Ken Coleman: From Paycheck to Purpose | No BS Job Search Advice Radio

EP 2271 Does the work you do matter to you? Are you unsure what you want to do for a living? Ken Coleman and I speak about “From Paycheck to Purpose” and specifically getting clear about what you want to do and, then, getting qualified. Ken Coleman coaches people who are struggling live Monday through Friday on radio. In this interview, we discussed how he did his transition from where he was and his childhood dreams to where he is today.

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Ken Coleman: From Paycheck to Purpose | No BS Job Search Advice Radio

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Jeff Altman 00:11
So, my guest today is Ken Coleman, America's career coach, and nationally syndicated radio host of the Ken Coleman show and number one bestselling author of “The Proximity Principle,” and his new book, From Paycheck to Purpose,” which is terrific, folks. I've had a chance to read it. Ken will walk you through how to do that transition beautifully with great stories along the way. On the Ken Coleman show, he offers his expert advice to help 1000s of people every day, discover what they were meant to do and how to land their dream job. He's been featured in Forbes appeared on Fox News and Fox Business Network, and others. Of course, you can follow him on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, in all the socials and by the way, a great website,, with tremendous resources there. Ken, thanks for making time at this ungodly hour of the morning.

Ken Coleman 01:25
Jeff, it's great to be with you. Thanks for having me.

Jeff Altman 01:28
My pleasure. So, little boy Ken growing up, what did he want to be when he was growing up?

Ken Coleman 01:36
Well, the earliest answer to that was an NBA point guard. That was the early days and then as I got into adolescence, I got serious about that answer. I wanted to be the governor of Virginia, maybe a US senator from Virginia. So, those were the fun fantasy answer early on. Then as I as I moved up into the teenage years and began to really dream about a future was certainly politics is where I wanted to be

Jeff Altman 02:09
Interesting! How did that wind up being law because my understanding is at one point, you were going for a law degree, went into business for yourself. How did all this thought take place for you?

Ken Coleman 02:24
Well, the context for it was, I grew up in a home where history and politics were front and center. My dad's a big history buff. We didn't have a lot of money growing up and so, our vacations were president’s homes and battlefields and stuff that you could do pretty cheap, and you could pack a lunch. I was eat bologna sandwiches on dugout Cannon platforms and, and stone walls and that was the world I grew up in was history. Then certainly, politics and I had an encounter with Ronald Reagan in 1984. I was 10 years old. I'm sitting there playing with my GI Joes on the living room floor, my dad's watching the Republican National Convention and this guy comes up and says, I'm Ted. The TV's on and he begins to speak. I could tell my dad's pretty excited about it. He's like, hey, boys, keep it down. I've got one ear on the television and rest of my mind and an ears are focused on playing with my GI Joe, guys, I guess. I just begin to pay attention to this guy and it captivated me as a 10 year old. So, that began this fascination, imagination around politics and speaking and serving people and doing good things for people. My dad was a pastor.

So, you got history, you got politics, and you got serving and loving on people. So, that was the context which I grew up in and environment has a tremendous impact on people. That's the shortest way I can tell you, that's what began to light a fire in me, for the political path I never wanted. I danced around with the idea of being a lawyer. But that was only because I thought I needed to be a lawyer to get into politics and when I realized I didn't need to be a lawyer, I was like, well forget that. Because I don't like studying and taking tests. I like coaching people and speaking and performing and that was my jam. So, that's the early days but at 16 I felt I was supposed to be in politics for my life. I thought that I wanted to serve my country or to serve people make their lives better. That was absolutely clear theme, which is still there today. But that was very poignant for me at 16.

Jeff Altman 05:07
If memory serves me, right, you did a variety of things or did a few things between then and to where you are now. I'm wondering whether, as you look back on it, you went through your own process or much of your process to get from, where you were then to where you're at today, with the show and all the other things that you do.

Ken Coleman 05:29
Oh, there's no question about it. The book has seven stages in it, get clear, get qualified, get connected, get started, get promoted, get the dream job, and give yourself away. Now, that's exactly what I did. At the age of 32, 33, when I realized that politics wasn't the path. I wasn't quite sure what the path was. That was discouraging, it was disillusion, and it was a season of what! Because I've been so on purpose and had great success in politics, and then moved into business to set myself up to run. So, I had been very ambitious, very successful, frankly and then you get this moment of uncertainty, wait, I know, my heart's telling me it's not politics, but what is it and then trying to figure out what it is, and then dealing with all the fear and doubt all the stuff I unpack in the book. So, all that to say the seven stages as they are written today. First, I live them but I didn't know them as they are.

