2015 Goal Setting Step 1: Take a Nap! (Free Recording)

Child sleeping below 2015 fireworks. Text reads: Want your career to explode in 2015? Step 1: Take a Nap

“A high level of velocity is impossible without refueling.” – Charisse Sisou

How has 2014 been for you? Did you accomplish what you wanted to in your career? In your life? Do the goals you set last January still resonate?

Have you been comparing your daily process to other people’s highlights reel?

Perhaps the year was a fantastic success and you’re wondering, “Now what?”

How do you know when it’s time to pull back and gather your resources and when it’s time for a big push? What should you do if your ego and your body/gut are giving you competing messages?


A New Year’s gift for you… 

For a couple of years, I’ve been buddy coaching with my close friend, Charisse Sisou, Chief Shimmy Officer at ClaimYourFeminine.com. As we approach our third New Year’s planning session and our second year of weekly and quarterly check-ins, we sat down and talked about how we’re approaching our goals for 2015.
In a world that is focused on constant output, we’ve learned the necessity of replenishment, time for honoring awkward growth phases, and planned self-care. The result of our pre-planning call was a conversation we wish we’d had years ago. So we recorded it to share with our inner circle.

(Hint: The ebbs and flows of productivity and replenishment we discuss regarding entrepreneurship are directly correlated to career goals. In an environment ripe with contracting, consulting, and short tenures, employees are smart to view their career strategies through an entrepreneurial lens.)

I almost didn’t share this conversation with you because it gets personal! But, I decided to walk my talk and bring my whole self to the table. The recording is your gift when you sign up for my newsletter here.


Key concepts from our talk include:


“A high level of velocity is impossible without refueling. You must gather your forces for that next outpouring.” – Charisse

“The stories we tell ourselves about who we are and what we’re doing change our reality.” – Kim

“That pregnant pause, that stillness where we’re gathering our strength and our energy, gathering our tribe and our internal forces is required to take that step forward outside of our comfort zone.” – Charisse

“There’s a missing step in the hero’s journey. You realize your truth and then you have this lonely walk back down the mountain, back to your village and nobody gets what you’re trying to do.” – Kim


To get the recording, just sign up here for my newsletter and get your career storytelling game on for 2015!

December 17, 2014 at 1:13 pm Leave a comment

ONCE UPON A RESUME: Expressing Depth and Impact in a Fast-Moving Marketing Career

Once_Upon_a_Resume_2_EXPRESSING_DEPTH_AND_IMPACT_IN_A_FAST-MOVING_MARKETING_CAREER_Movin_On_Up_ResumesMarketing executives don’t tend to last very long (45 months on average as of 2014, which is nearly double that of the 2006 numbers). Still, Nancy felt insecure about her early career, in which she’d changed jobs frequently due to her family situation.

What she had going for her was decent-length tenures at her last two companies, a list of iconic employers, and fresh strategies that yielded significant business results.

I wanted Nancy’s strongest assets to be expressed on the first page. Her top accomplishments, awards, and a career overview—a way to introduce those big names and her impact without the dates. Her most important accomplishments from her current role are enough for the reader to know that they’d like to meet her.

We chose to use CAR (challenge, action, results) stories to give a sense of her truly unique, far-reaching approaches to strengthen her brands. This gave depth to her recent roles. Since the critical information was covered on the first page, I felt comfortable that if the reader continued, they’d like the detail that three pages allowed. Still, I used descriptive headings and bolded bullets for easy scanning on a first read through.

Two callout boxes with testimonials allow the reader to hear Nancy’s work described in glowing terms by her current manager. Graphs make it easy to understand her financial and leadership impact at a glance.

Nancy’s early short tenures are summarized in an “Early Career” category, allowing her to reap the benefits of the experience without revealing the dates.

Result: Nancy used her documents to land a role as director of beauty products brand marketing for a $120B+ retail drug store and pharmaceutical company.

Once Upon a Resume is an ongoing series of case studies of real clients who’ve benefitted from a storytelling approach to their career documents. For more information, visit our contact page or call us at 312-566-8383.

