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.

3 Proven Ways to Stop Procrastinating

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We all do it.

We want to make a change.  We have the best of intentions.  We’re going to clean the house, apply for a job, or start exercising more.

We plan, prepare, and get excited.  And then, when the time comes, we think: “You know, today isn’t such a good day after all.  The weather’s no good; I’m not in the right mood; I didn’t sleep well last night.  I’m sure this will be much easier tomorrow.”

In other words, procrastination’s siren song sinks our ship before we’ve even left the shore.

It’s Not Just You

Nobody is immune to the sweet promises of procrastination.

I can’t tell you how many people I talk to who desperately want a new career and know what they need to do to make it happen but who find, again and again, that they can’t get themselves to take any action to actually achieve it.

I myself have been meaning to write the next installment of my fictional series for some time now, but “later” seems to always be the best time I can find to write.

You Can Stop Beating Yourself Up

We don’t procrastinate because we’re lazy, and truthfully there’s nothing wrong with us.

We put things off because we get scared, anxious or overwhelmed.

We may anticipate how hard something is going to be, and it feels like more than we can handle right now.  Or perhaps we feel anxious because we don’t know how to proceed, the outcome is uncertain, or things may not turn out well.  Not taking action can seem like the perfect way to avoid unpleasant experiences and unsavory outcomes.

Procrastination promises to help us feel better, if just for a little while, and who doesn’t want to feel better?

The Way to Action

The key to dealing with procrastination is to recognize the duplicitous nature of its siren song and then do what we can to make our sailing smoother.

Step 1: Remind Yourself of the Lie in Procrastination’s Promise

As we’ve all experienced, we may avoid some potential discomfort by sticking close to the certain shores of the status quo.  But we also don’t make progress towards what we want and what we’re called to do.  And what’s more, we can’t help but notice that we’re not taking action on something that’s important to us, and that never feels good.

By procrastinating, we’re simply swapping one type of discomfort for another.

So, the first step to taking action is to acknowledge that procrastination isn’t really delivering on its promise of tranquility.

Step 2: Make It Less Overwhelming

If you’re still putting action off, you’re likely feeling at least a little overwhelmed.  That’s okay.  Don’t fight yourself.

Instead, be your own mentor:

  • Break down large or daunting tasks into smaller pieces.  Think through what’s required and list it out, step-by-step.  Then break each step down into smaller pieces.  Keep breaking each step down until you find an action that feels doable right now.  Then do it.
  • Lower your standards.  I had a client once who never cleaned her house because it felt so overwhelming to do it the way she felt she should.  Meanwhile the house got messier and the prospect of cleaning it even more overwhelming.  When she gave herself permission to lower her standards by, for example, clearing just the top of her dresser or getting her house clean-er but not spotless,  she found she was able to take action where she hadn’t been before.
  • Give yourself a reward.   Make a deal with yourself: if you do this challenging or unpleasant task you’ve been avoiding, you’ll get a reward.  It could be a bath, a cup of your favorite coffee, a TV show, or anything else you enjoy.  (Find some inexpensive, non-food ideas here.)  Just make sure you actually follow through.  Your inner mentor is going to lose credibility fast if you make promises to your inner procrastinator that you don’t keep.

Step 3: Find Support

What’s wrong with me? is a terribly useless question to ask.

Much more productive is: What would help me get started?

So ask yourself: What makes me feel stronger?  What would make this task easier?  Then look for the people, activities, environments, technology, and other resources that do exactly that.

Support that has helped me or my clients step into action includes:

  • Having a partner with whom to discuss strategy and check in on progress
  • Finding a new and inspiring environment
  • Doing something energizing, like exercise or a creative activity, before taking a difficult step
  • Finding an app or other technology that makes the task easier
  • Joining a community of peers with similar goals and challenges

Over to You

Odysseus found that ropes and lots of wax were key to resisting the sirens’ song.

What’s your wax?  What support helps you resist procrastination and step into action?

Please share your experience in the comments below.

Take Action Towards Work You Love Now

The next Pathfinders (a group hike and discussion to discover your calling) is coming up fast.

