Category Archives: Fear

My Key to Dealing With Anxiety

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I’m anxious. Most of my clients are anxious. Some of the most intelligent, loving, and talented people I know are anxious.

As if our natural inclinations weren’t enough, career change is basically a breeding ground for anxiety. Change is by definition new and unfamiliar. You won’t know what you want at first, and you have to spend some time in the dark until things become clear. And then, even when you do know what you’re aiming towards, you’re still swimming in uncertainty because you can’t possibly know how things will turn out.

So if you’re anxious, (1) welcome to the club, you have some great company, and (2) congratulations, you’re exactly where you should be.

The Two Most Common Reactions

There are pretty much two ways humans tend to respond to anxiety, both of which make it worse:

  1. We try to avoid it by taking action.
  2. We try to avoid it by not taking action.

I’m firmly in the first camp. When facing a new task or an unknown situation, my natural urge is to jump into action.

Recently this led me into a period of what could most accurately be called hysteria.

Faced with anxiety about the launch of yet another new offering (keep your eyes open for a special announcement about this soon, by the way), I did what I do naturally: I got good and doped up on perfectionism; began obsessively thinking about what I was going to do and how; and despite repeatedly telling my husband just how much I needed to rest, I added every possible task I could think of to my To Do list and filled my days with any productive activity I could find.

The result? Exhaustion, insomnia, irritability, and increasingly paralyzing levels of fear.

And lest you think those in the second camp have it any easier, I would invite you to talk to someone who has an equally challenging habit of procrastination. When faced with anxiety, procrastinators find creative ways to distract themselves and avoid taking action, seemingly remaining calm and carefree; beneath the surface, however, they feel all kinds of guilt, frustration, and often deep shame about not being able to take any action towards what they want, no matter how important it is.

The Negative Cycles

So on the one hand, those of us in camp #1 feel the edges of anxiety and respond by jumping into action.

The action may not be aligned with our Inner Wisdom, or it might be hasty and ill-timed. Regardless, we care more about getting stuff done than listening to what we need, so we end up exhausting ourselves.

Off-balance and depleted, we feel less powerful and more miserable than we did before, so we’re prone to feel even higher levels of anxiety, which makes us want to take on even more.

On the other hand, those of us in camp #2 avoid all this by not taking action at all when they feel anxious.

Instead, they get busy with other things, distract themselves, or find other ways to procrastinate. Part of them knows, however, knows that they’re not addressing something very important to them.

Off-balance and ashamed, they feel less powerful and more miserable than they did before, and—you guessed it—prone to even higher levels of anxiety, which makes them even less likely to take any action.

The Key to Dealing With Anxiety

I discovered the key to breaking this cycle with some (okay, a lot) of outside help. (Left to my own devices, I would probably be huddled in the corner somewhere right now reciting my To Do list in 20 different languages.)

What I found is that the key to cutting through anxiety is to stop listening to it.

In my last period of hysteria, every fiber in my being was screaming at me to do something—everything I possibly could—to try to feel like I had a handle on the situation. In other words, I was trying to do 5 million different things to make this edgy feeling go away. And none of them was working. In fact, they were all making it worse.

It turns out that the solution was much simpler. All I had to do was sit there, let the anxiety scream at me, ignore the voice that told me if I didn’t take action everything would fall apart, and not take any action.

It wasn’t easy, but when I chose not to listen to the anxiety, when I just allowed it to be there, it actually faded quite quickly. I was then free to do what I knew I needed: rest. When I did that, I felt much better. When I felt better, I felt more powerful. Suddenly things seemed a whole lot less frightening and a whole lot more manageable.

When we do what the anxiety is telling us to do, whether that’s trying to be perfect, worrying, and getting things done or distracting ourselves, numbing out, and avoiding action, we make it stronger. We buy into the fundamental misunderstanding of anxiety, which is that things have to be a certain way in order for us to be okay.

When we stop trying to make anxiety go away by doing what it tells us, we start to see the truth, which is that we’re always already okay. We begin to understand that it’s not our action or inaction, our feelings or external circumstances that keep us safe. We find that what keeps us safe is the strength, wisdom, compassion, guidance, and love we all have access to, regardless of how we feel or what’s happening around us.

The only problems we have are the ones we create when we call something a problem and anxiously try to avoid it, cutting ourselves off from our inner strength, guidance, and wisdom in the process.

So the next time you’re feeling anxious, notice what you want to do. Then see if you can do the opposite. See if you can stay with the anxiety long enough to see what it really is–a fleeting experience with no power to harm you.


Photo credit: Leo Hidalgo // CC

21 Reasons to Get Out of Your Head

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“My mind is a bad neighborhood that I try not to go into alone.
–Anne Lamott

I know how easy it is to get stuck in your head. When my brain isn’t churning with thoughts, memories, worries, plans, analyses, or trying to figure something out, it’s attempting to pull me back into its fold by convincing me that it can solve whatever problem I’m facing if only I obsess about it a little longer.

Our minds are incredible, but they’re only part of our natural awesome-ness, and so much gets eclipsed when we over-rely on them. So as much for myself as for anyone else, here are some reminders from my own experience about why we could all use a break from our brains:

1. Your mind is a dark place.

Most of our heads are filled with catastrophes and worst-case scenarios. Though this scenery bears little relation to the real world, the more time we spend in our minds, the more likely these outcomes seem. And because of this…

2. There’s fear everywhere in there.

You can’t jump from one thought to the next without stepping in a pile of it. Not to mention the fact that…

3. Your mental landscape is covered in rationalization.

Our brains are smart, and they know how to talk us into our out of just about anything, regardless of how we really feel about it. Just ask Lance Armstrong, or someone who’s convinced themselves to stay in a job they hate for 30 years. And on top of that…

4. In your head, self doubt is rampant.

Doubting your abilities is a mental habit, not some intuitive truth about yourself. And the more time you spend in your head, the more likely you are to run face-first into it.