December 12, 2014 at 3:39 am Leave a comment

ONCE UPON A RESUME: Career Changer Goes for the Gold

Once_Upon_A_Resume_1_Career_Changer_Goes_for_the_Gold_MovinOnUpResumesMaria was an over-achiever who’d already excelled as a global sales director, restaurateur, and timeshare salesperson. With a head for numbers and a track record of success with acquisition and retention of high-end clients, she felt called to her next challenge: becoming a full-service, series 7 broker to high-net-worth families.

After having a frank conversation about the prospects of a woman in her late career starting fresh in the insular, male-dominated world of finance (and preparing a real estate resume to cover her own financial bases), we got to work pursuing Maria’s dream job.

While I let her know that finance resumes are generally conservative, Maria insisted that conservative just wasn’t her style. So we jazzed things up with some green and gold (for money!). Quotes from long-term, high-net-worth timeshare clients speak to her relationship and account management skills. Graphs, a callout box, and descriptive headings highlight her sales and leadership skills. A Wall St./Main St. logo points to the commercial knowledge she brings to the world of investments while the Henry Ford quote emphasizes her willingness to do whatever it takes to succeed.


Once Upon a Resume is an ongoing series of case studies of real clients who’ve benefitted from a storytelling approach to their career documents. For more information, visit our contact page or call us at 312-566-8383.

December 11, 2014 at 1:29 pm Leave a comment

Being Authentic in Work and Job Search: Are You Made Out of Ticky Tacky?

Ancient statue missing pieces.And there’s doctors and lawyers,
And business executives,
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky,
And they all look just the same.

– From the song Little Boxes by Malvina Reynolds, made famous by Pete Seeger

Which part of you do you take to work?

After I returned to California from backpacking through India and finishing my novel, I got a job doing transportation sales for Mayflower. A couple of months into my new role, I showed up at the address in an affluent La Jolla neighborhood where I was expected to do an estimate and a sales presentation. As it turns out, I closed the sale and got a literary agent.

More on that in a bit. First, I’m wondering…

Is it your left elbow that meets with clients? Your hands that draft reports? Perhaps it’s your mouth that hangs out in the break room, getting coffee and snacks—or, if you work at Google, a bit of kombucha on tap?

There are definitely parts that don’t belong, right? Feet are too stinky, noses too gooey and hairy, and for goodness’ sake, keep the breasts, butt, and genitals out of the picture!

What about creativity? Your love of hiking? Your side gig as an alt rock DJ? The skeins of handspun alpaca yarn you work while watching Doctor Who reruns? Your ethnicity, religion, and sexual orientation? What role do they play in the office or in your job search?

As ridiculous as it sounds to cut off parts of your body before you begin your morning commute, we have come to think it’s normal to keep the more subtle parts of ourselves separate. In fact, a Reuters survey found that 75% of people are hiding a major part of themselves at work.

But if you’re still hiding, you’re missing the boat.

Today, the trend is moving away from individuals packaging themselves into “professionals.” (These are air quotes, by the way, intended to represent the idea of the professional versus the actual thing: someone whole and authentic, who brings all of their talents and personality to the task at hand.)

The most forward-looking companies these days are humanizing business. They’re telling the stories of their customers, their team, and their brand. 21st Century businesses are hiring and promoting dynamic people who are courageous enough to bring their whole selves to the table.

I’ve been telling this to my clients for years. I won’t write a resume without a two-hour intake that allows us to meander in and out of “professional” territory. It’s taken courage on the part of my clients to embrace this approach, but it’s always paid off when they have.

There was the construction manager who earned the tagline “The MacGyver of Construction” because he used his creativity to save money, improve quality, and meet stringent building codes, all with a bit of the proverbial “chewing gum.”

Or there was the finance communications specialist who had been made strong by navigating a violent marriage and a divorce that involved cross-border theft and the holding hostage of her beloved pets. She was a person who could help investors see that challenging, high-risk situations could be transformed into opportunity. Oh, and she’d also awakened her Kundalini energy along the way, which she turned into a way to shrewdly vet appropriate business partners and opportunities—something she was known for.

