“While happiness should be the ultimate goal, many young people aren't exposed to the idea of identifying what energizes them and brings them joy ... I think young individuals should not feel pressured to tick every box as they progress. Instead, they should take the time to figure out what brings them joy and where they shine the brightest.” Judith Asher
Frank O'Halloran and Judith Asher are executive coaches and trainers with over 25 years of experience in leadership and communication. Their podcast "What's Next 4 You?" is a testament to their dedication to helping people perform at their best and guiding younger professionals to discover their talents and calling. Judith and Frank believe that the traditional educational system often neglects essential life skills, such as communication and relationship building, maintaining a positive mindset, cultivating gratitude, and embracing challenges with optimism.
Stephen Matini: When did you start working together as professionals?
Frank O'Halloran: Judith's husband, George, oversees the Global Campus for Human Rights on the Lido in Venice (Italy). He approached me to deliver three lectures to the master's degree students on effective communication. Judith attended all three lectures.
One day, I needed an additional trainer for a session near Barcelona, and Judith and I were strolling with our babies in their carriages.
She casually asked, "How's work going?" I mentioned my challenge in finding someone for the Barcelona training, and that's when I proposed, "Why don't you come and do it with me? We have 30 days. Just follow my lead."
Judith, being a natural, excelled on her first outing. From that point on, we've been working together, and now our babies are 20 years old.
SM: Your latest project together is the podcast “What’s Next 4 You.” Was it challenging to come up with that name?
Judith Asher: Oh, definitely. Finding a suitable name is always a challenge. Initially, we were leaning towards something involving the word "career," like exploring a new career or finding your best career. That was a significant part of the concept. However, after discussions with friends and some contemplation between us, we realized that the traditional idea of a career, where you find one thing and stick with it forever—the "posto fisso," as they say in Italy—doesn't resonate as much today.
It's not about finding that one job and repeating it for 50 years. It's more about what's next for you—what are you doing now, and what could it be? Being adaptable is key. It just clicked that this made more sense for the message we wanted to convey.
SM: Why did you choose young professionals aged 18 to 35 as the focus of your podcast?
Frank O'Halloran: In our training business, Judith and I specialize in soft skills training, particularly communication, with well-known corporations. Recently, we've been extensively working with young individuals—those in university and those starting their careers.
They develop a strong connection with Judith and me, often asking fundamental questions such as how to explore available careers, navigate networking events, seek assistance, or find a mentor.
The recurring nature of these inquiries led us to initially consider writing a book for young people. However, we eventually concluded that a podcast would better cater to their needs, prompting the switch from book to podcast.
SM: When you were younger and unsure about your direction, did you have someone important to guide you?
Judith Asher: I would have loved that guidance. You don't know what you don't know, right? So, at the time, I didn't even realize I should seek that out. The idea of finding a mentor, talking to people, asking about their experiences, connecting with my friends' parents or my parents' friends, and using my own network—it wasn't really a concept back then. I just had to feel my way forward.
I did an internship in graduate school, and the head of the NGO I worked with ended up being my mentor. However, I was so clueless at the time that I don't think I even realized she was my mentor. Nevertheless, she played a crucial role in setting me up for my first career in public health, which I pursued for many years.
Frank O'Halloran: I consider myself a bit fortunate because I had a lot of people helping me out. Maybe I just came across as so clueless that everyone I encountered felt the need to offer advice.
People would say, "Frank, let me give you some advice," or, "Did you think about this or that?" I've been blessed throughout my life with people providing guidance, pointing me in the right direction, and offering support. This trend started when I went to university. Professors and others I worked with during my university years took me under their wing. I went to school in Manhattan, New York City, and worked uptown in an office. Everyone was incredibly supportive. I wish that kind of experience for everyone.
Judith Asher: Reflecting on that pivotal internship in my life, I grew up in Montreal, did some graduate work in Toronto, and embarked on an internship in New York City.
It wasn't a conscious strategy, but at the first meeting at the NGO for women's reproductive health and rights, I expressed my genuine happiness to be there. I told everyone I didn't know anyone in New York, had no friends, and essentially had a free schedule. I offered my assistance to anyone who needed help, listing my skills like editing, bilingualism (French and English), and a willingness to handle various tasks.
I made it clear that I was available to help with anything, even on weekends. I regularly checked in with people, reminding them of my willingness to assist. Eventually, this became the foundation of my entire career—I got to know everyone, engaged in interesting and fun activities, and even received a call from the UN asking me to go to London for a global conference.
That marked the beginning of my international public health career. It truly stemmed from the energy of giving, as Frank often emphasizes. It wasn't just about what I wanted to gain but also about what I could contribute. Despite my lack of experience, the willingness to give anything I could came back as good karma.
SM: Can you teach people to cultivate positive energy?
Judith Asher: I believe you can teach mindset. Providing guidance on fostering a positive mindset is essential. If someone's outlook is consistently negative, thinking there are no opportunities, and feeling doomed due to the setbacks of the COVID era, that mindset will radiate negative energy.