A lot of this can be explained by the fact that…

5. Your brain has bad eyesight.

What I mean by that is when you’re in your head, you’re not paying attention to what’s happening around you. You’re not taking in new information, and you’re not seeing, feeling, or experiencing what’s actually occurring in the real world right now.

When you do…

6. You see that you’re okay, no matter what’s happening.

You observe that there is always support available to you. And you see how much you’re able to handle day-in and day-out, no matter what comes your way. In fact…

 7. You feel more powerful and confident.

Without your thoughts distracting you, you’re able to sense into that quiet place within that feels how strong and wise you really are.

8. You aren’t so worried about what other people think.

Self-consciousness stems from thoughts, so without them, you don’t feel so dependent on other people’s approval.

9. You’re less stressed.

These days, our fight or flight response is triggered mostly by thinking (there are fewer actual tigers prowling around in modern times). Without worries, your system is free to rest and digest in peace. And because of this…

10. You’re able to sleep more easily.

When you learn to get out of your head, you can choose whether or not you want to follow certain trains of thoughts. You get to decide which thoughts to amplify and which to let go of. As a result…

11. You obsess less.

And the same skill would make it possible that…

12. You stop beating yourself up over your mistakes.

 Not to mention the fact that…

13. You give your poor mind a break.

(Your brain gets tired too.) In addition…

14. You feel more connected to others.

Connection is what happens naturally when we’re present with others instead of trying to listen while really being caught up in what’s next on our To Do list.

And maybe best of all…

15. You stop asking yourself: “Where did all the time go?”

When you’re present in the current moment, time doesn’t disappear. It may go faster or more slowly, but you’re there experiencing all it has to offer—things like beautiful sunsets, dreamy birdsongs, and the delicious food you happen to be ingesting.

It’s true that your brain is smart. It’s also true that your smarts aren’t all in your head. If you got out of there more, you’d see that…

16. You’re more creative.

 Ever heard of the shower effect? (It refers to the fact that many of us get our best ideas in the shower.) Or the fact that almost every model of the creative process includes a step called something like “incubation” where you stop thinking about an issue and put your attention somewhere else?

These occur because creativity depends on more than our brains, and in fact, sometimes our brains get in the way of the process. Which is true of something else as well…

17. Decisions are easier.

Neuroscientist Antonio Demasio found that people with brain injuries that prevented them from feeling their emotions suffered a similar effect: they couldn’t make decisions. They’d list out the pros and cons of each choice and bounce back-and-forth among them endlessly without being able to decide. It turns out that emotions are key to making decisions. Furthermore…

18. You have greater access to your deepest desires.

Studies show that our brains are terrible at predicting what will make us happy. Our emotions and bodies, on the other hand, can point to this information much more directly.

In fact, our emotions and bodies have lots of important information to offer us. Which is why…

19. You tap into your inner wisdom.

Here’s what I mean by inner wisdom: Intuition. Guidance. The bigger picture. Knowing what’s most important. Malcolm Gladwell called it “thinking without thinking” in Blink. It’s your ability to sense the truth in ways other than reasoning and deduction. And it’s incredibly powerful.

Because you have so much wisdom within you…

20. You get better without trying.

When you’re following your inner wisdom, every experience is educational and every challenge becomes a teacher. You don’t have to worry if you’re learning enough or doing it right. Your true self is in charge, and it knows what it’s doing.

Because of that…

21. You find what you’re looking for without trying.

Everything we want—peace, love, admiration, security, excitement, happiness, etc.—is already within us. The problem is, at some point we begin to feel disconnected from it, so we start to seek it out—a process that actually takes us farther from our goal. A lot of this effort takes place in our heads. When we relax back into our hearts and bodies, we re-connect with what we thought we were missing.

If you’re at all like me, right about now you’re thinking something like: “That all sounds great, but how do I actually do that?” I’m so glad you asked. I’m super excited to share an opportunity with you to…

Learn how to get out of your head and in touch with the wisdom of your body.

I’ve mentioned some exciting new offerings in the works, and the first of them is coming up! I’m partnering with my good friend and amazing teacher Natalie Biniasz to bring you: Tune Into Your Body’s Intelligence: A FREE Call to Unlock Greater Power, Presence and Wisdom on Wednesday, May 11th at 6:00pm ET. It’s going to be fun and practical and will show you various ways to get out of your head and in touch with your inner wisdom. And did I mention that it’s free?

If you want to get the details about how to sign up for this call and future opportunities, leave your information in the grey box below!


Photo credit: zaphodsotherhead // CC

 

My Fear Confession

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I realized yesterday that I’m terrified. Rattled. Completely unnerved.

Though it’s not something I’m thrilled to admit so publicly, I wanted to share because it’s helped me realize something important.

It started when I woke up yesterday morning from an uneasy sleep feeling generally (and disturbingly) anxious. I wasn’t sure why.

Then I drew a Mother Mary Oracle card and saw this: “Change is coming to you now, my dear child. It is a change that has been triggered by the loving prayers held deep within your heart. This change does not have to be difficult for you… I would like you to use your energy for more worthy purposes than worry…”

I immediately started to cry. And suddenly I knew why I was feeling anxious.

The Commitment Conundrum

An image had come to mind: I was standing on a deck on a beautiful late afternoon in Calistoga at a training I attended last week. I was saying out loud to the group that I was committing to bringing new things to life, to believing that my new dream for my business is possible, and to taking action towards building that dream. The woman leading the training told me to imagine a line in front of me and step across it to signal my commitment.

I hesitated.

It’s a bit embarrassing to admit, but I didn’t want to do it. I was actually scared to step across an entirely imaginary line.

I did step across that line, however, and as I was holding that Mother Mary Oracle card in my hand yesterday, I realized that that’s when it had started: the fear.

I was feeling anxious because ever since I made that pledge, I’ve felt an underlying terror that I won’t be capable of delivering on my commitment or building it out successfully, that I’m unworthy of my dreams.