Okay, that's one, two, before I ever wrote a book, I spent two and a half, three years trying to develop a clear path and when I finally got breakthrough on how to say it as simply and as clearly as possible, the set they are now the seven stages and it came from me looking back on my journey, as you pointed out, and trying to summarize it, I'll tell you how it happened. So, that people really get what's going on here. Because I'm not a guy who coaches from opinion. I coach from experience, big difference. So, for two years, I'm trying to figure out I got to create a clear path because by the way, transformation in our money, our relationships, our health, when somebody is here, and they're in one location, and they want to be somewhere else in a much better situation where there's a gap, there must be a clear path for people else. It's too intimidating. They'll never do it. So, if you're trying to coach people and guide people, if you don't give them a clear path, they'll never start on the path. It's too scary.

So, for two years, I'm struggling through this. Finally, I was on vacation about two years ago. I got up early, I told my wife I said, excuse me, I said, hey, I'm going down the beach, but my moleskin and a pencil a cup of coffee, I just I just need to write. I've been struggling with how to say it. I had come up with multiple versions that no one will ever see. Just wasn't right. So, I go down and I put my chair, got my chair under the umbrella, and I sat there. I had my pencil in my hand ready to go my moleskin open. I remember saying to myself, Ken, how would you describe the path to fulfilling purpose to a 17 year old kid and that was it. I started to write, and it freed me up. I just wrote, get clear thought for a second. All right, once you're clear, you're going to get qualified. I get qualified, you better be getting connected. You don't want to wait till you're qualified to start connect. You got to get connected now and you're going to get the opportunity to get started and it just flowed. So, yes, that's a long winded answer to say that, yeah, I looked back on my journey. It's starting at 33, a complete pivot in a very difficult industry of broadcast. I can do it, anybody can do it and that's how I did it.

Jeff Altman 09:16
You've got a great story in the book about the getting qualified part of your life where you networked your way, connected your way into being a NASCAR.

Ken Coleman 09:32
That's a painful story, isn't it?

Jeff Altman 09:34
Everyone has that experience where they think they're ready, and they aren't and the golden the story is that you didn't quit.

Ken Coleman 09:46
Yeah, that's right.

Jeff Altman 09:48
So yeah, for those who don't know the story, if you can give the simplified version of it, that would be great.

Ken Coleman 09:54
Yeah, so, I know its broadcasting. I've gotten clear that the mountaintop for me is broadcasting, that's TV, that's radio, that's everything. So, in the broadcasting world, you got to have a dumb. You're not going to get a job without a demo. I don't know if that's still the case. But that was the case back then you got to have a demo, you got to show people, two to three minutes, maybe 60 seconds, somewhere in that range, that you actually have the chops to do it. Well, here's the problem. I didn't have a demo. I never done any real broadcasting, certainly no television. So, I'm hustling and I make a connection. I've got a family friend who is a big time to ask our reporter for NBC. He does me a favor, makes a phone call to Turner Sports in Atlanta where we live. He leans on a buddy of his who hosts a NASCAR show, highlight show and he says, hey, will you do me a solid and let Ken come in and do some highlights one of your highlight packages, you guys roll cameras, and giving the footage? The guy is like, sure I'll do so, the host doesn't know me, and it’s a mutual connection.

So, this guy is doing me a favor. He's got a whole crew I show up. I didn't practice, I should have recorded some sports center highlights and practice at home, I just was like, I can do this. I speak well, I love sports. I've seen highlights a million times I can read a teleprompter, no big deal. So, I get there, they're done with their show and this guy stands up because hey, this is kid, he's going to do this highlight package and we're going to record it for him and give it to him. He's like, Ken, come on up, here is how you do it. He put me in the chair, I don't know what I was thinking. But I got in there. As I go into great detail in the book, it's pretty hilarious story. It becomes so obvious to me that I'm not prepared before we even started and all I've got is a prompter. I've watched these highlights live in the moment. No preparation, I'd never done it before and my mouth got so dry. I couldn't move my tongue, it was like I had been in the Sahara desert for weeks on end.