One of my favorites was a stay-at-home mom of 14 years whose rise to the elite ranks of amateur dance skaters proved her dedication, capacity to learn, and youthful exuberance. Her ability to capture corporate sponsors for her sport also emphasized her ties to local business.

I’m sharing these stories to inspire you to bring your whole self to your work and your job search. Each of the clients I’ve mentioned has been able to land the job of their dreams against all odds. Each one has also been able to gently push the boundaries of their comfort zones.

Not ready to reveal your ice dancing avocation just yet? That’s all right. Just consider it, and try to emphasize the assets it represents.

I also have a more personal reason for sharing this approach. While I’ve been encouraging my clients to bring their whole selves to the table, I’ve been on that journey myself. My post about changing my name, for example, has brought me more clients than any of my more tactical writings.

The more I practice being holistic in my business and in my clients’ communications, the more I see that it really works. This shouldn’t be a surprise to me. After all, there’s the way I met my literary agent.

Here’s the rest of the story that began this post.

A dreadlocked black man, about my father’s age and wearing a nice track suit, met me at the door and introduced himself as Quincy. Upon entering, I felt like Alice in Wonderland. The walls of his house were adorned with the most colorful, soulful artwork. I drank it in and remarked on it with a sense of wonder. Quincy informed me that his wife Margaret was an art dealer who specialized in folk art.

On the second and third floors—it was quite a vertical house, being built on a hillside and all—I noticed massive amounts of books. And delicious books they were, of poetry and art and literature. These people lived in a library. I was making note of the furniture and the number of books, preparing the estimate to the beat of the rap music coming from their teenage son’s bedroom. As I came upon yet another pregnant bookshelf, bending in the middle with the weight of creation, I noticed several copies of the same book. It was an autobiography of Miles Davis, as told to Quincy Troupe.

“Is this you?” I asked. “Are you Quincy Troupe?” In answer, he smiled and flashed me a sheepish eye sparkle. In an instant, the pieces fell into place for me. Yes, I’d heard this professor and California poet laureate reciting his poetry on the local public radio station. I remembered one in particular about Michael Jordan, flying through the air. I quoted his work back to him:

“’Michael Jordan hangs like an icon, suspended in space, his eyes two radar screens screwed like nails into the mask of his face.’ That’s you, right? You wrote that?”

“That’s right,” he said, flashing me another boyish smile.

“I’m a writer too,” I said, hardly able to believe the words had come out of my mouth. Who was I to call myself a writer in front of this poet laureate, this man who was supposed to be my customer? I was there to help him move his family’s beautiful artwork and extensive library 3,000 miles from La Jolla to their Harlem brownstone. But there it was, in the air. I had brought my whole self to this work and offered it up.

Quincy didn’t leave me much time to question my decision. He immediately showed interest. “What do you write?” he asked. I told him about my novel, Buddha in the Pap Pap Chair. He said I should send a few chapters to his wife, and that she was a literary agent as well as an art dealer. Margaret, with her warm smile, her own head of dreads, and her ever-present pot of fresh mint tea, proved to be just as warm, interesting, and interested as Quincy, and I soon found myself with an agent.

While my book never “made it,” The Dreadlocked Couple, as I affectionately thought of them, had taught me a precious lesson. They’d proven once again that opportunities open up when you bring your whole self to the table. By allowing myself to be captivated by the Troupes’ beautiful home, by paying attention to the things I love—in this case art, books and people—and by being vulnerable enough to describe myself as a writer, I was given this opportunity.

Is there a small way you can open yourself up like this at work or in your job search today?

December 4, 2014 at 9:29 am Leave a comment

Vulnerability + Storytelling = A Great Bio

Want a great bio? Be vulnerable.

Want a great bio? Be vulnerable.

Is there a part of your life story that you usually don’t share? It might be the basis for a jaw-dropping bio.

