Category Archives: Common Challenges

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.

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

want_a_career_change_but_dont_want_to_start_over_bird

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.

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.)

Little One and the Big Misunderstanding (Or, the Trouble With Finding Answers)

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Following is the tenth 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.


Little One’s smile faded quickly as he glanced around his father’s palace.

The walls looked like they may have at one time in the distant past shared the same iridescent sheen of the palace’s exterior, but they were now coated in what appeared to be a layer of slime covered by a film of dirt.

When Little One looked up at the low ceiling not far above his head, he saw that there were black circles running in a straight row above him. Or rather, most of them were black circles. Every ninth or tenth circle wasn’t black at all and allowed a solitary ray of light to stream through.

Little One guessed that the circles were intended to be lights, but grime was preventing most of them from functioning as such. The result was that the space was dark and grim, with the occasional light serving only to highlight the gloominess.

Beneath the filth, curved columns hugged the walls at regular intervals down the length of the room, which was so long and dismal that he couldn’t even see the far wall.

It occurred to Little One that this is exactly what it might look and feel like if he were to be swallowed by a giant snake.

He wondered if perhaps this was another attempt by his father to assess his worthiness. It hadn’t been easy to find his way into the Serpent God’s palace in the first place. Maybe this was another test to see how he would respond when faced with such unexpected disorder.

In fact, nothing about his father’s palace so far had been close to what he’d expected. He hadn’t even realized he’d had any expectations, but he couldn’t deny that he did when they were systematically shattered one by one.

It started when, rather than being welcomed and congratulated on their cleverness and perseverance when they finally discovered the location of the palace, he and his sister were simply met with impenetrable walls.

It continued when his father had been too deaf or callous to care to respond when they’d screamed and knocked and searched for days looking for a way in, growing hoarse and blistered in the process.

And now that he finally had figured out the riddle and made his way inside, he was greeted not by a spectacular home worthy of the most powerful god in existence, but by a ruined hovel that appeared silent and abandoned.

Well, not entirely silent, Little One realized as he took in his disappointing surroundings. He found that he could now make out a low thrumming coming from beyond the gloom. It came and went, rising and falling in intensity and at times subsiding entirely.

Little One found himself moving down the long, dim corridor towards the source of the sound. He wondered briefly about Ginger as he went, and whether she’d find her own way in. He didn’t think she’d mind that he didn’t wait. They’d come all this way, after all, for a reason, and he figured she’d catch up soon regardless. She might even be ahead of him now, knowing her. He could imagine her taking a look at these filthy walls and saying there’s no way they’d stop her—she’d traveled beside her brother for a long time now, so had clearly seen much worse.

And then his thoughts returned to his questions. They burned within him with a fierce intensity that only grew stronger as his frustration mounted. He wanted to know why he had been called to leave his home and embark on an adventure with no clear purpose or destination, and what exactly it was that he was supposed to do or accomplish on this very ill-defined quest.

He wanted to know whether the call came from his father or someone else, and either way, why his father hadn’t contacted him before, and how it could be, anyway, that he was the son of a god when he felt so humdrum and had two perfectly ordinary parents back home in his village.

For all his irritation, Little One was excited to finally find answers to his questions. Even if the Serpent God wasn’t what he expected, surely he would still be able to provide his son with some wisdom. Little One had worked so hard to find him, after all, and had passed all the requisite tests.

As he traveled farther down the corridor, his unease grew. The sound was getting louder, and he was starting to be able to feel its vibration in his belly. The sensation wasn’t reassuring, though; in fact, there was something intensely disturbing about it.

After what felt like a very long time, Little One finally saw the space before him open up into a large, round room. As he stepped over the threshold, the vibrations suddenly stopped and the noise disappeared.

He looked up and saw a perfect dome above him. Though some light was coming through, it was gray and streaked with grease. Directly beneath the center of the dome was some sort of machine with a black box in the middle and large cylinders extending outward from all sides. He saw a hint of red out of the corner of his eye and had a thought.