The camera rolled highlights went within about 15 seconds, I was behind, my brain started panicking and freaking out, I just kept going. It was literally like watching someone hit themselves over and over in the head with a hammer, that's what it felt like to me. I get done and all these people are looking at me, it was just the worst, most humiliating moment of my entire life. The guy said, well, let's roll it again. I was worse the second time and it was a complete and utter train wreck, the most humiliating moment in my life professionally and yet, after that devastation, instead of quitting, I said, all right, I'm never going to make that mistake again. I am not going to try to jump rungs on the ladder, I'm going to have to learn how to truly get the chops and get qualified and that's a great frustration for so many people that call the Ken Coleman show, I keep applying for stuff, they keep telling me I'm not qualified. I just want to laugh and go, because you're not. You're like me showing up thinking that you can do that and you can't. So, I needed to go do some other things. So, I went and took a broadcasting school, six weeks of broadcasting skill to learn how to do that very thing.

Jeff Altman 13:23
Folks, I'll just interject here and say, so many of you, when you face adversity, the next thing you do is give up and say it's not possible. I can't do this, and you quit on yourselves, and are everyone important to you. Because you're not going to be at your best for the rest of your life unless you take this and it take this hill to move further

Ken Coleman 13:48
So, here's the thing, here's what I want people to understand. You have to embrace the suck. Okay, every one of us learnt how to ride a bike and it was scary. We were awful at it at first, but we kept doing it. Why? Because we deeply wanted to be free to ride the bike to our friend's house, to ride with our friends to feel the wind in our face and I want to point out that what kept me going is not that I'm just super resilient guy, and I'm just more disciplined than the rest of the world. That's just not true. What kept me going is a deep burning hunger and that's what we teach. So, that's stage one, get clear when you are absolutely clear on purposeful work for you and what you were created to do. You know what your mountaintop is, then you will not stop climbing, even when the storms of life come at you'll hunker down if you have to. In that moment, I had to hunker down and I had to heal and lick my wounds are in my lesson. But I kept climbing and that's the key. I don't want people to hear that story and go, oh, you just got to be resilient.

Well that's about it crap because resilience and perseverance doesn't happen, absence of passion, a deep abiding passion to reach something. It doesn't happen without the patience to stay in the game and again, what drives the patience and the discipline, it's the passion, the desire, the root word, in the Latin for passion is Pati, and it means to suffer. The way it was used in the Latin early on before passion became a romantic, or anger contempt context was that it was a thirst that must be quenched and that's beautiful. So, you're going to suffer on the path to the purposeful destination, it's just part of the deal. So, you better embrace it. I'm going to tell you right now, you better know that you know that you're supposed to do it, or when those embarrassing moments happen, or tragic moments or whatever comes your way you will quit.

Jeff Altman 16:09
I also wanted to check that one of the advantages that you had, was supportive home because I get the idea from having read and listened to you for so long, that your wife was a supportive person for you.

Ken Coleman 16:24
Let me tell you something. I'm 47, married at the age of 23 years, I got three teenagers. My wife and I were talking about this last week because she said something to me, she was encouraging. She said, I am so proud of how you get up and the way you do what you do, even when crazy stuff is swirling around this. I said to her, the purpose in my work keeps me grounded in my personal life and then vice versa and purpose in my personal life keeps me grounded in my work. Since you brought it up, I will tell you that purpose in your relationships is so important. I could not pour myself out the way I do every day that my team will tell you the amount of energy that I pour out each day, that's not discipline, that's a clear mission and purpose. But it's also that I've got a tremendous foundation and my wife, Stacy, is my rock. She's my rock, and I got to tell you, a marriage decision is the most important decision you'll ever make. If you have a have a dream, and your spouse is not on board with it, it is unbelievably difficult, not impossible, but unbelievably difficult. So, those of you out there that are dating or engaged, it's time to start having these conversations because you want somebody who is has got their own dream and both of you are in locked position locked arms, we're going to go do this together because that's wind at your back.

Jeff Altman 18:19
It's great to have a teammate in this process. How old were your kids at that time?

Ken Coleman 18:25
Kids were three, and the two littles are seven months apart. We adopted our boys and we brought boy number to home. Stacy was seven weeks pregnant, we didn't know it. So, we went from one kid to three kids nine months, I would not recommend that for anybody, that's pretty intense. But God had a story. He does have stories tell him and but yeah, they were young, they were three under three, three under four, three under five, it was super intense. So, it did take a little longer to get here. But since you brought it up, I will say this. It's very important that you not get yourself caught up in someone else's timeline or get yourself caught up in a timeline. That's just simply unrealistic. I did that some, but the reality is I had responsibilities and be okay with the timeline. Whatever the timeline is, in some ways life dictates it to you, but that doesn't change your purpose.

Jeff Altman 19:32
I'm an adoptive parent as well. We did an international adoption from Kazakhstan not too long after 911.

Ken Coleman 19:40
Oh, great. Good for you. So, we're in a special club.