If you want to do business in today’s world, you’ll need some form of a bio for your LinkedIn profile, personal or corporate website, artist statement, or even your speaker one-sheet.

Great bios use the power of story and vulnerability to create a shared, meaningful experience with your audience. Telling a story of vulnerability is a powerful way to show people—rather than tell them—the unique value that only you can bring to the table.

Brené Brown, author of Daring Greatly, says “Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”

Being vulnerable does, indeed, allow us to shine our lights, to become beacons for those who would join our tribe. But being vulnerable is scary.

I recently worked with a client who was a renowned music industry executive. I’ve changed his name and other details to protect his privacy.

“Jackson” made buckets of money for himself and his employers and had a network of hundreds of celebrities. My client’s successes were indisputable, almost intimidating, and that was what he was comfortable with. The culture he was a part of, the New York and Los Angeles glitterati, was all about image.

But his beginnings were more humble. He was from a small Texas town. His first job in the record industry was selling urban music. So, here was this white guy from the country trying to sell rap and R&B. But for Jackson, those sales were more than a numbers game. He was entering a whole new world. Curious and genuinely wanting to understand his end customer, he started spending time with the artists and their fans. He earned their respect, learned the market like the back of his hand, outsold everyone in his company, and was president of a major division within a few years.

Jackson was hesitant at first to talk so openly about his roots. But once he understood that being vulnerable would help people truly experience his high level of integrity, work ethic, and down-to-earth nature, he took the plunge. We began his bio like this:

“How does a guy from Harmony, TX (population 1,179) end up as a high-level executive building 8-figure businesses for the world’s most iconic music companies?”

Do you think people wanted to hear the rest? You bet!

Iterations of my own bio include a novel I wrote that secured me an agent, but went unpublished. This “failure” explains that I’m an excellent creative writer (it’s not easy to get a literary agent). Paired with my sales management background and design skills, it makes a strong case for me as a triple-threat branding expert for my entrepreneur and job-seeker clients.

Think of something you don’t usually share publicly, but that says a lot about who you are.

If you can let your guard down and give the gift of that story to your audience, they will know without a doubt how very special you are.

After all that, if you’re still worried about what people will think, remember that not everyone is a member of your tribe. Consider this other quote from Brené Brown:

“Don’t try to win over the haters; you are not a jackass whisperer.”

If you’d like to learn how to build a brand that is powerful in its vulnerability, one that propels you towards your personal, professional, and financial dreams, I invite you to get in touch!

Kimberly Robb Baker



September 1, 2014 at 10:56 am Leave a comment

Idea to Neutralize Job Search Fear

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/batram/

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/batram/

I spoke with an IT client today who was worried that, with her broad-based background, she would be perceived as a “Jacquelyn of all trades.”

In almost every job search, or life transition of any kind, the fears start rearing their ugly heads.

As you think about your career, what are you afraid of?

Do you fear that you are too old; too young; the wrong sex, race, religion, or body type to succeed?

Do you fear you won’t make enough money? That you’ll get hired and be discovered for the “fraud” that you are?

Here’s an idea:
What if the opposite was true?
What if your destiny is to be right where you are, riding the updrafts of every bit of your life that led you here? What if this is your time to shine? And what if tomorrow and tomorrow and then next day are too? What if failure is or was a necessary path to your success?
Napoleon Hill tells a story about a man who gave up on his gold mine just feet before striking rich. He sold his claim only to watch the next owner become extremely wealthy. But that man went on to be a great success in the insurance business. He always remembered that fear had made him stop just before the big payoff, so he spent the rest of his life moving forward as if the opposite of his fears were true.
Is there room in this idea for practicality? Aren’t there times, after all, when you’ve fought the good fight and it’s time to refocus your energy? Yes, of course. But I would suggest that those decisions are made from a place of reason and love.
In my experience, when fear is involved, it is an indication that the thing you fear is the key to your success.
As for my IT executive, I assured her that once we neutralized the possible fear of employers that her knowledge was broad, but not deep, the wealth of her experience would be seen as a boon. We’ll use some business cases to demonstrate the extent of her understanding and strategy. Then her knowledge of multiple industries from software development, automation, and business analyst viewpoints will indeed become a strength.
So, what is your fear? Imagine for a moment that the opposite is true.