On this hike, you’ll find loads of support for taking action, including:

  • Connections with others  facing similar challenges
  • A beautiful environment
  • Inspiration and ideas for next steps
  • Loving accountability

…and perhaps even some yummy snacks as well.  Because what’s the point of answering your calling if it’s not fun and delicious?

Click here to take the first step towards making a change.


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Solving the Ping-Pong Effect: What to Do When You Can’t Decide What to Do

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It goes something like this:

You’re unhappy with your work.  Then one day, you have an idea for a better job.  You get excited about the idea, and you start to explore it.

At some point in your exploration you discover potential drawbacks.  You feel less excited.  Then you have an idea for another job that might be even better.  You get excited again.

Until you come across potential drawbacks about that idea.  You go back to the first idea.  You get excited, then unexcited, first about one idea, then about the other, over and over again.

Six months later, you’re still in the same job, still unhappy.

I call this the Ping-Pong Effect.

I’m intimately familiar with the Ping-Pong Effect myself.  I can’t tell you how many decisions I’ve talked myself into and then out of within the span of 5 minutes.  That’s why it’s so easy for me to recognize it in others.

For example, I had a client approach me once because he couldn’t decide what to do next in his life and career.  He was an art director and an artist and was considering freelancing, but he worried it wouldn’t provide enough financial security for his family.  Soon afterward, he was offered a job at a technology company in San Francisco, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to move, and he didn’t know if it would allow him enough free time to work on his art.

He was ping-ponging back-and-forth between the options and couldn’t decide which one was better, which one felt right.

The reason we can’t decide

Antonio Demasio is a neuroscientist who studied people who had brain injuries that left them unable to feel emotions.  Through his research, he found an unexpected result of such injuries: the people who could no longer feel their feelings had a much harder time making decisions, even simple ones.

In a televised interview, Demasio describes how one of his patients struggled with the decision of which restaurant to go to, arguing on the one hand that there would be more space and better service at a spot with fewer people, and how on the other hand that might be an indication that the restaurant wasn’t any good.

Without access to his emotions, this man could endlessly list the pros and cons of each option, but he couldn’t decide which was the better choice.

Demasio concluded that emotions are integral not just to making good decisions, but also to “what we construct as wisdom over time.”

It’s not all in your head.

When we ping-pong, we’re usually trying to solve a problem purely by thinking about it.  We’re not drawing from our other two sources of information and wisdom: our emotional and somatic (or body) intelligence.

Our brains are capable of rationalizing anything; they’re also prone to fear, worry, and doubt.  Our emotions, on the other hand, however irrational they may seem, are direct indicators of our heart’s desires.  And our bodies, in their own quiet way, have a wisdom of their own, supporting intuition and giving us a “gut sense” of what feels right.

Integrated together, our heads, hearts, and bodies provide everything you could ever want in a state-of-the-art guidance system: they’re comprehensive, highly accurate, and always available.

By listening to them, we can always find the best answer, every time.

Remember the indecisive art director?

Through our work together, he increased his ability to read his emotional and somatic intelligence.  (It is a skill that requires practice, and unfortunately it’s not something we’re taught in school.)

When he consulted head, heart, and body together, he found that his indecision melted away and the choice became clear: he wanted to freelance and use his free time to invest more in his own art.

He followed his inner guidance and experienced benefits he couldn’t have anticipated.  To start with, he worked on lots of projects he was interested in and well-paid for, and he showed his art several times in well-received events.

He also did some projects with the company that had wanted to hire him.  They got to know him, and he got to know them.  And then one day they offered him a different job doing exactly what he wanted in a highly paid position they designed especially for him.

And when he checked in with head, heart, and body, they all said hell yes.

Listen to your heart (and your gut).

You can discover your own “hell yes” by learning how to draw on your emotional and somatic intelligence.  Here’s how:

Decision Log Exercise

For the next two weeks, keep a Decision Log.  Pause twice a day and think back over the decisions you’ve made, such as what you ate for breakfast, what you chose to work on first after arriving at work, or whether or not to have a conversation with a friend about something that’s bothering you.