That’s the commitment conundrum: There comes a time when we’re no longer willing to remain in circumstances that don’t feel right for us, or that don’t make us come alive. And in that very moment of unbelievable strength when we finally commit to making a change, we open the door to the fear—fear that will do everything in its power to convince us not to move forward on our promise.

The Fear We All Feel

I think everyone who’s considering a career change, or any change at all for that matter, is facing fear.

Some of the clients I talk to experience the panic as worry or anxiety, others as a lack of confidence. Some are aware of it directly (What if I fail? What if I make the wrong decision?), while others feel it more as a lack of possibility: I can’t make enough money doing what I love, or I can’t do what I really want to because I have no idea how.

Regardless, when we’re standing on the precipice of something new, we all feel fear, and it can keep us from committing to what we want, or from following through on what we do commit to do. In short, it can stop us in our tracks.

The Crazy Simple Tool for Working With Fear

What I was reminded of yesterday, though, is that it doesn’t have to. Because there’s one, simple tool that can cut through fear’s paralyzing light and sound show, full of sound and fury, and reveal it for what it is.

And, to keep quoting Shakespeare, that’s the power of what’s in a name.

When our fear is vague and unexamined, it looms large. Like a shadow that falls over us, it can feel like a life-threatening tiger is about to attack.

When we take the time to look directly at our fear, however, recognize, and name it, we see the true threat rather than the shadow, and we realize that it’s not as bad as we previously thought.

When I got clear that what I’m afraid of is being incapable and fundamentally unworthy, my fear became right-sized. It was suddenly manageable.

When I named the fear, I reconnected with a felt sense of my own strength and value. It became clear that nothing I do (or fail to do) will ever make me unworthy.

As for being incapable, I realized that this is just a chance to see what I am actually capable of. I can be truly curious about that, learning and having fun along the way, since I know that my basic worthiness is not at stake.

I can also remember that I always feel fear in the beginning of something new. Though I can’t make it go away, I can offer it a seat in my car and take it along for the ride. Because I’m bigger than the fear is. And because the fear wouldn’t exist if I didn’t also have the profound strength required to commit to creating something new.

It’s a divine gift that, I believe, the infallible desire that we all have as human beings to open and grow and create, a longing that reasserts itself again and again in obvious and subtle ways, no matter how scared we feel.

Tips for Naming Fear

If you’re not sure how to name exactly what you’re afraid of, here are a few ideas:

  • Play the What’s the Worst Part game. Ask yourself what you’re scared of, what bad outcome you’re trying to avoid. Then ask yourself what the worst part of that would be. Then ask yourself what the worst part of that would be. Keep asking yourself this same question until you can’t break it down anymore and feel like you’re at the root of your fear.
  • Talk it out with someone else. Some of us are external processors, and the very act of putting our experiences into words can help to clarify them.
  • Ask for it to be revealed. Before I drew my Mother Mary Oracle card, I asked that the truth about what was upsetting me be made clear. Less than 5 minutes later, clarity came.

Don’t Let Your Fear Stop You

Part of the reason coaching is so powerful is that it helps us name and find a new perspective for our fears. I’ve worked with clients where this process alone is enough to get them unstuck and on the path to the work they’re meant to do in the world. If you’d like to learn how coaching can help you work through your fears, please click here to fill out an application for a free, no obligation Clarity Call.


Photo credit: Jack Fiallos // CC

 

Feeling Lost, Uncertain, or Ungrounded? Here’s Why That’s a Good Thing

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“Anxiety, heartbreak, and tenderness mark the in-between state. It’s the kind of place we usually want to avoid… Becoming intimate with the queasy feeling of being in the middle of nowhere only makes our hearts more tender…By not knowing, not only hoping to know, and not acting like we know what’s happening, we begin to access our inner strength.”

–Pema Chodron

I’ve had to learn the hard way that the purpose of life isn’t to feel good all the time.

It’s easy to adopt a goal of learning how to be happy, confident, and centered all the time. Ad campaigns for everything from self-improvement programs to blue jeans promise us that this is the thing that will finally make us feel good for good. Whether consciously or not, marketers know that as human beings we’re wired to pursue pleasure and avoid pain.

Recently I was reminded of why this is not such a helpful way to approach the world.

The Pitfalls of Pleasure and the Perks of Pain

About a week ago I found myself lying awake in bed in the middle of the night wondering where I had gone wrong.

I was feeling sad, anxious, and overwhelmed, and all my best efforts to relax and take it easy hadn’t helped me feel any better.

The faster my mind spun trying to find solutions that would fix my problems and lead me back to the promised land of happiness, the worse I felt. It was like I was hugging a tar baby and the more I struggled to escape, the more ensnared I became.

This made me think of an article I had recently read by Pema Chodron called “The In-Between State”. In it, she says that when we’re no longer able to get comfort from the outside but haven’t yet found our way to lasting internal equanimity, we’re in an in-between state marked by anxiety, volatility, and vulnerability.

The challenge, she asserts, is to stop running from it and start staying with it. This is how we connect to compassion. It’s how we access our inner strength. It’s how “the warrior learns to love.”

Relaxing into Groundlessness

In her beautifully wise book When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chodron speaks to this in more detail, managing to both pull the rug out from under you and help you feel okay about the fact that you’re now falling through the floor into an endless abyss.

“Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us,” she says.

Life will offer us plenty of opportunities to “come to the place where we think we can’t handle whatever is happening.” The key, she says, is to stick with the uncertainty, get the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, and learn not to panic.

She offers a few ways of doing this:

 1. Accept that you don’t know.

“Letting there be room for not knowing is the most important thing of all. We try to do what we think is going to help. But we don’t know. We never know if we’re going to fall flat or sit up tall.”

2.Don’t fall into automatic habits.

“When we stop there and don’t act out, don’t repress, don’t blame it on anyone else, and also don’t blame it on ourselves, then we meet with an open-ended question that has no conceptual answer. We also encounter our heart.”

3. Use it as a chance to examine what’s really going on.

“Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit and not be squeamish about taking a good look. That’s the compassionate thing to do. That’s the brave thing to do. We could smell that piece of shit. We could feel it; what is its texture, color, and shape?”

