You may have noticed I haven’t sent anything out for a while.
Or maybe, like me, you got a bit overwhelmed by all the COVID-19 updates, and one less email was a welcome reprieve.
Either way, I hope you and your loved ones are healthy and well, and finding some gifts along with the rest.
In that spirit, I wanted to share what’s helping me right now in case it might support you too.
As COVID-19 began to spread, the world locked down, and people became more isolated and upset, emails piled up in my inbox offering virtual support groups, meditation sessions, pay-what-you-can sales, and more. I felt like I should do something too, but none of my ideas felt right, and all I really wanted to do was support my clients, do what I could for my elderly family members, and—in what time I had left—work on my novel.
I’m deep in the editing process, inspired by an advanced writing class I took, and filled with ideas for changes I want to make. The work is painstakingly slow, but it’s also fun, creative, and deeply satisfying.
I wanted to edit my novel every moment I could, but thought I should be creating an offering like all the other business owners I saw around me. I felt anxious and guilty, as it seemed a little irresponsible, if not selfish, not to.
Until I decided to follow my own advice.
When a client feels energized and excited to create something, I always encourage them to do it. Nothing calls us by accident, and I’ve seen over and over how, in the words of Rumi, following the strange pull of what we really love never leads us astray. In fact, in my experience, saying yes to what’s calling us is really the only way to unlock joy, purpose, and the greatest gifts we have to offer the world.
I plan on publishing my novel, but I have no idea if I’ll do so traditionally or through self-publishing. I don’t know how it will sell or how many people will read it. I’m wildly uncertain if writing will ever make me much money or if I’ll ever write a bestseller.
What I do know is that writing makes me come alive, allows me to create my vision in the world, and right now, with a few exceptions, is all I want to do.
Joseph Campbell wrote that saying no to the call is a standard part of the hero’s journey. It’s certainly familiar to me. The thing we don’t talk about much when it comes to finding passion and purpose or doing what you love is this:
You have to say yes to the call before you know exactly what it is. Only by saying yes will the calling become clear.
So that’s what’s helping me most right now: Saying yes to my desire, my purpose, what connects me to my deepest self and the beauty of the world around me, and trusting that good will come of it.
My questions for you are:
What are you inspired, energized, excited, or longing to do?**
What’s calling you, in a hesitant, hard-to-hear whisper or an ear-piercing, undeniable scream?
What do you tell yourself you should be doing instead?
**If inspiration, excitement, and energy feel like foreign concepts right now, if you’re feeling checked out or overwhelmed, or if you’re having a hard time focusing, then welcome to being a human during a very difficult time. You’re probably either grieving, or your nervous system is overwhelmed (often manifested as anxiety or depression). Both are natural and common responses to the disruption, uncertainty, and suffering happening in our world right now. If you’re feeling this way, my questions to you are:
What would feel good to you to do right now? What nourishes or sustains you? What reconnects you to yourself and your inherent strength?
How can you create enough safety for yourself to feel all the wild and messy emotions that are coming up for you (and all of us) right now?
How can you slow things down or be more gentle with yourself so as not to overload your system?
What do you tell yourself you should be doing instead?
I’d love to hear your responses in the comments below. I’ll read and respond to any you want to share.
I love helping people find their path through uncertainty, whether they’re wanting—or needing—to make a career change, struggling to adjust to a new reality, or dealing with larger-than-usual amounts of fear, anxiety, and overwhelm. This is a unique time, and we’re all in the process of learning how best to respond, so if you let me know what you want and need, we can work together to design a coaching engagement just for you.
Most of the people I’ve worked with have been at a crossroads: they can’t or don’t want to do what they did before, but they’re not yet sure where to go next or how to get there.
The world is now at a similar crossroads.
My hope is that we’ll collectively find the courage to use this disruption to choose a better path by listening for what’s calling us, clarifying what matters most, and bringing more of ourselves—our joy, creativity, compassion, and loving kindness—to all that we do.
Long ago, the people lived in a village by a lake not far from the mountains. The village and its lands were small at first, but eventually the leaders of the village foresaw that if they cut down more of the surrounding forest and expanded their fields, they would have more food to eat and more fibers with which to make clothes and baskets.
So they did. The expansion created much bounty for the village, and at first the villagers were happy. They enjoyed fuller bellies and warmer clothes, and all was good.
But better health for the villagers meant more children, and before long food and fiber began to be scarce once again. Enterprising and resourceful, the villagers again expanded their fields, and once again, for a time, all was good.
Until the next generation of children came and with it more hungry mouths to feed. And the children who grew up in a time of plenty now needed more and better food to be satisfied. So the villagers cut down more trees and prepared more land for sowing. This time, however, the new land under cultivation was not as rich and required more work. So the villagers had to labor from sunup until sundown and sometimes even longer in order to coax the harvest they wanted out of the land. They didn’t mind at first, but after a year or two laboring day-in and day-out in this way, they began to become dissatisfied.
Little by little, the dissatisfaction spread like a disease until before long everyone had fallen ill. Soon nobody was gratified and the Great Dissatisfaction had begun. No longer content with the food they had or the clothes they wore, the villagers worked harder and longer to expand the fields, increase production, and keep up with their desires. If they could just get a big enough harvest, they thought, the Great Dissatisfaction would end.
It was around this time that Little One was born.
They called him Little One both because he was the youngest boy in his family and because he was small. He was scarcely larger than his younger sister, who was a full two years younger than him, and his arms were no bigger round than a field snake.
His brothers delighted in reminding him of this because they knew he was terrified of snakes. He was terrified of many things, but it was his fear of snakes that his brothers enjoyed most. It was a common occurrence for them to throw a rope over the back of his shoulders, scream “SNAKE!” at the top of their lungs, and guffaw as he danced about, trying to get the rope off his back.
Little One had always been different than the others.
While his family loved working in the fields for 16 hours a day, Little One grew tired and restless. He loved to work for the morning and the early part of the afternoon. He enjoyed tending the fields, nurturing the little seeds with water and sunlight. He got excited when they first broke through the earth and proffered their delicate, hopeful leaves to the sun. He grew proud as they stretched their limbs into new territory and grew strong over time, eventually turning this strength into flowers and fruits that they generously shared with the world.
But by mid-afternoon, Little One was tired, restless, and irritated. His eyes would wander towards the mountains, and he longed to see out what lay beyond.