For each decision, record:

  1. What thoughts led you to make the decision you did
  2. What emotions led you to choose as you did
  3. What body sensations led to your particular choice (Was it tension in your chest?  Relaxation in your belly?  Heat, cold, numbness, energy, heaviness, tingling, lifting, or anything else?)

You may not know at first what emotions or body sensations led to your decision.  That’s okay.  We only really learn to do this through practice, so start paying more attention to your feelings and body and keep at it.

After you record this as best you can for each decision, go back to previous decisions and record the result: What actually happened?  Were you happy with the result?

Do this for two weeks.  After the two weeks are up, read through your Decision Log and see if you notice any patterns in your decision-making:

  • How did your feelings help or hinder good decision-making?  In what ways did your emotions indicate what you wanted and what was the best choice?
  • How did your body sensations help or hinder good decision-making?  What body sensations were present when something didn’t feel right to you?  What body sensations were present when something did feel right?
  • How did your thoughts help or hinder good decision-making?

Whatever your answers are, if you do this with consistency and sincerity, you’ll learn a lot about how your head, heart, and body indicate what’s right for you.

Learn How to Use Your Full Intelligence

Most of us don’t know how to decipher our emotional or somatic intelligence—it’s not something we’re taught in school.  But you can learn.

I offer individual and group coaching programs at various levels of investment designed to help you learn how to listen to your full intelligence, 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. You’ll get clear about what you need to do to overcome the Ping-Pong Effect and discover the path that’s right for you.There’s no cost for the call and no obligation to buy anything. Click here to apply for your free call today.

 

 

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Photo credit: Faruk Ates // CC

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.


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Nobody Understands Me–And That’s a Good Thing

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Sometimes they just don’t get it.

You sense that there’s something out there for you, something better.  You believe you can find work you would actually enjoy and be good at, and that would help you make a positive difference in the world.

But others around you don’t seem to understand.

They don’t get why you can’t stay in your current job.  Shouldn’t you feel lucky to have one at all?

Or if you’re not working, they don’t understand why you don’t just take the first job you can find.  Why are you taking so long to decide what to do?

They don’t understand why this is such a big deal to you.  They don’t get why you worry so much about your next step.  They don’t know why you’re so picky, or unhappy, or unsure of what you want.

It can be hard when our loved ones don’t understand us.  My own family and friends try to be very supportive, but there are still times when they don’t understand what I do or why I do it.

Their intentions are good as they point out the risks in my plan or question my reasoning, but it hurts when they don’t get it.  I’m a human being, wired to be social, evolved to care about what others think of me.

Which is why it helps to understand that we all have a different truth inside of us, and we all wake up to it at different times.

Why Nobody Understands Me

If you feel the call to do something more with your life, you’re beginning to tune into a powerful fact about yourself: you are here to do more than earn a salary or achieve what others think you should.

We all have incredible gifts to give the world that change it in powerful and positive ways.  We all have an innate joy within us waiting to be released when we follow our own truth and discover what the world is calling for from us.

And we all wake up to this truth in our own time.

Sometimes others don’t understand because they haven’t yet woken up to their own call.  They’re not yet in touch with what’s true and alive within them and still find contentment in doing what they think they should.

Other times our courage ignites the fears of our loved ones.  They fear failure, humiliation, or rejection and don’t understand that our desire to contribute is bigger than all of that.

Sometimes others forget that their truth is different than our own.  They forget that we all have something different to offer the world, and thank goodness, or else we wouldn’t have ways of meeting all the world’s needs.

Why It’s a Good Thing.  Really. 

Our culture teaches us that success is earning a certain amount of money, or wielding a certain amount of power, or impressing a certain number of people.

The truth is, we are capable of so much more than this.

If you feel like nobody understands you, please know that this is a good thing.  You are waking up to what truly matters in life; you’re finally hearing your own inner guidance, which will show you how to change the world in a way that only you can.

What to Do About It

Being different is hard, but the good news is, your happiness doesn’t have to depend on what others think.

You are an expert in your own truth.  Learn about that truth, discover its subtleties, and let it guide you–this process will bring you great joy, regardless of how others respond.

