Career Change: Embracing Your New Identity with Lee Chaix McDonough

August 9, 2019

One of the joys of making a career change is becoming something or someone new. Reinventing ourselves. Letting go of the old and donning on a new hat that more closely aligns with who we are today and how we want to show up in the world.

But this can sometimes be a double-edged sword. As beautiful as it may sound, this evolution, this becoming, can also be daunting. It can be surprisingly challenging to let go of our old, established identities. Even harder is identifying the beliefs we’ve always had about what success looks like or sounds like — and releasing those that no longer serve us.

I know this because this is one of the challenges that tripped me up. Of all the things I expected to be difficult, this wasn’t one of them.

In this episode, I explore this with business coach, author, and fellow podcaster, Lee Chaix McDonough.

Lee Chaix experienced significant transitions in the last few years, not just for herself and her career, but for her family as well. Lee’s husband worked for the United States Air Force as a periodontist for most of his career. He, along with Lee and their 2 kids lived in Germany, where Lee also worked as a therapist, clinical social worker, and public health professional.

In 2015, they felt it was time to leave the Air Force. They decided to move back to the States and for Lee’s husband to start his own dental practice. Lee figured she was going to be the one constant through all the changes and transitions. She initially put her career on the back burner as she helped her family acclimate to their new life.

When it came time to get back to her own professional life, Lee faced a decision of her own. She no longer wanted to work as a therapist. But what should she do next? Ironically, it was watching her husband navigate his own career pivot and experience his own challenges that pointed Lee to her next career move.

Highlights of Episode 106

  • The challenge that goes with transitioning from employee to owning your own business
  • Letting go of the old identity and embracing the new one as you make a career change
  • The 3 Ms (Mindset, Meaning, and Mindfulness), what each one means, and how they show up and influence our careers and personal lives
  • Separating the ‘work’ from the desired results
  • Aligning career choices with our core values

Mentioned in this episode


The Impetus for a Career Change

Lee Chaix McDonough My husband spent most of his career in the United States Air Force. He’s a periodontist, so he’s a dental specialist. In 2015, together we made the decision that it was time for him to leave the Air Force after almost 15 years of service.

We were really ready to move back home. We had been living in Germany for four years. We were stationed at an airbase there, which was a wonderful experience. When we moved there, our two children were two and four and so they basically grew up as little Europeans. Now, it’s 2015 and they’re eight and six. He’s getting out of the Air Force. He’s going to buy a dental practice. We’re moving across the ocean. It was such a huge period of transition for us in so many ways.

It was a huge period of transition for us leaving the military lifestyle behind and going into the civilian world, leaving Europe behind, coming back to the United States. And then also my husband going from being an employee of what is essentially a large corporation — the military — and going into business for himself. And so having to balance the needs of being a clinician and a business owner.

In light of all of that change, I knew that there needed to be some constant in there and that I was going to be that constant. So, I took some time off from my profession, which to that point had been as a psychotherapist. I had been a social worker, a public health professional, and a therapist for about 15 years. I worked for the Air Force at first as a therapist and then as an administrator for community service programs on base.

I made the decision to press pause on the professional piece of my life in order to help with the transition. And I have no regrets about that. I think that was absolutely my full-time job for a while — just getting everyone back to the States and moving forward.

But when we came to the end of that transition period, I’d say about nine months after we moved back to the United States, that’s when I started feeling like it was time for me to return to work.

I knew that mental health was not where I was supposed to be anymore. I loved mental health. I loved serving my clients. I still wanted to serve other people. But I knew that there was something else out there.

I just didn’t know what it was. As we emerged from this transition period, I started feeling like I was being called to do something else. And that was the start of an exploration for me.

Lee’s Inspiration for her Next Career

Lou Blaser So, your husband knew — even before you left Germany — he knew what he was going to do. He didn’t have a period of, “I don’t know what I’m going to do next.” He knew exactly what he was going to do when you got back to the States.

Lee Chaix McDonough He did. I think what he didn’t know — and what he didn’t know that he didn’t know — was how to do it. How to actually go from being a clinician… because when he was in the Air Force, for the most part, all he had to do was see his patients, show up, provide excellent patient care. That was his job. Then when you buy a dental practice, you are not just the dentist. Now you are the owner and you have a staff and there are all sorts of responsibilities that go on, on the backend.