His family had tolerated this while he was still a child, but once he reached adulthood, they couldn’t understand his reluctance. They told him he was lazy, weak, and selfish. He did his best to stay with them morning until night, but it was torture. By mid-afternoon, his whole body would grow heavy, his eyes would start twitching, and a tightening ache would close in on his chest and threaten to strangle him.
There were other differences too.
Nobody else in the village wondered what lay beyond the mountains. Nobody had ever even ventured to their feet, let alone climbed their peaks. Nobody else was scared of insects, darkness, large animals, storms, and the possibility of drought. They didn’t spend time worrying about these things or jump back in fear every time something moved unexpectedly in the bushes.
And nobody else cried when an animal was killed, even a spider that had accidentally wandered into enemy territory.
So Little One spent lots of time alone, wondering what would fill the void he had begun to feel in his chest, beating its dark wings against the soft wall of his heart.
And then came the day when everything changed, when Little One saw the snake.
He had been weeding around a group of tomato plants and noticing how their leaves were yellowing, their limbs wilting, and their trunks listing ponderously to one side. It was as if the burden of their fruit was weighing on them more heavily than before.
“They’re tired,” came a voice from out of nowhere. “The soil is no longer giving them what they need.”
Little One looked around him to see who was speaking, but he saw no one. Then he felt something touch his ankle and looked down to see a large, brown snake with a diamond-shaped head making its way across his foot.
Little One screamed and stumbled backwards.
His eldest brother was not far away and ran over. “It’s a rattler!” he yelled, and another brother had soon run over carrying a shovel. Before Little One could say anything, the eldest grabbed the shovel from his brother’s hands and ran the pointed head deep into the earth. The snake’s head fell on one side, and its body went limp on the other.
Little One suddenly felt an ache in his chest so deep he thought his heart might be swallowed whole. His second brother picked up the shovel and turned to leave. “You’re welcome,” the eldest one said, as they both laughed walked away.
Little One sank to his knees. The snake’s lifeless eyes stared up at him, its mouth open slightly as if to ask how he could let this happen. Little One couldn’t feel the ground beneath him as he hurriedly scooped dirt over the body of the snake. He could no longer see anything except the dark, sorrowful eyes slowly disappearing beneath clumps of reddish soil. It wasn’t until he saw a drop of water land on the newly turned earth above the body of the snake that he realized he was crying. He wiped the tears away and silently hoped that nobody had seen.
That night the snake visited him in his dreams. He dreamt he was wandering through the woods for hours, not sure what he was looking for, when he finally heard a soft hissing to his left. He turned, and there it was—the same snake his brother had killed that day.
“I’ve been waiting for you,” the snake said. “You took a long time to get here.”
“Why?” Little One asked nervously. “What do you want?”
“You’re not meant for thissss,” the snake continued. Its eyes were dark but didn’t seem angry. “You’ll never be happy this way.”
“What do you mean? Of course I will, as soon as the harvest comes in. I planted an extra big crop this year.” But the last words died on Little One’s lips and he immediately knew that they weren’t true.
“Yesssss, that’s better,” hissed the snake. “You can sense there’s something more.”
“Something is calling you.”
Little One considered this. He could feel a slight tug on his heart, as if it were being drawn towards something just beyond the horizon. “What is it?” he asked.
“That you’ll have to discover for yourself. You find it in the searching.”
“And where do I search for it?”
“Lisssssten,” the snake hissed.
“What does that mean?” asked Little One.
“Jussssst lissssten,” said the snake.
And then Little One woke up.
It was just a dream, he told himself, and prepared to go to the fields.
But when Little One reached the fields that day, the ache in his chest grew so intense that he could barely breathe. It felt like his heart was being crushed by a vice. He tried to work but could barely stand up. When he left early for a lunch break, he found something curious. Each step he took towards his house lessened the pain in his chest and allowed him to breathe a little bit more.
Back at his home, Little One went to get food. When he reached down to pick up an apple, a snake’s head suddenly appeared next to his hand.
Little One stumbled backward. He went to the bedroom and saw a snake on his bed. His heart in his throat, he looked at the ceiling. There were snakes hanging from all the rafters in the roof.
Little One had never been more frightened in all his life. But beneath the fear, he could also feel a slight movement in his chest, like something within him was made of steel and was moving towards the magnetic pull of the mountains beyond. He was suddenly aware of a strong desire to see what lay beyond the peaks.
He could hear the snake’s words in his ear: “Something is calling you.”
Something was calling him, something big. He could almost hear it, like a drumbeat in the distance, coming from below the mountains, from the earth itself, echoing the pulsing of his heart and the beating of the dark wings of emptiness in his chest. It had to do with him. It had to do with the snake. It had to do with the Great Dissatisfaction, but he didn’t know how.
He also didn’t know what he was looking for. Who or what was calling him? What did they want from him? He had no idea.
What he did know was that he had to find out. If the snake was right about listening, then he was pretty sure whatever it was lay in the mountains beyond.
He packed his things while he waited for his family to return from the fields. The snakes were gone, with only a rag on his bed to remind him of their presence. When his family returned and he told them his plans, they were shocked and didn’t understand why he would abandon his fields so near harvest time. They were angry that he wouldn’t be there to help them.
Little One felt a twinge of sadness about this. He was also terrified of the road ahead, as he had no idea how long it would be or where it would pass. He was thinking maybe he had made it all up, he was being irresponsible and impulsive, and it would be best to stay. That’s when his sister pulled him aside.
“Go,” she said. “They’re just sad. They don’t know it, but we need help. We’re sick, and we don’t yet realize it. Go. Find what is calling you. Perhaps it can help us as well.”
That was all Little One needed. He smiled, kissed her forehead, and said goodbye. He picked up his bag and walked out of his home, starting down a path he had never been down before. He walked away from his fields, away from his village, away from everything he had ever known.
So began the journey of the first one of us to answer the call.
As you may have picked up in a previous post, my husband and I are thinking of moving and have been looking at houses nearby.
Recently we saw a sweet one on a beautiful piece of land that was priced well under our budget, but it needed a lot of work if it was going to give us what we wanted. As we met with architects, contractors, engineers, and other experts to explore the possibilities, I paid close attention to my internal response. I meditated on what we found, journaled about it, discussed it with people I trust, all the while paying attention to my thoughts, feelings, and body sensations, and listening for the subtle stirrings of desire.
In other words, I was doing my best to hear my Inner Wisdom.