The next time somebody questions the path you’re on, remember that you’re walking the path less traveled, and that’s a great road to be on.

See if you can lovingly wish for the other person to hear their own calling as soon as they’re ready.  Or try to feel empathy for the great fear behind their doubts.  Or get curious about what’s true for them that makes them think this way, and what part of that might not be so true for you.

Above all, remember that somebody out there does understand you.

Often our loved ones support us more than we give them credit for, if we share with them openly and hear them out.

But even if they don’t, there are many others who are waking up to the same truth you are.  I promise you they’re out there, because I talk to them everyday.

It’s just a matter of finding them.

Connect With Others Like You

Want to find people who get you?

Pathfinders: A Group Hike and Discussion to Discover Your Calling is starting next month.

You’ll go on a beautiful walk through the woods.  You’ll have meaningful conversations with others who, like you, are trying to discover what they’re meant to do in this world.  You’ll receive lots of support for identifying and taking next steps towards work you love.

Click here to find out more and to register so you can connect with people who really get you.

Over to You

What don’t others seem to understand about you?  How do you handle it?  Where do you go to find your tribe?

Your thoughts help others, so please share them!


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


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You Can’t Find Your Dream Job While Working Full-Time —True or False?

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It can feel impossible to look for your dream job while still working full-time.

Your job is relentless, stressful, and requires huge amounts of energy just to show up each morning, so it’s no wonder when you go home all you want to do is lie on the couch and not think about anything.

You may dream about quitting your full-time job so you can look with leisure, but the truth of the matter is, most people need the money to come in until they find something new.

Not to worry.  You have plenty of time and energy to find your dream job.  Really.  Many of my clients transition into new jobs while working full-time or juggling serious responsibilities.

Here are my top 3 tips for how to find the time and energy to look for your dream job no matter how busy you are:

Manage your energy like the precious resource it is.

When I coach clients with full-time jobs, I start by finding out what energizes them.  Is it hiking?  Cooking?  Painting?  Spending time with friends?  Doing Yoga?  Reading?   Energizing activities can be active (like rock climbing) or passive (like watching movies).

I then invite clients to start to pay attention to their energy levels.  Energy, after all, is a renewable resource.  When our work requires us to expend a lot of energy, we need to take time regularly to put fuel back in our tanks.  The more we take time to do the things that energize us, the more energy we have left after work to do the things that are truly important to us.

So start to notice what gives you energy and what drains it, and then make time for what energizes you at least once a day.

Get your priorities straight.

If you’re like many of my coaching clients, you don’t ever want to let others down.  When someone asks something of you, you do it to the best of your ability, no matter how long it takes or what the cost is to you.

It’s a beautiful intention to do your best, but seriously–no wonder you’re so tired at the end of the day.

It’s a matter of priorities.  You can’t take care of what’s important to you if you spend all your time working on what’s important to others.

If you know you don’t want to stay where you are, why invest in making your work perfect?  Why not start getting curious about what could be good enough?

Not every email has to be flawless.  Not every request from your boss has to be accepted.  Working later isn’t always better.

There’s often much more room than we realize to say no, ask for more time, or do a good job, but not a perfect one.

Doing so isn’t a sign that you’re mediocre; it’s a sign that you’re committed to something incredibly important: finding work that preserves your sanity, brings you joy, and allows you to contribute your greatest gifts to the world.

Beware of your saboteur.

Often we say we don’t have the time or energy to do something when really we do.  We can choose not to watch as much TV.  We could decide to say no to a social invitation.  We can spend less time on Facebook or activities that don’t truly bring us joy.

When this is the case (and it usually is), our saboteur is at work.

The saboteur is that part of us that tries to undermine progress towards what we most want.  Why?  Because it’s scared.  It’s afraid we’ll fail, or not have what it takes, or lose all our friends if we step out on this limb.  So it convinces us not to even try.

But if it told us directly not to try, we would recognize it for what it is.  So it’s sneaky.  It says, “You don’t have time to do this,” because that feels pretty true to most of us.  We take its words at face value, not realizing that it’s actually fear that’s keeping us stuck.