Frank O'Halloran: Absolutely, you can teach it. In all the classes we design, we begin with addressing mindset—whether it's for negotiating, selling, or presenting. We offer examples to illustrate both negative and positive vibrations in various interactions.
Judith Asher: I'd like to add a quick note about our young clients—those in college, starting their careers, or in their twenties. When we discuss mindset, many express surprise, wondering why no one had pointed this out to them earlier. They often feel that this type of guidance is more crucial than some of the subjects they've been taught, like algebra.
SM: For future listeners of your podcast, "What's Next 4 You?" what would you like them to take away?
Frank O'Halloran: First, don't despair—things work out, and to some extent, you have control over the outcome based on your actions and words. We also want them to leave with a more expanded mindset about the possibilities that exist, gaining real, practical examples of how others have navigated their paths.
SM: Do you believe it's more challenging now for younger professionals to navigate the world?
Judith Asher: I have a couple of thoughts on that. Firstly, Covid has created obstacles in people's development. For two years, individuals in the prime of their youth missed out on crucial experiences.
I'm not just talking about issues with homeschooling and remote learning but also the lack of relational experiences—interactions with adults, professors, internships, and volunteer activities. This deficiency in emotional development may have set people back in terms of emotional intelligence. It's something that needs compensation.
I think young individuals should not feel pressured to tick every box as they progress. Instead, they should take the time to figure out what brings them joy and where they shine the brightest.
The second point is somewhat counterintuitive. While it may seem like the world is open to young professionals, with a globalized workforce and the ability to work remotely from anywhere, having too many choices is not necessarily a blessing.
For many, it's even more complicated because now people from all over the world can apply for any job, leading to global competition. The overwhelming number of possibilities can make it challenging to navigate compared to simpler times when the focus was on figuring out how to make the money needed for one's desired lifestyle.
Frank O'Halloran: It's like going into a store to buy a bag of potato chips, and there are 50 different flavors. I also believe that Covid has shaped the work-from-home environment that most companies find themselves in.
Recently, I was in a large office building in Boston, and there was no one there. A friend's son, who lives alone in an apartment in Brooklyn, wanted to return to the office to work with his colleagues. However, now that he goes into the office, nobody is there.
SM: The gap between what colleges teach and what people actually need for their careers appears to be growing. What else can be done to make this transition more seamless?
Frank O'Halloran: Some universities are making efforts by incorporating work experience programs and arranging internships for students. However, it requires significant effort for a university to execute these programs effectively.
Here in Venice (Italy), for example, students studying business are required to spend three or four months or 150 hours working in a company. The school facilitates internships, but if students don't take charge, they may end up with jobs like carrying suitcases in a hotel. I believe more effort could be put into these initiatives, and companies could benefit more by providing interns with meaningful work experiences.
Judith Asher: One positive step could be for professors or educators to take some time—probably not too much—to have a conversation about how the skills learned in a class are transferable. It could be an open discussion or a brainstorming activity, maybe even a separate lab session.
This explicit effort could help students recognize their soft and hard skills and understand how to transfer them. Many young people have talents and abilities, but they don't realize the market value of their skills.
For example, organizing a ski trip could be seen as stakeholder management, and executing a project could be labeled as project management. There's a gap in helping students understand and market these skills.
If professors, like you, Stephen, who have a forward-thinking approach, could start implementing this, it might resonate with students, leading to a broader adoption.
Frank O'Halloran: Typically, in academia, professors teach based on their academic knowledge, and often, they lack practical business experience. You, Stephen, bring business experience to the table.
Many professors studied and then taught for the rest of their lives, lacking practical experience. It might be challenging for them, or it may not even occur to them, to bridge that gap and help students gain practical insights.
SM: Both of you have had extensive experiences working with underprivileged kids and communities throughout your lives. Would you say that some of those experiences have inspired what you're doing now?
Judith Asher: During my graduate fieldwork, I lived in Uganda for a year, conducting research on adolescent reproductive health and rights. It was a transformative experience, seeing how universal questions are asked worldwide.
Understanding how these questions are posed and addressed in different cultures, along with the varying access to information, profoundly impacts people's lives. This perspective has played a significant role in both my public health career and my coaching and training career. Recognizing the value of information and the impact it can have.
Frank O'Halloran: Judith and I also participate in a charity project together. We, along with a group of friends, organize an English pantomime—a musical comedy based on a fairy tale. It's a lively show where good always triumphs over evil, with audience participation, sing-alongs, and local jokes.
It's a form of entertainment for the public, and we put on this show every other year in Venice to raise money for babies who have to live with their mothers in prison. In Italy, if a mother is a criminal and her child is up to seven years old, they have to live together in prison.
Despite the challenging circumstances, three women on our Giudecca island in Venice assist these kids in having a semblance of a normal life. They take them to football, ballet lessons, and school because the government system falls short in providing these essential services.
Our friends and us work together to organize this show, raising money to support these women and enhance the lives of the children with better furniture, toys, and equipment for their school.