Climbing up one of the curving columns in the wall, he managed to reach the dome. Taking a corner of his shirt in his fist, he rubbed it across the grime. It came off easily and revealed a patch of flickering stars in a black sky.

Little One smiled. The dome, it seemed, was made of a substance that was even clearer than the waters of a young mountain stream. Clear, that was, when not covered by a thick layer of grease.

Little One walked around the cylinders next and noted 6 other colors. As he did, he felt a wave of satisfaction expand in his chest. His thought had been a good one, and he knew what this machine was for.

He recalled the first time he had entered the mountains that housed the Serpent God’s palace and the multi-colored lightning he had seen at night. This was the machine that produced that lightning. It clearly hadn’t been used for quite some time, but it would be capable of making colored light that could be seen for miles if the dome were clean and clear.

Little One felt more than a little pleased with himself. Though it didn’t win him anything, he felt like he had passed another test by having pieced this little mystery together. It felt like he had discovered another one of his father’s secrets.

And then something happened that drove the smile from his face and made him realize how much he really didn’t understand at all.

In that moment the machine jumped to life, whirring, moving, and noisily rearranging itself. The cylinders swung from the outside in until they were all pointing up in the same direction towards the center of the dome.

Then all at once the lights came on. At first all Little One could see were the individual columns of light shooting up towards the ceiling. Realizing that what they were forming was happening above the dome itself, he quickly climbed back up the column and used his shirt to clear off as much of the dome as he could reach. He was so shocked at what he saw when he looked through it that he froze there, unable to move up or down from his perch at the top of the column.

Through the clear spot he’d just created in the dome, he witnessed the biggest pair of human feet he’d ever seen in his life. They were attached to legs that were scaly, dark brown and green, and equally large.

The legs extended up from the dome so far that Little One could barely see what was sitting on top of them. He was able to make out a human waist and chest, and arms on either side. They seemed tiny in comparison to the feet.

What wasn’t tiny, he realized as he continued to look at the figure, was its tail. He had almost missed it at first as it rested behind the figure, but it was moving slowly now—slithering slowly, Little One corrected himself—like a snake winding its way between the legs. The top of the figure was almost too far away to see, but Little One made out what looked like a serpent’s head with two glowing, red circles that he took to be eyes.

Just then Little One felt the vibration begin again in his belly, followed quickly by the booming noise in his ears. The red eyes far above him swirled around and then settled, as best he could tell, in an angry glare at the tiny human form attached to a dirty column an incalculable distance below.

It was then that he realized that the booming noise that had been ebbing and flowing was a voice, and it was saying something, to him. He strained to make out its thunderous tones.

“Congratulations,” cracked the voice as the snake-like tail sidled back and forth. “You achieved everything you set out to do.”

Little One wasn’t sure what to make of this. He felt a warmth expand in his chest at the words, but there was something in the tone that belied the commendation. “Thank you, Father, I mean Sir, I mean Mighty One. I’m so grateful to be here.”

The Serpent God ignored him.

“You started with nothing. But you worked hard. Figured things out. Used your god-given gifts. You overcame the challenges, excelled at everything you attempted.” The tail stopped slithering and began thrashing. “And now you have what you’ve always dreamed of. So much so that others are jealous of your success.”

The booming voice fell into silence. It lasted so long that Little One felt he needed to respond.

“Yes, um, thank you again…I think…” he started to say.

The red eyes flashed suddenly and the tail whipped around.

“But for the sake of what?” the God boomed. “What did you really gain?”

The warmth turned icy. Little One shrank back. His throat was dry as he looked up at the giant feet and the swishing tail and swallowed.

“Um, I’m not sure, to be honest.” His voice sounded frail and anemic in comparison to the God’s sonorous voice.

“You have no idea. You. You,” he spat the words. “The one they all come to for help. The one they think has it all. Oh yes, sure, you have plenty of answers for everyone else, but absolutely none for yourself.”