What I heard, over and over, was: Yes. This is the right house, the right step to take. It’s going to be a lot of work. It may be stressful and overwhelming at times. You’ll probably run into many challenges. But you can handle it, it’ll help you grow, and you can create something wonderful on land that you’re already beginning to love. (Fortunately, my husband agreed.)
Due diligence expired, and I began to get excited. Having made the decision to buy the house, I felt energized, enthusiastic, and capable, not to mention incredibly blessed to have this opportunity in front of us.
And then, a few days before closing, my confidence evaporated. What I can only describe as a tsunami of fear crashed over me, washing away excitement and leaving only panic in its wake. I couldn’t stop thinking about how much money it was going to cost, how much work it would be, and how many things could possibly go wrong.
Doubt overtook me. We were already running into some unexpected expenses. Had we made the wrong decision? Was my Inner Wisdom wrong? Should we back out of the contract before it was too late?
A Confusing Pattern
The same thing happens to my clients all the time. They do a lot of work to come up with promising career ideas, explore them, and use their Inner Wisdom to find a possibility they’re excited about. There’s usually a window of time that lasts somewhere between an hour and a month in which they too feel enthusiastic, confident, and optimistic.
The window promptly closes somewhere around the time when change starts to get real. Then suddenly, without warning, the tidal wave comes, sometimes drowning them in fear, panic, and doubt, sometimes merely soaking them to the bone.
So what’s the deal? Why does this happen? And how can we possibly know how to navigate important life decisions when something that feels so good one minute feels so bad the next?
The key to answering all three questions is to understand exactly what Inner Wisdom is.
So, What is Inner Wisdom?
I first discovered the presence of a wise voice inside me when I was struggling with depression in my mid-twenties. I began to find that even in my worst moments, when I felt utterly alone, confused, and hopeless, I could still sometimes hear the whisper of something far wiser than me if I just got quiet enough. It spoke softly, calmly, and compassionately; gave voice to truths that seemed to come out of nowhere; and slowly but surely guided me out of my misery when everything I’d tried before had only made it worse.
One step at a time, I followed my Inner Wisdom out of depression and back to myself.
Since then, that quiet, inner voice has led me to do things that I wouldn’t have thought possible. It steered me towards building a thriving coaching practice, marrying a wonderful man, writing a novel, developing meaningful relationships, returning to my roots in Atlanta, and expanding myself mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. It helps me make difficult decisions that turn out well when there’s no way to rationally anticipate what might be the better option. It’s no exaggeration to say that every time I follow my Inner Wisdom, I discover greater levels of joy, freedom, and fulfillment.***
So what is this voice exactly?
If you’re not the woo-woo type, here’s a scientific explanation: Inner Wisdom (or intuition) is another name for the things we know but don’t know that we know. Recent research suggests that it’s measurable and can indeed help people make faster, more accurate, and more confident decisions. What’s more, scientists have found that there’s an intrinsic nervous system in the heart and a secondary “brain” in the gut, both of which function independently and send more information to the brain in our head than vice versa. In other words, our bodies provide us with information and intelligence that goes far beyond our rational, conscious thought.
I personally see Inner Wisdom as the voice of my true self. It comes from the part of me that extends beyond ego, and that’s free from fear, constrictions, or limiting beliefs.
I also believe that it comes from a collective wisdom that we can tap into if we’re willing to get quiet and listen. Joanna Macy talks about how when we act on behalf of something greater than ourselves, we have access to the wisdom, beauty, and strength of our fellow humans and our fellow species. This absolutely feels true to me as well, and perhaps explains why my Inner Wisdom seems to know so many things that I don’t, and benefits others as much as it does myself.
How to Hear Your Inner Wisdom 101
When I coach clients in how to know what their intuition is saying, we usually start with the body. Wisdom can show up in any of our three centers of intelligence, but it’s generally easiest to hear in the body. Paying attention to physical sensations and noticing what helps your body feel more open, spacious, relaxed, or energized can give you great clues about where your Inner Wisdom is pointing.
In addition, observing the flavor of your thoughts can help you identify what’s coming from Inner Wisdom and what’s coming from your Inner Critic. I recently wrote a whole post about how to identify your Critic, and you can learn a lot about your intuition just by noticing which thoughts are the opposite of what I describe there.
To put it simply, your Inner Wisdom is usually quiet, calm, patient, loving, and compassionate. When you listen to it, you understand that you have plenty of time, you’re going to be okay, and no matter how you feel, you’re still a whole, lovable, and worthy human being. Fear and your Inner Critic, on the other hand, are generally urgent, dire, judgmental, and belittling. They make it seem likely that everything good is about to implode, most probably because you’re fundamentally flawed.
A great way to learn more about how your Inner Wisdom speaks to you is to keep a record of all the times you think you hear its voice. Write down how you recognized it, what it told you, what you decided as a result of hearing it, and how that decision turned out. If you’re like me, over time you’ll start to gather evidence that your Inner Wisdom is quite trustworthy, as well as some powerful clues for how to identify it.
How to Hear Your Inner Wisdom 201
Now here’s where things start to get interesting.
Often I have clients who tell me that their Inner Wisdom is telling them—surprise!— to stay in their current job after all because they realized that it isn’t as bad as they originally thought.
Sometimes this is actually true; more often, however, it’s a sign that they’ve run face-first into the wall of fear that usually sits just on the other side of wisdom.
Because sooner or later, our Inner Wisdom always leads us towards what we fear most. This isn’t a punishment or sign that we’re doomed to misery; I rather see it as evidence that (as David Whyte puts it) this world was made to be free in. The universe conspires to open us up and remove our constrictions by pointing us towards our fears again and again and again; that way, we have plenty of opportunities to come to terms with and move past them.
This principle explains the tidal wave of fear and doubt that I encountered with the new house, the same one that clients feel when they get into exploring an exciting career idea. Almost every time we attempt to follow our Wisdom into a new realm or on a deeper level, there’s a backlash when we come face-to-face with some of our greatest fears.
It becomes important, then, at this point in our Inner Wisdom studies, to be able to distinguish between the sensations of true guidance and the temporary relief that comes from avoiding something scary or falling back into the familiarity of an old (but unhelpful) pattern.
It takes time and observation to learn the difference. This is like the PhD of Inner Wisdom education, and those usually take what—approximately 102 years based on what my friends who have them say? The point is, try to be patient with yourself. I’ve also adopted the general rule of thumb that I have to talk to at least three people who are wiser than me before abandoning a course of action that previously felt like wisdom.