SM: What would you say is your main drive to start the podcast What’s Next 4 You?
Frank O'Halloran: The primary reason is that Judith and I have always had a strong affinity for young people. Despite being parents, we've formed close friendships with our children's friends. They come to us for advice, seeking help or discussing various aspects of their lives. This natural connection with young people inspired us.
Now, at this stage in our careers, having worked with business leaders and companies globally, we want to share the knowledge we've accumulated. Meeting these young individuals, understanding their sense of being on the sidelines without guidance, made us realize that we have valuable insights to offer. A podcast seemed like an ideal platform for this.
Judith Asher: I view it as hosting a cocktail party, an "aperitivo," with the most interesting people we've encountered. We've heard diverse career stories, and I envision inviting a multitude of young people to mingle, get to know each other, and feel informed.
While happiness should be the ultimate goal, many young people aren't exposed to the idea of identifying what energizes them and brings them joy. The criteria they often think they should apply to themselves may not align with their true passions. A single person, their energy, and attitude can spark unexplored possibilities. It doesn't take much to bring about significant change for someone.
Frank O'Halloran: I was thinking about one of our guests who was stressed about her career during university. One of her mom's friends suggested thinking about something she was genuinely interested in and could see herself doing happily for a year and a half or two years. This advice lifted a weight off her shoulders and offered a new perspective. I found that advice to be brilliant.
SM: We've covered several crucial aspects for young individuals—mindset, positivity, energy, practical experience, and more. What, in your opinion, are the top five competencies younger people should prioritize?
Frank O'Halloran: I'd suggest starting with soft skills, particularly the ability to express oneself. This skill can benefit you in numerous jobs and careers.
Judith Asher: Number two are what we refer to as relational skills, which fall under the umbrella of soft skills. This includes building rapport and feeling comfortable communicating with others.
Post-Covid and with smartphones dominating everyone's lives, many young people have lost the art of conversation. It has been a while since they were exposed to it. Learning not only the basics of conversation, as Frank mentioned, but also how to build relationships, how to present your best self, and how to make people like you is crucial.
SM: I appreciated your insights on gratitude and happiness, often overlooked but crucial skills.
Frank O'Halloran: You can be grateful for a very simple thing, it doesn't have to be that you won 18 million euros in the lottery. The other thing that I would say is to do a little reading. One interesting thing to read about is developing good habits. A habit is not something that's tough for you to do; it's something that's easy for you to do.
So if you put in a little effort, develop good habits, be a little disciplined about it, then that can get you through a lot of difficult times because you can fall back on those good habits of getting up, being focused, answering the emails when they come, whatever it is that's important for your job.
Judith Asher: The most popular course at Yale University is called the Science of Happiness. It's the most popular course in the history of the entire university. It's so popular that they've done spinoffs online.
Gratitude, relationship building, happiness; if you get into the habit of telling people that you appreciate something very specific about what they did for you, be that someone in your close circle or someone in your professional circle or student circle, you will see that that boomerangs back to you. Because that helps build relationships.
Your mindset leads to gratitude, and expressing that gratitude is key. Saying these things out loud not only helps the other person but also boosts your own happiness. It creates a positive cycle, opening doors for you in the process.
Frank O'Halloran: Don't be afraid to ask for help. Sometimes young people think, oh, I'm supposed to know this or I'm supposed to know how to do this. But if you go up to someone and you say, could I have a coffee with you and could you explain how I should approach this one for, you're probably gonna be very happy to have that coffee. And I think that's a big lesson for kids to learn that you can ask.
Judith Asher: Some school systems are a little more authoritarian and young people are not brought up in that system to think, hey, I can approach an adult and say, I don't know something. Actually, it's the exact opposite. They think they have to know everything before they can, in fact, approach an adult.
So there is some unlearning that has to be done for some people to be able to feel comfortable even doing that. Most people will feel perfectly happy if they're asked for advice and if they don't have time, they'll tell you that I don't have time.
And finally, another skill to remember is not taking things personally; if you can learn that most things people say to you that are hurtful are a them thing and not a you thing. And if it does have something to do with you, it won't hurt you and upset you. It'll inspire you to change something.
SM: Your podcast sounds like a place where people will hear a lot of unconventional things.
Judith Asher: One thing I hear leaders mention is the existence of a generation gap, especially when it comes to young people. There will always be generation gaps, but there truly is a gap with the post-Covid, post-smartphone, online reality. This is something that needs to be addressed not just from the top down, but in all directions.
Young people themselves have to enter the workforce ready to engage in a dialogue with leaders, figuring out how companies can be most successful and how we can all be successful in a way that manages that generation gap.
SM: What's one key thing you want people to take away from our conversation, aside from enjoying your fantastic "What's Next for You?" podcast?
Frank O'Halloran: You have the ability to do this, and it's not as difficult as you think.
Judith Asher: Do things, be productive. Engage in the things you love, and don't worry about what it's going to add up to. If you are active with the things that activate you, that is where it will lead you to what you want.