitions from the classroom were easy, but it does take effort and time to figure it out and to take all of the right steps. That’s why I chunk it into bite-sized pieces. And like you said, instead of making your priority to “find a new job,” it starts off with figuring out the next step to take right now, even if it’s three months before you’re thinking of applying. 

It might seem like such a small piece but start by reaching out to three people that you have contacts with, that you know and are inspired by, and just ask them about their job. Feel it out. See if you think it would be a good job fit for you. That’s a really small and easy task that you can get started with months in advance that starts to move you forward toward your new career. Then you will gain more clarity and you can start writing your resume with more purpose and direction to include the necessary skill sets. Looking at a new job as just one big task is huge and overwhelming. 

So, over the past few years, I started to break down my goals to make them more manageable. I have big annual goals and I have quarterly goals, but I break them all down where it’s all very linear. My quarterly goals add up to my overall annual goals. It starts with three small goals per day. And then those goals add up to my weekly and my monthly and my quarterly goals. 

Then I start to realize I put too many goals on my own plate. And I think that that’s something that people who want to be productive and have ownership over their tasks find themselves doing. The next thing you know they are beating themselves up if they’re not able to actually achieve all their goals. But there’s a difference between being productive and being proactive toward your future. Then there’s just putting too much stress on yourself. 

You do have to put realistic, smaller goals in place, but if you find yourself struggling to accomplish them all, scale them back a little bit and realize this process takes time. You have to be realistic. If you want to see a huge change, it might take a year or two of small goals and small processes to see a big transformation. 

Overcoming imposter syndrome. 

Zia: You’ve seen teachers who leave the classroom and start a new career. And they feel like imposters because all they know is being a teacher. Now they’re in this new role where they’re being asked to use technology or whatever it is, and they question their decision or their ability to do it. 

You have to start by realizing that part of what they call imposter syndrome is that you are not appearing as an imposter to anyone but yourself. Most people are thinking about themselves. That feeling is really being an imposter to yourself because it’s not identifying you as the new thing that you’re trying to be. If you start by identifying as the new thing that you want to be even before you are that thing, the road becomes illuminated again and you realize you can do it. 

Daphne: I read this quote and I wish I had the proper person to give credit for the quote. I was something like, “Don’t fake it until you make it; Face it until you make it, and then try again.” You’re going to fail, right? But I hate that idea of faking it until you make it because I think it encourages imposter syndrome. 

Zia: When people fake it until they make it, the only person that feels that it’s “fake” is them. When other people are watching them do it, they don’t think about it being fake. So when people say, “I faked it until I made it,” they are the only ones that really knew or believed that. It makes you wonder how much that belief really holds us back.

Daphne: I think it gives a false sense of the idea that someday you’re going to have it all figured out, which I don’t think anyone really truly does. But if you believe that you will, you might think you know everything that’s going to happen in your future, and you’ll never change. You’ll think you’ve mastered your industry. But that’s never accurate.

Zia: One of my good friends, a great songwriter named Nick Blaemire says, when you make things, you make things better. I like that saying better than fake it till you make it.

Daphne: Yeah, absolutely. That’s the same with careers as well. As an educational consultant, one of the roles that they asked us to do was speak in front of large audiences at national conferences, and while I’m an outgoing person, I was terrified. I don’t know how you felt about your first few experiences with that, but that was a fake it till you make it moment where I got better each time I did it.  Even recording my podcast or filming content makes me a little terrified every time, but I get better every time. 

Zia: Yeah, I used to have a mentor that told me I live in between fear and joy. And that’s the best place to be. I always think about those two words, fear and joy. And I thought that was a really cool way of looking at it. Like if what we’re doing is not scaring us a little bit, then perhaps it means that that’s that we’ve outgrown whatever that thing is. 

Daphne: I love that I haven’t thought about doing something scary on a daily basis. But I do feel like every time I do something scary, I realized that that’s because there’s a big reward at the end of it. And that’s a really great mindset shift to have. 

From your perspective as a life coach, let’s say that there’s somebody who’s listening and all of this is resonating with them; they know that they’re feeling stagnant or know that they’re absolutely miserable. What are the first few things that they can put in their life that can help validate that they should move towards a big scary change?

Zia: I think the very first thing before you do anything else, before you think about changing, before you think about new careers, is you have to quit whatever mindset is holding you back. I often think of fear as holding balloons. Imagine if all the things that are holding you back were to be labeled on little balloons that you’re holding. You have to first acknowledge that you are holding the balloons and acknowledge what that feels like. A lot of what I do in coaching is getting people to stop for a minute and actually feel what it feels like to hold on to those balloons and understand that those balloons are holding on to them as well. 

The next step is figuring out which of these balloons you’re going to let go of. Once you get over the initial hurdle of letting go, you need to admit that you are ready to actually let go and move out. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know how it’s going to pan out or what’s going to happen next. By literally saying, “I’m ready,” you put yourself in a position to move to the next step. And then I think it’s about figuring out what you really stand for and what your core values are and going from there. 

Daphne: You have such a wealth of knowledge and I’ve always really looked up to you as a colleague. I always look forward to having these conversations for my listeners. So, for any of my listeners who want to connect with you, and want to learn from you and grow in their own personal journey, where can they find you?

Zia: My newly launched website is ZiaHassan.Coach. I also have my own podcast, that Daphne convinced me I should finally do after wanting to do it for so long. The podcast is called Gently Down The Stream, and it’s available everywhere. And you can find my coaching services on my website. There’s also a blog and a podcast too. 

I just want to point out that when you coach with me, it’s very focused on the person that I’m working with. So you’re not going to hear me give advice or anything like that. When we do coaching together, you’re going to actually do all the heavy lifting on your own. So I offer different choices for sessions on my site. So there’s general life coaching, which could be any category. There’s productivity coaching and career coaching. Honestly, the skill of coaching can be transferred to any of these domains and I’m offering 50% off a coaching session for your listeners. They can use the code DAPHNE to book a time with me for 50% off. 

It’s usually about an hour-long, but it’s really more about the arc of coaching. We take off and we land the plane at the end. And that whole cycle is what I describe as a session. So, you end up having some kind of insight, some kind of takeaway, some kind of next step that will slowly, slowly over time, build up to large transformations. It’s what I say on my site: small changes, big transformation.

Daphne: I look forward to having you back on as a guest in the future and hearing some of those transformations as you continue to work with your clients. Thank you so much for coming today. I really appreciated having this conversation with you.

Zia: Oh for sure. We could talk for hours and I’m more than happy to come back another time. Thank you for having me.

DON’T MISS THESE RESOURCES

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