So, he knew that that was what he was going to do. He just didn’t quite know how he was going to do that.

Lou Blaser Was it sort of like a rude awakening? “Oh my God, this is what it means to own a dental practice.”

Lee Chaix McDonough Yes. And truly, that is ultimately what inspired my transition because I was watching him go through this process. I know that he is such a gifted clinician. He is so good at what he does and his patients just adore him. So to know what a fantastic person he is, how good he is at his job, and to see him struggle with the business side of things and really start to doubt himself and have a crisis of confidence as to whether he could make this work. As a spouse that was hard to watch. As a therapist, I’m thinking to myself, okay, there’s some mindset stuff going on here.

I have the tools to help with this. Maybe not my husband. You know, we’ll keep that separate. But I’m sure he’s not the only business owner out there who struggles with this, who on one way feels so competent and ready to take on the world. And on the other hand, they wonder if they have what it takes to even make it work.

That’s when I started thinking, okay, this might be a population I can serve. How do I do that? What would that look like?

I’m very grateful to my husband because he went through a very difficult patch and it wound up becoming the inspiration for my work.

How She Got Started

Lou Blaser Is that what you decided to do then — when you were thinking, “Okay, it’s time for me to take on the next step in my career.” Is that what you decided to do — something around business coaching or something like that?

Lee Chaix McDonough There were a couple of factors that all came into alignment. And to be quite honest with you, I was not familiar with coaching as a profession until I started doing some research and realizing that it’s not necessarily that entrepreneurs and small business owners need therapy. It’s not that they have some sort of dysfunction or diagnosis that they need to be fixed. It’s that they need some inner work and some mindset tools to help them show up more powerfully in their business. And so how can I modify my experience with all of that head-heart stuff and bring it into this space? And so yes, that’s when I started exploring and realizing, “Oh, I can maybe make this work over here in this capacity.” And that’s what led me into coaching.

Lou Blaser So, you did some research first. Then, how did you actually start?

Lee Chaix McDonough I made the decision that I wanted to complete a coach training program in part because I’m one of those people where it’s like I wanted the safety and security of knowing, okay, I’ve been through the training so I can do this. Like those letters after my name, they mean I know what I’m doing, which is a whole other story.

I did some research into coach training programs. Went to one that was accredited through the International Coach Federation. And as I was starting my program, honestly, I just kind of did it. I dove in. I started my business and did my coach training program in the early years of my business concurrently.

It’s kind of funny in hindsight, you don’t know what you don’t know. And I was so naive, I just jumped in and I was like, let’s see, let’s make this work.

The Pivot to a New Identity

Lee Chaix McDonough Quite honestly, I would say for the first six months of my business, I was a therapist wearing a coach mask. I was trying to put myself forward as, as a coach. I was really heavily relying on my identity as a therapist and the mask that I put on. It wasn’t the kind of coach that I’m meant to be. It was the kind of coach I thought I had to be.

I had this impression that in order to be successful I needed to be very corporate, very nuts-and-bolts-and-just-the-facts-ma’am. I don’t know where I got that idea from. I think it was what I was seeing out there.
I knew that coaching had been well-understood and well-respected in the corporate field for decades. So if I was going to make this business work well then I needed to be a corporate coach. I put on the mask of a corporate coach.

I was still kind of working really more like a therapist and I was a hot mess for those first few months of my business until I really decided I need to show up as me. And that’s where things really started to change for me.

Lou Blaser I can relate to what you just said because I came from corporate before I started my business. I came from a long corporate career where I had an identity. I was known for something. Or I presented myself as this particular person. And then even though I was beginning to switch into a different line of work, I still had that persona or that identity hanging around. And it took me forever to just let go of that. Quite honestly, I don’t really know that I’ve let go of it completely. And you don’t always realize that’s what’s happening. I want to go back to that.

Old Beliefs and Pre-conceived Notions

Lou Blaser I wanted to go back to this idea you said earlier, that in the beginning you had some preconceived notions — whether you were aware of them or not — but they were certainly running the show.

Lee Chaix McDonough Absolutely. I think that’s really what it was. I did go in with some preconceived notions. And part of the process of starting a business was actually taking a really long hard look at what I was coming in with — the baggage I was coming in with — and then unpacking that. That was definitely a really important piece of stepping into my role as a business owner.

