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Self Doubt: A Love Letter and a Guide

self doubt giraffe

A few weeks ago a wave of self doubt overwhelmed me like a particularly bad case of the flu.

I struggled to make important decisions, like whether to watch a movie or take a nap. The consequences were clearly enormous, and I was afraid of getting it wrong. When I did finally manage to choose something, I made up for my momentary success by spending more time second-guessing my decision than actually carrying it out.

Nothing I did felt good enough, and I was critical of every effort I made. I looked for evidence of failure everywhere, and when I found that I did something with less than optimal consequences, I chewed on my mistake like a dog on a bone and snapped at anyone who tried to take it away from me.

The worst part was, when I realized what was happening, I turned it into more fodder for my self doubt. I know better, I thought. I can’t believe I’m doubting myself again. I proceeded to beat myself up for beating myself up.

An Epidemic of Doubt

Self doubt is incredibly common in people who are struggling to find their purpose in life or who feel trapped in jobs they don’t like.

For example, one woman I spoke with recently has a job that she knows isn’t sustainable physically, financially, or emotionally. She wants to move into something that’s more enjoyable and rewarding, but she worries that she won’t be able to successfully transition into a new industry, fears failure, and finds the tasks necessary to make a change overwhelming.

Beyond these common symptoms, however, self doubt has an even more destructive component. It erodes our ability to be true to who we are.

When things aren’t going the way we’d like in our external lives—in our jobs, families, friendships, or other pursuits—we start to believe the corrosive voice in our heads that tells us that there’s something wrong with us. We turn on ourselves, and instead of embracing the things that make us unique and allow us to work through our challenges and contribute great things to the world, we condemn them, seeing irredeemable flaws not just in what we do, but in the fabric of who we are.

The Love Letter

It would be easy to condemn self doubt itself as another irredeemable flaw. I would propose a different way of looking at it, however.

Self doubt comes from our desire to be good. It’s a sign that we care about ourselves and our world. It’s misguided, yes, but it’s also a sign of a beautiful heart. If you didn’t care, if you didn’t want what’s good for yourself and others, you wouldn’t doubt. And as I mentioned in my previous post, wanting and caring are key to transforming not just your life, but also the world for the better.

Perhaps because of this, self doubt is also one of the best guides I know of to help you find your path. It points to the exact place where your gifts are needed and where you’re likely not sharing them freely.

I can probably explain this most clearly with a story from my recent meditation retreat.

The Gift of Self Doubt (Based on a True Story)

I’m a loud meditator. I meditate in a tradition that encourages you to become aware of and then surrender to whatever emotional, physical, or spiritual energy is moving through you. You’re also invited to express it through sound and movement. Over the years, I’ve found that my energy often wants to express itself through deep and relatively loud noises. The group I meditate in, however, is filled with other noisy meditators, so I’m usually not the loudest one in the room.

Then last weekend I found myself in a meditation retreat where the group was much quieter. My urge was to override my energy and remain silent as well. My teacher, however, encouraged me to stay true to whatever energy was arising within me. To my constant dismay, that meant making loud sounds.

The first night I was filled with self doubt. I could almost hear the other participants’ internal judgments and feel their irritation through the walls. I convinced myself that the only reason I needed to be loud was because I’m an emotional mess and can’t manage to get my $#*! together like everyone else.

The next morning I shared my doubts with the group. They were encouraging, but I wasn’t convinced. When we paired up for the next meditation, I was with a woman who was new to this particular practice. She was dealing with a lot of sadness but having a hard time letting herself feel it. As I settled into my meditation, I felt energy rise within me and want to be expressed. I will not make a noise, I thought to myself. The teacher came over and put her hand on my back. I knew she was trying to assist me in moving energy, but all I could think of over and over, was I will not make a noise. I will not. I will not.

Suddenly I had the image of the entire energy of the earth beneath me knocking on a trapdoor at the base of my spine. “Will you open the door and accept this gift?” it seemed to be asking. Part of me didn’t want to. Part of me desperately wanted to keep that door shut. But I knew enough to know the power of the gift being offered, so I opened to it.

A wave of incredibly strong, rooted energy immediately flowed through me. I opened my mouth and let it all come out. Aware of the power of the energy, I extended it to the woman in front of me, offering it to help her as well in any way it could. I sat with her for what felt like a long time, feeling connected, compassionate, powerful. And loud. I was very loud.

When we were done, the woman looked up at me in tears. “You energy was so strong, and so helpful,” she said. “I felt it there assisting me the entire time. I’ve never felt so held, so surrounded by support.” She said she was finally able to access some of the sadness she had resisted earlier. “I finally feel like everything’s going to be okay,” she said at the end.

What I learned about self doubt in that moment is that it is wildly inaccurate, almost humorously so. I also learned that it has the ability to point us to both the exact thing that makes us unique and the best way to share our gifts at any given moment in order to help those around us. All I had to do was resist the temptation to turn on myself, embrace the very thing that felt worthy of shame, and go in the direction the doubt was trying to steer me away from.

Not easy to do, sure, but a signpost couldn’t have been clearer in helping me find my way.

The Guide

There’s no easy way to work with self doubt. Positive affirmations work for a lot of people, but they’re never worked well for me. Or at least, not by themselves.

In my experience, you can’t talk yourself out of self doubt. That’s always my first instinct, but it rarely works for long. There are other things you can do, however, to transform it into self love and a powerful gift to give to others. Here are some ways I’ve found to work with self doubt:

1. Listen for the story the doubt is telling.

Self doubt is born from the stories we tell ourselves, consciously or not. Get curious about what these stories are saying about who you are. You can often do this by paying conscious attention to your thoughts or through stream-of-consciousness journaling about whatever situation is triggering the doubt.

Is your doubt saying that you’re too (strong, weak, loud, quiet, selfish, lazy, fearful, indecisive, impulsive…) or not (calm, generous, clear, productive, enlightened, loving, selfless…) enough?

As you’re listening for the story, it can be very helpful to feel the fear as well. Usually self doubt comes up when we’re scared about something. Admitting to yourself what that is and letting yourself feel the fear (I do this by getting curious about where I feel it in my body and then letting it be there without trying to get rid of it), can be very powerful in transforming the doubt.

When I was doubting myself the other weekend, the story I was telling myself was that I wasn’t doing enough to take care of my house, my marriage, my family, my health, or anything, really. I was scared that I wasn’t the type of person I wanted to be, and that I would lose what I cared about most. The basic message came down to “I’m a lazy, selfish person, and I’m going to lose everything I love because all I want to do right now is lay around and take a nap.”

2. See the truth beneath the story.

This can be tricky, because the doubt can feel so convincing. See if you can look at the situation as if through the eyes of someone who loves and respects you very much. Can you find any evidence that the opposite of what the doubt is saying is true?

In my case of feeling I wasn’t doing enough, I began to remember many things I had done over the past week to take care of the people and things that are important to me. I could also see that my house, overall, is in good shape, as are my relationships, my health and well-being, etc. Once I started looking for it, I found evidence that not only do I do a lot, but I’m pretty darn effective at taking care of what matters most.

What my doubt was missing was that while taking care of business is well and good, it’s not the most important thing. Staying in touch with the present moment, my Inner Wisdom, and my connection to something larger than myself, is actually what’s most important to me. It’s what allows me to move away from ego and towards my true self, feel greater joy and serenity, tap into my creativity, share my gifts with the world, and grow towards health and wholeness. It also requires lots of space, rest, and time to be and not do. For me, that often looks like moving slowly, not getting much done, and yes, taking naps.

Self doubt is like a giant arrow pointing away from your most powerful and unique strengths. Go in the opposite direction of the arrow, and you’ll find your greatest gifts like a pot of gold at the wrong end of a confusing rainbow.

3. Get others to help you.

If you’re having a hard time seeing what the truth really is, ask someone you trust for help. Compassionate family members, friends, or colleagues who get you can help you find a new, more objective perspective than you might be able to access on your own. They are also usually able to recognize and articulate your talents and gifts when you simply can’t.

Other people can also help in another important way. A lot of times we feel self doubt because we haven’t done something before. Chances are you aren’t incapable of doing what you feel called to, but you may need some time and help to learn new skills. Other people can help you navigate learning curves, whether as teachers, coaches, mentors, or peers. Asking others for help can not only speed up the learning process, but make it much more enjoyable as well.

4. When in doubt, experiment.

Instead of believing your self doubt, which tells you that you’re incapable or unworthy of getting what you want, find out the truth for yourself. The best way I know to do this is to conduct experiments.

It’s hard to convince yourself that you can do something without actually doing it. But when you try it and find that you don’t fall flat on your face, it provides evidence to the skeptical part of yourself that you may not be such a nincompoop after all.

So the next time your doubt is trying to talk you out of something, come up with a way to do an experiment and test your hypothesis that you’ll  ___(fail, be rejected, embarrass yourself, find out you’re not as good as you thought you were, etc.)____. In the case of the woman who felt stuck in an unsustainable job, this might be signing up for a class or volunteering for an organization in a new field she’s interested in. For me the other weekend, it might have been taking a nap when I worried I should be doing something more productive.

No matter what experiment you decide to try, be like a scientist and observe your experience carefully. What thoughts, emotions, and body sensations arise during the experiment? What happens as a result? Do things fall apart? Do you fall flat on your face? Or does something good actually come about?

Pay attention to your expectations as you do this as well. (This is true for everyone, but especially for those of us with a tendency towards perfectionism.) Are you allowing yourself to be a beginner and get more effective over time, or are you expecting yourself to be a prodigy and pick this up in a day, week, month, or even year?

5. No matter what, be extra kind and gentle with yourself.

In many ways, the antidote to self doubt is self love.

That means being compassionate with yourself, recognizing that this is something that everyone struggles with in one way of another. It’s also not something you should already know how to do. Learning how to be true to yourself despite fear and self doubt is a lifelong process, and we’re certainly not taught anything about how to do it in school. Rather than getting in the way of progress, I actually believe it’s one of the most worthwhile things we can spend time on while we’re here.

Loving yourself also means being kind and gentle. Allow yourself to go slowly. Let yourself make mistakes. Do all the things you can think of that feed and nourish you. For me, that’s walking in nature, spending time with animals, connecting with loved ones, taking hot baths, napping, doing something creative, reading fantasy books, and watching funny movies.

You don’t have to wait until you’re confident or over your self doubt to treat yourself well. Often confidence comes once we’ve made the decision that we’re worthy of a little kindness and tender loving care.