Feeling the Fear, Trusting the Wisdom
The three wise people I spoke to about the house didn’t seem to share my newfound fear that everything good in my life would turn to dust if I moved forward with the purchase. I also noticed that in those rare moments when I had some relief from the terror and felt slightly more grounded, I still felt excited and energized by the idea of moving forward with it.
So we closed on the house last week. Though I know by now that I can trust my Inner Wisdom, I still obsessed over the budget a few more times, tried to solve every problem we might encounter in advance, and made backup plans for my backup plans. Hey, that’s just what I do.
Which leads me to a final PhD-level concept: Trusting your Inner Wisdom doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing affair. I’ve come a long way in terms of following my intuition, but as you can see in the house example, part of me trusts, and part of me still doesn’t. The part that doesn’t is going to want me to fall back into old habits that make me feel safe (though I know by now they don’t actually accomplish much in that regard). If it helps calm me down, there’s nothing wrong with doing it, as long as I realize that’s what’s going on and participate with eyes wide open.
Because the part of me that trusts is growing. And the world is already a much freer place because of it.
***The Fine Print:
This isn’t to say that if you listen to your Inner Wisdom you’ll always get everything you crave, things will always go the way you want, or you won’t face any unexpected challenges. This isn’t Manifestation, which can so easily become about listening to ego once again. When tuning in to Inner Wisdom, I find that it’s best to let go of my ideas about particular outcomes and trust that while things may not turn out as I imagine, they’ll result in the best possible scenario for everyone involved. That may not sound very reassuring, but I can also add that in my experience, if you follow your Inner Wisdom, you’ll find plenty of options for taking care of your needs, far more opportunities for creating joy, the ability to share your most powerful gifts with the world, and the promise of serving a greater purpose even when you have no idea what that may be.
Want Help Hearing Your Inner Wisdom?
I offer individual and group coaching programs at various levels of investment that can help you get your PhD in Inner Wisdom and work through the fear that likes to lurk on the other side of it.
Over to You
When have you followed your Inner Wisdom, and what came of it?
Please share in the comments below. You might just inspire someone else to trust their intuition.
Recently I was lying in bed, anxiously tossing and turning, my mind spinning as I fruitlessly tried to relax and go to sleep. The things that usually help me calm down weren’t working, and I had no idea why I was so tense or what I could do to fix it.
After wrestling with my thoughts for what seemed like forever, I finally felt my body begin to release its frantic energy like a top that’s spun itself out. In one of those first moments of stillness a realization surfaced: I was struggling so much not from lack of effort but from an overabundance of it.
In the face of life-altering changes, developments in the health of a close family member, and really just a whole lot of uncertainty and ambiguity, some old patterns had taken over. I was trying to do everything perfectly, from searching for a flawless new home for our family to maturely handling all the fear that change brings up for me, all the while handling my normal responsibilities with ease and grace during a particularly busy time. Without meaning to, I’d raised my expectations for myself so high that despite my best efforts, I was failing to meet them.
In other words, my Inner Critic had taken over.
What Is an Inner Critic?
Perhaps the most important thing to know about the Inner Critic is that we all have one. It’s that voice in our heads that’s always looking for what we’re doing wrong, where we’re not measuring up, and what we should be doing better. It’s also probably the single biggest obstacle to finding your calling, or really just growing, expanding, or moving towards what you want in any way, shape, or form.
When we listen to the Critic (and it’s hard not to, as it tends to speak with such volume and authority that it can feel like unquestionable truth), we doubt ourselves and our capabilities. We feel like what we want isn’t possible, and what we’re doing isn’t enough. We also tend to hold onto old patterns that keep us stuck in the status quo.
There’s a reason for that. The Critic, though problematic, is actually trying to help us. It wants to keep us safe, and it believes that the best way to do that is to make sure that we stick with what’s familiar. As far as the Critic is concerned, its job is to preserve the status quo, where at least we know we can survive, whether it’s an engrained behavioral pattern or a job we’ve been in for fifteen years. And because it’s far more concerned with safety than it is with happiness, it’ll do so by any means necessary, even if that means making us miserable.
How Do I Deal With My Inner Critic?
Despite all this, the problem isn’t that we have an Inner Critic but that we believe it. The most straightforward and powerful way to avoid falling prey to it, then, is simply to recognize when it’s the one talking.
In my own example of the other night, once I realized that all my spinning thoughts were coming from my Inner Critic, they immediately lost their power. My whole body relaxed and felt more settled; I had access to a sense of my own strength and goodness once again; and I was able to let go of the thoughts that I knew weren’t helpful. They became like flies buzzing around my head; unpleasant, perhaps, but hardly consequential.
It’s kind of like how at the end of The Labyrinth Jennifer Connolly’s character, having gone to great lengths to battle David Bowie’s Goblin King the entire movie, finally defeats him simply by saying the words, “You have no power over me.”
The process may be simple, but it’s certainly not easy. Just as I had a hard time identifying my Critic even after years of working with it, I have clients all the time who tell me, “You know, I don’t think I really have an Inner Critic,” or, “Mine’s just really quiet.” Maybe so, but given what I know about human beings, it’s much more likely that their Critic is quite clever—mostly, I think, because they are.
Inner Critics get smarter as we do. As we learn to identify them, they learn how to hide from us. They can also turn anything we discover into a new weapon. The most reliable response to learning that the Inner Critic exists, for example, is to begin criticizing yourself for criticizing yourself so much.
If the Inner Critic learns as quickly as we do, then the question becomes: How can we recognize it consistently enough to continue moving towards our calling despite its wily efforts?
To be honest, I don’t have a surefire, one-size-fits-all answer. But to help, here are 15 definite clues that your thoughts are coming from your Critic:
1. The message is loud.
If the thought is insistent, authoritative, and impossible to ignore, it’s most likely your Inner Critic. If, on the other hand, you have to get quiet to hear it, it feels more like a whisper, or it takes its sweet time to surface, chances are your Inner Wisdom is talking. I don’t know why this is except perhaps that most of us have a bias that makes us more concerned with what our Critics have to say than our Wisdom, so we hear them more easily. The good news is, the more we listen for Wisdom, the more easily we hear it, and the less we buy into our Critics’ views, the less prominent they are.