Lou Blaser I read a statement you had written that I wanted to explore with you. I think this is something that a lot of people who are going through a career change may be thinking about, maybe not consciously, but it’s there. I read that you thought if you were to leave your therapy practice and you were to take on this other venture, that you had better be successful. There’s an implication there. There are lots of sentiments underlying that statement. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about that. What was that mindset about and how did it affect your career transition?

Lee Chaix McDonough That is such a wonderful question because that really was at the root of my first year of business. This belief that if I am leaving the mental health professional, if I’m walking away from this identity that I’ve held on to as a therapist and a social worker and I’m going into business for myself at a time in my family’s development where there’s a lot of transition — I felt this extraordinary pressure to be successful and to make it work.

And so all through that first year, it was, “You got to make this work Lee. You gotta make this work, do what it takes.” And that’s why I put on that corporate mask. That’s why I tried to shapeshift myself into the kind of coach I thought I had to be in order to be successful. And I look back at the decisions I made that first year where I was buying courses and programs that promise to show me the right way to do this.

I don’t regret those decisions. I don’t really believe in mistakes because they really informed how I moved forward. But at the same time, I was spending so much time trying to be what I thought was this perfect coach. And I wasn’t being me. And the reason was that I was scared. I was scared to show up as myself fully as the kind of coach I am because I thought that could not coexist with success.

Ironically, what I’ve discovered now is that the only way to be successful is to show up authentically as yourself. To unapologetically say, this is who I am, this is how I work, this is who I work with, this is what I believe. Those are the guiding principles behind my business. And that’s what sets me apart. That’s what connects me to my clients and to my audience.

But I didn’t know that that first year I really thought that in order to make it work, I had to become something else and I really let fear drive the show. And that was, that was the big evolution for me as a business owner and as a coach.

Lou Blaser I don’t know if this applies to you, but I’ve heard it from other folks who stepped away from a career where they had degrees. They had letters after their name. And then to walk away from that profession into something else, that they were sort of worried or concerned about how they were going to be perceived by their peers in the profession. Almost like, how could you walk away from your degree or your profession?

Lee Chaix McDonough Yes, and I think this is changing in the therapy community, so I do want to say that. But there are a lot of therapists out there who are extraordinarily skeptical of coaching. They look at coaches as unlicensed professionals trying to be therapists.

And so, not only am I leaving behind the therapy community, but I’m going into the very profession that they’re looking at like, “who do these people think they are? They’re trying to take our jobs.” So I absolutely had that collision inside me. I almost felt like I was betraying my first profession, that part of my identity. And that was really scary too.

Mindset Shifts and Addressing Fears

Lou Blaser I can imagine. So, you went through your first few months or first year of transition having this mindset. What, if anything, happened? How did you realize that, okay, this may not be the right way for you to go through this?

Lee Chaix McDonough I realized at the end of the first year of my business that I was working really hard. I was proud of myself, but I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t fulfilled.

I kept thinking, you know, people don’t start businesses to be unhappy, right? They start businesses for the freedom and the flexibility and to really do what they love.

And so, it was at that point where I had to press the reset button and ask myself some questions. What matters to you? What do you love doing? How do you want to show up and how can you take that and go all-in on yourself and make that the heart of your business?

And so I went through a rebranding process where, I mean, if you had seen my first logo, oh my goodness, it was so corporate. It could have been like on the side of a stadium, you know?

And so, it started with, okay, if I need to project the image to the world, of who I really am, not what this is. So, I rebranded. I got really clear on who I wanted to serve, how I wanted it to serve them, and I gave myself permission to start over.

I knew I wasn’t starting from scratch because I had learned so much in that first year. But I really moved away from this idea of I have to make it work — that fear mentality — into the mindset of “Let’s treat this like an experiment. Let’s try some things and see what works. And if something doesn’t work, let’s see what we can tweak.”

And in doing so, I created some space between the outcome that I wanted, you know, I must be a success. I have to be successful. It was like, no, no, no. Let’s not focus on the end result. Let’s focus on the journey.

Let’s bring a little joy back into this, a little creativity and treat it like a grand experiment. And the minute I did that, that was the mindset shift for me that propelled me forward and it felt much more fun and less life or death.