Dancing With Shadows

Lying in bed, feeling my uncomfortable emotions of fear, overwhelm, and anxiety, it occurred to me that there’s nothing to be ashamed of. I don’t need to be a conqueror of maladies; I can be a shadow dancer.

It’s easy for me to tell a story in which my journey up to this point has been about developing tools and skills to help me overcome depression, anxiety, and stress. Look, I can say, I’ve learned so much and gotten so good that now I don’t have to feel bad ever again.

But that’s not what’s really going on. My journey up to this point has been much more about learning who I am and what’s true in the world. It’s been about examining my shadows in detail and learning how to dance with them.

It’s absolutely true that being a shadow dancer has helped me to feel far more joy, strength, compassion, connection, and freedom than I ever thought possible. But that’s not the point. It’s just part of the process.

What’s most important about dancing with shadows, I think, is that I’m increasingly able to experience the darkness without pushing it away. I can be okay in confusion and chaos, not just when things are going well or when I’m feeling good.

To be able to be okay no matter what requires staying with the fear, the terror, the confusion, the darkness, the despair. These are a part of the palette of life, of what we all deal with. The question is, can we be okay with them? Or do we strive to be good enough, right enough, or perfect enough to avoid them?

The purpose of the journey to find work you love is not so that you can be happy all the time. It’s so you can dance with your fear, uncertainty, and stuckness and still be okay. Then and only then are you free to follow what the world is calling for from you because there’s nothing to be afraid of, nothing to avoid, nothing you can’t handle.

The most important task we can set for ourselves is to be willing to be with everything, pain and pleasure. Because only when we’re able to do this do our lives become truly our own.

Over to You

What do you make of this? Is there a benefit to being with pain, or is there a point where it’s too much? I’m curious what you think—please share your take in the comments below.

Get Clear About Your Calling

I’m opening up two One-on-One Platinum Coaching Program spots in the new year to help a couple of people find the work they’re meant to do in the world and get started actually doing it.  If you’re interested, click here to apply for a complimentary Clarity Call, where we’ll illuminate your goals and challenges, outline a strategy to help you find your calling, and explore whether the Platinum Coaching Program is a fit for you. I’m filling these on a first-come, first-served basis, and I don’t know when I’ll be opening up new spots after this, so if you’re interested, apply now!


Photo credit: Mark Freeth // CC (Mark assures us the bird was not harmed in any way in the taking of this photo.)

How to Know If Saying No Is Wise…Or Otherwise

“Resistance obstructs movements only from a lower sphere to a higher. It kicks in when we seek to pursue a calling in the arts, launch an innovative enterprise, or evolve to a higher station morally, ethically, or spiritually. So if you’re in Calcutta working with the Mother Teresa Foundation and you’re thinking of bolting to a launch a career in telemarketing…relax. Resistance will give you a free pass.”

Stephen Pressfield, The War of Art

I recently learned about a mentorship program designed to help businesses like mine grow in new ways. Since I’ve been trying to expand more online, and since I have very little idea of what I’m doing in this arena, I was seriously considering doing the program.

At first when I learned about it, I could hardly contain my excitement. It seemed to be exactly what I was looking for.

And yet as I continued to sit with the decision and consider the hefty price of participation, something began to change. Doubts began to arise: Would I like the other people in the program? Would it require more time or energy than I have available? Would it be worth the money that I put in?

In short, I got scared.

Wisdom vs Fear

I often say that you can tap into your wisdom by listening to your gut and following your intuition, both of which are expressed in your body.

And it’s true. But what I don’t always say is that sometimes your body can give you mixed signals. Sometimes an opportunity can feel good and bad at the same time.

That’s because—as Stephen Pressfield points out in his brilliant book The War of Art—when our wisdom guides us to do something that’s going to take us into a “higher station morally, ethically, or spiritually”, resistance and fear kick in. Part of us digs in its heels and says, “Oh, helllllllllll no.”

This happens to me nearly every time I consider doing something that will allow me to grow and flourish, and I’m pretty sure it’s happened to just about every person who’s ever considered doing a coaching program with me.

The danger is, blindly following our resistance is the most effective way to run smack into what we’re afraid of. If we listen to the fear and ignore what we feel called to do, we won’t do the things that will help us to succeed. We won’t sit down to create, we won’t share our work with the world, and we won’t seek the help we need to expand and grow and learn. Without these actions, we’re almost certain to fail, and thus our doubt becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So how can we tell if the negative response we feel is coming from our wisdom or fear? How do we know whether it’s best to say yes to an opportunity or politely decline?

Identifying Wisdom

The voice of wisdom feels different than the voice of fear, energetically and in the body.

Though each feels different to everyone, there are some general rules of thumb:

Wisdom tends to be quiet, relaxed, patient, energized, or grounded. Even when it’s giving us bad news or pointing out a legitimate concern, it’s not shoving images of failure in front of our faces. It’s simply saying, in a calm and neutral way, “Something about this doesn’t feel quite right for us.”

Fear, on the other hand, tends to be loud, urgent, heavy, tense, and exhausting. It’s obsessive and can’t wait to talk about what could go wrong. It tells us we have to figure this out now. It uses whatever images, ideas, and volume it can get its hands on to increase our sense of panic and unrest.

You can get a lot of clarity just by noticing the flavor of the different thoughts in your head.

Listening to Fear

Once you’ve identified your wisdom, it can give you all kinds of useful guidance. But what we sometimes forget is that the fear can too, if we only take the time to listen.

Sometimes fear is just asking for reassurance.  You can do this by asking yourself how you know your fear to be true. What evidence do you have that things will go badly? And if they do, would that really be as catastrophic as you imagine? Alternatively, what evidence can you find that things might actually go well? When have you made good on opportunities in the past or accomplished what you set out to do?

If you can’t reassure your fears, then be kind to them. Listen to them. While it’s not good to reflexively make decisions out of fear, it’s also not helpful if we force ourselves to stretch too far too fast.