I coached a client once whose saboteur convinced him he didn’t have time to do an exercise that would have taken 3 minutes out of his day.  Being too busy seemed so reasonable, he never questioned it.  But once he realized that “not having time” was a form of internal resistance, he was quickly able to choose to do the exercise anyway.

Awareness = choice.  So next time you hear the familiar refrain “I don’t have time,” look around and see if you can’t find your saboteur.

Over to you

What do you think?  How do you make space for what’s important to you?

Your responses might help others.  Please share your comments below.

Find Time to Discover Your Dream Job

If you know all this but still have a hard time finding time to make a change, fear not.  Knowledge is only one piece of the puzzle.

Sometimes we also need structure, encouragement, or practice to make these changes.  That’s exactly what coaching provides.

Click here to request a free clarity session and take action towards finding your dream job, no matter how busy or tired you are.


Photo credit: Alan Cleaver / Foter / CC BY

Everything You Need to Know About Monsters (and Fear)

When I was in high school, I wrote a story about monsters that shared the simple secret to dealing with fear…

Monster_Frank_Zander_new

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

Can a New Perspective Help You Solve an Old Problem?

Turtle

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
Albert Einstein

Often when we feel stuck it’s because we’re trying to solve a problem with the same approach that got us into trouble in the first place.  It’s like trying to fix a broken plate with the hammer we just used to smash it.

One reason coaching is effective is because it helps us see possibilities we were previously blind to (and let’s admit it: we all have blind spots).  It helps us see that small bottle of glue that is sitting on the shelf above the hammer.

This exercise is designed to help you discover a new perspective, tap into your internal wisdom, and see that bottle of glue (or closer to it, anyway).  All of which can lead to new ideas, alternative actions, and different results.

  1.  Think about a problem you have, the more upsetting, the better.  Rate how big the problem feels to you, on a scale of 1 to 10.
  2. Off the top of your head, what options occur to you for dealing with this problem?  How do you feel when you think about those options?
  3. Now find a photograph or drawing and get a piece of blank paper and a pen.  Set a timer for 10 minutes.  Turn the photograph or drawing upside-down and draw it, in as much detail as you can, on your blank piece of paper.  Don’t worry about finishing; just draw whatever you can get to before the timer goes off.  Also try not to worry about whether it’s “good” or not.  The important thing is that you draw the details, but for the sake of this exercise, it makes no difference whatsoever how good the final product is.
  1. Now set a timer for 3 minutes.  Stand up (if you’re not already) and put your hands on your hips.  Take a few, deep breaths.  Try to let go of any thoughts that arise—you will come back to them later.  Scan your body and take a moment to release any tension you notice.
    •  Now, for a few breaths, feel the weight of gravity on your body.  Let it pull your shoulders down away from your head.  Feel as if every particle of every atom in your body has dropped towards the center of the earth.  Let each exhale move down through your body, out the bottom of your feet, and deep into the earth.
    •  Now, for a few breaths, feel that an invisible string has been attached to the crown of your head and is pulling you upright.  With each inhale, your back becomes longer and your crown moves closer to the sky.
    •  Now continue to breathe with your hands on your hips, noticing what it feels like in your body to be both fully upright and supported by the ground beneath you.
  1.  When the timer is up, ask yourself these questions:
    1. How does your body feel right now?  What sensations do you notice?
    2. Think of the problem you identified earlier.  How big does it feel now, on a scale of 1-10?
    3. Does anything new occur to you about your problem?  How might you approach it differently?  What new options occur to you?

To find out about other ways coaching can help you overcome challenges and move towards your goals, click here.

Don’t Just Deal With Difficult People–Let Them Transform You

butterfly_new

There is lots of advice out there about how to deal with difficult people, but most of it focuses on how to protect ourselves from harm and move on with business as usual. There’s nothing wrong with this approach, but if moving on with business as usual is our primary goal, we generally try not to be affected by what happens. When we don’t allow ourselves to feel how something is affecting us, we miss an opportunity to learn about ourselves, expand our capacity to handle challenges, and deepen our connection with others.