2. You feel rushed.
Inner Critics tend to be obsessed with speed, even when speed doesn’t matter. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt like I should be moving faster and getting more done, even though I consistently find that I not only enjoy life more but am also more productive when I move slowly (or at least don’t rush). Similarly, almost all my clients worry that they’re somehow behind in their careers, too late in accomplishing whatever they want to accomplish. The truth is, we can trust the timing in our lives. We come to things when we’re ready and when the time is right. Like an oak tree worrying that it’s growing too slowly, we lose sight of the fact that it takes time to develop profound beauty and stature, and that it doesn’t really matter if somebody else does it first.
3. You have the thought, “Everyone else is ___[fill in the blank]___.”
A favorite tool of Inner Critics is setting up false comparisons to others. “Everyone else has this figured out already.” “Everyone else is more successful than I am.” “Nobody else struggles with decisions as much as I do.” Whatever the message, it leaves us feeling inferior and inadequate. The truth is, everybody excels in some ways and struggles in others. Comparing the area in which you struggle to the area in which somebody else excels is a recipe for unnecessary self doubt. Not to mention the fact that things aren’t always what they seem. When in doubt, remember the oft-repeated advice: Don’t compare your insides with other people’s outsides.
4. You decide that you can’t do something before you’ve even tried.
Inner Critics don’t want us to take risks or step into the unknown. A great way to accomplish this is to convince us that any goal we may adopt is impossible from the start. I’ve had many clients who thought they couldn’t support themselves or their families while doing what they love, only to find a way to do just that after—shockingly—actually trying. In my experience, if we’re flexible with exactly what form it takes, we can always find ways to realize what we want most, as long as we don’t listen to our Critic and give up before we start.
5. You conclude that if it hasn’t happened by now, it never will.
There’s a theory that Inner Critics develop in childhood, which I’m prone to believe because they’re often quite child-like. One example of this is their lack of patience or a larger perspective. Often what we long for most is complex and requires time to learn, practice, ready ourselves, and gather support. Our Critics tend to forget this, however, and mistakenly conclude that we’ll never find what we want if we haven’t already. They lack the perspective to see that in real life the shortest distance between two points isn’t usually a straight line.
6. A decision feels urgent, dire, or a matter of life and death.
Another example of lacking a larger perspective is the Critics’ near-constant sense of urgency and desperation. They tend to make us feel like we have to get this right, and quickly, or everything will fall apart. In truth, our happiness and well-being are supported by many things and rarely hinge on one decision. Plus, just about any course we take can either be reversed or adjusted along the way so that it works better for us. I’ve gotten to the point where if I’m feeling any urgency or distress about something, I won’t make a decision until I no longer feel that way, because it’s a sure sign my Critic is in charge.
7. You keep returning to the worst-case scenario.
If you find yourself thinking about unpleasant future scenarios over and over, you’ve probably forgotten that in general positive outcomes are at least as likely as negative ones, and the ones you fear most are almost always the least likely of all. This tendency to focus on what might go wrong or to feel like the worst outcome is the most probable isn’t usually based on facts, logic, or even previous experience. It is, rather—you guessed it—another Inner Critic trick to keep us safe in the status quo.
8. You feel guilty for wanting more.
I’ve heard so many people express guilt for not being satisfied with what others might think was a good job, or a well-paying one, that I wrote a blog post about it a while back. The truth is, longing to do work you love isn’t a sign that you’re greedy; it simply means your gifts are wanting to express themselves in more powerful ways. That’s a good thing, not only for you, but also for the world you’re going to benefit through your efforts. If you feel guilty, it’s not because you’re ungrateful; it’s simply your Inner Critic trying to keep you from taking a risk and making a change.
9. You’re focused on what others might think.
If you find yourself worrying about what your family, friends, coworkers, bosses, or anybody else will think of you making a career change (or otherwise following your heart), then your Inner Critic has taken the wheel. We’re social animals, designed (genetically and physiologically) to live in groups and thus care what others think of us. Despite this, most of us understand at least on some level that in our current world our lives and happiness no longer depend so completely on the opinions of others. Our Inner Critics, however, aren’t quite so enlightened, or else they find our conditioned fear a convenient tool to keep us in the status quo. Either way, the solution lies in noticing how much we’re focusing on others, having compassion for its physiological roots, and gently reminding ourselves that it’s no longer necessary (or even possible) to please everyone around us.
10. You’re caught in familiar patterns.
This one can be a bit hard to see for ourselves because our patterns are often so ingrained that, like fish in water, we stare right through them because they seem such an immutable part of our experience. But we all have ways of avoiding anxiety and trying to feel safe, whether it’s procrastinating, worrying, blaming, overly focusing on the needs of others, numbing or distracting ourselves, trying to be perfect [ahem] or any host of other problematic patterns. The patterns developed for a reason and serve us in some ways (if not in others), so there’s no shame in them, but they do limit what’s possible for us and usually keep us stuck in a rut. Inner Critics don’t mind the latter at all, however, which is why they see their job as keeping these patterns in place. (That’s why we experience such strong internal resistance whenever we try to change one of these core habits.) On the other hand, when you’re responding to a familiar situation in a new way, doing something you don’t normally do, or feeling scared, vulnerable, or out of your comfort zone, you’ve probably either quieted your Inner Critic or broken free from its grasp.
11. You think, “I should…” or “I have to…”
Everything we do is a choice, even the things we don’t want to do. I don’t like paying taxes, for example, but I choose to do it because I like where I live and don’t want to go to jail. When we think “I should…” or “I have to…” our Inner Critics are trying to make us believe that we have no choice but to do what they want us to do. This is never actually the case. We always have options. When you allow yourself to put all the alternatives on the table and then make a decision based on where your deepest desires and Inner Wisdom point you, you discover a freedom that’s inherent in all of us, no matter our circumstances. A simple way to practice this is to change “I should…” to “I want to…” and then listen for what follows.
12. You feel resentful.
Resentment is a great sign that you’ve denied a desire or been less than true to yourself on account of your Inner Critic. (Never believe your resentment is about anybody other than you.) As we just saw, Inner Critics try to make us do what they want, rather than what we do. When we betray our needs and desires in order to follow their dictates and do what they think will make us safe, resentment naturally follows. So the next time you feel resentful, get curious about where you didn’t stand up for what matters most to you, and how you can make a choice more aligned with who you are and who you want to be moving forward.
