Building a Purposeful Career: Coaching for Cultural Workers and Artists

Building a Purposeful Career: Coaching for Cultural Workers and Artists
Image: Chelsea Goding-Doty, Photo Courtesy of Chelsea Goding-Doty

New 4-part coaching package with NYFA Learning’s Chelsea Goding-Doty helps you tackle big career questions and work towards meaningful change.

Do you feel like you could be more fulfilled at your job? Does something need to shift in your career for your work to align with your values and purpose? Or perhaps you’re working through a sensitive work issue and looking to talk to a trustworthy, impartial peer that can help creative problem solve.

NYFA is pleased to announce a new 4-part coaching package, Building a Purposeful Career: Coaching for Cultural Workers and Artists, with new Coach Chelsea Goding-Doty, NYFA Learning Senior Program Officer, Leadership Initiatives, to help you answer these questions and work towards meaningful career changes.

These coaching sessions are especially relevant for mid and senior level cultural workers, but are open to anyone who is grappling with career questions. Read more about Goding-Doty and how she can support cultural workers and artists through the coaching process, below.

New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA): When it comes to leadership, you’ve done a lot of work on both sides: from managing teams at arts organizations such as New York City Center and Gallim to participating in leadership development programs (including NYFA’s!). You’re now managing NYFA Learning’s leadership initiatives for cultural workers. How do these experiences in arts leadership inform your coaching practice?

Chelsea Goding-Doty: In leadership roles, I invest in the people I’m working with to align their personal aspirations with the work that needs to get done, focusing on each person’s learning or advancement as a primary goal. This is also the job of the coach: to offer clients a lens, a container, the time, a brainstorming partner, to pursue meaning in what they’re doing and why. As a leader, I found this approach consistently led to better work results, more creativity, and a higher sense of purpose and vision.

NYFA: As a career coach for cultural workers, arts leaders and artists, you focus on big picture visioning: exploring individuals’ values and life purpose. What does this look like in practice?

CGD: As a coach, I’m being responsive to the unique needs of each person I work with. We’ll draw on a wide array of practices: doing visualizations, brainstorming together, reframing tricky situations with a new perspective, confronting inner critics. The goal is to get really clear on what you want your impact to be and understand who you have to be to see that dream come true. My biggest contribution to my clients is helping them clarify their voice and intention so that there’s no alternative but to act.

NYFA: You describe your approach to coaching as diving into “the why” rather than “the how.” What do you mean by that?

CGD: Yes! This is critical. There are so many ways to build skills, including many amazing programs that NYFA offers. There are certificates, degrees, apprenticeships, you name it. All that training will teach you “the how:” how a skill can be mastered and what best practice looks like. Fantastic! 

What you bring to those courses, and the energy that will animate you through them, is your “Why.” This could be your desired impact, the person you want to be, or what inspired you to do this work in the first place. Having and recognizing your “why” means you can prioritize the self-assigned value in what you’re doing, and that serves as the justification for the choices you make. 

There can be a lot of discomfort if you feel disconnected from your sense of purpose. Sometimes purpose is elusive—it’s in your job description (ie. Passion for the arts preferred), but the day-to-day work isn’t anything like what inspires you. Sometimes purpose wears thin if there’s a lack of dignity in the work or it’s driven by a sense of external expectations. Or if we’re lucky, we get to a place in our careers where our initial reason for taking a job, joining a production, or starting an initiative is fulfilled. Then what? 

These are the instances when coaching is most powerful. What we’re after is not how you might improve your skills. We’re looking to find and move toward your desired impact and a sense of fulfillment.

NYFA: You’ve said you focus on looking and moving forward with coaching clients. Can you describe what you mean by this?

CGD: This is one way to describe the difference between coaching and therapy. In therapy, connections are drawn between how you move in the world in the present and what happened in the past. In coaching, we survey the tools and outlooks you have now to craft a plan for where you’re going. 

Each person enters the coaching dynamic as a fully creative, resourceful, and whole human being. That means they have what they need to achieve everything they want. Some of what they have will be a willingness to explore, an understanding of when they could use new or different perspectives, and/or when a different tool or approach to problem-solving might be useful. That’s the basis of our work together. 

I offer a process to engage another way of thinking, a sounding board, encouragement, and a safe container to fumble through uncertainties. I’m not the expert in my client’s life or work, and I won’t offer the 9 steps to revolutionize their industry. But I will strategize with them towards achieving the scary yet exhilarating goal or change they’re striving for. 

NYFA: What are you able to accomplish with clients in multiple sessions over time?

CGD: By working together for multiple sessions, we build structures of practice and accountability that help a client gain momentum towards accomplishing their goals. Clients and I might assign homework, a challenge, or a question that serves as a theme between sessions. The changes that we’re looking for are usually processual, and clients will apply a new outlook or try a different leadership strategy outside of the coaching hour. Over multiple sessions, we’ll link intermediate actions to big picture goals, course-correct, or add fuel to the fire where they need it.

Let’s say what’s bringing you to coaching is to be a more take-charge leader. We could start by identifying your values, getting to know your Best Self or Leader Within, or find what inner Saboteurs are holding you back. We’ll end with some exercises to do between sessions to quiet any internal doubts to your initiative. In the next session, we may review the discoveries of the week and gain clarity on the next project you want to take charge on, then raise the bar and set a bold challenge to take meaningful action on that project within the next week.

NYFA: Ultimately, what do you hope to achieve with your clients through coaching?

CGD: I want my clients to feel uplifted and ignited with a sense of purpose. My vision is that more people participate in the work of making art, and that coaching becomes a crucial part of that practice, just like we might reach out to a dramaturg, producer, designer, or understudy for a new production. Instead of contributing to a single project, a coach’s focus is directed at what could one day define a retrospective. What are the values you want your entire body of work to convey? Who do you need to be to pursue and attain that bigger dream? What’s meaningful to you for your voice to join the chorus of arts workers who are in process alongside you?

Sign up for a coaching session with Chelsea here.

About Chelsea Goding-Doty:

Chelsea Goding-Doty is an arts administrator, producer, and Co-Active coach who works with women leaders, communities of color, and purpose-driven teams. Goding-Doty is the Senior Program Officer, Leadership Initiatives at New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), where she was previously a consultant and Advisor for the Incubator for Executive Leaders of Color and a participant in the 2014 Emerging Leaders Program.

Most recently, Goding-Doty worked with Kaneza Schaal as Managing Director to produce and tour works of opera and theater. Goding-Doty also served as Managing Director of Gallim, Studio Director of S Factor New York, and Interim Director of Education at New York City Center. She co-founded Harlem Arts Festival (HAF), a multidisciplinary performing and visual arts festival presented annually in Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem, NY, serving as HAF’s Director of Marketing from 2010-2016.

Goding-Doty is an alum of Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival and the Arts and Business Council of New York Multicultural Internship, and holds a BS degree in Arts Administration from Butler University. She is a member of the Creative and Independent Producer Alliance (CIPA) and is pursuing coaching certification through Co-Active Training Institute.

This program is part of NYFA Learning, which includes professional development for artists and arts administrators. Sign up for NYFA’s free bi-weekly newsletter to receive updates on future programs.

Amy Aronoff
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