June 23, 2014 at 4:48 pm Leave a comment

Written in Black & White: A Discussion of Race & Social Justice from a Biracial Counselor’s Perspective

cliff flamer

“Colorblindness is not only impossible; it’s unethical.” – Cliff Flamer

Note from Kim:

My 5-year-old son has come home from school telling me that his Indian friends say he’s not a “real Indian.” My sister-in-law has taken my 3-year-old daughter to Indian parties to hear the guests announce loudly, “Who’s that white girl?”

While I’m “white” (German, French, English, Irish, Scottish, and Cherokee to be exact) and my husband is Indian (as in, from India–Hyderabad to be exact), our children came out looking pretty light. People who don’t know them assume that they’re white, and in doing so they miss out on much of who they are.

The piece below, written by my colleague Cliff Flamer, struck a chord in me. In work, as in life, we owe it to each other to not make assumptions, to let each person define themselves. Certainly, our workplaces will be enriched if we encourage employees to bring their whole selves to the table. That’s the kind of world I’d like for my children.

Cliff’s bio is at the end, and you can reach him on his company’s Facebook page.

Written in Black & White: A Discussion of Race & Social Justice from a Biracial Counselor’s Perspective

by Cliff Flamer (Originally published in Career Planning and Adult Development Journal, Vol. 21, No. 4)

In a public high school in suburban Connecticut, it’s a novelty.

“Why’s he wearing those clothes?”

“It’s cool. He’s actually part Black.”

In a public bathroom amidst a circle of leather-clad teenagers, it’s a threat.

“What, you think you’re Black or something?”

At a jazz show in Harlem it’s a challenge.

“This is your father? Your real father?

On the side of the road in South Carolina in the presence of a state trooper who’s letting me go with a warning, it’s a secret.

“You have a nice day, son.”

Around the cafeteria table on a small college campus in Boston, it’s access.

“Homeboy must be lost.”

“It’s cool. I know him.”

At a restaurant in San Francisco, it’s a cool party trick.

“I’m black.”

“No you’re not.”

“No. Really. I’m half black.”

In my counseling office at a San Mateo community college internship, it’s all of these things.

When I ask clients to guess what ethnicity I am, I get all kinds of answers—Mexican, Hawaiian, Puerto Rican, Italian, Greek, Native American, Latin,  and of course White. But never Black. And never half Black.

With my stick straight hair alongside my slow pace, relaxed enunciation, and laid back demeanor, my medium dark complexion loses its ethnic power and becomes nothing more than the perfect tan on a White guy who probably surfs a lot. Like most multi-racial individuals, my heritage (Scandinavian and African-American) hides within me and unless I find myself confronted with those demanding check boxes on an application form, I usually don’t find reason to bring it up.

Maria Root (1996) introduced a model to address the complex identity issues of multiracial people. Within this model she offers the possibility that a multiracial individual may experience a shift from one identity to another according to the situation he’s experiencing. From a personal standpoint, the result of such oscillation is not only a lack of a singular and continuous identity but also a resentment towards the widespread acceptance of categorizing individuals by one and only one race.

Like most biracial people, my life has been all about shifting between identities. As a child, I grew up with black culture all around me, culminating in big family holiday gatherings at grandma’s house with candied yams and collard greens. Despite my lighter skin and “good” hair, I identified more with the Black side of my family, if for no other reason than that they were geographically closer than the White side. (My closest Norwegian-American relatives lived 2,000 miles away in Montana and North Dakota). But in grade school, there wasn’t a Black kid to be found (besides me) so I became just another White boy in Connecticut—equipped with all the privileges to which White people become accustomed. Peggy McIntosh (1988) refers to this compilation of unearned privileges as the “invisible knapsack.” So while I had all this wonderful Black culture pouring into me through my father’s extended family, I was simultaneously and unknowingly acquiring a sense of entitlement, belonging, and advantage as a member of the dominant White culture.