In my case, my inquiry into intuition and fear led me to two realizations: first, that I absolutely wanted to commit to myself, my potential, and my intentions by investing in support that could help me to grow.

What I also realized was that this growth will necessarily challenge me, and I need to step into it slowly and gently. So I got on the phone with the woman leading the program once again to ask her some targeted questions. I found out that she’s all about being gentle and going at a pace that feels right. Learning this, my intuition confirmed that this is the right step for me to take.

I patted my fear on the head, took a big gulp, and paid my deposit.

Over to You

How do you tell the difference between wisdom and fear? How have each helped you make good decisions in the past? Please share your ideas and experience in the comments below.

Find Out What Your Intuition Is Telling You

Sometimes we need a little help to be able to hear what our inner wisdom is saying. I offer 1:1 sessions designed to help you get clear about what you’re wanting and how to find work that’s aligned with your calling. Click here to find out what else you’ll get in a Clarity Call and how to schedule yours at a time that’s convenient for you.


Photo credit: Ahmed Rebea // CC

7 Things You Can Do When None of Your Career Options Feel Right

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I’ve always found decisions stressful, probably because I’m usually trying to find the right answer.  That’s how I know that having options can feel just as stressful as not having any if none of them feel right.

I meet people all the time who are incredibly discouraged because they feel stuck—they desperately want to find a new job but none of the alternatives they come up with feel good enough to pursue. It’s easy to become frustrated, self-critical, or even hopeless and depressed.

Is it the options, or is it you?

It may be that you haven’t yet found the right idea. But it’s equally possible, if not more likely, that something is blocking your ability to recognize what feels really right.

Even if you have a block, you’re perfectly capable of finding your path (and keep in mind that there’s probably more than one that lead to what you’re wanting).  Following are 7 things you can do to find your way when none of your career options feel right:

1. Get more information.

Lots of times nothing feels right because we don’t know enough about what it would look, sound, taste, or feel like. It’s like we’re trying to make a decision about which house to buy when all we know about it is the color and number of rooms.

Take time to do research. Read. Talk to people. Go and visit.  Sometimes we resist doing this because we’re afraid we’ll be disappointed and stranded without options if we don’t like what we find.  But disappointment is inevitable if you’re truly living your life, and you’ll never be without options. At worst, what you find will prompt you to generate better ones.

2. Try it out.

This is really an extension of the last idea. Sometimes you can’t know until you try. If I asked you if you like walking on the moon, you’d probably have a hard time answering without trying it.  Fortunately, trying jobs out is often easier than space travel. Shadow someone for a day. Get an assignment in a different department. Volunteer. Do a freelancing project on the side. Make something. Sell something. See what it feels like.

3. Get clear about what you want most.

Often we want multiple things, and each option offers part but not all of what we want.  If this is the case, try to prioritize your desires.  What’s a must-have and what’s a nice-to-have?  What’s most important to you? What’s been key to your sense of well-being or fulfillment in the past?

4. Look for the should.

Nothing can scramble your internal GPS more than the belief that you ought to be doing something. When you feel you should be doing something—say, making more money, doing the “practical” thing, or pursuing what others think you should—you tend to become deaf to your actual desires. Hence, nothing feels right.

Make a list of all the things you think you should do. (Think: “Fathers should…”  “Mothers should…”  “Responsible people should…”) Now ask yourself: where might you be shoulding on yourself when considering your career options?

5. Distinguish between what feels scary and what feels wrong.

Sometimes we get a negative response from our bodies because an option is clearly wrong for us.  Other times we get a negative response simply because we’re scared.  The anxiety of a wrong choice feels different in the body than the fear of doing something desirable but outside of our comfort zone. For most of us, distinguishing between the two sensations is a subtle discernment we have to learn how to make over time, but it’s a worthwhile effort nonetheless.

6. Brainstorm more options.

It is possible you haven’t yet found the right idea for you.  Once you’re clear on what you really want, take time to brainstorm possibilities.  Allow yourself time to generate wild and improbable ideas without judgment (you’ll have time to get practical later).  Ask others to help you.  And play around with tweaking your existing options.  How might you combine them?  Could you do them sequentially?  What would you need to add to or take away from each one to make it feel right?

7. Wait.

If all else fails, wait. It might just be that the timing isn’t yet right. I had a client who felt stuck in a corporate job because none of her ideas for leaving felt justifiable. She was unduly hard on herself for not taking the leap. Then, after having some time to get her ducks in a row, someone offered her a job to work on an upcoming political campaign. Suddenly, what before felt wrong now felt right. She jumped at the chance and never regretted it. Timing really can be everything.

Over to You

What’s helped you move forward when none of your options felt right?  Please share in the comments below so we can learn from your experience and/or insight.

Find the Right Path for You

Right now I offer a free, 60-minute Clarity Call to anyone who wants to find out how coaching can help them find clarity about their calling and how to pursue it. I won’t be offering this session for free for very much longer. I’ve gotten such good feedback on the calls and have had so many requests for them that once my new website goes live, I’m going to start charging for these in-depth sessions. If you’re interested in coaching and would like to experience it for free while you still can, click here to request a Clarity Call.

The Real Reason What You Want Feels Impossible


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I was talking to a client recently who had a sense that what she really wanted was simply not possible for her.

Either her dream job didn’t exist or she didn’t have the qualifications for it or there was no way it would pay her enough to live on.

She could think of a lot of solid, air-tight, realistic reasons that a positive outcome wasn’t possible, so she felt defeated before she even started.

I myself am no stranger to the art of impossibility.  My default response to any new idea is to think of 101 reasons it wouldn’t work out.  I spent years telling myself that I couldn’t be a writer because if I relied on it for money I would no longer enjoy it, and if it didn’t pay the bills, then how could I take it seriously?

My mother used to call this “putting yourself in a box.”  It turns out I’m exceptionally good at it

We Have Good Intentions

Those of us who have a hard time seeing possibility don’t mean to rain on anybody’s parade, least of all our own.