Again the silence and the thrashing tail. Little One swallowed hard again. But before he could speak, the God continued, this time in a tone that Little One couldn’t place.

“And now in your quest for recognition,” he rumbled softly, “in your insatiable hunger for success, you have lost the one thing that you actually cared for.”

There was a pause in which Little One could feel his own heartbeat in his throat. “What do you—” he began, only to be interrupted by a low growling sound, followed by what could only be described as a snarl.

“You stupid, ignorant, earthbound fool!” the God roared. “I can’t believe I ever thought you were anything more than that.” The words crackled and hissed with venom.

Little One felt a lump rise in his throat. His body suddenly felt terribly heavy. He wanted to say something to defend himself, but no words came and his tongue felt like it was made of stone.

And then the tone changed inexplicably once again. “Well, I can’t do it anymore,” the voice said with a hollowness that reverberated off the walls of the palace. “I can’t keep sacrificing myself in order to give you what you want.”

As he watched, the image began to flicker. It went completely black for a moment and then returned. When the God spoke again, there was something familiar in his manner that Little One couldn’t quite place.

“You are not who I thought you were,” said the all-powerful Serpent God, shaking his massive head. “I give up. You win. You are free to do what you will.”

There was a clanking sound just then and the cylinders beneath Little One went black, one by one. Within just a few moments the God had disappeared completely.

Little One waited at the top of the column for what felt like an eternity to see if the voice would resume. It didn’t. Eventually he made his way down to the floor again and sat with his back against the wall.

Tears gathered at the corners of his eyes, which made feel even more humiliated. There was much he didn’t understand, but he did apprehend this: Apparently he had passed all his tests, only to fail the most important one of all. He had no idea what he’d done to disappoint his father so badly, but clearly he had done something unforgivably wrong. He felt nauseated.

He felt the edges of shame, sadness, and confusion threatening to spill over him. He tried to push them away. He focused instead on poring over every part of his journey, seeing possible missteps and failings at every turn.

As he did so, the ache in his belly grew so strong he didn’t think he could take it anymore. It felt like it was going to annihilate him and everything good in the world.

Suddenly he realized that this was a familiar feeling. He had felt it before, back in the forest at the base of a giant tree. He recalled how the excruciating ghosts had passed through him one by one, filling him with jealousy, guilt, rage, despair and every other emotion he’d ever felt. He remembered how he’d thought he was going to die, but how he was actually left with an incredible sense of serenity and peace. And a clear sense of what needed to be done.

Little One made a fast decision. He turned to the shame, sadness, and confusion and welcomed them in. He felt them pass through him like ghosts, one by one. He felt the immutable heaviness, the twisting anxiety, the sense of neverending suffocation. Once again he worried that they would never pass, but one by one they did.

When they were finished, all was quiet and still. Little One felt his mind start to race once again, trying to find his failure. He asked it to be silent for a little bit longer, and surprisingly it obeyed.

He breathed in the stillness. And from the heart of the silence he heard a voice echoing once again: “You are not who I thought you were,” it said. “I give up. You win.”

Something in the words felt important, if confusing. There was something utterly familiar about them, but he couldn’t place what it was.

He closed his eyes, waited for the stillness to return. And then, in a sudden flash of understanding, he knew what it was he had recognized in his father’s speech. He should have seen it at once, he realized, but he’d been distracted by the loudness of the anger and his confusion about the meaning of the words.

It was, as it turned out, more familiar to him than almost anything else in the world. And, like everything else on this journey, it also wasn’t anything he’d expected.

The most powerful god in his world was terrified. And also a little bit sad.

Little One wondered for a while about why that was. He couldn’t come up with anything that made sense. Painfully aware of the paradox, Little One wished he could ask the Serpent God for guidance. His attempts to find answers seemed only to be generating more questions. The irony of it made him smile.

And that’s when, with that same bright flash of understanding, he suddenly understood exactly what was going on.