One aspect of being biracial that’s particularly irritating to people with definitively dark skin is that I have the “choice” as to whether or not to reveal my secret depending on the context of the situation (Tatum, 1997). In other words, when I get pulled over by a cop or when I’m buying my Gatorade at the corner store, I have the ability to keep my race hidden so as to maintain the advantage of being perceived as White or, perhaps more to the point, not Black. While I admit this choice protects me from the oppression of racism, there is a drawback to the power of choice. In not appearing Black, I’ve encountered numerous racists, in the most true and ugly sense of the word, most of them my friends and acquaintances. Especially during my formative years, I swallowed their slurs, telling myself “they didn’t really mean it”, while secretly battling the idea that I should end the relationship. I thought I could handle it. I thought I was letting those comments slide off my back, but they chipped away at me. I internalized that racism against Blacks, against that part of myself.

At 10 years old, two events changed the course of my identity development. My grandmother died and my parents got divorced. As a result, I lost touch with my father and his entire side of the family, all but stripping me of my Black culture. Without the usual visits to grandma’s house or my dad’s presence in the PTA and after-school soccer games, I began to view myself as simply White and conveniently had this perspective reinforced by my peers, teachers, and anyone else with which I came into contact.

My Black blood passed silently through my veins, that is, until I absolutely had to breach the subject of race. And revealing that dormant part of me at such a vulnerable stage in my life could certainly be compared to severing an artery.

In following William Cross’s Racial Identity Development Theory for people of color (1991), I pinpoint my first racial “Encounter” experience as happening during 8th grade History class. We were filling out one of those forms with the checkboxes on it and I was in the usual quandary. Deciding that this was an acceptable environment to mention my biracial heritage, I raised my hand and asked the teacher which box I should check. He responded in his southern accent (which I’ll never forget): “Oh I think you should know what you are by now.”From that point forward, he treated me differently and I learned for the first time what it really felt like to be Black. Subsequent events followed suit—my best friend called my brother a Nigger after he tilted his pinball game, school friends started telling Black jokes in the hall, and I acquired largely unclever nicknames such as “Zebra”, “Half-Breed”, “Oreo”, and “Whigger.”

In an act of typical teenage rebellion and in line with Cross’ third development stage of “Immersion/Emersion” (1991), I broadcast my Black heritage with amplified as of yet unexplored pride. I went to inner-city New Haven with my older brother and our White mother and shopped at Third World Imports, the only place on the map where we could find the Egyptian-style stretch pants with the super-low crotch. (These were the same pants that made 80’s icon, MC Hammer, famous.) I hung African power medallions around my neck. I went to a Baptist church with the hand-waving preachers and the bellowing choir. I listened to jazz, rap, blues, and hip hop in contrast to the more popular classic rock genre. In short, I didn’t make sense to a lot of people (including myself at that age). I wasn’t easily categorized and, in homogenous, rural Connecticut, I was quickly squeezed out of the mainstream culture. I swelled with indignation like a wave, rising out of the ocean’s surface and gathering reckless, inimitable speed.

In college, the wave finally broke. I began dressing myself down to ward off the quizzical often hostile glares of the other African-American students. Several weeks into the semester, a group of them approached me and provided me with an ultimatum.

“You put Black on your application to get in here, didn’t you.”

“I put White too.”

“Are you Black or aren’t you?”

“I don’t know.”

These words weren’t far from the truth. At this point, I identified as being identity-less, trying my best to throw away the burden of having to choose. I saw race as an unnecessary means of classification that prevented me from being who I really was. This confrontation acted as a sort of second “Encounter” for me, sling-shotting me further away from Black culture and into the comfort zone of the people who looked a lot more like me and who were seemingly more open to my quest for race-less individuality. Tatum suggests that “the areas where a person is a member of the dominant or advantaged social group, the category is usually not mentioned” (1997, p. 21). In being a part of White society I was allowed the option (or luxury as I perceived it at the time) of not having a racial identity. White people, as the dominant culture, generally do not bring up their race as a topic for discussion let alone as an aspect of their identity. It was just what I was looking for.