To be fair, we’re actually trying to help make things happen by being practical, pragmatic, and down-to-earth.  Our intention is to be more effective by anticipating obstacles and planning for difficult circumstances.

And yet the actual effect of our focus on the negative is the opposite.  We miss out on opportunities because we’re focused on what can’t happen instead of what can.  We feel demotivated and discouraged.  And too often we don’t even start because we think we already know it won’t work out.

The Real Reason We Do It

When we’re having a hard time feeling a sense of possibility, it’s not because we know something other people don’t.  It’s not because what we want is impossible, or even unlikely.

The real reason we think something can’t happen is because we’re trying to protect ourselves.  Deep down, some part of us is afraid of failure, or rejection, or finding out that we’re not as capable as we thought we were.

We don’t want to be disappointed.

So we convince ourselves it’s not possible so that we don’t even try.  If we don’t try, after all, we can’t be disappointed.

But the Truth of the Matter?

We are capable beyond measure Sure, we have limitations.  But we also have great gifts to give, and our limitations are simply landmarks that orient us and point to where our greatest gifts lie.

We can handle disappointment, failure, and rejection.  In fact, these things can make us stronger and take us closer to success.

So much is possible.  There are no boxes except the ones in our heads.  No matter what roadblocks we hit, we always have choices and can always find another way.

Seeing Possibility

So the next time you find yourself thinking about all the reasons something won’t work or all the things that could go wrong, stop.

Remind yourself that:

  • The future is unknown. 

No matter what’s happened in the past, and no matter how you feel in the present, you cannot know what will happen in the future.

Remember that it’s just as possible that you’ll be surprised by a new opportunity or solution as by an unforeseen problem or obstacle.

  • There are more possibilities out there than you can think of right now.

We tend to think that we know everything and have thought of all the possibilities that exist.  In my experience, that’s almost never true.

For example, though the idea never would have occurred to me when I was younger, I now use writing as part of my work without having to rely on it entirely for income.

And if my client can’t find a job doing what she loves, she can go into business for herself.  If it doesn’t pay her enough, she can subsidize it with other types of work she doesn’t mind doing.

  • Things change.

The only thing constant about life is change.  If something isn’t possible now, it may be that all you need to do is wait.

Our economy changes all the time—for example, college degrees are becoming less important in hiring, and the highest-paying jobs are not what they used to be.  The context and constraints you are now in will not be the same next year, next month, or even next week.

It Takes Courage

Seeing possibilities is a skill we can learn.  But we have to be willing to not know.

We have to learn to see the bigger picture.  We have to allow ourselves to trust and begin to have faith.  We have to be willing to be disappointed.

When we’re ready to take that risk, possibilities are everywhere.

Over to You

What have you achieved that felt impossible or unlikely in the past?  What helps you to see the bigger picture?

Please share your experience so that others can learn from it.

See What’s Possible for You

This is the last week to sign up for this month’s Pathfinders: A Group Hike and Discussion to Find Your Calling.

You’ll meet others like you who want to make a meaningful career change and go on a beautiful walk in the woods—one of the best places you can find to see the bigger picture, reconnect to yourself, and begin to see the possibilities.

It’ll be fun, fulfilling, and free your first time.

For more information or to register, click here.


If you liked this post, you can share it with others using the buttons that follow, or sign up for my newsletter in the box just below.  I’ll send ideas, tips, and resources for meaningful career change to you every other week.


Photo credit: Joe Hastings // CC

Want to Make a Career Change You Won’t Regret? Try This.

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You want to make a change.  You really do.  It’s just that you don’t want to make a change that you’ll regret.

How do you know this is what you really want?  You thought the jobs you took up to now would make you happy, and they didn’t.  Who’s to say the next job you choose will be any different?

And change requires money, time, and energy.  What if you go back to school and then realize it’s not for you?  What if you give up everything you have, start all over, and then end up back where you started—miserable in your job after the newness wears off?  What if it’s all a waste?

This prospect is scary for anyone wanting to make a career change because the future is inherently uncertain.  And yet your fear underestimates you and what’s possible when you really, truly listen to yourself.

You have a powerful GPS system already operating within you.  When you tune into it and follow its guidance, any career change you make, no matter the outcome, will bring you closer to what you want.

Case in point: I’ve coached dozens of clients to answer their calling, and not a single one has regretted the change they made in their career.  While their processes were quite different, they all had a few, key things in common:

They drew from all 3 types of intelligence.

Most of the time we use our intellectual intelligence to make decisions.  We reason, analyze, list pros and cons, and try to find the option that makes the most sense.

Often this leads us to ping-pong back-and-forth between options without a real sense of which one is right for us, or which one we won’t regret.

That’s because while intellectual intelligence is great at solving certain types of problems, it has very little to tell us about passion, desire, and purpose, the very things we need to know about if we’re going to be fulfilled long-term.

So to identify work that they didn’t regret, my clients tapped into their emotional and somatic intelligence, both of which offered incredible information about what they loved and what was most important to them.

Emotional intelligence draws on the information contained in our feelings.  Somatic intelligence comes from our body; it’s sometimes called intuition or “gut feeling.”  When my clients learned to listen to these sources of wisdom, they discovered what they most deeply wanted, what was meaningful to them, and what would truly fulfill them long-term.

To apply this to your own life, you can start to notice how different options and possibilities make you feel.  What emotions do they bring up?  What body sensations?  Which options bring up the most positive sensations?

Doing so can help you make decisions aligned with who you really are, which is the best way to avoid regret down the line.

They explored.

We test drive cars before we buy them, but often not careers.  Why?  We spend far more time in our career than we do in our car (assuming you’re neither a truck nor taxi driver).

My clients all went through a thorough process of identifying what was most important to them in their work—from location, pay, and environment to job responsibilities, impact, and people.

They then brainstormed ideas for jobs that included these elements.  Armed with a list of exciting possibilities, they became explorers: They tried out different routes to see which ones worked best for them.