Lou Blaser I love this, Lee. I was actually talking about this on Instagram, which is lately my preferred social media platform. This idea of showing up as the goal or doing the work is the goal and not the result of the work. Almost exactly like what you said. Separating the doing from the result or your desired result. I’ve been talking about this because this is a challenge for me. Because again, coming from a corporate life where you’re supposed to be results-oriented, right? This is how you’re measured. What’s the result of your effort basically. And so it’s been very challenging for me to separate the two.

Lee Chaix McDonough Yes. And I think too, in our society we really tie what we do with who we are. I mean, think about the questions we ask children. What do you want to be when you grow up? Well, we want to know the profession they want to perform. We’re not asking them how they want to be. We’re asking them really what they want to do. So from a very young age, we’ve connected the sense of who we are with what we do or what we produce. And that’s dangerous because then all of a sudden we define ourselves by our productivity, by our work. That can be a part of us, but it doesn’t have to be all of us. And it’s this idea of moving away from doing into being and understanding that simply by being you, that is enough and that that can then anchor the work that you do in the world.

Lou Blaser This is a funny question, but what did you do with all the fears that you had that were driving you to act one way? Were you working with a coach to help you out or were you just employing other techniques to overcome those or put look at them differently?

Lee Chaix McDonough Great question. I was doing both. I was absolutely working with the coach. I think particularly for coaches, it’s really important that they have their own coach. I think that’s part of living in integrity and learning. But I was also doing a lot of inner work and I think what I really want people to know when it comes to fear is that the point is not to get rid of it. In fact, I think if we focus on trying to get rid of fear, we’re setting ourselves up for an impossible goal. Because the fear will be there.

We are hardwired to have that fear to motivate us to stay safe. And when you’re starting a business, when you’re starting a podcast, when you’re putting yourself out there and being visible, you’re becoming vulnerable. And so, the mind says, “Vulnerable, not safe. Reel it back in. It’s going to do everything it can to bring you back into the safety of, of the herd. Don’t stand out, don’t be big. Don’t be brave. You’re going to put yourself at risk.”

And that’s where the fear comes in. The fear is very motivating to bring us back in. And that’s where we have to be really clear with ourselves about what we want and have a conversation with fear and say, “Look, I get it. I know that you want me to be safe, that I don’t need to be safe right now. I need to be bold. I need to go out there. I need to be big. And so this isn’t serving me right now. What I need more of is courage.”

So for me, it’s very much about acknowledging the fear, having a conversation with it, allowing it to be part of the process, but not letting it drive the car. It’s not navigating, it’s not driving, it’s like in the trunk, you know, it’s coming along. But what I want to guide me is intuition, courage, and connection. That’s what I think it’s exciting to build a business around.

Lou Blaser So today your work is as a coach for business folks. Is that what you do today?

Lee Chaix McDonough I am a business coach for helpers, healers, and intuitive entrepreneurs. So I really love working with entrepreneurs who want to connect what they do with who they are. For me, that’s almost spiritual.

When we can allow our authentic selves to shine through in the work that we do, then it’s not just a job, it’s, it’s a living, it’s a lifestyle. I think because of my background as a therapist, I attract a lot of therapists and coaches, a lot of helpers and healers and spiritual entrepreneurs who want to be successful, want to be profitable, but not at the expense of their values, of what matters most to them.

And so that’s who I love working with and I find it tends to be a lot of mindset work, really diving into the limiting beliefs that have held us back and kept us stuck. And then marrying that with the practical of figuring out, okay, if this is what you want, how can you achieve that? What can we do to actually create those gains in your business and in your life? So it’s not an either-or. It’s not inner or outer, it’s both. And that that’s what we really blend together in, in the coaching relationship.

The 3 Ms: Mindset, Meaning and Mindfulness

Lou Blaser I read that you use the three Ms — mindset, meaning and mindfulness — in your practice.
There’s a lot of conversation and material out there about the importance of mindset. Obviously, whatever it is that we’re doing, even starting a podcast, for example. Starting this podcast had me working on my mindset because I had a lot of limiting beliefs about my ability to host and produce a podcast. So mindset is obviously a critical area for us to address or take care of whenever we’re stretching ourselves.

