Category Archives: Common Challenges

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

why_you_dont_need_to_feel_guilty_for_wanting_more_dog

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

why_its_hard_to_make_change_broken_bridge

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.)

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

what_if_i_dont_have_the_skills_or_experience_for_what_i_want_to_do_iguana_cropped

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.

let_out_your_inner_weird

The Problem With Passion: How Do I Choose a Career When I Have Too Many Interests?

problem_with_passion_too_many_interests_birds

I worked with a client recently who faced a very common and somewhat tricky challenge when it comes to making a career change.

John (whose name I’ve changed for this post) had been in software development for 20 years when he approached me for help figuring out what type of work might be a better fit for him.

He didn’t hate his job, and it provided well for his family, but he was increasingly feeling like it wasn’t a good fit for him. He wanted to find work that he cared more about, and that was a better match for his interests.

The problem was, he wasn’t sure what his interests (or true passions) were. That is to say, he wasn’t sure which of his many interests were ultimately worth pursuing.

But to fully understand John’s conundrum, we need to go back to the beginning. And getting help, as most of us know, is hardly ever the beginning of any story…

Discovering a world of passion

The story of John’s career change actually starts in Sweden.

When he was ­­30 years old, John went on an audacious solo trip across Europe. It was while facing the challenges of travel and rediscovering self confidence after a divorce that he found out he was capable of far more than he’d thought.

He also realized that there was a whole world out there waiting to be discovered.

He began getting out of his comfort zone more and more as he explored various passions he hadn’t even known he’d had—things like cycling, painting, and even acting.

His explorations contributed to greater self-confidence, brought more joy and excitement into his life, and even led him to meet a new woman he would later marry and start a family with.

The downside to being passionate

The good news was, John had a lot of passions. The bad news was, John had a lot of passions.

John had a rich life after work filled with lots of activities that he enjoyed, and he had even started his own business leading fun science experiments at birthday parties on the weekends when he realized how much he loved entertaining and educating kids.

The trouble was, as John found more passions outside of work, he grew more dissatisfied with the lack of fulfillment he felt from 9-5. He began to realize that his work in software had little to do with his greatest talents and joys, and he had the growing sense that something better was possible.

At the same time, he had no clarity about which of his various interests was worth pursuing. They were diverse, seemingly unrelated, and none was calling to him clearly.

What’s more, John’s passions were not just plentiful; they were also inconsistent. He tended to get very excited about one particular activity and pursue it avidly, only to lose his interest in it some time later. Even his business was no longer exciting him the way it had when he’d started it.

When we met, John felt lost, unsure of whether he could ever choose one thing to work on, and doubtful whether any passion could sustain him long-term.

Digging deeper

The key to overcoming John’s challenge was to stay with things longer than he would normally have liked so that he could observe what came up when he did.

He stuck with his business, for example, and continued to engage with it even though it no longer felt exciting and shiny. He paid attention to how he felt when he did so—emotionally, and in his body—and found that many aspects of his business still energized him, but he got the urge to quit when things didn’t go as he’d hoped and doubts began to arise.

He also realized that he had been too focused on conducting business operations he wasn’t even sure were worth pursuing and listening to the advice of other business owners instead of answering the questions “What do I want?” and “Why am I doing this?”

When John realized this, he began to see his business as a learning experiment, a way to find answers to those questions. And he started to be able to separate out when he wanted to stop doing something because it was getting challenging versus when he wanted to quit something because it didn’t feel right to him.

He began to be able to stay with the discomfort of the challenges and found that when he did, his interests were more consistent than he thought.

The power of observation

At the same time, John paid more attention to his emotional and somatic reactions in his daily life (through meditation, he was able to quiet his “monkey brain”). With careful observation, he found that one set of passions did, in fact, rise above the others.

What he discovered is that his body lit up the most when he was entertaining people. He wasn’t so excited about the scientific aspect of his business, but the part where he brought joy to children consistently energized him. He observed the same thing happening anytime he was entertaining others. He began to accept that his purpose lay in helping others experience joy, feel better about themselves, and learn through laughter.

John began to experiment and explore to find job ideas that would both provide for his family and involve what he loved most about entertaining. He realized that he could start offering clowning to the birthday parties he served in his business, and he was thrilled to discover that he could put many of his entertaining skills to use in the field of corporate team building.

He’s currently exploring each of these ideas, and is excited about both possibilities.

John still has challenges he needs to overcome. But the amazing thing is, he feels good about choosing one of his many interests to pursue, and he’s confident that his passion for it will last.

And he’s finally enjoying the process of exploring his next steps, now that he’s realized that his many passions aren’t a problem and he can overcome any challenge if he just stays with it long enough.

The moral of the story

Having a lot of passions isn’t a problem. Nowhere is it written that you have to choose one thing and one thing only to do the rest of your life.