Jeff Altman 19:45
Our kids give us so much gold as well. But back to helping others. Sometimes there's a difference between a dream, the fantasy, and the reality. How do you encourage people to test out? The difference between the two!

Ken Coleman 20:12
Yeah, absolutely. So, in the book, we go into great detail in this chapter on make sure it's the dream, not a mirage, essentially, is the challenge in this chapter. I remember growing up watching Looney Tunes all the time. I remember specific cartoon where Daffy Duck is in the desert and his tongue is literally dragging along the sand and he looks up and he sees a gorgeous tropical oasis in the middle of the desert, he gets all excited, is his little web feet turn into wheels, and he speeds up and he jumps up in the air, he goes into this beautiful Olympic swan dive. He thinks he's going to land in this water, and all sudden turns into what we know nothing but sand, the Mirage goes away, and his beak lands in the sand. It's like oil and he's miserable. That's what's going on.

So, this is the idea that when we pursue something that is all pay, so we go, okay, I've been offered an opportunity, or I see an opportunity and it looks amazing, because it's a promotion, it's a really awesome title. It's more pay all of the things. It's a glitzy company with a big brand name, and everybody respects it. These are the type of things we're talking about and when we get enticed by that, and we take an opportunity like that, and we don't come back to what we teach in stage one, which is getting clear so that for the rest of your life, what your sweet spot is, you know what purposeful work looks like?

So, if we don't sit there going, oh, wait a second, is this all those things being great? Is it as an opportunity for me to be and stay in my sweet spot? Is it an opportunity for me to truly be in the dream job, which is where I am completely fulfilled, by the fact that I'm really good at the job, I'm using my talent. I really love the work, I'm experiencing passion. I really care deeply about the results of the work, I'm on mission. For me, if we don't look at that, if we don't look at the timing, this a move that's going to really hurt my family, and cause a lot of strife there? Everything being equal, it looks it is a dream job on paper, except for a really crappy culture. They treat their people poorly, it's a sweatshop or whatever. These are the things that we detail out of that chapter, I go into much more detail. But that's how we make sure that it's not a mirage and so, we've got to absolutely be clear that this is on purpose.

Jeff Altman 22:50
Amen. I'm someone who made it. I planned on a career switch at 50. I couldn't do it at that time, because I met my wife in graduate school, where I was trying to learn how to be a therapist in private practice and then deferring it. I deferred it for 12 years and then came to her to give her one year notice that I was leaving my previous career in search, to transition into coaching. I got myself qualified, and wound up taking my previous experience in search, synthesizing it. Internally, I help people find work. Now, for so many folks, I think in terms of where do they struggle? I'm wondering, have you spoken with so many people over the course of doing this live doing this on air, where you have so many people who can be critics of you at that time, and having watched you and listen to you, you handle it beautifully? Think of one person who stands out to you and it's the one that just popped into your mind as that one person who was had that special circumstance and how you handle supporting them.

Ken Coleman 24:13
I think one that pops out to me it was it was probably one of the early light bulb moments where I literally could hear the light bulb going off in somebody's head. It's so fascinating when you do live and it's audio and so I can't see them, you can hear and feel things. There's an intimacy there when you're not staring at somebody. We've all probably had the late night phone call with a boyfriend or girlfriend, you just got to get super real. That's what happens in this moment sometimes. So, the one that sticks out to me, there's so many guy call, and he was in Charlotte, North Carolina. He said, Ken, I'm stuck and I just really need your help. I said, okay, what's up. He said, I used to be in movies and television. It's my training, I was very successful at it prior to getting married having kids. So, directing, producing, and he said, but we've ended up in Charlotte, North Carolina, that's where our family wants to be. I'm not in that world anymore and I know that I miss it so much, I longed to do it. It's what I was created to do. But I can't move my family to LA or New York, and I'm just stuck.

I said, okay, video, it's not going anywhere. In fact, it's now in small business video website, commercials, local TV, it's not going anywhere. It's everywhere. He goes, absolutely. I go, how many production companies you would say that do video, audio, all that stuff. I said, how many of those companies do you think exists in Charlotte, North Carolina and he just started laughing. He knew I had I trapped him very gently, but I just pushed him right in the corner. He said, oh, okay, there's probably 20. I go, yeah, that's what I would have guessed, as it's probably more. I said, could you do for them the type of work you did before, it may not be network TV, or movie studios type stuff, but it's the same kind of work that fires up your heart. He goes, oh, absolutely. I go, have you lost all of your ability? He goes, no, he's laughing again. I said, all right. I said, why don't you get connect? Why don't you use my proximity principle, which says, in order to do what you want to do, you got to be around people that are doing it, and get in places where that work is happening.