13. You feel ashamed.
Brene Brown defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” Inner Critics often start with a grain of truth (such as, “You didn’t get offered the job you interviewed for”) and then generate a bunch of bogus conclusions, like:
“You’re terrible at interviewing”;
“Nobody wants what you have to offer”;
“You’ll never find a job”; or
“There’s something wrong with you.”
These conclusions generate a sense of shame and unworthiness, but they’re not actually true. They’re just designed to get you to stop trying (and thus avoid risks) or try harder (and thereby succeed). Either way, the shame isn’t helpful. Your heartfelt desires are a carrot that makes shame’s stick unnecessary, and if everybody who ever failed gave up, humankind would never have made it out of the Stone Age.
14. You feel small.
Inner Critics tend to make us feel weak, inferior, unimportant, and powerless. When I’ve been listening to my Critic, I often find that my shoulders have collapsed, my back is rounded, and I’m physically trying to take up as little space as possible. When we’re listening to our Inner Wisdom, on the other hand, we tend to feel how strong, competent, and powerful we are. We’re willing to take up space. We realize that we’re bigger than our problems, the challenges in front of us, and even our fear. If you’re ever not sure whether a thought is coming from your Inner Critic or Inner Wisdom, take a moment to notice your posture and how big or small you feel.
15. You’re in your head.
Our Inner Critics live in our minds and thoughts. Our bodies, on the other hand, are always in the present moment and free from judgment. If you’re caught up in your thoughts and unaware of what’s happening in your body, it’s very likely that your Critic is active. To counteract this, just bring your attention back to your body and whatever sensations you feel there, over and over again.
Bonus: You wish you could change something (anything) about yourself.
Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki once said, “Each of you is perfect…and you could all use a little improvement.” Our Inner Critics would like us to solely focus on the second part of this idea because they think feeling bad about our flaws will help us overcome them. The opposite is actually true, and if you’re not quite sure how to reconcile this paradox, it’s best to focus on the first part first. Once you truly understand how perfect you are, you’ll naturally want to learn and get better, not because you need to change, but because you deserve to grow.
The Final Step
The more you observe your Inner Critic, the more you begin to realize that it sounds like a frightened child. Identifying its messages, soothing its fears, and finding out for yourself what’s actually true can go a long way towards freeing yourself from its power (and pain). But there’s still one more thing to do in order to move towards your calling, and that’s to listen for your Inner Wisdom.
It helps to get quiet and curious and listen, letting it arise rather than trying to figure it out. When I did this the other morning when I was having trouble sleeping, I got a very clear message:
Life is messy, man. I am messy. That’s okay. Overall, I do a good job.
I could feel the truth of that, the peace and freedom and strength of it, all the way down into my bones.
Over to You
What does your Inner Critic say or feel like to you? What helps you break free from its grasp?
A second great way to lessen the power of your Inner Critic is to talk about it with others. You can begin doing this by sharing your answers in the comments below.
If I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that I can’t do what most other people can.
When my sister tells me her weekend plans, for example, I feel exhausted just hearing them all. She manages them quite successfully, whereas I personally find that when I commit to more than one activity per weekend in addition to the regular cooking, cleaning, and grocery shopping, I end up feeling overwhelmed and cranky.
The list goes on:
I can’t work ten-hour days. In fact, most days my brain stops working whether I do or not after a mere six.
I work slowly, and on one thing at a time. (Though I can multitask, I don’t enjoy it, and things never turn out very well when I do.)
I perform much better if I have downtime in the late afternoon—preferably a nap—and if I don’t get it a couple days in a row, things go downhill quite quickly.
I get abnormally stressed in crowds. Something about having so many people crammed into a small amount of space makes me extremely uncomfortable and agitated.
The only place I feel totally at home is in nature, and if I don’t spend time in it regularly, I literally get depressed.
I could keep going. But the point is, my preferences and needs are in such stark contrast to everything I see around me that I often feel like an alien.
A World of Limits
If I am an alien, however, I’m far from the only one.
Just last week I was talking to a client (who generously gave me permission to write about her here) who shared concerns that she wasn’t going to be able to find a job she enjoyed because she’s not adept at social media and lacks the motivation to learn. She also worries that her unwillingness to do certain kinds of work (like being an assistant to others) will keep her unemployed.
This comes, mind you, from an extremely gifted woman with terrific creative vision who is also a superb communicator, talented relationship builder, and even a skilled voice actor. Like most of us, however, it’s not her gifts that she tends to focus on, but her limits.
I’ve had other clients with similar concerns about their constraints, whether it’s an inability to stay in a well-paying but meaningless job, an unwillingness to go into an office or work standard hours, or an allergy to giving large presentations. These clients worry that their limits will keep them from finding jobs, or at least well-paying ones that they enjoy.
A Line Worth Living With
And yet we all have gifts that the world needs. One-by-one, I’ve seen my most worried clients find work that’s both enjoyable and rewarding, and that honors their limitations.
Limitations are worth honoring, not only because pushing past them creates some pretty unpleasant consequences, but also because when we work within them, we’re more productive and perform better.
Based on what I shared about myself earlier, you might think it’s a miracle that I ever get anything done. Maybe it is. Still, I find that there’s plenty of time to do what’s needed, and when I listen to my limits, I have better sessions with my clients, my writing flows more easily, and yes, on average, I also get more done.
When we see a limit from the inside, it highlights the difference between what we’re able to do and what we think others can. When looked at from outside, however, limits define and encapsulate all the areas where we do our best work. That’s incredibly valuable.
A Sign of Something More
Within the last couple of years, however, I’ve realized that our limits—along with all the things that make us different from others—point to something even more important than how to perform our best:
Our limits indicate the exact place where we can change the world for the better.
You don’t need to look at our world for long to see that it’s incredibly out of balance. I can’t begin to describe all the ways in which we’ve lost our connection to compassion, love, kindness, respect, etc., but I can tell you that each of my clients holds a piece of the puzzle that can make us whole again and restore us to harmony.
If my client from last week loved social media, she may not be so talented at creating deep and meaningful relationships that help others have a positive impact on the world. If she wanted to be an assistant, she’d have fewer opportunities to bring her unique creative vision to life. (Though social media and assisting others can be important and worthwhile tasks, they’re puzzle pieces that belong to somebody else.)
If my clients could remain in well-paying but meaningless jobs, they would never put their greatest gifts to use. If they didn’t stay true to their desires to work with flexibility, balance, and autonomy, they wouldn’t be doing their part to create a world in which these things are possible.