Support for Transforming Self Doubt

I don’t have any openings right now for individual coaching clients, but I am thinking about starting another group coaching cohort this summer. If you’re interested in working in a safe and compassionate community of peers to transform self doubt, identify your calling, and take steps towards work you love, you can  find out more and apply for the program here.

Over to You

What self doubt is coming up for you right now? What gifts is it pointing you towards? What action feels most important to take in order to transform it?

Please share in the comments below.

The Power of Desire and How to Use It to Transform Your Life

Last Monday I did an experiment after getting back from vacation. I wanted to see if I could maintain the level of relaxation I’d established the previous two weeks while traveling when I returned to work and my more stressful To Dos.

I decided not to do anything unless I wanted to. I was going to let what I wanted to do, not what I thought I should do, organize my day.

The conversation in my head started off something like this:

“So, what do I want to do now?”

“Are you crazy? You need to answer emails, make your group coaching plans, catch up on bills, and call the dentist, the doctor, and your insurance provider just to start. You don’t have time to ask that question, let alone listen to the answer.”

“No, I know, it’s a lot, but this worked when I did it before. Let’s try it and see what happens. What sounds good to me to do now?”

What you need to do is work. You won’t want to do any of it, but it’s important. We’re talking about your livelihood, your health and well-being, not to mention the well-being of your clients…should I go on?”

“Yes, I know. That’s all really important. I don’t think I’ll actually want to endanger any of that. It can’t hurt to ask, can it? I promise I’ll take care of what I need to. Can I please go on?”

[Internal groan and rolling of the eyes] “Okay, fine.”

So I asked again. And this time, with my Inner Critic willing to stay quiet for the moment, I heard an answer. I wanted to create plans for group coaching. It felt important, meaningful, and even enjoyable.

I focused on the task with freedom and ease. I also didn’t feel rushed; I was curious to see what I would get done rather than engaging in my usual habit of going over and over the list of tasks I expected myself to complete before the end of the day.

I thought it would probably take most of the day and part of the next to complete the plans. Instead, it took 2 hours. When I finished, I asked myself again what I wanted to do. This time my Inner Critic was quieter, having seen what happened the first time.

I heard that I wanted to go on a walk outside, so I did. Then I heard “return phone calls”. Then “catch up on emails”. Then I wanted to take a nap. I made my way through the day in this way and ended up getting everything done on my To Do list. I hadn’t thought that was likely when I started, or even really possible.

The best part, though, was that at the end of the day I still felt relaxed and energized, and that night I slept great.

I say all this because paying attention to what we want is incredibly powerful, but it’s also surprisingly rare. I think most of us have forgotten how to listen to our deepest desires, though we often don’t realize it. The result is that we lack a sense of joy, meaning, and satisfaction in our lives, and it becomes almost impossible to find our calling.

Craving ≠ Calling

I realize that it’s strange to say that we’ve lost touch with our desires in a culture that’s set up to create and then cater to an ever-increasing number of appetites. We all have a list of things, services, or experiences that we want: a new car, the latest iPhone, a thinner body, someone to clean our house, a meal at a hot new restaurant, etc. These are cravings, and they’re not the type of wanting I’m talking about. As I wrote about recently, there are different types of desire.

Cravings, as I define them, are all about quick fixes. We may want deep nourishment and satisfaction, but we crave fat and sugar. Cravings are about what’s immediately available to us, what’s marketed to us, or what we see those around us doing. They promise to satisfy us and make all our problems go away in one fell swoop, but the truth is, they rarely do. Cravings are more often a distortion of what we really want.

In my experience, our true desires are much bigger than what we crave. Often we aren’t even consciously aware of them.

I had a client, for example, who wanted to make a career change but swore she had no idea what she wanted to do next. Then, after several months of working together to discover her passions, she casually mentioned to me, “Oh, didn’t I tell you? Yeah, for a long time I dreamt of being a photographer.” It’s like she herself had forgotten about this longing until that very moment.

I think maybe we dwell on all of our cravings and small aspirations in order to avoid the really big ones. We’re afraid of what we’d find if we let ourselves focus on what we really want. We might find that we want to do work that matters, seek out flexibility and autonomy, quit a job, start a business, write a novel, be a professional artist, get married, have kids, or do something else that’s equally terrifying.

What We Can Learn From the Cool Kids

I believe that letting ourselves want something is one of the scariest things we can do. It makes us vulnerable. There’s a reason that the cool kids act like they don’t care about anything—they’ve already learned that longing, desiring, and hoping open you up to all kinds of potential danger.

There’s something raw, personal, and uncontrollable about desire. It reveals something important about who you are and what matters to you. For some of us, that alone is scary enough to keep our desires safely locked in a deep, dark place.

What’s more, when you want something, you might be disappointed. You might fail to find it, or worse, (the thinking goes) discover that you’re not worthy of it. These prospects can feel so painful that it can seem better to never desire anything at all.

Beyond taking risks, longing also asks you to be uncomfortable. The most important things we want are usually not immediately clear to us. We have to be uncertain and potentially confused for a long period of time before we know what we truly want or where to find it. We have to ask, keep asking, and try and often fail before it becomes clear.

It’s no wonder we avoid our deepest desires like a used handkerchief.

There’s a great cost to doing so, however. What makes our longings so hard to embrace is also what makes them so valuable. Our deepest desires are an integral part of who we are; they bring us home to our essential self, beyond our fears, our ego, or the person that we think we are or that others want us to be. Longings are stronger than steel, out of our control, and bigger than our tiny, willful plans. They force us to share our gifts with the world in ways we might be too terrified to try were the desire not so strong. Finally, wanting things inevitably leads to obstacles, disappointments, and failures that help us grow and learn the things that we’re here to learn.

It turns out that the cool kids aren’t usually the happy kids, at least until they learn how to embrace who they are and what they want.

Learning to Want Again

My own history with desire involves a lot of delayed reactions.

For example, I’ve always wanted to write. But after experiencing a huge disappointment when I wrote my first novel at age 12, I abandoned that desire for years. I decided that I didn’t want to write professionally because it would be too much pressure, and I convinced myself that writing wasn’t really as important to me as I’d thought it was.

None of this was true. After a spiritual, mental, and emotional breakdown in my mid-20s, I began to learn how to decipher what I truly wanted, and little by little, those desires pointed back to writing. It took more than 20 years for me to circle back around, but eventually I found great joy as I started a blog, wrote some short stories, and eventually got started on another novel.

Now I’m waking up to new desires. Coaching and running my own business take up the vast majority of my time and, more importantly, my energy. I love them, but I’m also starting to recognize a desire to have more time for creative projects, and to invest more of my energy in my family life. These desires feel scary to me; they require me to make significant changes in how I work, and I’m still not sure what those will look like or how they’ll turn out.

I feel both excited by new possibilities, and at the same time shaky, vulnerable, and uncertain.

What I do know is that if I want to find the big answers, I’ve got to listen to the little ones I already have. That means committing to doing what I want more, regardless of the fear that that brings up.

As part of that effort, I’m going to change how I publish this blog. For two years now I’ve published a post every other week, mostly because I’d heard that you need to publish regularly and frequently to be successful. Starting now, I’m committing to writing and publishing only when I want and feel inspired to. My Inner Critic is saying that this is an incredibly selfish thing to do and that I’ll be letting people down, but I believe that it’ll mean better content for y’all because I’ll only be writing when I have something I really want to say.

It’s an experiment. I don’t know how it will turn out, but I’m curious to find out. If you have any feedback about this change impacts you, I’d love to hear it.

In the meantime, I’m going to keep listening for what I want. I don’t know where it will lead me, but I do have the strong sense that if I stay true to it, it’ll all be for the good.

An Exercise to Reconnect with Your Deepest Desires

Following is an exercise that can help you remember what it is you truly want. It can also help you reconnect to more joy, energy, and satisfaction when you’re feeling stressed, anxious, exhausted, overwhelmed, or burnt out.

Start by setting aside a block of time to do only what you want, sometime between 1 hour and a full day. When the time comes, ask yourself:

What do I want to do right now? What sounds good to me?

Your mind will probably come up with all types of things that you should do. Let it know you’re doing an experiment and promise not to let it mess up your life too profoundly. Then ask again.

Pay attention to how you feel, emotionally and in your body, as different ideas arise. Which ideas bring up a sense of excitement, energy, or lightness within you?

When you land on an answer that feels good to you, do it, regardless of how silly, crazy, or unproductive it sounds. If it’s something you can’t do right now, make a concrete plan to do it later and ask for what else you want to do right now.

Most of us worry that if we only do what we want, we’ll become lazy couch potatoes, selfish brats, or mean bastards. In my experience, nobody truly wants to be any of those things. Those are the types of things that tend to happen when we listen to our cravings rather than our true desires. If you get an idea and you’re not sure if it’s a craving or a true desire, try it out and see how you feel. You’ll be able to tell the difference by how satisfying (or icky) it feels.

Once you finish an activity or no longer want to do it, ask what you want to do again. Do this as many times as necessary.

When the time period is over, take a moment to check in with how you feel, both emotionally and in your body. Is this better or worse than usual? Also take note of the things you wanted to do. Did any surprise you? Finally, check in on the results of your actions. Did things fall apart? Is there evidence that you harmed anybody else? Did anything good result? These are the outcomes of your experiment, and it can be helpful to write them down.

I recommend doing this exercise/experiment regularly, at least weekly to start. My current intention is to do it all day every day, though I’m not nearly there yet. It can be surprisingly hard to do, but like any skill or habit, it gets easier with practice. And as you uncover your little desires, the bigger ones are revealed.

It seems like a such a small thing, to risk wanting what you want. But it isn’t. It has the power to transform you, your life, and your ability to contribute, not to mention the world.

Over to You

What do you want that’s scary to admit?

What gets in the way of doing more of what you want?

I’d love to hear from you (and I have a feeling I’m not the only one), so please leave a comment below.

If You Want Help Finding Your Answers…

I offer individual and group coaching programs at various levels of investment designed to help you reconnect with your desires and discover the confidence and courage you need to follow them.  To find out more, schedule a free 1:1 call with me.

Little One and the Field of Power

Following is the eleventh story in a series that tells the tale of the first hero to go on a journey to discover his calling.

To read the first story in the series, click here.

To read the previous installment, click here.