Little One jumped up from the floor and grabbed his pack. He began running down the corridor in the opposite direction from which he had come. Eventually he came to the end of the hall, which was also the end of the palace.

In front of him was nothing—not even a door. It was complete darkness. He didn’t see any stars in front of him. He didn’t see anything at all. It was a yawning, black abyss that quickly devoured even the faint bits of light that emerged from the corridor behind him.

Little One swallowed hard. His throat was dry. He wondered if he really needed to do what he believed he did.

Maybe he was wrong. Maybe the dirty and abandoned palace didn’t mean what he thought. Maybe the image he’d seen of his father was some sort of security apparatus, or even more likely, another test, and not what he was thinking all.

His gaze drifted down. There, written in the grime on the floor, was his answer. He saw a path through the dirt where something quite large had been dragged over the ground, exposing the iridescent white of the original floor beneath.

Little One’s stomach dropped. He realized he was right. His father hadn’t been talking to him. In fact, it wasn’t his father he had seen at all. It was a memory, some sort of recording of him from before. He had been talking with someone else in the palace. Speaking to his attacker.

Little One had no idea how or by whom, but the Serpent God had been kidnapped by someone he used to trust.

“You are free to do what you will,” his father had said, fear and sadness in his voice.

Little One looked back at the darkness. He really didn’t want to do what he was about to do. It was a good thing, he thought with a short-lived laugh, that he had so much practice entering chasms.

He took a deep breath, let it out slowly, and then filled his lungs once again. Working hard to keep his eyes open, he grabbed the straps of his bag and jumped, following his father into the abyss.

He was going to find the Serpent God and bring him back. Or die trying.


Click here to read the next story in the series.


Photo credit: Randen Pederson // CC

What If I Don’t Have the Right Skills or Experience for What I Want to Do?

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I hear this question a lot from people facing career change.

Sometimes the people asking this question are somewhat early on in their careers and only have experience in one field. Other times they have lots of experience but the change they want to make feels like a drastic one. The idea of going back to school can be intimidating or just not feasible for some. Or there may not be a school for the particular role they’re pursuing.

Other times people ask because they find that the things they do most frequently in their jobs, often what they’re hired or receive the most praise for, leave them feeling unfulfilled and unhappy. They want to make a change, but they worry that if this is what they’re good at, how can they get a job doing anything else?

I want to begin with a distinction that I find is key to shedding light on the answer.

Strengths vs Skills

Though we tend to conflate them, there’s actually a difference between our skills and strengths.

I define strengths as our inherent abilities and talents. We don’t have to take a class to learn them; they’re a part of who we are and how we approach the world. We bring them to everything we do, and we usually apply them without even trying.

Skills, on the other hand, are acquired abilities. We learn them through instruction and practice, and they may or may not align with our natural strengths.

So, to help clarify the difference:

  • Being able to create visual beauty is a strength. Interior design is a skill.
  • Having a great sense of humor is a strength. Delivering a stand-up comedy set is a skill.
  • Understanding other people is a strength. Counseling is a skill.
  • Being able to visualize things in 3 dimensions is a strength. Engineering is a skill.
  • Curiosity and inquiry are strengths. Academic research is a skill.

Putting strengths to work

The fact that you have both strengths and skills is good news for career changers for a few reasons.

First of all, you can bet on the fact that you have a set of strengths that are unique to you, that nobody else has or expresses in precisely the same way, and that can help you no matter what you do.

Your strengths can point you towards work that you’ll be good at and likely find fulfilling. If you don’t already have the skills for a particular position, if it’s aligned with your strengths, you’ll learn relatively easily and have a good chance at mastery.

Even if you go into a field entirely unrelated to some of your strengths, they can still help you. Being an academic, for example, with a strong sense of humor, or an engineer with a great understanding of people would make you unique and add to your value in many environments.

The great thing about strengths is that you’ve been applying them your whole life, probably without realizing it. So even if you don’t have experience in a particular field, as long as it draws on your inherent strengths, you’ll have plenty of stories and evidence to demonstrate your capabilities (there’s no reason to limit yourself to talking only about what you’ve done at work).