As for me, I’ve come to see that though the pace and scale of our culture consistently feel off to me, that’s not a bad thing. Perhaps my piece of the puzzle is to help others slow down enough to reconnect with themselves, the people around them, and the natural world. When that happens, I’ve noticed, we can’t help but make this planet a better place.
Aliens on Earth Unite
For many of us, the more different we are, the more inadequate we feel. But maybe the reverse is actually true. Perhaps the more alien we feel, the more our gifts are needed.
Imagine a bird who looks at all the humans running around below it on their long, thick, muscular legs. Perhaps it admires their ability to run fast, lift heavy objects, or simply hold their ground. This bird might look down at its own legs and feel ashamed by their spindly weakness. With such legs, it could never perform all the impressive feats it sees the humans achieving.
But, as you may already have guessed, such a bird forgets something very important. It’s built for something quite different. Its thin, unimpressive legs in combination with its extraordinary wings were designed to help it achieve the miracle of flight.
The world needs beings who can fly, who can pollinate, disperse seeds, and fertilize everywhere they go. But miraculous or not, it’s not easy having dainty legs when all the others you see around you are strong. Our brains are wired to compare. So how do we bring our gifts to the world without giving in to shame, loneliness, or frustration?
We find the places we belong.
We seek out the environments, people, and activities that bring us back to ourselves, and then we spend as much time with them as possible. Finding our true homes in the world, we go to them often to recharge our batteries and reconnect with our vitality. That way, when we go back into alien environments, we have the strength we need to continue to live in fierce fidelity with who we really are and share all the benefits that brings with the world.
In my experience, we’ll do this very imperfectly. We’ll forget our true gifts over and over again as we go back to old habits of comparing ourselves to others and trying to fit in.
This isn’t a bad thing. It just means we need to be diligent in the practices that bring us home and have lots of reminders close at hand. One of my favorite reminders is a poem by Tara Mohr, reprinted below with permission:
Sometimes the world feels inhospitable.
You feel all the ways that you and it don’t fit.
You see what’s missing, how it all could be different.
You feel as if you weren’t meant for the world, or the world wasn’t meant for you,
as if the world is “the way it is” and your discomfort with it a problem.
So you get timid. You get quiet about what you see.
But what if this?
What if you are meant
to feel the world is inhospitable, unfriendly, off-track
in just the particular ways that you do?
The world has a you-shaped hole in it.
It is missing what you see.
It lacks what you know
and so you were called into being.
To see the gap, to feel the pain of it, and to fill it.
Filling it is speaking what is missing.
Filling it is stepping into the center of the crowd, into a clearing,
and saying, here, my friends, is the future.
You don’t have to do it all, but you do have to speak it.
You have to tell your slice of the truth.
You do have to walk toward it with your choices, with your own being.
Then allies and energies will come to you like fireflies swirling around a light.
The roughness of the world, the off-track-ness, the folly that you see,
these are the most precious gifts you will receive in this lifetime.
They are not here to distance you from the world,
but to guide you to your contribution to it.
The world was made with a you-shaped hole in it.
In that way you are important.
In that way you are here to make the world.
In that way you are called.
Over to You
This is a very personal topic for me—it’s something I feel strongly and have been thinking about a lot recently. If this resonates at all with you, I’d appreciate you letting me know in the comments. In what ways do you feel like an alien? When have you felt like this might be a good thing? What are the places, people, and activities that bring you home?
“Think like a queen. A queen is not afraid to fail. Failure is another stepping stone to greatness.” –Oprah Winfrey
We human beings have a complicated relationship with failure. We almost instinctively fear it at the same time that we acknowledge its benefits. We know from platitudes and after-school specials that we have to be willing to fail if we want to succeed, yet the vast majority of us still go out of our way to avoid it.
Knowing that failure is part of the game is one thing; actually being willing to do it is another. Or maybe it’s that it’s okay for other people to fail, people like Oprah Winfrey who are now successful beyond their wildest dreams, but it’s not okay for us.
It’s almost like failure is a cat and we’re the mouse. Other people keep telling us that it’s friendly, but all we see are its sharp claws and jagged teeth as it eyes us hungrily from the corner.
We do need to stop fearing failure if we’re going to be willing to step into the risks necessary to change careers or otherwise realize our dreams. But how can we befriend something that looks like it’s thinking we’d make a delicious mid-afternoon snack?
Failure: The Enigma
To do this, we first need to question our assumption that we know what failure is.
When I ask members of my Pathfinders Group Coaching program what images, words, or associations come up for them when I say the word failure, I get responses such as incompetence, shame, broken, lonely, bewildered, lost, and permanent. They share how it often feels less like “This thing I was working on failed” and more like “I am a failure”.
But when I ask these same people targeted questions about the actual results of a specific failure they’ve experienced, I get entirely different answers. Words like helpful, necessary, and freeing start to come to mind.
Here’s how you can see this phenomenon for yourself:
Recall 2-3 times in your past where you feel like you failed. Choose the one that has the most emotional charge for you.
Channeling your Inner Critic, write down the worst things this failure could say about you. Don’t hold back and include all your worst judgments.
Now write down all the bad things that actually happened as a result of this failure. It’s important that you stick to verifiable facts (such as, “I invested $10,000 and never got it back”) and not assumptions (like, “Everyone thought I was a loser” or “I lost my chance to land my dream job”).
Finally, write down all the good things that came of it. For example, what did you learn? What did you gain from your efforts? What new qualities or skills did you hone? What other possibilities did you discover as a result of your failure?
Considering everything you wrote, what are some more accurate statements about what failure is or what it means to fail?
When I ran my first online course, I spent nearly 5 months planning, creating, and launching it. I poured my heart and soul into the program, invested a lot of time and money in its development, and very publicly invited everyone and their second cousin to take part.
Sales were…disappointing, to say the least. I got less than a quarter of the number I needed to recoup my financial investment, let alone what would have made me a profit or paid for the hundreds of hours I’d devoted to the project.
I felt humiliated. My Inner Critic was yelling at me that nobody wanted what I had to offer, and that I had been foolish to think they would. It went on to tell me that this was proof that I was less capable than everyone else, that I made terrible decisions, and that I would never be successful or run the kind of business that I wanted to.
My list of verifiable negative outcomes, however, was surprisingly short. I invested thousands of dollars without seeing a return (yet). Everything else, including the sense that I had wasted my time, was only an assumption.