Even thinking back on it afterwards, Little One had no idea how he survived the fall.

He plunged through the abyss for what felt like days. Of course he had no way of knowing how long it actually was. All he knew was that despite his fervent hope that something—anything—would begin to take shape beneath him, he kept falling through the endless void.

It was so dark that he couldn’t see anything, not even the rest of his body as it fell. With nothing but unknown blackness surrounding him, his mind began to seek solid ground at least internally by imagining what lay below him.

At first he pictured beautiful landscapes filled with rushing water, lush forests, and mountaintop vistas that extended as far as the eye could see. But as the fall continued with no ground in sight, the images began to turn darker. He couldn’t stop himself from imagining scorched sands, burned tree trunks, and threatening figures moving under an endless night.

At one point his visualizations grew so terrifying that the blackness surrounding him felt almost comforting in comparison. At least he seemed to be alone here, with nothing around to attack. He could even feel the warm air supporting him from below so he didn’t fall too fast, and the emptiness surrounded him with such softness that it almost felt like an embrace.

Little One lost himself in these sensations and nearly forgot that there was supposed to be anything more in the world than this. It was a pleasant, almost entirely unfamiliar feeling.

Eventually—hours, days, or weeks later—Little One was never quite sure—the blackness began to lighten. He was startled when he made out something moving about just in front of him; he was even more surprised to realize that it was his own foot.

As the air about him lightened, he began to be able to discern something green far below. Suddenly fear returned sharp as a knife in his belly as Little One realized the very real danger of what he had been hoping for all this time. He didn’t have a good sense of how fast he was falling, but his speed appeared to be increasing; wind was starting to whip about his head, blowing his hair in his face and tugging his clothes away from him.

The green below him was beginning to look more and more like rolling hills covered in grass. Though it looked softer than rock, it was likely dense enough to easily smash a skull at any significant speed.

He tried to think of a way to break his fall on something softer, but there was nothing below him but undulating grasslands, and nothing with him that he could use to slow himself down.

As the ground hurtled towards him, he made an effort to focus on the air beneath him, feeling its embrace again as he had in the abyss. As soon as he did, the wind whipped less wildly and he felt himself slowing down. The more he focused on the sensation of being held up, the more slowly he went.

He descended the last bit of sky in this way, gradual for a moment like a feather as he felt the air beneath him, then quickly like a rock as his fear took over and the ground rushed up to meet him. Then he would relax into the air’s embrace and become a feather once again.

The last bit he approached like a rock until, just before he landed, he felt a gust of air rushing upward from beneath him; it picked him up as gently as a mother would her child, then deposited him with somewhat less tenderness face-first into the moist ground beneath the grass.

Little One wiggled his fingers and toes. No pain. He lifted one leg, then another, then his arms. Nothing hurt; he seemed to be all in one piece.

His mind struggled to make sense of what had just happened but ultimately failed. He shook his head, pushed himself up off the dirt, and looked around.

Grass surrounded him, waving slightly in the breeze. The gentle hills extended in all directions beneath a blue, sunny sky.

Little One took a deep breath. He decided that this was a beautiful place—the soft green grass as it rippled like giant waves in the wind, the stark blue of the sky, and the light that shimmered in the distance. This was good land, he thought, a kind place, and he felt grateful as he began to walk directly towards the sun in search of the kidnapped Serpent God.

Walking felt extraordinarily good. He enjoyed the sensation of movement in his legs, and he felt free, purposeful, fulfilled. He wasn’t sure at first which direction to go in, but he felt confident that if he just kept walking with open eyes and ears, he couldn’t help but find clues that would help him locate his father.

After some time he passed a stream. Its water was so clear and it made such a delightful noise as it spilled over pebbles and around boulders that he considered changing course and following it downstream. In the end, however, he decided to stick to the direction he had already chosen, having come this far. He drank his fill of the sweet, cool water and filled up his flask, but then continued on his way.

A few hours later, he began to regret his decision. The sun was beginning its descent towards the horizon, and he hadn’t seen any more streams. He’d assumed there would be many out here, given the lushness of the landscape, but he’d seen nothing—no water, no animals, not even a single, solitary bush—that would suggest there was anything out here other than infinite fields of grass.

It occurred to him that this place might not be as kind as he’d thought. It began to feel more desolate. He felt a tightening in his chest as he realized that though beautiful, this land wasn’t very hospitable, and that food and water were scarce.

He decided to return to the stream.

When he turned around, he noticed something strange. The grass—which moments before had a rich, bright sheen—no longer looked quite so robust. Little One wasn’t sure if it was the change in the sun’s angle or something else, but it now appeared yellowish, parched, and almost brittle.

He began to walk and continued for what felt like an interminably long time, but nothing in the landscape changed except the rustling of the dry grass. He was sure he had walked at least as far as he had come, but there was no water in sight. He considered whether he could have gotten turned around, but the sun was directly in front of him and the stream had been perpendicular to his path; he should have come across it regardless.

Little One’s legs suddenly felt tired, and he realized that his foot was starting to ache. He could feel frustration rising within him.

“This place isn’t just desolate—it’s dangerous,” he muttered to himself. “It’s actively trying to deceive me.”

Just then his foot caught the edge of a rock hidden by the grass and he fell, barely managing to get a hand in front of himself to avoid falling again face first into the dirt.

“Oh, you think that’s funny, do you?” he cried aloud. He slammed his fist into the earth. “I don’t think it’s funny at all.” He felt something heavy and malevolent in the air around him, the way electricity charges the air just before lightning strikes.

When he stood up again, the landscape around him had changed. There were jagged cliffs rising in the distance now, fissures were opening up in the earth around him, and the air was darkening even as the sun was still visible above the horizon. A cold wind brushed against his arm, raising goosebumps.

Little One shuddered. This place is turning against me, he thought to himself. I’ve angered it, and it wants me gone.

He began to walk more slowly now, careful where he put his feet. The air got quieter and more threatening with each step. The fissures around him grew bigger, gaping like mouths that wanted to swallow him whole.

This is bad, Little One thought. I need to get out of here, and fast.

Just then Little One heard crackling and felt a searing heat on the back of his legs. Even before he turned, he knew what he would find. The entire field of grass behind him had burst into bright flames of red and orange. He had no idea how it had started, let alone spread so quickly, but he didn’t have time to wonder; the fire was flying towards him with the speed and resolve of a dragon hunting prey.

Little One ran, cursing his luck at having landed in such an evil place.

That’s when another strange thing happened. Where a moment before there had been solid ground beneath his feet, now there was nothing. Little One saw it happen, saw the earth in front of his extended foot disappear in an instant and become a void, nothing more than shadow.

Before he had time to register this fact, he was falling into an abyss for the second time that day.

This one, fortunately, was shorter than the last. And that, perhaps as much as anything else, is what calmed him down. By the time he tumbled to a stop at the bottom of the pit, he was almost laughing at the absurdity of what was happening.

He felt surprisingly clear-headed and calm. “Another chasm,” he said to himself, laughing. “Okay, well, at least I’m getting pretty good at these.”

He heard a buzzing sound but couldn’t find its source. The fissure he found himself in wasn’t large at all—he could touch the walls all around him, but he was a good ways from the top. He figured it wouldn’t take too long to climb out, but when he tried, the earth crumbled; he couldn’t get purchase for a hand or foot, and he sensed that if he tried too hard, he might end up burying himself alive.

The buzzing seemed to be coming from behind him, but when he turned, there was nothing there. It continued, sometimes behind his left ear and sometimes behind his right, as he thought about the first chasm he had fallen into and the snake that had helped him find his way out after he had nearly given up. He hadn’t seen the snake since revisiting that chasm and seeing the whole episode replayed in front of him. He had realized then that the snake wasn’t separate from him; its wisdom was really his own. Recalling that, he suddenly felt stronger. If he could make it out of that pit of darkness, surely he could make it out of this one.

Still, he wished the snake would come and tell him exactly what to do. That would certainly make things easier.

It occurred to Little One that someone or something had helped him overcome nearly every challenge he’d successfully faced on this journey so far. He felt embarrassed by that for a moment until he realized that it meant that there was help available every time he’d gotten stuck. Which meant that there was help available somewhere around here now.

Little One looked around. He said a silent prayer—he wasn’t sure whether it was to the Serpent God, this strange land he now found himself in, or something else—but he asked whatever might be listening for help and guidance.

Nothing appeared. Little One repeated his prayer and waited. These things probably took time, he figured.

As he sat there waiting, the buzzing sound grew louder. A fly appeared from behind his head and hovered close to his eyes. Annoyed, Little One swatted it away with his hands. It immediately came back.

He swatted again, and again the fly returned. This happened twice more until the last time the fly didn’t come back. Little One breathed a sigh of relief.

“You were the one who asked for help,” a deep voice said from behind his head.

Little One whipped around but didn’t see anyone. He began to turn back around when he saw the fly hovering behind him at eye level.

“Don’t swat me again, please,” it said in a voice that was impossibly loud for its size. “I hate that. You have no idea how it messes with my navigational equipment. I’ll fly crooked for days now.”

Little One looked at the fly. “Um, I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t realize…”

“Didn’t realize that something with a mass hundreds of times my own would cause damage when slammed at high speeds against my delicate body? Yes, well, nobody could have seen that coming.”

Little One wasn’t sure what to say. He’d never talked to a sarcastic fly before. “I’m sorry,” he said again.

“Then I forgive you,” said the fly lightly. “Now, I believe you were looking for some help?”

Little One nodded. “How do I get out of here?”

“To get out,” the fly began sagaciously, “you need to first understand how you got in.”

Little One was tired of riddles. “Okay, how did I get in here then?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” asked the fly.

“Um, no,” said Little One, unable to keep the frustration from his voice. “If it were I wouldn’t have asked. The only thing that’s obvious to me is that this place is trying to kill me.”

Little One couldn’t be sure, but he thought the fly was shaking its head in disappointment. “A fundamental misunderstanding. Common, but erroneous. Tell me then,” he asked, “did it feel that way when you first got here?”

“Well, no,” Little One had to admit. “At first I thought it was great.”

“So what happened?”

“I realized that the grass just went on forever and that there was hardly any food or water.”

“And do you know those things for certain?”

Little One considered this. “Well, no, I guess not.”

The fly continued with its deep, commanding voice. “Exactly. So you told yourself a story about the nature of this place.” It paused, apparently waiting for something. “And…”

“And it turned out I was right?” Little One really was tired of riddles.