Could you talk a little bit about meaning and mindfulness? Because those two words are common in a sense and yet I want to make sure that we are looking at them a fresh set of eyes and not making assumptions about what they mean.

Lee Chaix McDonough Yes, you’re absolutely right. And I think we could do that with mindset too. The three M’s are really at the heart of my work. I wrote a book about them called “Act on Your Business”. And we go into what each of the three M’s is and how they show up in your work and in your life.

So when I talk about Meaning, we’re really talking about the values that drive your work and your life. If I were to ask you, at the very end of your life, what do you want to be known for? How do you want to be remembered? When people talk about you, what stories are they telling that bring a smile to their face? I think when we can view it like that, all of a sudden it becomes really clear what matters most to us.

For me, my four deep values are Service, Joy, Connection, and Love. And if everything I can do — work, life, relationships, health, you name it — if I can tie them into those values, then I know that I’m living with purpose and I know what my meaning is and then I can make decisions rooted in those values. So that’s the other piece of meaning. It’s great to know what’s important to you. Then it’s how do you integrate that into what you do. But just like we talked about before, I think sometimes we start with doing and then worry about being, Meaning asks you to do the opposite. It asks you to be really clear about who you are, what matters to you, and then allow that to inform what you do. So that’s, that’s how I like to view Meaning.

The second M – Mindset. I know we’ve talked a lot about that, but how I like to view it is the way we relate to our thoughts and our emotions. So the way we view those, that internal experience and then how that shapes our view of the, of the world around us, our external experience.

And then Mindfulness. That’s a huge buzzword now. I mean, everyone’s talking about mindfulness and I suspect many of us have that idea in our head that mindfulness means like sitting in the lotus position with your eyes closed, on a mountain top row. So we equate mindfulness with meditation a lot. And meditation can be a form of mindfulness. It’s part of my practice.

But mindfulness, at its heart, is merely being present in the moment without judgment so that we are aware of what’s going on right here right now and we are not making any sort of judgment on it. We’re allowing it to be. So, we’re observing it from a neutral perspective, we’re engaged and we’re able to really connect with ourselves and with the other, person or people at the moment. That’s what being mindful is. It’s being present and fully aware of objectively and without judgment at the moment.

Lou Blaser That last point I think is going to be very helpful for me personally as I continue this work that I mentioned earlier about separating my work from the results. Because if I am focusing on the results, it feels like I’m not being present. Because I’m doing this, but I’m already anticipating what could or could not happen five months from now or five days from now. So I’m focusing on what might happen as opposed to what is happening, what is currently going on.

Lee Chaix McDonough And you really got to the crux of it because when we are not being mindful, when we’re not in the present moment, then we’re either in the future of the past. We’re either thinking about what has already happened and ruminating and Oh, why didn’t I do this better or I should have done that. Or we are projecting into the future and getting anxious about what hasn’t even happened yet. And so when we are not mindful, we’re either backwards or forwards. We’re not now. And mindfulness helps recalibrate all of that and brings us back into the present moment.

Lou Blaser I just realized something. I think I am pretty good at not worrying about what had happened in the past. So I think I’m good with that. I don’t spend too much time on like the mistakes or whatever happened. I am more about what will or will not happen, what might or might not happen tomorrow, or next month.

Lee Chaix McDonough I think you are in good company. And I think this is something that entrepreneurs, in general, tend to do. Most entrepreneurs I know don’t spend a lot of time ruminating over the past. What’s done is done. If it went well, great. If it didn’t go well, we’ll learn from it and keep moving forward.

But then they keep moving forward into the future and it’s always what’s next and what’s out there and what should I be doing. I think that’s the shadow side of having all of that really wonderful opportunity energy because entrepreneurs can find opportunities like no one else. We see what’s possible and we want to create it. And that’s so exciting. And that’s what makes us visionaries.

But at the same time, if we’re not careful, we can get so caught up in what’s possible that we fail to see what is right now in the moment. A lot of coaching is finding that balance between how do you hold fast to your vision, how can you be clear on what you want and yet also remain present in the moment. And that’s a balancing act.

Lou Blaser Exactly. Out of curiosity, when you were talking about your values earlier, I was just wondering how quickly or how easy it was for you to identify that those were your values. Did you know right away that those were the most important things that drove you? Or did it take you a bit of exercise or a bit of a probing or self-introspection or introspection to realize them?