What to do about skills

So what do you do if you don’t have the skills required for a particular position?

Well, there’s good news and bad news here. The good news is, you can acquire skills, so there’s always hope. You can take classes, find an internship, volunteer, or get an entry level position that will allow you to develop the skills you need.

That’s actually the bad news as well. It does take time to develop new skills, so you may need to plan on some transition time before moving into your dream job.

Just keep in mind that you always have options. If school is too expensive, you can get experience instead (or use one of the very cheap or free online learning communities out there).

If the process takes too long and you’re too miserable in your current position to wait, consider finding a meantime-job that pays the bills and allows you to develop the skills you want.

And if none of that works for you, you can always go back and get super clear on what you want in your next job and then look for other ideas that draw on your strengths and existing experience. There are many ways your calling can express itself, and many of my clients have found that they don’t need to make a drastic change to find satisfaction and fulfillment in what they do.

The real reason we ask this question

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we don’t really ask this question because we don’t have enough skills or abilities.

In my experience, we ask this question because we’re trying to stall.

This is especially true if you’re wondering if you have enough talent or experience before you’re even clear on what you want to do next. It’s virtually impossible to answer “Is what I have enough?” if you aren’t yet sure “Enough for what, exactly?”

But even if you do know what you want to transition into, this question still often suggests an ulterior motive.

When we’re considering making a major change in our lives, and likely putting some important things at risk—things like comfort, security, what other people think of us, our entire identity, etc.—part of us longs for change and actualization, and part of us desperately wants to cling to the status quo. The latter part gets pretty good at distracting us with worry and doubt and unanswerable questions to keep us from taking any real action.

While this is an understandable response, it also keeps us stuck. So the next time you feel tempted to ask: What if I don’t have the right skills or experience? Or, are my capabilities good enough to do the job I want to do? Stop yourself and see if this line of inquiry is helping you.

If not, you might try some different questions instead. Such as:

  • What are my strengths and superpowers?
  • How well does this role align with those?
  • What would I need to learn in order to do this job, and how do I feel about learning it?
  • Can I find any evidence in my past experience that I could succeed in this role?
  • What other roles sound good to me that would tap into my greatest strengths?

Remember that some questions are devised to keep us stuck, while others are more likely to help us move forward.

Get help to take action

If you’re not sure what your strengths are or would like more confidence in your abilities as you navigate a change, Pathfinders Group Coaching can help. Click here to find out more or to schedule a complimentary 1:1 consultation with me to discuss this program, which is one of the most powerful and cost effective services I offer. Combining the benefits of coaching with the power of community, Pathfinders is all about helping you get the clarity and confidence you need to take meaningful action towards work you love.

On Being Weird

I’ve long had a sense that I might be a little weird.

When I was 12, I began to feel compelled to do rituals like walking around any square table I passed over and over or checking under the toilet seat repeatedly before sitting down.
Sometimes I felt the need to try to talk while breathing in. (If you’ve never tried this, do it now. You’ll then understand why my sister later told me: “If you don’t stop being so weird, you’ll never find a boyfriend.”)

In high school, I didn’t drink or do drugs, though almost all of my friends did. I went vegan (waaaaaaay before being vegan was hip). I went on anti-depressants around the same time, another thing that made me feel like a freak. For a long time it felt like I never quite fit in.

With time (okay, and quite a bit of therapy too), I began to come to terms with my weirdness. I learned, for example, that there was a name for inventing rituals (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) and that I wasn’t the only one who did it. I realized that I wasn’t as different as I had imagined (at least 2 of my high school friends had also been on anti-depressants, I later found out). I began to drop the story that I was weird, that everyone else was normal, and that I somehow didn’t belong.

And then I went on a two-week vacation with my husband and parents last month.

Peculiar much?

Now, my family is incredibly loving and supportive, yet even still, this vacation was one reminder after another that the things I do don’t always make sense to other people.