The fly’s two front legs crossed over its abdomen. “Exactly,” he said with satisfaction.

“Wait, what?” Little One asked.

He saw tiny flashes of white in the fly’s face and realized that it had rolled its eyes.  “You told yourself a story about how great this world was, and you were right. Then you told yourself a story about how horrible it was, and—guess what?—turns out you were right again,” the fly said impatiently. “That’s generally how the stories we tell ourselves work, is it not?”

Little One was confused. “What do you mean?”

“Stories are powerful,” explained the fly, uncrossing its legs. “You tell one, and that’s what’s true. Tell another, and that’s what’s true. The world conforms itself to your expectations. All worlds do, really. This one is just particularly responsive.”

Little One shook his head. “You mean I make things happen with the stories that I tell myself? I can change the physical world with my thoughts?”

The fly laughed. “I’m just a fly. I don’t pretend to understand everything that makes the world the way it is. What I’m saying is that your stories determine your reality. Regardless of what’s actually going on, they create how your world looks, sounds, and feels to you. They define your experience and, even more, what’s possible for you.”

Little One took this in. “So to get out of here, I just need to tell a better story.”

“Well done, Grasshopper!” said the fly, laughing at his own joke.

Little One thought he heard an edge of mockery in the fly’s laughter. It rubbed him the wrong way. He was already feeling stupid for having gotten himself stuck, once again, in a bad situation that was entirely of his own making.

“That’s just another story,” the fly said, as if reading his mind. “Are you sure it’s the one you really want to tell?”

Little One shook his head as if to break free of something. “I suppose not,” he said. “How about this one: I just learned another good lesson rather quickly. And there was really no way to learn it without making that mistake.”

The fly clapped its two front legs together enthusiastically. “And so the student becomes the master. I believe my work here is done.” It put one arm in front of its abdomen and flew down quickly and back up again in what Little One understood to be a mock bow before it started flying away.

Little One had an idea. “Hey, hold on a second,” he said. “Did you see the Serpent God pass this way? I have reason to believe he was abducted against his will, and I’m trying to find him.”

The fly looked at him, all laughter gone from its face. “No,” he said seriously. “I am, once again, just a humble fly. But if what you say is true, that is serious.” He paused for a moment, as if making a decision, before finally nodding his head and continuing. “There is, however, a creature not far from here who can give you what you’re looking for.”

Little One’s heart started to beat faster, and he felt excitement rise within him. “Really? Where can I find this creature?”

“When you get to the surface, you will see the stream you missed from behind the illusion of your story. Follow it downstream and you will find this beast.”

Something in the fly’s manner dampened Little One’s excitement. “You’re sure it can give me what I seek?”

“Of that I am sure,” said the fly. “But it may not be what you think it is.”

“It’s the only lead I’ve got,” said Little One. “That’s good enough. Thank you so much!”

“Best hold your gratitude,” said the fly. “When all is said and done, you may not thank me after all.” And with that it buzzed off.

Little One watched it until it disappeared above him.

He wasn’t sure what the fly meant, but he wouldn’t figure it out by staying in this pit. He took a deep breath, preparing himself. Then he began to tell his story.

This is a good land, he thought to himself. Kind and generous and abundant.

As if in answer, he heard a bird singing, the first animal he’d heard since arriving.

I have everything I need. Assistance is always available to me.

A ray of sunlight appeared on the wall in front of him. He put his hand into its light and enjoyed the warmth.

I can find my way out of here. There are probably lots of ways to climb out; all I need is one.

Just then he felt a drop of rain fall on his face. It was cold and unpleasant.

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” he said out loud. “I’m trying, here, okay?”

He took anther deep breath. “Okay, it’s just rain,” he said, trying again. “It can’t hurt. Plants need rain to grow. Animals need water too. It’s nourishing. Maybe it’s here to help me.”

And suddenly Little One understood. He laughed when he realized what was happening.

He put his backpack on and waited. The rain hit his face over and over, but the sensation felt enjoyable now, not unlike falling through the abyss.

In a short time water puddled in the bottom of the pit. Little One didn’t move. The rain continued, and the puddle turned into a pond. The rain got harder, and soon the pond turned into a lake.

Before long, Little One found himself treading water, buoyed up by the lake towards the opening of the pit.

When he reached the top, he pulled himself up onto solid land and rolled onto his back, where he could see the first stars of the evening that were beginning to emerge from behind the clouds as the sun went down.

That couldn’t have gone any better, he thought, and just then he was flooded with a sense of gratitude, contentment, and a strong desire to find his father.


Photo credit: Randen Pederson // CC


 

Want a Career Change But Don’t Want to Start Over? Here are 3 Good Options

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One of the most common concerns I hear from people who want to find more fulfilling work is that they don’t want to start over.

Starting over—whether it’s in a new field, new role, or new organization—definitely has its challenges. For one thing, in many industries rookies aren’t paid as much as veterans, so starting over can mean at least a temporary pay cut, which some people just can’t afford.

Career change also implies that you’ll need to learn new skills. This takes time, sometimes a lot of it, and can be very humbling. Nobody’s ego likes to be a beginner. If you’re used to being an expert, or even just experienced in your field, it can be uncomfortable to suddenly become the new kid on the block, asking the questions instead of answering them.

There are, however, ways to work through these challenges. As I like to remind folks (including myself), you always have options. Here are 3 ideas for you if you want to make a career change but don’t want to start over:

Option 1: Look for a job that changes enough but not too much.

Sometimes we don’t need to transform everything about our work in order to find fulfillment. In my experience, when people take the time to get clear on what’s absolutely essential to their happiness at work, they discover that they could find these things in a variety of ways, some of which can leverage their existing experience.

For example, I had a client once who was miserable in his job as the manager of an IT department. He tried out some radical changes, including becoming a comedy writer and an Uber driver.

Eventually he found that starting over so suddenly and dramatically didn’t work for him. He went back to the things he had identified that were vital to his fulfillment at work. Central to these were working more directly with customers, helping people, and having time outside of work for other things that were important to him.

Before long he found a job at a local department of community affairs. It provided all the key elements he needed to feel fulfilled and leveraged his 20+ years of IT experience. It also gave him the opportunity to continue to explore a career in writing in his time off.

If you don’t want to start completely over, you might:

  • Change industries, but not roles;
  • Change roles, but not industries; or
  • Change organizations, keeping the same role and industry.

This last alternative includes the possibility of going from employee to freelancer, which I’ve seen work well for many people.

You have so many options for how you put your strengths to use in the world. The key is to take the time to uncover them by brainstorming, exploring, and asking those around you to help you discover possibilities you may never have thought of on your own.

Option 2: Go slowly and work your way in gradually.

Often you can avoid the most difficult parts of starting over by doing it one step at a time.

If you’re interested in starting your own business, for example, you don’t have to quit your day job right away. You can start your venture on the side and work your way through the learning curve at your own pace. This also allows you to have a steady income for as long as you need until your business is big enough to support you on its own.

There are similarly lots of ways to gain new skills and experience while still in your current line of work. You can take an evening class, volunteer with a non-profit, or initiate a project at work that would allow you to build your desired capabilities. I had a client, for example, who was interested in project management, so she persuaded her boss to install a more effective IT system and let her lead the implementation process. In this way, she got to try out this type of work and gain experience in a new role all as part of her regular 9 to 5.

If your current job won’t allow for this type of learning, you might consider making a lateral switch to a job that may not be ideal in the long-run but can provide a good foundation from which to make a slow and steady transition.

It’s not always what we most want to hear, but the truth is that most successful career changes happen over time and often in multiple steps. This is actually a good thing, as it means you don’t have to rush. It also lessens fear and anxiety, as you can continue to enjoy the security and familiarity of your day job while stretching yourself to step into new frontiers outside of it.

The other good news is that because we tend to feel better when we’re actively working towards something we want, we don’t have to wait until we’ve made our final move to experience more joy and satisfaction.

Option 3: Find something that makes starting over worth it.

A lot of people worry about having to start over before they’re even clear about what they want to do. This makes the possibility even more unappealing, as it’s really hard to be willing to give something up (money, time, professional kudos, etc.) if you’re not sure what you’ll get as a result.

You may find, however, that once you’ve explored some options and found something that excites you, you won’t mind investing time, money, or even some discomfort in making a change. This becomes easier to do when you have a better idea of what you can expect to get in return.

I had a client, for example, who worked in a well-paying job at a prestigious company. When we started working together, she desperately wanted to make a change but felt frozen and unable to justify giving all this up to start over in a new career that might end up disappointing her.

We worked through some of her fears together, and she became more willing to take necessary risks. But she wasn’t truly ready to take a leap until she found out about an opportunity to work on the gubernatorial campaign of a former colleague. Her love of politics, her respect for her former coworker, and her ability to visualize exactly what she would be doing and how she would feel about it gave her the confidence she needed to make a change. Suddenly the discomfort of starting over seemed like a small price to pay for doing work she would enjoy and was passionate about.

Before you make up your mind that you don’t want to give up what you have by starting over, you might want to take the time to explore whether there’s anything out there that would give you something greater in return.

It may not be as bad as you think.

There’s one other reason why you might want to consider starting over.

Sometimes we anticipate what we think it’s going to be like to begin again. We imagine how hard it will be, how embarrassed we’ll feel, or how much work we’ll have to do. We might envision every task that’s involved and feel overwhelmed, deciding then that it’s not for us.

But starting over doesn’t have to feel daunting. You can take it one step at a time at whatever speed works for you. Instead of going over the entire process in your mind, focus on whatever your next step might be.

And keep in mind that may not be as hard as you think. In my experience, when you’re moving towards your calling, the universe will help you in ways you wouldn’t have expected.

As Cheri Huber says, “Fear of the unknown is really just fear of our own imagination.” And fortunately, starting over can be easier, more energizing, and more enjoyable than you might imagine.

Over to You

What are your fears about having to start over?

When has starting over been helpful for you, or at least not as bad as you imagined?

What might you gain from a fresh start?

Your answers could really help others, so please take a moment to share them below.

Why Not Always Getting What You Want Is a Really Good Thing

In a lot of ways, I’m just like every other human being on this planet. When I want something, I want the world to give it to me, easily and abundantly, pretty much right away. And also like my fellow human beings, I find that my hopes are pretty consistently disappointed in this regard, which can cause a lot of frustration and discouragement.