Lee Chaix McDonough It absolutely did. I think the Service one, I’ve always known that ever since I was very young. I was very much concerned about other people on how to help others. That, that helping energy. I became a therapist for Pete’s sake. So it made sense. So Service has really been a core value.

The other ones took a little more time to understand and how they were showing up in my life. And in the book, I have some exercises that people can go through to really get some clarification on what matters to them.

If you’re unsure, I would say that the first thing to do is really look at the times in your life that have brought you the greatest joy. What were you doing and what does that tell you about what really mattered to you at that moment?

You know, if you were skydiving into the Grand Canyon, then I’m going to make the assumption that adventure and freedom are probably core values for you. If the favorite moment is snuggling with your kids under a blanket. And watching a movie, then maybe I’m going to assume family and love are core values for you.

So I think when we can think about the times that we have felt just true joy, that really gives us a clue into what’s important to us.

Then the flip side of that is when we think about the times that we were really angry when a button has been pushed, when, when we feel like we need to be defensive, that button that was pushed, there’s a value behind it. And so a lot of times when we think about what really makes us mad, that can tell us a lot about what matters most to us as well. So really kind of getting, getting diving a little deeper on those moments can help clarify our core value.

Lou Blaser I’ve been doing work with some other group of women who are doing what we’re calling brave work. And one of the things that we’re tackling is this idea that sometimes what we truly value or what we truly want is something that we are denying ourselves. So it’s almost like, to your point, if you’re looking at what gives you joy and then you identify something and you’re like, I don’t want people to think that that’s what I want or that’s what drives me. And so we sort of like deny that part of us.

Lee Chaix McDonough Yes. It’s almost like we question if we’re worthy of it. And then also if we have it, does that mean someone else doesn’t. It’s this idea that if, if my light shines bright, does that dim the light of others? You’re speaking my language. That is something that I’ve been working on hardcore in my life.

This idea that it is safe for me to share my message on a broader stage without it hurting other people. That when our light shines bright, then it shines on all. And so it is okay to seek joy and live joy and spread joy that we are, we, it’s our birthright, you know, and we can use all of that for good and bring everyone up with us.

Book Recommendations

Lou Blaser Tell us again the name of your book.

Lee Chaix McDonough It’s called Act on Your Business: Braving the storms of entrepreneurship and creating success through meaning mindset and mindfulness.

Lou Blaser That’s going to get added to my kindle immediately. So then, is there, in addition to that, is there another book that you could recommend to us?

Lee Chaix McDonough Yes. I am a huge reader and I will tell you, there’s been a book that’s been on my Kindle for years. I bought it a while ago and I just never read it. I read it last month and then was kicking myself for not having read it years ago. It was The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks.
I found the Big Leap to be just one of those books that really got me thinking about success and how we hold ourselves back from it in a completely different way. And the idea that many of us are working in our zone of excellence and it’s fear that’s keeping us from moving into our zone of genius. And that upper limit problem when we’re not able to break through that upper limit into the next level was just such a fascinating concept to me. And I was able to look back in my own life and look at my life right now and say, okay, how am I holding myself back? Where do I have an upper limit problem?

So The Big Leap was just one of those books that took a lot of what I think I knew already and just put it into this process that made so much sense to me. I recommend that to anyone who’s ready to kind of up-level in their life.

Lou Blaser I’ve read that many years ago, but you know how sometimes you reread a book and it hits you differently because you’re in a different stage or in a different sort of way of thinking. So I think it’s time for me to pick that book up again. Thank you so much, Lee. I love this conversation for all kinds of different reasons.

Lee Chaix McDonough Oh, me too. This has been so much fun. Thank you for having me on as a guest.


This episode is brought to you by AndThriving. AndThriving is a professional network with a mission to support people who are making a pivot or finding new career paths and want to thrive in their chosen field of work. Members get access to mentoring, tools & resources, and a platform for building professional connections that help them transition to their chosen careers.


Subscribe to Second Breaks

or search for “second breaks” wherever you listen to podcasts.
*Amazon Affiliate Link


Master your craft or learn something new with creative classes taught by the world's best. Answer your calling and start for free.

The world of work is changing. Stay smart about it.