I recently wrote a post that offers options for those of us who are multi-passionate, and it shares some benefits of moving around frequently.

If you’re not sure which interests to pursue, try observing them carefully. Pay attention to how your body responds when you engage with each one, and start to look for patterns in what lights you up. Also get curious about what makes you want to deepen your involvement with your passions and what exactly triggers you to want to run for the hills.

The only problem with passions is when we refuse to commit to them because we worry they won’t satisfy us long-term. That’s when we bounce back and forth, uncertain and confused, unwilling to pursue one long enough to find out the truth.

The key, then, is to choose to explore a passion long enough to get more information about it. It doesn’t matter so much which one you start with, since this is one of those times when a wrong turn can actually be the shortest distance between two points. As long as you commit to deepening your experience with something and observing what happens when you do, you’ll find your way to what you love most.

Don’t be afraid to take action before you’re certain—this isn’t something you can figure out in your head. The only way to know if something is worth committing to is by committing to it—for now, at least, or long enough for you to deepen into it and learn what it has to teach.

10 Tips for Working With Anxiety When It Feels Like It Might Overwhelm You

In my last blog post I wrote about my key to dealing with anxiety.

Since this is a subject so close to my heart (and my nervous system), I was inspired to offer a few more tips for what to do when it feels like anxiety is going to overwhelm you.

While it’s incredibly useful to understand that anxiety isn’t actually a bad thing (believing we need to avoid it is actually what creates most of our trouble), it’s also true that working with it mentally often isn’t enough. Sometimes we need physical, emotional, or even spiritual ways to lessen its effects if we’re going to be able to see that it isn’t so bad. The reason we panic about anxiety, after all, is it often feels like it’s going to kill us.

So here are 10 things you can do to lessen anxiety and help your system relax:

1. Breathe deeply.

Deep breathing activates your parasympathetic nervous system; in other words, it calms your fight-or-flight response and takes you back into rest-and-digest.

We’re designed to breathe all the way down into our bellies by contracting and relaxing our diaphragms. When our stress response is triggered, however, our diaphragms tighten and we breathe primarily by expanding our chests. The problem with this is that because we’re designed to breathe this way only in emergencies when we need additional oxygen, our bodies take this kind of breathing as evidence that something’s wrong. Thus, regardless of what got us anxious in the first place, once the anxiety takes hold, its symptoms feel like further confirmation that all is not well.

The way to counteract this is to breathe all the way into our bellies, letting them relax so they can rise and fall with each breath, and slow down our exhale. This naturally activates our parasympathetic nervous system and signals to our bodies that everything is actually just fine.

2. Shake it out.

Somatic Experiencing points out that most animals have ways of resetting their nervous systems after a big hit of adrenaline. Bunnies, for example, physically shake after being chased by a predator to discharge their emergency energy and come back to a resting state. If we don’t do the same thing, the theory goes, our nervous systems can get stuck in the “on” position.

So the next time you’re anxious, you might try literally shaking it off. Do what a dog does just after it gets out of the water and really have at it so you can let your body know that the danger is past and it’s safe to relax again.

You might feel funny, but at least you’ll feel funny and safe.

3. Meditate and get present.

Anxiety is usually about what might happen in the future. Often if we stop to check in with what’s occurring right now, we realize that in this exact moment, we’re actually just fine.

Meditation is a great way of connecting to the perfection of the present moment. It also helps you relate to the storm of thoughts and feelings that assault us all with greater equanimity.

It’s a practice of letting go, one thought or sensation at a time, so that instead of getting caught up in the drama, you can stay grounded in what’s happening right now and see things more for what they are (which is almost always less anxiety-producing than what we imagine).

There are lots of meditation centers, teachers, apps, and programs that can help you get started, but it can be as simple as pausing to feel your feet on the ground in moments when you notice you’re anxious. Whether you meditate, feel your body, or get curious about what you can see, smell, or hear around you right now, you’re practicing presence, which is an anxiety-lessening skill that, like a muscle, gets stronger with use.

4. Exercise.

Exercise is one of my favorite tools for dealing with anxiety because it can often relax me when nothing else will.

I used to joke that during a particularly transitional phase in my life—when I had recently started coaching, had just launched my own business, and was making the move across the country from San Francisco to Atlanta—I  had never been more anxious, but I had also never been in better shape.

Exercise gets us back in our bodies (which keeps us in the present moment) and can help move anxious energy through us. Find what works best for you—you might try walking, swimming, running, yoga, weight lifting, or playing a sport. One of my favorite things to do is put on music and dance as wildly and as goofily as I can.

Whatever form it takes, make it something you enjoy, as joy is another medicine for anxiety, if we can get present enough to feel it.

5. Get into nature.

There’s something inherently calming about nature. Maybe it’s the silence, slowness, and spaciousness. Maybe it’s the beauty. Or maybe it’s that we’re forced to acknowledge something larger and greater than ourselves and our relatively small concerns and worries.