So, why don't you just show up? You're a stud. You're not a loser, druggie, walking off the street, why don't you to show up, introduce yourself and go, hey, I got a really great job. But I also got all this background, this is what I've done, here's the deal. I'm just here to volunteer. I don't even need the money. If you guys need an extra hand, this is all my background, you need extra help on a set, and I just want to get back into it. So, I'm just offering my services just start doing that. I said, watch opportunities come your way, once they realize how good you are, and how experienced you are because that's a good idea. But to do it, I got an email from him three weeks later, he had already had a job off and he was going to move back into that space, make good money doing what he loved in Charlotte, North Carolina. So, that's just one story. That's not like a big gut wrenching thing. I've heard people cry on the air.

I had a guy call one time said, Ken, I'm trying to decide between being a programmer and going in technology, because I'm in technology now, I'm really good at it. I've been qualified, my companies offered me a great opportunity to move into a junior executive role and technology. I see great path, great money, great benefits, and I'm really good at technology, I kind of like it. I saw what this other thing is. He said, Child Psychology and when he dropped his voice, I knew something was there. I knew something was in his heart. I knew something was in a story. So, I just went right at it and I just said, why child psychology, there's something in your story. I think that's what you really want to do. He went dead silent and then he began to weep, openly weep on the air. He went on to say that he had gone through abuse as a child and he detailed some of it not in great detail. I just let him cry and sob and get through it. When he got done, I said, I think you know your answer, don't you? He's like, yes. In the chuck on, I said, out of your tremendous pain has been born a great passion.

So, you want to help kids that have gone through what you've gone through because you come out on the other side wounded, yes. But healing stronger than ever before and you want to do that for other kids peacefully. So, those are two that stick out to me. I think what I want people to see in those two stories is that this is all about the heart, purpose, your work is not about status, it's about heart, your Greatness, your uniqueness. There's so much crap out in this world that I'm in and all this stuff on social media guys and gals standing by a private jet they're selling this is great success and I got to tell you something. If you go make a bunch of money and you got the private jet, you got all the things but you're not doing work you love that produces a result that matters to you. I got news for you, that's not going to matter. Greatness is not stuff. Greatness is not stats. Greatness is significance when I fulfill my significant role whether I am a school teacher, or I am a mailman or I am a janitor, or I am a mechanic, or I am a CEO or I am an accountant, I am a counselor. Greatness is in filling our unique role because in our unique role we are doing what we are created to do and by definition, we will be great at it and we will make a great impact.

Jeff Altman 30:36
Wonderful gifts you just gave everyone. Any last words you want to leave people?

Ken Coleman 30:44
I'll leave you with the words. I opened up the Ken Coleman show with every day you were created to fill a unique role, you are needed, you must do it. I don't think we have the option to mail it in and live a life of average I think we are. We are created to contribute. So, please figure out what it is the book will help you get it. Dive into it, believe what comes out of it and go do something, do something great.

Jeff Altman 31:09
Don't believe the lies that you tell yourself about why you can't do it.

Ken Coleman 31:14
Oh, that's a whole different episode. Retreat declared for the voices of fear doubt pride. Come on back to clarity and again, in the book, we break down exactly what the fear and doubt voices are, we tell you how to deal with them. So, we've created a handbook for you.

Jeff Altman 31:33
His website is,, there is a quiz there to help you with clarity. It can be a launch point in this process and help you simplify things. Ken, thank you.

Ken Coleman 31:47
Thanks for having me. So grateful.

Jeff Altman 31:50
Thank you! I hope you enjoyed my interview with Ken. Again, his new book is "From Paycheck to Purpose". I'll have a link to it in the show notes. And as you know I, too, have some great advice at my website, which is Go to the site and go exploring. There's just a lot there to help you in the blog. You can also schedule time for a free discovery call or schedule time for coaching. You can find that information about my courses and purchase them at the website.

Also, connect with me oat Mention that you saw the interview with Ken. I like knowing I'm helping some folks. And once we're connected, your network is going to grow a lot. I also want to mention, if this isn't the time for you to visit my website, put the address in your phone again. That's You can circle back to it when you need in the future.

Hope you have a terrific day and most importantly, be great. Take care


JeffAltman, The Big Game Hunter
JeffAltman, The Big Game Hunter

Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a coach who worked as a recruiter for what seems like one hundred years. His work involves career coaching, as well as executive job search coaching, job, and interview coaching. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 2200 episodes.

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