In retrospect, I can see how these Black students who confronted me were deep within the Immersion/Emersion phase of their own racial development, bonded together by their collective experience as being disadvantaged by racism (Cross, 1991). Had I too experienced more abundant and more consistent forms of oppression growing up as a result of being Black, I probably would have related more to these African-American students and perhaps viewed their interrogation as an invitation.

I’ve been rejected from all angles—for being Black, for being White, and for being both Black and White. I’m not mentioning this to elicit empathy, rather to summarize the conditioning that has led me to resent racial categories altogether. And I’m not alone in my bitterness. In being forced to choose one race or the other, most biracial individuals experience ambivalence and frustration surrounding their group identity (Carter, 1995).

There are five biracial graduate students in my multi-culturalism class. I know this because we bonded together one day when the professor divided the class into “people of color” and “White people”. Us biracial folk are used to not having a place in these situations; that’s not what’s bothersome. It’s when we’re forced to make the choice we’ve been avoiding all our lives that the recycled memories of rejection and finger-pointing resurface. This is our racism. This is the part that few understand. And unlike people of identifiable races, we can’t recognize each other from across the room.

For a biracial person, being assigned one race means being denied of the other. Thus, race itself becomes the enemy. From this perspective, refusing to label someone by their race is an act of kindness, a gesture that allows an individual to supersede the confinements of a singular race.

As someone who’s constantly been trying to avoid the “color question”, it’s difficult to comprehend the plight of people of color who want to be acknowledged for their race, identified by their race, and respected for their race. All my life I’ve boasted my ability to see beyond peoples’ skin color—that I’m uniquely colorless and colorblind—because I thought this was helping people to be 100% themselves. In commiserating with my fellow graduate students and opening up discussions with frustrated clients of color, I’ve come to realize that this carefully preserved “ability” of mine is actually a weakness. Colorblindness is not only impossible; it’s unethical. A counselor who denies a client his race is like a doctor ignoring her patient’s inflamed kidney. Good or bad, race is a part of that client, as essential to his survival as any organ in the body.

In a sense, we’re all looking for the same thing—to be acknowledged for the experiences that have shaped our identity. My clients, wonderfully strewn across the race continuum, remind me of this with their incredulousness, enthusiasm, and haphazard wisdom. I can comfortably say, with the renewed hope of a lucky transplant recipient that I’m beginning to understand.

When approaching biracial clients, I’ve found it extremely helpful to reflect on my own experiences through childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. Building rapport with biracial and multiracial clients starts before they even enter my office—by developing a culturally sensitive intake form. For many clients checking those boxes designating racial background is nothing more than a stroke of the pen, but for biracial clients this exercise may invoke immediate resistance (and they’re not even divulging their real issues yet!). Counselors can easily eliminate the risk of preeminently offending their clients by rewording the racial profile item on the intake form to read “Please Check All That Apply.” A minor change with major results.

Counselors should also avoid any and all questions that force a biracial client to choose a between races. This may be particularly challenging for Counselors who strongly identify with their own distinct culture or who perceive identification with a single culture as an essential component to developing a healthy personal identity. It’s common for biracial clients to present with feelings of isolation, rejection, bitterness, and estrangement as a result of not fitting in to one or more racial groups. Encouraging immersion with culturally homogeneous groups in hopes of eliminating these feelings can be counter-productive since it’s these kinds of groups that may have inspired self-deprecating feelings in the first place.

Coordinating biracial clients to meet with other biracial clients, though challenging, remains a safe venue for identity development. Just as People of Color may bond underneath acts of oppression and White individuals may gravitate to one another because of their similarities, biracial people find connection through their mutual experiences of exclusion. As College Counselors who collaborate with anywhere from five to fifteen students every day, we have the unique ability to “unveil” multi-racial and biracial individuals to bring them together. Counselors can prove themselves invaluable to biracial clients if only to lead them to their as of yet unidentifiable biracial peers.