They researched.  They did informational interviews.  They shadowed people.  They volunteered.  They did everything they could to get a crystal-clear picture of what a particular job would look like, sound like, and feel like day-in and day-out.

Then they checked in with their various intelligence centers—head, heart, and body—and noticed their response.  In this way, they got a clear read from their highly accurate, state-of-the-art internal GPS system about which path was the best, not just in theory, but in reality as well.

They followed their fear.

Yes, that’s right.  I know that our programmed response to fear is to freeze or run in the opposite direction.  And that’s okay.  If a giant, man-eating bird is trying to hunt us, that’s probably a pretty good response.

But if we really want to find our calling, we need to learn to follow fear.

We only fear a path when it contains something important to us, when we care, when we really, really want it to work.  Those are all great signs that a route is a good one for us.

So, the next time you feel afraid, stroll right up to your fear, introduce yourself, and shake its hand.  Let it know you’re pleased to see it—it means you’re on the right path.  Then march right along past it and continue in the same direction.

As Stephen Pressfield says, “Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”

All of my clients took paths that led them, in one way or another, directly into the heart of their fear.

The path to work you love may not be a direct one.  Sometimes you have to try things out, learn, or even fail; sometimes you have to start one thing to open the door to something else.  But if you use your internal GPS when making decisions, each step you take will bring you closer to what you ultimately want, and each step will bring you lots of joy along the way.

Over to You

What do you make of this?  What’s helped you make changes you’ve been happy with in the past?  Do these point to any action steps you’d like to take?

Your ideas may help others.  Please leave a reply in the comments below.

Make Your Career Change a Happy One

If you’re not sure how to tap into your full intelligence, or if you’ve had trouble exploring or following your fears on your own, click here to request a free clarity session.  Sometimes all we need is a little guidance, support, and structure to be able to do things we couldn’t before.

Photo credit: ** RCB ** / Foter / CC BY

Everything You Need to Know About Monsters (and Fear)

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When I was in high school, I wrote a story about monsters that shared the simple secret to dealing with fear. It’s called Little Mae Clark Is Afraid of the Dark.

In the story, Little Mae Clark is watching the shadows, waiting for them to turn into monsters. Monsters, you see, hide in the shadows during the day and wait until nightfall to assume their true forms, sneaking up on their unsuspecting victims. Little Mae Clark is far too knowledgeable to be caught unaware, so she examines shadows scrupulously while imagining in gory detail exactly how the monsters will rip her apart.

How many of us, when faced with the dark shadows of the unknown, also look for monsters by predicting exactly what might go wrong? Like Little Mae Clark, we prefer to be suspecting victims, so we anticipate scary outcomes and envision them in gory detail.

Many of my clients come to me with well-developed scenarios in their heads about what might happen if they try to answer their calling: They might never find it. They might not be good at it. They might be laughed at and ridiculed. They might make no money at it. They might make the wrong decision and find yet another career they hate. They might waste time or money. They might fail. They might disappoint their loved ones. They might find out they have nothing worthwhile to contribute to this world.

And many of them have already imagined in vivid detail just how devastated, desperate, unworthy, disappointed, or regretful they’re going to feel.

No wonder they’re terrified to take the next step.

The thing is, these clients, like Little Mae Clark, are fundamentally misunderstanding the nature of monsters.

Here’s what you really need to know about those terrible creatures lurking in the dark:

1. Human beings are terrible at accurately identifying monsters.

We think we know what threats await us, but we’re very often quite wrong–probably because the dark, by nature, is unknowable.

No matter how real a monster feels, and no matter how vividly we can envision it attacking us, we are still unable to actually predict the future.

When I started business school, I had no background in business and was sure that I would be confused, overwhelmed, and possibly humiliated by my inability to keep up with everyone else. When I actually got to classes, however, I soon realized that business is basically common sense and I have plenty of that; I was quite able to keep up with my classes and graduated among the top of my class.

We also tend to forget that the unknown can bring good things as well as bad. We forget that there are literally an infinite number of ways something could work out well, and we convince ourselves that the few scenarios we’ve imagined in our heads are the only ones that could come to pass.

The thing is, I’ve had clients find happiness is places they never even thought to look before they started coaching. And I’ve seen over and over again how often things turn out far better than what we initially imagine.

We’re terrible predictors of which shadows will turn into monsters. We can’t really know what’s possible or what will happen unless we get out in the world and try it—actually reaching out to that person, going out and sharing our work with the world, or taking action to ask for what we want.

Every terror we predict before we try is just an imaginary monster. And imaginary monsters, though frightening, have no ability to harm us.

2. Real monsters are far rarer than we think.

I would almost call real monsters an endangered species. Yes, bad things happen.  All the time.  And no, nothing ever goes exactly as we’d like. That’s been true our whole lives. And yet, we’re all still here. We’ve survived. Somehow we’ve made it through.

I was recently working with a client who enjoys photography and had taken pictures of a friend of a friend’s wedding. She wanted to share the photos with her network on Facebook but was nervous to do so. She could imagine people ignoring or—worse—criticizing her work. In her head, Facebook was crawling with monsters. So she kept putting it off even though she knew it was something she wanted to do.

We talked about what was actually likely to happen if she put herself and her work out in the world: a lot of people would likely enjoy and appreciate her photos, and a small number probably would not. Realizing those few detractors would not define her or her talents, she found the courage to share her work.

Lo and behold, it was very well received. Lots of people liked and commented on her page and her photographs. Most everyone she invited to like her page did. Many people she didn’t know had good things to say. And the family of the bride and groom were very excited to see additional photos and interacted with them quite a bit. My client got valuable feedback that her photographs were not only good and well-liked, but also much appreciated.

Monsters are like sharks—they certainly exist, but you’re more likely to be killed by a vending machine than by a real-life monster.

3. Monsters are vegetarian.

Little Mae Clark knows a lot about monsters, but she forgets the most important fact of all about them: they’re all unquestionably vegetarian.