Most of all, when we protect ourselves from negative patterns without letting ourselves be affected by them, we lose the opportunity to transform them. The cycles continue on, uninterrupted.

I experienced this first-hand recently when a Very Important Person in my life accused me of not caring about his needs. I did what my brain immediately told me any intelligent, mature, and caring individual would do: I asked him for evidence. When he didn’t give me any, it was like Helen had been kidnapped by Troy in my brain: a thousand war-ready reasons were immediately launched for why he was wrong for thinking I didn’t care and why he was terrible for saying so without any evidence whatsoever.

I extricated myself from the conversation. I tried not to let it bother me. Then I thought about all the ways I had demonstrated that I cared in the last month and reassured myself that I was a very caring person. I considered telling him that he couldn’t just accuse me of things willy nilly without evidence to back them up. I imagined yelling at him about how hurtful it was for him to say what he did and insist that he not do it again.

In other words, I tried to protect myself.

But none of it made me feel better. I still felt something insanely uncomfortable in my chest, and it wasn’t going away. I managed to inquire into it and realized that it was pain. Hurt. Sadness.

I felt myself wanting to grasp it and push it away at the same time. I was overcome by the fear that I was indeed selfish and uncaring and at the same time I was trying desperately to convince myself that none of it was true. I began to wonder what would happen if I just felt it, making it neither bigger nor smaller than it actually was.

So without grasping or pushing away the pain, I let myself feel hurt. It was uncomfortable, but I stayed with the experience with compassion. I acknowledged that being told I don’t care is hurtful. So my feelings were valid and it was completely understandable that part of me would be upset. Even very upset.

I also inquired into what was true for me in my core. It was immediately clear to me that I do care about this person’s needs, very much. And yet there are times when I’m more concerned about my needs than his. So his feelings were valid as well.

In fact, as the feeling peaked and diminished, it suddenly occurred to me that my Very Important Person was probably feeling very similarly to me. I could suddenly feel how hurt, unseen, and uncared for he must feel if he believed I didn’t care about his needs.

In that moment it became clear to me what I wanted to say:

Dear VIP,
I’m sorry that you feel like I don’t care about your needs. That must be painful. If you think of any ways that I could help you meet your needs, please let me know. I would really like to try.

Much love,
Your VIP

When I delivered this message, everything changed. The energy of battle—a stand-off—of enemies waiting for the other to give in first—dissipated in an instant. Suddenly we were on the same team. Suddenly we recognized each other for the good people we are. Suddenly my VIP, who up until now had been hard-edged, blaming, accusatory, and critical, was soft, appreciating, and loving. We both got what we needed.

The way others make us feel is often an almost identical reflection of their own internal experience. A difficult boss may make us feel frightened and inadequate because he himself is terrified that his efforts will fall short. A friend who is hurt by our lack of interest may go out of her way to not include us in her upcoming plans. People in positions of authority who feel threatened because their power might be taken away at any moment disenfranchise others who then feel powerless and vulnerable.

Too often we unwittingly reinforce this negative cycle because we protect ourselves in an effort to not be hurt, and we miss the fact that someone who hurts us is also in pain. We deny compassion not just to others, but to ourselves.

To break the cycle, pause the next time you encounter a difficult person or a difficult situation and ask yourself the following questions:

  • What am I feeling right now?  What else am I feeling, underneath that feeling?
  • What’s at stake here?  What am I afraid of?  What do I fear this says about me?
  • What do I feel in my core to be true?  (Try the format of “It is true that….and yet….” to acknowledge the full truth, which is hardly ever black or white.)
  • What would it be like to experience what I’m feeling right now without either grasping it or pushing it away?  Am I willing to let myself do that?
  • What might the other person be experiencing right now?  How might it be similar to what I’m feeling?
  • Given all this, is there anything I want to say to this person?

Difficult people are our best teachers because they get us in touch with our truth quite viscerally and give us the opportunity to reconnect with compassion. (And they don’t even charge us anything for doing so.) So the next time someone is driving you crazy, after you curse them, you might also try thanking them.

 

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