Then the other day I had an experience that helped me realize why this might actually be a good thing after all, and not just for me.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

It began when I realized that I needed to go back to Home Depot for the third time in four hours to return a floor polisher that hadn’t really worked in the first place. It was a Sunday. All I had wanted, I thought, was a quiet day without excessive demands on my time so I could enjoy a day of rest. When I realized that that wasn’t in the cards, the pity party began.

Still, I was connected enough to my inner wisdom to hear at least some of its guidance, so I promised myself that after returning from Home Depot I would not do any more home improvement work and would use the hour or so of free time I had to do something nourishing and relaxing—whatever sounded good at the time.

I ended up deciding to take a hot bath and read a novel by one of my favorite authors. And let me tell you, it was amazing. I take a lot of baths, but that one felt particularly relaxing and luxurious.

It occurred to me that maybe the reason it felt so powerful was that I had actively chosen it. What I wanted was for life to offer me a day free from responsibilities or demands on my time. That is not what life gave me. But it had given me the opportunity to make a choice based on what was important to me. Is it possible that this was an even better gift?

When Life Gives You Confusion Instead of Clarity

I know a lot of people who don’t know what they want to be when they grow up. I didn’t for a long time as well, and I know how frustrating it can be.

You start to wonder: Why couldn’t I be one of those people who knew that they wanted to be a firefighter, or a lawyer, or a circus clown from the time they were 5? You think about how much easier your life would be if you’d only been born knowing what type of work you’re meant to do in the world.

Perhaps that would make like easier; I wouldn’t know. But I’m beginning to be fairly certain that it wouldn’t make it better.

Often when people do one thing their entire lives, they don’t know what to do with themselves when they’re no longer doing it—either because they were forced out of it through injury or circumstance, or because they retired. Nothing lasts forever, and these people never had to wrestle with the question of what they most want to do or why, so they never really learned how to answer it. As a result, they often get confused, disillusioned, and depressed when they no longer know what to do.

The clients I work with, on the other hand, have to learn how to answer the question of what’s most important to them and what they want most. As a result, they can always find their way again whenever life’s circumstances change or they find something they were enjoying no longer makes them come alive. They don’t have to worry about confusion and uncertainty because they know how to step into the unknown, hear their inner wisdom, and make choices based on what matters most.

The Real Reason You Can’t Always Get What You Want

I find it a worthwhile past time to seek out evidence that the world is benevolent. (I spent a large part of my life looking for everything that was wrong with me and the world, and what I found is that (1) whatever you look for you tend to find and (2) that really serves no purpose except making yourself miserable.)

It seems to me that when we don’t get what we want, it may be because it’s not what’s best for us anyway. It might also be that we’re being given the opportunity to choose.

If, for example, you don’t get the job you were hoping for, maybe it wasn’t the right fit for you. Maybe it would have made you miserable, and you would have made others equally miserable, but you wouldn’t have known that until you’d moved your life around to take the job and invested 9 months into it.

Or maybe you would have loved it. Maybe you’re being given the opportunity to make a conscious choice to commit to doing the type of work you want to do in the world, and to exercise that commitment over and over by continuing to uncover opportunities until you find the right one.

Like I discovered in my bath, there’s power in choosing something despite opposition, rather than having it given to you.

Perhaps this is the real reason we aren’t always given what we want. Perhaps it’s an opportunity to discover this power we all have, the ability to make a choice based on what’s important to us in any circumstance and stick with that choice despite adversity. In doing so, we discover a strength we may not have even known we had.

Remembering Our Power to Create

It’s important that we remember we have this ability to choose and to commit to that choice, because that’s really what the power of creation is all about.

It’s like the universe is using adversity to remind us that we’re stronger than we realize, and that we’re powerful enough to construct a life that expresses and fulfills what matters most to us.

Once we realize we have this potential, there’s no telling what we can create; the same ability we have to construct a life of meaning allows us to give form to anything else, from novels and songs to businesses and relationships—even entire societies. Perhaps not giving us what we want all the time is the best way that the world that gave us life has to invite us, in turn, to make our own creations and contributions to the world.

Putting Our Power to Use

So the next time you find yourself feeling frustrated that you haven’t gotten what you want, use it as a chance to get clear about what’s most important to you and ask yourself what choices you can make to care for and nurture whatever that is.

Just please don’t use all this as another club to beat yourself up when you’re feeling disappointed. This isn’t about asking what you did wrong. It’s definitely not about criticizing yourself for making poor choices or for supposedly lacking commitment. It’s really about remembering that what’s happening may be far better than anything you have in mind, and seeing what choices are available to you to make right now.

Keep in mind that sometimes we don’t recognize all the choices we have because we’re viewing things out of habit and our own limited perspective. We all have blind spots, and we all need help from others to see through them to where new possibilities may lie. I know I’ve felt stuck many times in my life only to have someone else offer an idea that feels very obvious in retrospect but probably never would have occurred to me, left to my own devices.

We’re creative, powerful creatures, and we always have options. Sometimes we just need to be reminded of that, by friends or by life. I don’t know about your friends, but life is usually happy to oblige.

Discover Your Own Power and Possibilities

If you’re having trouble finding appealing options , or if you’re not sure how to navigate the challenges in front of you, help is available. I offer individual and group coaching programs at various levels of investment designed to help you reconnect with your own creative power, discover new possibilities, and get clear about which ones you want to pursue.

To find out more, schedule a free 1:1 call with me. We’ll illuminate your goals, clarify your challenges, and discuss what each program involves and how it can help. There’s no cost for the call and no obligation to buy anything. Click here to apply for your free call today.

Over to You

 When have you discovered something valuable as a result of not getting what you wanted?

Your experience and insight can help others, so please take a moment to share in a comment below.

Why You Don’t Need to Feel Guilty About Wanting More

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I received an email recently from a lovely woman describing a very common problem.

She reported feeling blessed in many ways: she has a wonderful son, a career in a respected field, and a job that offers flexibility. Despite this, she’s not happy with her work and is sad and frustrated much of the time. As a result, she feels guilty, ungrateful, and selfish.

I’ve heard some version of this from many people over the years:

  • “I’m lucky to even have a job. Why can’t I just be satisfied with that?”
  • “Work isn’t supposed to be fun. That’s why it’s called work, right?”
  • “Nobody really likes their job. What makes me think I deserve better?”

I can’t address the issue of who deserves what; nor can I say how work is or isn’t supposed to be. In fact, none of these questions really have answers, which is part of why I think we ask them. The true purpose of this line of thinking seems to be keeping us stuck knee-deep in the status quo (more on this below).

It’s Your Choice

What I can say about the nature of work is that we get to choose what we want it to be: fun or boring, joyful or unpleasant, fulfilling or dissatisfying.

Yes, I understand that there are limits on our options, and that there are times when we may need to take a job we don’t particularly like because we need money to take care of ourselves or someone we love. Still, we’re choosing to do so because the rewards are greater than the costs.

We always have options. Victor Frankl, the Austrian neurologist and Holocaust survivor, put it very eloquently: Everything can be taken from a man but one thing; the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

In terms of your career, that means that though you may not like your job, you can find meaning, and thus a measure of contentment, in anything you do. (Frankl also said, “Life holds potential meaning under any conditions, even the most miserable ones.”)

And just because you took a job you don’t like doesn’t mean you have to stay there forever. The truth is that most of us have many more options than we realize; we’re just either discarding them prematurely or we haven’t done the hard work of uncovering exactly what they are yet.

So I’ll say it again: We get to choose what we want work to be in our lives, and there are some pretty compelling reasons for choosing something better than miserable or even mediocre.

Wisdom Speaks With Many Voices

I think we beat up on ourselves for wanting more because we’re confusing ego with inner wisdom.

When we want more money, more fame, more power, or more of the things that make our small, scared selves feel safer but that don’t actually improve the world or our true well-being, the desire is probably coming from ego. Egoic desires usually feel dire, urgent, and ultimately unfulfilling if or when we finally manage to grab hold of them.

But not all our desires come from ego. Some come from a deeper part of us that’s far wiser than ego and that somehow knows what’s best for us and for the world. I call this voice inner wisdom. We all have it. We don’t always hear it, because it tends to be much quieter than ego, but it’s in there. Most of us have had an experience at one point where we heard its guiding whisper and had no idea how such clarity or wisdom came out of our own confused brains or being.

The thing about inner wisdom is that it speaks to us in lots of different voices. One of its favorite ways to communicate is through emotions, including the difficult ones. If you’re feeling dissatisfied, frustrated, sad, or otherwise miserable in your work, you can bet your inner wisdom has something to say to you. Your job isn’t to judge it; your job is simply to listen.

Feeling unhappy in your current role is usually a sign that something wants to change. It may be in how you approach your work, but it might also be in the type of work itself. Regardless, the important thing to remember is this: whatever your inner wisdom is telling you to change, it’s not just for your benefit. That would actually be reason enough, but it’s far from the most important one.

The best reason for listening to your inner wisdom—your frustration, your sadness, your longing—is that it’s trying to point you towards work that’s going to allow you to share your unique talents and gifts with the world in ways that only you can.

A World Without Genius

I met my own coach during my training program and have been working with her ever since. Not only has she taught me an amazing amount about how to support other people’s growth and transformation, but she’s also helped me through some very difficult times with great compassion and wisdom. I feel totally loved and supported by her, utterly unconditionally.

My coach had a long, successful career with a telecommunications corporation before her inner wisdom encouraged her to leave it and enter the world of coaching.

What if she hadn’t? What if she had decided that work wasn’t supposed to be fun or that she should be grateful for what she had in the corporate world and not leave it for something else? I, and all her other clients, would have missed out on so many incredible gifts over the years.

Martha Graham said: “There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it.”

In Joy We Trust

 One of the biggest pieces of evidence I’ve come across for the world being benevolent is the existence of joy.

In my experience, when we’re putting our greatest gifts to use, we often feel a sense of joy. I find it when writing, learning about personal growth and development, having meaningful conversations with others, and spending time in nature. It was by following the joy that I felt in these activities that I eventually stumbled upon my calling.

Joy, no matter how intense or faint, is a wonderful indicator that we’re using our best talents and having a positive impact on the world. I like to think of it as the universe’s way of encouraging us to live lives of creativity, meaning, and contribution. Ignore joy, or convince yourself that it isn’t important, and you not only deny yourself great pleasure, but you also rob the world of your unique gifts.