Having developed a strong dislike for categorization, biracial clients, myself included, tend to exhibit reluctance towards personality tests, career assessments, interest inventories, and any other objective counseling tools or tests that involve imbuing the test-taker with a distinctive, all-encompassing label. Questioning this resistance can serve as an appropriate and effective means to uncover the larger underlying issue of a biracial client’s possible aversion to racial and cultural categorization. In fact, this dislike of human compartmentalization may extend outside of race into other areas of the client’s life such as religion and sexuality, merging into that client’s over-arching philosophical belief system.

Biracial and multi-racial clients prove especially challenging for Counselors due to their uncategorizability. This oft overlooked genre can present themselves in several different ways. According to Maria Roote (1996), biracial individuals may 1) identify with both sides of their heritage simultaneously, 2) identify with one side primarily but over time identify with several different groups, 3) shift from one side to the other depending on the circumstances, or 4) designate their race as “biracial”, thus embracing the border between the races. As a Counselor, it’s important for me to remember all of these possibilities and understand that these are viable options for a finite racial identity and not necessarily an unwelcome purgatory from which the client hopes to be saved.

In terms of appearance, biracial clients land on every point of the spectrum between looking distinctively ethnic and utterly unidentifiable. Furthermore, their appearance may completely contradict their culture. For example, I’ve worked with a blonde-haired. blue-eyed female student who grew up embedded in her African-American culture. For this reason, it’s imperative that Counselors remain unassuming. Oftentimes, when I gently inquire about a client’s cultural or racial identity who appears to be, say, Latino, I may get an incredulous response: “I’m Latino; what did you think?” Here is an opportunity to mention the possibility of his being biracial or multi-racial, as many of my clients are. By simply by posing this question to my client, I’m modeling that all-important virtue of “not knowing” when it comes to race, introducing the idea that other people outside of my office and possibly within the client’s own circle of friends, may be more racially complex than they first appear.

Biracial clients are used to being overlooked. Whether it be because they look too much like one race or not enough like any one race, there’s sure to be some level of alienation evident in their identity development. As Counselors, we have the option of becoming the exception to the norm. Biracial clients have a story to tell and, in my experience both personal and professional, they’re eager to tell it, especially to an unassuming audience who’s willing to give them the space in which to define themselves.


Carter, R. T. (1995). The influence of race and racial identity in psychotherapy: Toward a racially inclusive model. New York: John Wiley.

Cross, W. E. (1991). Shades of Black: Diversity in African-American identity. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

McIntosh, P. (1988). White privilege and male privilege: A personal account of coming to see correspondence through the work on women’s studies. Wellesley: Wellesley College Center for Research on Women.

Root, M. P. P. (1996). The Multi-racial experience: Racial borders as a significant frontier in race relations. Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Tatum, B. D. (1997). Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria? and other conversations about race. New York: Basic Books.


Cliff Flamer has been writing poetry, short fiction, and melodramatic bits of memoir since the 9th grade when his Teacher, Mr. V, forced him to start keeping a journal. After a year of “cheating” on his journal entries by writing them all at once in home room, Cliff discovered a knack for putting words together—a fascination that powered him through college and into near-homelessness following graduation. To pay for his 40’s and Big Macs in the real world, Cliff picked up a job at a bookstore where he’d often lay down in the aisles after hours and pay homage to the sideways names on the pocket book bindings. After getting tired of stretching out his $8/hour, Cliff took up a position as a Recruiter following through on the interview merely because the job description had the word “writer” in it. Within a year he was making more than anyone just out of college should, especially an English major. More important, he discovered a second love in resume writing and career counseling, which has become a new funding source for his 40’s and Big Macs, only now it’s Single Malts and Indian take-out.

June 21, 2014 at 4:50 am Leave a comment

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