That’s not to say that there aren’t things out there that can hurt us; there most certainly are. But the truth of the matter is, they’re hardly ever as painful as we think they’re going to be. Normally our anticipation is far worse than our actual experience.  And even when the experience is bad, we will always have the choice of how we respond to it.

When I decided to move back to Atlanta after living in San Francisco for 15 years, I had a lot of concerns: What if it was too hot, there were too many mosquitos, or there was too much traffic? What if I didn’t make any new friends? What if my family was more annoying than I remembered?

Fortunately I knew enough to not let my fear of monsters stop me from moving in the direction of my calling.

After settling into my new city, here’s what I learned about the monsters I imagined:

  • Atlanta is too hot, there are too many mosquitos, and there is too much traffic. Atlanta also has warm nights, beautiful sunsets, lots of trees and birds and squirrels, bike paths, front porches, and many other things I love. In the face of all that, the heat, mosquitos, and traffic are annoying, but not disastrous.
  • It is hard to start over in a new city without friends. There are times when I feel lonely. Yet I have made friends, I found lots of sources of support, and I make it through the lonely times just fine.
  • My family can and does annoy me at times. And I annoy them. Sometimes we even fight. But we work through it, and we still manage to love, support, and show up for each other over and over again.
  • There are ways to approach and deal with the negative elements that make them manageable.

Like a storm cloud that looks terribly dark on the horizon but inevitably lightens as it comes closer, most of the monsters we imagine are not so bad once we actually meet them.

Many of them even have a thing or two to teach us to help us take the next step on our path. Some of my best teachers, the ones who did the most to help me get to where I wanted to go, have been the monsters that appeared in front of me.

Perhaps instead of fearing monsters, we can be curious about them. We can acknowledge that we don’t know what will come, and we can investigate rather than anticipate. We can recognize that whatever comes will be neither all good or all bad, but rather a mixture of both. And we can trust our ability to handle whatever arises, good or bad, and look for ways to learn from it.

Like Little Mae Clark, we may find that when we recognize their true nature, monsters can actually become good friends.


And what about you?  When have you worried about something that turned out to be less scary than you imagined?  What helps you feel the fear and move forward anyway?

Please leave a comment and let me know.

***Photo credit: Frank Zander

Little Mae Clark Is Afraid of the Dark

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Little Mae Clark is afraid of the dark.

She sits with her back as straight as a cliff, her open mouth a moist cave at its apex.  Her eyes are open; she would not dare close them, for fear of something sneaking up on her in the cover of darkness.  Her hands alternately clench and unclench her blanket, and she has developed a nervous tic in her foot.

She is staring intently about her, on the lookout for formless shapes and shadows to turn into monsters.  Everyone knows that monsters live in shadows during the day and only at night assume their true form to sneak up on young victims.  If the monsters are coming, Mae Clark is going to spot them first.

Endless reels of empty time pass like scene after scene of a bad movie.  The shadows stretch and shrink every once in a while but do not yet betray their true identity.  Mae Clark knows, however, that monsters are patient creatures, and so she keeps her vigil diligently.

Finally the shadows grow more confident.  Out of the corners of her eyes, Mae Clark can see them shift positions when she is looking elsewhere.  Monsters tend to get uncomfortable after long periods of time.  She knows a lot about monsters, such as how they eat, when they sleep, and how many usually occupy a single room.  Mae Clark has read a lot about bedtime monsters.  She considers herself an expert.  her mother has tried to tell her that monsters do not exist, but Mae Clark is far too knowledgeable for that.  She knows they exist, and she knows of the dangers they pose.  Now the vigilante sits silently, tingles of tension running down her spine, fingers of fear driving hammers into her brain.

One of the shadows now suddenly breaks free.  As it begins to lumber slowly towards her, other shadows follow its lead and begin their journey towards the bed.  Mae Clark’s fingers move restlessly about the fringe of her comforter, and her eyes swing wildly from monster to monster.  She sees the shadows coming for her, knows their purpose and ultimate destination.

Her mind jumps around to find an escape path, but the one she has designated for use in an emergency, a straight line to her window, is quickly blocked by an oncoming shadow.  Mae Clark can no longer tell which corners are occupied by dressers and such and which hide the form of a carnivorous creature.

The shadows are drawing nearer.  Mae Clark envisions herself being devoured by unsightly beasts, imagines the great sorrow which her parents will feel upon learning of her departure.  She has yet to do so many things in life, and now the monsters are going to cut short all of her opportunities to accomplish them.  She can picture how cold her face will look in death, but cannot picture what will lie beyond.

Meanwhile, a monster has almost reached her.  It is stretching out its dark claw towards her, a horrible, volatile thing against which it would be useless to put up a fight.  The hand, and with it a certain coldness within her, reaches closer and closer and closer to Mae Clark.  She braces herself for a searing pain when…

Suddenly a bright light flashes on.  A thunderous roar echoes between the four walls of the room.  Mae Clark is familiar with the routine: her mother has come to check on her, thereby sending all of the monsters to their respective hiding places until tomorrow night.  It happens now almost every night, so Mae Clark looks with relief towards her doorway, thankful that her mother has saved her once again in the nick of time.

When she looks at the door, it is closed, and her mother is nowhere in sight.

With eyes frozen with terror, she brings her gaze slowly, painfully around to look at the heart of her room.  Like glaciers trying to defy the tyranny of time, her eyes move towards the new source of bright light.  She can almost hear Death’s heartbeat pounding in her ears.

When she looks at her room, she sees monsters, many of them, all staring hungrily at her.  But in the middle of their circle, she quickly notices, lies a party platter of food, and each monster is wearing a party hat.

“Hello, Mae Clark,” says one, grinning broadly at her.  “Welcome to our party.”

The ghastly beasts all begin to smile now, showing horrid teeth covered in slimy saliva.  A soft uproar engulfs the room as conversation begins.

Mae Clark is taken aback, but soon she, too, begins to smile.  She has overlooked the most important trait of monsters: they are all, unquestionably, vegetarians.

 

***Photo credit: Steven Shwartz