The Real Reason We Feel Guilty for Wanting More

It’s a bit counter-intuitive, but I believe that the real reason we feel guilty about wanting more isn’t that we’re selfish or ungrateful. In this case, guilt isn’t pointing to a lapse in integrity that we need to make amends for.

The reason we feel guilty—or undeserving of a job we enjoy—is that we’re afraid.

Making a change, especially in an area that impacts our daily routines, our sense of identity, and our financial well-being, is terrifying for almost all of us. In the beginning, we don’t know what’s out there, what’s possible, or what will happen. We fear we might lose everything we have; we might be proven incapable; or we might experience rejection and humiliation.

Asking questions without answers and convincing ourselves that we shouldn’t want more than what we already have is a great way to justify staying with the status quo.

More Or So Much Less

In many cases, and especially in the world of material objects, more isn’t necessarily better. But when the yearning is coming from deep within us, trying to talk ourselves out of our desire denies the unique spark within us. It smothers our capacity for joy, wisdom, wonder, contribution, and aliveness.

This is a high price to pay for the sole privilege of avoiding uncertainty. What we find when we’re willing to follow the call of our longing and step into that uncertainty is that we’re far stronger than we imagined. And we realize that fear and the discomfort of the unknown are actually much easier to endure than the pain of losing connection with who we really are.

Help Makes More Possible

Most of my clients have the feeling that they’re meant to be doing something more but either aren’t sure what that is or don’t know how to go about finding it. Coaching helps them find the clarity and confidence they need to find what they’re longing for.

I offer individual and group coaching programs at various levels of investment designed to help you listen to your wisest inner self, discover what you’re meant to do in the world, and get started actually doing it.

To find out more, schedule a free 1:1 call with me. We’ll illuminate your goals, clarify your challenges, and discuss what each program involves and how it can help. There’s no cost for the call and no obligation to buy anything. Click here to apply for your free call today.

Over to You

Are you longing for something more? If so, what do you know about what you want?

When have you listened to your inner wisdom in the past? What happened?

Your experience can help others, so please leave a comment below.

3 Ways to Know When to Push Yourself Harder and When to Let Yourself Off the Hook

Many people I talk to are concerned that they’re not pushing themselves hard enough. They either feel like they’re not trying hard enough to make their current job work, or they worry they aren’t doing enough to transition into a new one.

There’s certainly a lot of traditional wisdom out there about the benefits of pushing yourself hard:

“There are no gains, without pains.” – Benjamin Franklin

“In case of doubt, push on just a little further and then keep on pushing.” – General George S Patton, Jr.

“If you are going through hell, keep going.” – Winston Churchill

My own personality is wired this way. My default, if I’m worried or stressed about anything at all, is to double down on my efforts and push myself harder towards what I want. Left to my own devices, I begin to obsessively go over my To Do list, ignore all my wants and needs, and proceed to power through.

The problem with this No Pain No Gain attitude is that it has a downside—namely the pain. In my case, in addition to the normal discomfort of exertion, it inevitably leads to exhaustion, grumpiness, fruitless labors, and—sooner or later—depression, anxiety, and insomnia.

On the other hand, I’ve found over the years that when I allow myself to stop trying so hard, when I rest and relax and take it easy, I often get more done than when charging in an all-out, take-no-prisoners assault on my To Do list. I certainly enjoy my life more when I find ways to work with ease.

So the question is—my question is—when the going gets tough, how do you know whether to push harder or let yourself off the hook?

A Better Way to Frame the Question

Actually, I’m being a bit disingenuous with that exact question, because my answer to it would be “neither.” Or maybe “both.”

For reasons I’ll explain below, I don’t ever recommend pushing yourself (unless that’s what you call getting over the initial hump of inertia and resistance in order to work on something important to you). And if letting yourself off the hook means not eviscerating yourself physically, mentally, or emotionally, I’m all for it. But if it means giving up on your dreams and intentions, then please don’t ever do it.

The question about how hard to push is actually a question of how best to marshal the power we need to turn an idea or intention into reality.

See, power isn’t all about brute force and intensity. Sometimes that’s what’s required to reach a goal or make something happen, but other times we need softness, flexibility, or compassion. Sometimes we need to stop and allow. Sometimes we need to yield.

You don’t get strong just by lifting weights; resting is an important part of the process. Easing up doesn’t necessarily mean we’re giving up on our intentions or even slowing down the process. It can actually be the most efficient and effective way to get to where we’re trying to go.

The trick is knowing what’s called for when. Not taking action can be productive rest or paralyzed procrastination. Nose-to-the-grindstone work can be incredibly powerful or wasted effort. How can we tell the difference?

I can’t claim to have the final answer, as I’m still working on that myself. But I have found 3 questions through trial and lots of error that can help you determine when to increase your intensity and when to ease up off the gas:

1. Is it aligned?

When I find that a particular task feels like pushing a heavy boulder up a steep hill, I’m usually headed in the wrong direction. Redoubling my efforts will probably only make things feel harder and yield fewer results.

That’s because when I’m pushing, I’m relying on willpower alone (which studies suggest is at least in some ways a limited resource ). I’m focused on what I think I should be doing and ignoring what I want, how I feel, and what my inner wisdom is telling me. Often I’m doing something not out of love or intrinsic motivation, but because I’m trying to avoid feeling shame, guilt, or fear.

This is often the case with people who are doing work they don’t like and who feel that they’re either not trying hard enough to do a good job or not trying hard enough to make it work. Because their current job isn’t aligned with what they truly want or feel called to do, trying harder at it is almost never going to provide fruit.

Realizing that our current direction isn’t aligned with our values, desires, or intentions opens the door so compassion can enter. It’s not that we’re lazy; it’s that we’re going the wrong way—of course part of us is going to resist. If it feels this way to you, there’s no shame in easing off so that you can create some space to reevaluate your direction, reconnect with your inner wisdom, and find something that feels more like a pull than a push. You’ll be much more powerful if you can move towards something wholeheartedly.

If, on the other hand, what you’re working on does feel aligned to you, you can move on to the next question.

2. Is it habitual?

As I’ve explained in a previous post, most of us tend to have one of two habitual responses to anxiety: either we move towards it by taking (usually frantic) action or we withdraw away from it through distraction and procrastination.

When things get tough, when faced with uncertainty, when things don’t go as planned—what do you do? Do you tend to push harder, effort more, and try to force things to go your way through sheer force of will? Or do you freeze, shut down, look for other things to get busy with, and fall prey to procrastination? (This last is often the case, by the way, for the people I mentioned earlier who know they want to make a career change but aren’t doing anything about it.)

Regardless of your answer, the best thing you can do in many cases is the opposite of your habitual response. If you tend to push, try slowing down or doing less. If you usually freeze, try taking any action that allows you to engage with what you’re avoiding (and keep in mind that the smaller it is, the better; you don’t want it to feel overwhelming).

The key is to do whatever feels a bit scary and like letting go of control. This will, of course, bring up anxiety because it takes us out of our comfort zone. The key is to develop our ability to stay with this anxiety long enough to be able to experience the benefits of a different type of response.

When I’ve done this, even though part of me screamed the entire way that we were surely headed towards certain death, I ended up feeling stronger and more powerful. I also found that not only did the world not end when I did things differently, but things actually often turned out better than usual.

3. Is it the right time?

Ah, timing. The bane of my existence.

I tend to have certain ideas about when things should happen: namely immediately, if it’s something I want, and absolutely never, if it’s something I don’t.

Unfortunately, the world usually has different ideas. And despite my best efforts to resist, I’ve found over and over again that in a fight between me and How Things Are, How Things Are always wins.

There are so many reasons that this might not be the right time for something I want to do:

  • I might be trying to take on too much now and not have enough time or energy for it.
  • I may need to focus on something that’s more important to me at the moment and not dilute my effort or scatter my energies.
  • I may not be ready yet to take this on. Or other people may not be ready, for that matter.
  • I may not have the external resources I need, and may not be able to get them right now.
  • My efforts might bear more fruit at another time in the future…

The list goes on.

I realize that this can be a slippery slope. For many years I never let myself put things off in the future because I figured that I was just procrastinating and making myself feel better about it by saying now wasn’t the right time. I feared that if I didn’t do this difficult thing now, I never would.

But you know what? That wasn’t always the case. Many times when I forged ahead I was ignoring internal or external signs that the timing wasn’t right, and I had a lot of failed efforts as a result. And I found that when I did put something off when the timing wasn’t right, I usually did come back to it later, especially if it was something important to me.

In evaluating whether this is the right time for something, it can help to look at everything you’re currently committed to and be very honest with yourself about your actual capacity for taking action without losing your sanity. If you’ve taken on more than you’re able to manage, sense what feels most important to do now, and give yourself permission to focus on that and let go of everything else. You can always set up reminders to come back to these other things later. I also find it very helpful to check in with my emotional and somatic intelligence and see what they can tell me about what actually needs to be done now and what might be better tackled later.

When I do this—when I’m willing to listen to what wants to happen and yield to How Things Are—things don’t always happen on my timeline. But the important things do happen, if slowly, with plenty of power and ease, and that’s what matters most.

Bonus Question: Is It Kind?

Regardless of where you decide to intensify your efforts and where you decide to yield, this is a great question to ask. Because no matter how aligned an action is, and no matter how right the timing may be, if you’re being unkind to yourself in how you engage with it, you’re undermining your effectiveness.

Go slowly. Take lots of breaks. Let yourself take the smallest baby step imaginable. Don’t take on more than you can while still taking really good care of yourself.

Often we think that when we feel powerful, when we’ve done enough, we’ll finally be kind to ourselves. In my experience, only when we’re kind to ourselves will we be truly powerful.

Get Help to Find Your Calling

Whether you’re tired of pushing or procrastinating, coaching can help you discover your power and move towards meaningful work you love.

I offer individual and group coaching programs at various levels of investment designed to help you listen to your wisest inner self, discover what you’re meant to do in the world, and get started actually doing it.

To find out more, schedule a free 1:1 call with me. We’ll illuminate your goals, clarify your challenges, and discuss what each program involves and how it can help. There’s no cost for the call and no obligation to buy anything. Click here to apply for your free call today.

Over to You

What are you making of all this?

How do you decide when to push harder and when to let yourself off the hook?

What helps you know whether an action is aligned, habitual, well-timed, or kind?

Your perspective can help others, so please leave a comment below.