For example:

  • In the car, I acted like a compulsive dog. I rolled my window down whenever I could and occasionally stuck my head outside to see the sky and feel the wind (to the great consternation of one member of my family).
  • I carried huge bags of food with me wherever I went (I won’t eat eggs or milk if I don’t know where they come from).
  • I insisted on carrying empty plastic water bottles (yes, that’s plural, as in more than one) on the airplane because I knew we’d need them later and I didn’t want to create additional plastic waste.
  • My face and shoulders were consistently fluorescent white (because I wanted to use coral-safe sunscreen any time I went near the ocean).
  • I cried at odd times and yelled out “Chicken!” every time I saw a wild hen or rooster (because I’m emotional and love animals).
  • I had several sessions of wild, (really) goofy dancing in our hotel room.
  • I didn’t play any golf (okay, that last one may only be strange in my family).

All of this reminded me of three truths about being weird.

1. It’s always hard.

No matter how loving my family is, and no matter how much I understand that it’s okay to be different, part of me doesn’t like it. I notice when people are looking at me strangely, and I hear the judgment in their voices. It doesn’t feel good.

We’re social animals. We’re wired to care about how our pack members feel about us because in our evolutionary history, it was a matter of life and death.

In addition, I’m sensitive to the response of others. I have an ability to tune into other people’s internal worlds and care about how they feel. This ability, which helps me a lot as a coach, also makes me painfully aware when someone else responds negatively to something I’ve done. It’s part and parcel of the same gift.

We’ve all been told over and over to “be ourselves.” In general, this is great advice, but if we expect that there won’t be an internal backlash when being ourselves meets with disapproval from others, then we’re not being realistic.

2. Nobody’s normal.

The idea that we’re bizarre and that everyone else is normal is just a story we get caught telling ourselves.

Once we have a story in our heads, we tend to look for evidence to support it. And just like you can find statistics to prove any argument, you can find evidence to support any story. If you believe that you’re strange, you’ll find plenty of indications that it’s true.

The reality is, we’re all different in some ways and similar in others. No matter how weird we think we are, we share many things with the people around us. And no matter how normal somebody seems, everyone is a unique soul with plenty of quirks.

As my husband and I like to remind each other: everyone’s crazy, and that’s okay.

3. It’s good to be weird.

More than just okay, being strange is great.

Weirdness brings in a different perspective. It challenges the mainstream, making it consider its ways and either recommit to them or change for the better.

Being bizarre is also necessary if we’re all going to bring our unique gifts to the world.

For example, I can’t for the life of me wrap my head around why anyone would actually want to work in politics. That seems so utterly odd to me. But I’m so glad that there are good people who feel differently, because we absolutely need them. The world has lots of needs, and it’s a good thing that we have so many diverse perspectives, approaches, and orientations so that people exist who can address them all.

The skill of being strange

The fact that being weird is hard but that we all have to do it anyway is actually an amazing opportunity.

It means we all have the chance to practice being true to ourselves and our highest truth in the face of disapproval. No matter what we say, do, or create in this world, there are going to be people who don’t get it (by virtue of the incredible diversity of perspectives I just mentioned). Part of being human and creating something that matters is being able to stand strong when others disapprove.

As David Whyte says in his poem Self Portrait:

I want to know
if you are prepared to live in the world
with its harsh need
to change you. If you can look back
with firm eyes
saying this is where I stand.

This isn’t a skill we get by reading a book. It’s one we acquire every time we have the courage to sit with the discomfort of being who we are and doing what feels right to us regardless of how others respond.

It’s a messy, imperfect process, but the good thing is, life gives us plenty of opportunities to practice.

So ask yourself:

  • Where in your life are you willing to be weird?
  • Where do you moderate yourself to gain outside approval? In what ways does this serve you well and in what ways not so much?
  • Where would you like to be more willing to look back with firm eyes, saying this is where I stand?
  • What might help you to do this?

May you always feel free to be as weird as you want to be.

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