Regardless, nature is a powerful antidote to anxiety. So if you’re feeling anxious, make time to get into the woods, the park, or the lawn out back.

Whatever form of nature speaks to you and wherever you can find it most easily, go there. Often. Take time to just be still, notice, and breathe in the beauty. The wonderful thing is you don’t have to do anything; just being in nature is healing enough.

6. Notice what’s going well.

When we’re anxious, we’re often worried about “What if’s”. The funny thing is, we almost never think, “What if everything turns out really great?”

Our brains are actually wired to focus on what might go wrong, which may have helped us survive at one point, but nowadays just serves to fuel our anxiety. So the way to counteract this natural tendency (and find a more realistic view of the world) is to focus on what’s going well.

If you’re like me when I’m in the throes of anxiety, you’ll think—wait, but nothing’s going well! The invitation here is to start noticing the little things and not take anything for granted.

You can do this by making a gratitude list and including everything on it—the fact that you have a place to sleep at night, food when you’re hungry, or people around you who love you. You can also begin to see your daily wins, which may be small but are often more significant than you realize.

If you let yourself observe without judgment, you’re likely to find that despite the challenges and uncertainties, things generally unfold for the best, despite what our minds tell us or what anxiety would have us believe.

7. Go slowly.

If your anxiety is coming up because you’re doing something new, then going slowly can be key.

When I start going faster than the slowest part of me feels safe to go (thank you, Karen Drucker, for that phrase), my anxiety kicks up, often to the point of keeping me awake at night.

It’s a not-always-so-gentle reminder to slow down. When I take baby steps and check in before taking the next one to make sure I have the energy for it, I not only feel better, but I also generally get better results.

Sometimes anxiety is just my inner wisdom trying to get my attention.

8. Feel your feelings.

What I’ve discovered from years of observing my anxiety is that it often functions like a baby’s rattle.

When I’m feeling something I don’t want to be feeling (anger, fear, hurt, disappointment, etc.), the anxiety comes in and provides a pretty noisy, attention-grabbing distraction. When I wrap my fat little fingers around that rattle and focus on all the noise that it’s making, it’s pretty easy to not pay attention to whatever disturbing feelings I have.

But following anxiety’s lead tends to make things worse, and the only thing that really helps in the long run is to pause and make space for my feelings. When I let myself feel my fear, anger, hurt, or disappointment, I realize that it never lasts forever and is never as bad as I think it will be.

I do this by focusing on what I’m feeling in my body, allowing the sensations to be there, and then following whatever energy comes up—sometimes crying, sometimes yelling (when I’m alone), or doing whatever I need to in order to make room for the feelings.

When it’s no longer needed to distract me, the anxiety often fades of its own accord.

9. Get curious.

Curiosity is like kryptonite to anxiety’s Superman strength.

Anxiety is fueled by the belief that something is wrong. When we act based on anxiety, we feed that belief.

When we’re curious, we’re not caught in the belief that anything needs to be solved. Instead, we’re finding out for ourselves what’s actually true.

  • Is it true that we need to have a particular outcome in order to be okay?
  • Is it true that we’re screwed if something doesn’t go well?
  • Is it true that if we’re anxious something must be wrong?

My best advice is not to take anxiety’s word for any it. Doing so will only add to its superhuman strength.

Instead, ask and observe. Investigate what it is that makes you feel that something is going badly. Get interested in your anxiety and what makes it intensify or lessen. Get curious to see what’s really going on, and what will unfold.

It’s very hard to be genuinely curious and anxious at the same time.

10. Accept it.

This is perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned about anxiety over the years:

It’s very easy when we’re experiencing anxiety to fall into the trap of trying to get rid of it. It can be very uncomfortable after all, and can disrupt sleep, work, and relationships.

But using all these tips and tricks to try to get rid of anxiety is the worst thing we can do. In fact, in my experience, it only makes it stronger.

We can’t control anxiety. We can do things that will make it easier to feel peaceful, but nothing works all the time. Relaxation isn’t a state than can be forced.

If we think we need to feel calm in order to be okay, all our efforts to lessen anxiety will only make us feel more powerless and vulnerable, because at some point they won’t work, and then we’ll feel even more out of control.

If, on the other hand, we can begin to recognize that feeling anxious is uncomfortable but not fundamentally dangerous…if we see that anxiety is temporary and never lasts forever…if we know that we can always let ourselves feel at least a bit more at ease in any given moment, even while the anxiety is here…

…then we realize that we can feel anxious and be okay.

When we do that, we’re free. We can accept our current experience and do whatever we need to in order to make it gentler, kinder, and easier to handle.

In other words, we can stop trying to control and start relaxing into what is.

My Key to Dealing With Anxiety

key_to_dealing_with_anxiety_dog_cropped

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