From Archaeologist to Designer: How One Man Made an Unusual Pivot to Find Work He’s Excited About

I know how helpful it can be to hear about people like you who have made successful career changes, especially those who have overcome common challenges along the way.

With that in mind, this week I want to share with you Jeff Leon’s story so you can learn exactly how he went from a job that filled him with dread to work that he’s excited about.

One caveat: Jeff is a client of mine, first in Passion Quest and then in Pathfinders Group Coaching. Though this is significant, I also believe that his story can help inspire and guide you whether or not you ever choose to participate in one of my programs.

So, in the hope that it can catalyze your own journey to work you love, here’s Jeff’s story (in his own words):

How Things Were:

“In March 2016 I defended my PhD dissertation in archaeology at Cornell.  It was the end of a long and arduous process that took the better part of seven years, but rather than being a moment of excitement and enthusiasm for the next steps in my career and life, it was a moment of complete fear and confusion.

“I had realized by that point that I spent the better part of the last three years of my PhD dreading the work I was doing, dreading the solitude of the research, and dreading many of the professors and administrators I was working with.

“I knew I wanted (and needed) to make a career change and find something that was more fulfilling and rewarding to me, but I didn’t have anything resembling a professional support system. I was blessed with strong personal support from family and friends, but no one quite knew how they could help me or what my next steps could look like. I felt like I was staring into the deep, dark unknowable future all by myself.”  

The Challenges:

“Looking back, the fundamental challenge I faced in my life transition in March 2016 was that I didn’t really know what I was even looking for – and it’s hard to find something if you don’t know what you’re looking for to begin with!

“In a sense, I had forgotten who I was, what I was naturally good at, and what I valued most; by doing that, I had lost touch with my purpose in life and, ultimately, happiness.

“During grad school, I had enjoyed and found value in discussions with students, debating, and problem-solving, but [later on] I was being encouraged to publish research that few people read, or present papers at conferences to add another line on my CV. Deep down this kind of work felt valueless and unimportant to me. I knew I wanted to spend my time making the world a better place, but I didn’t know how.

“I also suffered from a couple key mental blocks. For one thing, I had a bad case of imposter syndrome and it was doing a number on my self-esteem. When you’re surrounded by Ivy League PhDs who have 10, 15 or 30 years’ more experience than you, and whose job is to critique and ignore your work in equal measure, it’s easy to feel dumb and think you have nothing to offer the world.

“Beyond that, I looked at the years I took to complete the PhD as ‘sunk costs’ – I thought about how while I was sitting in a library by myself learning about things I cared less and less about, my friends had been off building job experience, professional connections and 401Ks. It seemed like if I didn’t become a college professor (even if it made me very unhappy), my 20s would have been a waste of time. But the problem was, I just couldn’t bring myself to apply for jobs in academia, which meant (in my mind) that the whole exercise in getting a PhD had been a big, long failure.

“As I was coming to grips with all this and wrapping up my degree, I began meeting with career counselors on campus. After a couple of meetings they told me that academics ‘weren’t my tribe,’ which was an important insight.  But, the trouble was, they didn’t know who my tribe was, and neither did I. I was adrift, unsure of which way to turn, and thinking I had wasted my 20s on a fool’s-errand of a PhD. Worst of all, I was terrified to make another seven-year career mistake.”

How He Did It:

“First, it took time and it took patience.  I know that’s the last thing anyone wants to hear when they find themselves in a period of chaos in their life – and it was the last thing I wanted to hear when I first spoke to Meredith, but it true and it was right. I (like many people, I imagine) wanted the 10-day solution, and maybe, just maybe I could hang on for the one month solution, but a six month-plus solution?! No way.  But that’s how long it took me, and it was well worth it.

“The first step for me was to ‘show up’ and confront the turmoil I was struggling with, and the second step was to trust the process.  I had to give myself the time, the space, and the permission to find out who I was and what made me tick. Weekly and bi-weekly group meetings with Meredith were crucial in helping me in this process. They were tangible examples of progress in my self-discovery and helped mark my progress. Plus, I learned to meditate and it’s a practice that I’ve begun to incorporate into daily morning yoga sessions to bring clarity to the beginning of my day.

“I also learned a number of important tools and exercises to help me check in on myself and to really listen to my mind and body to understand how different events and situations were affecting me. Most of all, I learned to trust myself again, and to give myself permission to explore, be curious, and make mistakes.

“I learned these things in a supportive, collaborative environment with other people going through similar challenges to myself—people who had suggestions, solutions, and—perhaps most important of all—smiles and words of encouragement. The unknowable future was (and still is) scary, but I began to feel much better equipped to take it on.”

How Things Are Now:

“After a few months of working with Meredith I had built up the confidence to begin setting up informational interviews in fields that struck me as interesting. In other words, I had re-developed the confidence and self-esteem to be curious again and to explore potential career options.

“I was intrigued by a user experience designer I spoke with, and one conversation led to another until I decided to enroll in a 10-week immersive user experience design program at an educational tech incubator called General Assembly. It was thanks to Pathfinders and the process of re-building my self-esteem that I was able to confront the fear of the unknown head on.

“Taking that leap was a great decision – I’m currently about halfway through the course, building a portfolio of work, and looking to apply for jobs in February and March.  The work is fascinating, the people are fun and energizing, and the field is growing, so I’m excited about my prospects.

“I realize my path is still uncertain, but having participated in Pathfinders I feel like I have the tools to help me navigate similar challenges throughout my life.”

Last Chance to Join the New Year’s Pathfinders Group

Pathfinders Group Coaching is one of the most powerful and cost-effective programs I offer to help you identify and move into work you love. It teaches you the most powerful tools and techniques I refined over 6 years helping dozens of individual clients find their calling and supercharges that process with the support and power of community.

There are only 2 spots left, and the group is starting next week. This is your last chance to start fresh alongside everyone else until I open a new group, and I’m not sure when that will be.

Pathfinders Group Coaching includes:

  • Highly interactive small group sessions that walk you through the 5 Steps to Find Your Calling, help you work through common challenges, and give you opportunities get ideas and feedback from the group
  • Specific action steps to take in between sessions that help you clarify and move towards work you love
  • A private Facebook group where you can get support between sessions
  • Email access to me for any questions or challenges you need help with
  • An Enneagram assessment to determine your type
  • A one-on-one onboarding call with me to go over your Enneagram type and create personal strategies for you to get the most out of the group
  • Access to Passion Quest, the online course I created to teach you how to find your calling, and all its modules, recordings, and PDFs

 To find out more, click here to schedule a free 1:1 call with me. We’ll discuss your needs, go over the details of the program, answer any questions you have, and find out whether group coaching could help you find the work you were meant to do in the world. (There’s no obligation to buy anything on the call.)

Over to You

Which parts of Jeff’s story can you relate to?

Do you have your own story of successful career change that you can share to inspire others?

Please leave a comment below. (As a bonus, you’ll have the option of publishing a link to your latest blog post alongside your comment.)

Why It’s Hard to Make a Change—And How to Make It Easier

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I had a humbling moment the other day when I went to do my year-end review.

I was feeling stressed out by the list of things I wanted to take care of before the New Year, which was getting longer rather than shorter with each passing day. I was convinced I wouldn’t have the time and energy to do everything; my obsessive planning and thinking was keeping me from sleeping well; and as a result my stress and anxiety were ramping up by the minute.

Then I glanced down at my year-end review for 2015 and saw my list of intentions for this last year. Leading it off was: Don’t get so stressed by the small stuff. Let go and find ease. Don’t try to do everything.

Clearly this isn’t a new issue for me. I’ve been aware of it for a long time, even known what to do about it, but that doesn’t mean that I’m always successful in actually doing it.

I bring this up now because the New Year is a time for making resolutions and setting new intentions. It’s also a time for falling short, disappointing ourselves, and beating ourselves up.

I’ve made a lot of personal changes over the years, from transitioning out of work that was unfulfilling to finding my way back to joy from depression. I’ve also witnessed a lot of other people attempt serious transformations. I’ve seen friends, colleagues, and clients heal toxic relationships, move into work they’re passionate about, and create new habits of exercise, sleep, self-care, and more.

In short, I’ve spent a lot of time studying the process of personal growth. What I’ve found over the years is that change is hard. We have decades of experience doing things a certain way, and deeply engrained habits won’t often shift in just a few weeks (or even a few months). Change also requires us to face our fears, sit with our anxiety, and spend more time outside of our comfort zone. No matter how much part of us wants to change, part of us tenaciously resists; preferring the familiarity of the status quo, it tries to pull us back into old habits which, while not ideal, are at least known to have gotten us this far.

Despite all this, there is one thing that can help us make changes more easily. And it has to do with recognizing a fundamental misconception that most of us have inherited about how change occurs.

Here’s how most of us imagine we make a change:

And here’s how change actually takes place:

This knowledge alone can help us make changes much more easily. But we can also use this information in a few specific ways to make our efforts more effective:

1. We can stop beating ourselves up.

 I used to think that the reason I reverted to old behavior was that I wasn’t capable or dedicated enough. Since then, I’ve seen some of the most amazing people I know struggle to make progress, almost always taking two impressive steps forward followed by one rather large step back. Seeing this enough times, I finally realized that change is messy—for everyone—no matter how smart, talented, or well-prepared we are.

This realization helped me forgive myself for my lapses and shortcomings and even see them as a sign of belonging. After all, they connect me to every other flawed and amazing human being on this planet. None of us gets to be perfect, and we don’t need to be flawless to make incredible contributions to the world. When we’re not too busy beating ourselves up over our limitations, after all, we can begin to actually learn how to work with them.

2. We can embrace the low points as a necessary and valuable part of the process.

 Too often when we fail to make progress, we think it’s hopeless and give up. But I’ve seen over and over again how the low points—the slip-ups, backtracking, or times when we feel most stuck—are actually catalysts to growth. It’s in these moments that we’re forced to be humble, recommit ourselves, and take a good look at what’s actually going on. As a result, we learn more about ourselves, discover the patterns that limit us, and begin to develop new responses. We also have the chance to practice patience and self compassion. As one of my mentors says, “These are opportunities to love ourselves more deeply.

3. We can find new ways to evaluate our progress.

 Too often we feel like failures because we still haven’t found our dream job, didn’t meditate for three days in a row, or failed to make it to the gym. Instead of getting frustrated, we can instead ask ourselves what other progress we might be making. For example:

  • Did we learn something new about how resistance shows up for us?
  • Did we discover any helpful ways to overcome it?
  • Did we learn anything about what helps us stay focused?
  • Did we practice resilience and try again the next day?
  • Were we finally willing to reach out for help?

Not all progress has to do with how many job offers we’ve gotten or how well we can articulate our purpose. Often the things we learn along the way to reaching these goals are the most powerful in terms of finding long-term fulfillment.

4. We can recognize that we’re never done, and that that’s a good thing.

I often wish my efforts at change would end with a graduation ceremony and certificate of completion. But the truth is, no matter how successful we are at transforming ourselves, there’s always more work we can do. Rather than taking this as proof of our inadequacy, we can see it as confirmation that we’re exactly where we need to be. We’re always going to be a work in progress with incredible gifts and inherent limitations. So rather than rushing and worrying about our progress, we might as well relax, enjoy the ride, and trust that whatever speed at which change is unfolding is the best possible pace.

5. We can develop a better strategy.

Since the change process doesn’t look much like what we usually expect, it follows that we might benefit from some new strategies in how we attempt to approach it. The right strategy won’t get rid of the ups and downs, but it can help us navigate them more easily and efficiently. There are four things I’ve found that can help us do this well:

  • Support and guidance (from people who have been there before);
  • Community (with people who are going through the same thing now);
  • Encouragement (from anyone and everyone); and
  • Compassion (primarily from ourselves).

The more we can build these things into our strategy, the more effective (and enjoyable!) our efforts at transformation will be.

A Program to Help You Make Your Own Career Change More Easily

Pathfinders Group Coaching offers support and guidance from an experienced career coach (that’s me) plus plenty of encouragement from a community of other people who are also facing their fears and moving into more meaningful work. I’m starting a new group right now, so it’s a great time to join, but there are only 2 spots left. To find out more about how Pathfinders can help you transition into work you love more easily and effectively, click here to apply for a free, no obligation call.

Over to You

What changes are you currently trying to make? What helps you handle the low points? What have you learned from previous setbacks and/or failures?

I’d love to hear from you, and your experience could help others. Please leave a comment below. (As a bonus, you’ll have the option of publishing a link to your latest blog post alongside your comment.)

The One Thing You Absolutely Need to Find Your Calling (And the Best Place to Find It)

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If you still aren’t doing work you love, you’ve probably developed a good story about what you’re missing in order to explain why that is.

Maybe it’s that you don’t have enough time, money, or energy to find work you’d enjoy. Perhaps it’s that you don’t have the right skills and experience, or access to the right opportunities or people. Or maybe the story is that you’re too flighty, too depressed, too unfocused, too fearful, too timid, too passionate, or not passionate enough to make a successful transition.

The only reason I say this (or know it in the first place), is because I do it myself all the time. In fact, it’s quite human to come up with these stories. It’s our analytic brain trying to be helpful by pinpointing where we are, where we want to be, and what it thinks we need to get there.

The trouble is, the things we lack are often not easy to come by. Thus, rather than empowering us to make the change we seek, these stories become road blocks that reinforce the unhelpful belief that it’s impossible—or at least extremely difficult—to find what we’re looking for.

But the most interesting thing about these stories isn’t that they tend to backfire on us—it’s that they’re actually untrue. I’ve seen how, over and over again, when I reach a goal and reflect back on the process, that what I thought was missing wasn’t, and what I expected to get in my way didn’t after all.

That’s because there’s really only one thing we need to find what we’re looking for, no matter how difficult or improbable it is.

What you need to be successful

There’s no one thing “out there” in the world outside of yourself (an idea, friend, or opportunity, for example) that’s the key to your success. In fact, there are many ideas, friends, and opportunities that could help you find your way to what you’re looking for.

There’s also no one way you need to be. I’ve met tons of people who have found their calling, many of whom were flighty, unfocused, depressed, fearful, timid and/or overly or “under-ly” passionate. Some didn’t have the skills or experience they needed at first and had to acquire them. Most were quite busy with lots of responsibilities, and just about none of them had as much money or energy as they thought they needed when they started.

What all of these people did need in order to find work they loved was confidence. Given that success is really about conducting enough experiments (and failing enough times) to find out what works for you, confidence is key.

Confidence is what helps you feel empowered enough to commit to a goal that you know is a stretch in the first place. It allows you to stick with your intentions and find your way around obstacles that appear impassable at first glance. It sustains your efforts to seek any external resources you may need and bolsters your ability to tap into your internal strength and capabilities.

What confidence is (and isn’t)

So yes, confidence is a must-have if you’re going to find work you love, but don’t panic quite yet. The most important thing to know about confidence is that you already have it, even if you feel like the most insecure person on the planet right now.

When I use the word “confidence”, I’m not talking about bravado or some sort of god-given ability to convince the world that you’re the bee’s knees. I’m not talking about believing that you’re better than anyone else, or that things are always going to turn out exactly according to your plan. I’m also not talking about the ability to smoothly sell yourself to others or to stay cool, calm, and collected around potential mates.

The confidence that I’m talking about is actually summed up quite well on Dictionary.com, which defines it as “full trust” and “a belief in one’s powers and abilities.” I really like this definition because it doesn’t say “belief that one’s abilities are the best ever” or “belief that one is perfect and without flaws.” Everyone has access to confidence because we all have the ability to trust, and we all get to choose what we believe.

So to find our confidence, all we need to do is be willing to believe that who we are and what we’re capable of doing—while imperfect—are enough.

How to be more confident

Years ago, when I first learned about the importance of confidence in everything from dating to test-taking, I tried to talk myself into feeling better about myself. It didn’t work. Confidence isn’t something you can force, fake, or even create. What’s worse, when my efforts floundered, I felt even more insecure because my lack of self-assuredness now felt like a failure (talk about a vicious cycle).

What I’ve learned since then is that confidence isn’t an all-or-nothing game.

Brene Brown asserts that courage isn’t something we either have or don’t, but rather is a quality that we can all develop through intentional practice. Confidence is similar. We all have access to it, and though we can’t manufacture it, we can nurture it with conscious cultivation. And just as courage doesn’t require an absence of fear, confidence doesn’t require an absence of doubt. You can have doubts and still choose to believe in your own capabilities.

Here are 3 powerful ways you can cultivate your own confidence in daily life.

1. Take action (any action).

It can be hard to believe something without evidence, but once you see it for yourself, it’s a lot harder to deny. That’s why action builds confidence: it gives you the chance to see your talents and power in practice.

If you’re not sure what to do, pick something small that can move you towards your goal. It might be trying out an exercise I’ve offered to help clarify your passion, signing up for a class in something you don’t yet know how to do, or finding someone to interview about a job you might be interested in. It doesn’t really matter what it is so long as it takes you closer to your goal. And if you’re feeling overwhelmed, then break it down into the smallest step you can possibly imagine.

Whatever you choose, the important thing is to do it. Then, after celebrating your accomplishment, take another small step. Then another and another.

Over time, even if all of your small steps aren’t successful, a lot of them will be. This will give you evidence of your capabilities, which is one of confidence’s favorite foods.

2. Change your focus.

If you were seeing everything you do clearly and without bias, you would be blown away by your abilities. It never ceases to amaze me how incredibly talented all my clients are, and how consistently they fail to recognize these capabilities themselves.

It all comes down to what you pay attention to. If you focus on what skills you don’t have, what you don’t know, or what you haven’t done, you’ll be hard-pressed to feel confident about future prospects. But if you can start to finally acknowledge all your accomplishments and contributions, faith in yourself will easily follow.

One of my favorite ways to do this is with a Neverending List. All you have to do is start a list of anything you’ve accomplished, done well, or contributed to the world. Take a few minutes each day to add as many things from your current life or from your past as you can possibly come up with—at least 20, if you want to be sure you’re being thorough—no matter how small or inconsequential they may seem. If it’s hard to think of items for your list, then your standards are too high. Remember that something as simple as smiling at someone on the street can have a big impact on their day. Include anything and everything that you think might possibly qualify. Then, once a week, read through your list and really let it sink in just how amazing it is that one person actually did all these things.

3. Join a community.

When I asked for feedback from my first Pathfinders Group Coaching participants, I wasn’t sure what to expect. They reported progress in diverse areas, but one theme in particular stood out: almost everyone reported feeling an increased sense of confidence and empowerment as a result of the group.

To be honest, I’m not totally sure why that is, but it’s consistent with my own experience of community. Every time I participate in a group of peers, I feel better about myself, more confident in my abilities, and more capable of tackling whatever obstacle is at hand.

It may have to do with the fact that in community, your challenges are normalized—you get to see how other talented people are struggling with the same things you are.

It may be that you see other people similar to you succeeding, which makes it feel more doable. Or maybe it’s that you have the opportunity to make contributions to others and see your impact more easily.

Whatever it is, community seems to be a powerful shortcut to confidence. If you’re not feeling good about yourself or your prospects, find others like you and create a structure to share openly and honestly with each other. It takes effort and commitment, but it also cultivates confidence like nothing else.

The takeaway

Confidence is like a hidden power-up that can strengthen your efforts any time you choose to look for it. It unlocks all the other resources and gifts you might need to get to where you want to go.

If there’s one thing I’d like you to take from this post, it’s this: you already have everything you need to find what you’re looking for. Confidence is just about tapping into a large enough perspective to see that. And seeing things in this more honest light, you begin to realize that no matter where you are, no matter how lost or stuck or frustrated you feel, you’re already on the road to finding what you seek.

Nurture your confidence with a community of peers

If you’d like help to make the road to your calling clearer and easier to follow, I’ve got good news: I’m starting another Pathfinders Group Coaching group in the new year. I’m doing this because the current group is full, and I want more people to be able to enjoy the benefits that early participants have seen, such as (in their own words):

  • “Clarity on my next steps”
  • “Discovery of my strengths, skills, and passions”
  • “Tools for dealing with stress, anxiety, and uncertainty”
  • “Confidence to start moving forward”
  • “A sense of empowerment”

To find out more about how the combination of coaching and community can help you find the clarity and confidence you need to start doing more meaningful work, click here to schedule a free, no-obligation call. This is one of the most cost-effective and powerful programs I offer, and I only have 5 spots open, so if you’re interested in learning more, please don’t wait.

Over to you

The comments function on my blog was broken, but now it’s fixed! I’d love to hear from you about what you make of all this. In particular, I’d love to know:

What helps you feel more confident? What gets in the way?

Please leave a comment below!