And when it came time to list the positive outcomes—well, it was far longer than I expected:
I learned how to create, run, and market an online course.
I grew past my fear of sharing more of myself more visibly with the world.
I got all my content in one place, which helped me see how much I had and generated ideas for other ways to use it.
I now had a product I can continue to offer in the future with minimal additional effort.
Perhaps most importantly, I learned that I didn’t really enjoy leading a live online course and prefer offerings that allow me to get to know people better individually and go deeper with them on their journeys.
It wasn’t painless; failing to meet my goals was disappointing, and I didn’t have as much money as I’d hoped. But I still had options, I managed to adjust, and the disappointment didn’t last forever.
Failure: The Impact
There’s a Zen story about a farmer whose crops all grow big during a particularly rainy season. His friends in the tea house tell him how lucky he is. He just nods and says, “Perhaps.”
The plush crops then attract a herd of wild horses, which trample his fields and ruin his harvest. In the tea house, his friends all commiserate with him and tell him how unlucky he is. He just nods and says, “Perhaps.”
Shortly thereafter the farmer’s son captures one of the wild horses and tames him. The stallion is worth more than several years’ harvest. The farmer’s friends all tell him over tea how lucky he is. He just nods and says, “Perhaps.”
The next day the stallion kicks the farmer’s son, debilitating him. The farmer’s friends express their sorrow and tell him how unlucky he is. The farmer just nods and says, “Perhaps.”
A little while later the army comes through the town, conscripting all the able-bodied men and taking them to war. The farmer’s son doesn’t have to go, as he is no longer able-bodied. The farmer’s friends all tell him how lucky he is. You already know how the farmer responds.
Though the story is about events outside of the farmer’s control, it has much to say about failure. In any given moment we may like or not like where we are, but no situation is final. Everything changes, in ways we cannot predict.
In other words, it’s impossible to ever know the true impact of failure.
Blameworthy failures come from “preventable failures in predictable conditions.” These are usually caused by deviations from routine and well-defined operations (like in a factory).
Less blameworthy are the “unavoidable failures in complex systems.” These happen where there is a lot of uncertainty at work; in other words where “a particular combination of needs, people, and problems may have never occurred before.”
Praiseworthy are the “intelligent failures at the frontier.” These are experiments conducted to establish the viability of an idea or design, or to expand knowledge and investigate a possibility.
When you think about it, almost anything we do to answer our calling involves uncertainty; it’s never been done before by us in the exact way we mean to do it. Every time we make a change or step into something new, we’re conducting an experiment. All failures in this field, by Harvard’s definition, are not just inevitable—they’re beneficial. They help us find out what’s possible and discover the best ways to realize our intentions, regardless of what limits we run into.
Failure: The Reality
If you don’t already have your own definition of failure, I recommend you do the exercise above and create one.
For my part, I’ve come to see failure as nothing more than things not going according to plan. It’s the discovery of limits so we can find ways to work within them. Or, as a Pathfinders participant put it, it’s simply stepping onto a new path tomorrow.
When we see past the jaws and claws to what failure really is, we quickly realize that what we’ve spent so much time and energy fearing isn’t just unlikely; it’s impossible.
Last Chance to Join Pathfinders Group Coaching to Find Your Calling
Pathfinders Group Coaching is one of my favorite programs because I get to coach amazing people while witnessing how the feedback and love of their peers helps them rediscover their confidence, clarify what they most want, and take big steps towards making that a reality. Things that seemed impossible become probable with a powerful community to help them out and cheer them on.
I’m super excited to get started with a new Pathfinders Group Coaching cohort in just a few days. We have only 3 spots left, and I’d love to find someone who feels they’re meant to do something more than they are now but aren’t yet totally sure what that is or how to do it to join us.
Maybe it’s because most of the people I talk to mention fear as one of their biggest challenges. Whether it’s fear of failure, fear of making the wrong decision, fear of not making enough money, or fear of something else, being afraid is one of the main reasons people struggle to change careers.
Or maybe it’s because I personally face fear a lot. And by a lot, I mean all the time. And by all the time, I mean several times a day.
Or maybe it’s because fear is actually an important key to finding your calling, especially if you’re not sure where to look.
The one Evite you might prefer not to get
Stephen Pressfield has a great quote in his book The War of Art that you’ve probably heard me use before (it’s one of my favorites):
“Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”
My own experience backs this up. Every time I’ve gotten clear about the next step towards my calling, I’ve been absolutely terrified, whether it was moving cross country, starting my own business, or sharing words I’d written with the world.
I used to be embarrassed that I felt so afraid, but then I began to notice something pretty amazing: I’m not scared all the time. I don’t feel afraid when I’m staying small, keeping quiet, or hiding inside my comfort zone. I’m only afraid when I try to do something important, grow and expand, or engage more deeply with what I care about most.
If you believe, as I do, that we’re here to learn and develop so that we can share our unique gifts with the world in increasingly powerful ways and have fun while doing it, then fear is a really good friend who points out the best way to do just that.
In other words, fear isn’t a weakness; it’s an invitation to your calling.
Showing the fear who’s boss
Fear, however, is a fickle friend. In addition to showing you what to do, it also gets in the way of actually doing it.
But that’s okay. Because you’re bigger than your fear, and it doesn’t have to rule your life. You can’t kick it out of the car, but you can pry its claw-like fingers off the wheel.
Here are 25 ways to feel the fear and do it anyway:
Unless there’s an actual threat nearby, fear is a fire stoked by our thoughts. Focusing on your body (say, by feeling your feet on the ground or the breath in your chest) removes the kindling and brings you back to the present moment.
3. Show some compassion.
Self-compassion makes fear a whole lot less overwhelming. The three steps to self-compassion are:
Acknowledge the pain with sympathy and kindness;
Recognize that all humans are imperfect and that in any given moment thousands of other people are feeling the same way you do; and
Observe your negative thoughts and feelings with curiosity rather than judgment.
4. Give it a name.
Naming the fear and exactly what it is you’re afraid of reduces its intensity and power over you.
5. Get to the root of the fear.
When you see the fear beneath the fear, you often find that what you’re most afraid of is extremely unlikely, not truly harmful, or (more frequently than you might think) downright impossible. Ask yourself what you’re scared of, then what’s bad about that, then what’s bad about that, and what’s bad about that. Keep going until you find the true essence of what you’re afraid of.
6. Don’t believe everything you think.
Fears are based on beliefs, and beliefs are often usually flawed. Byron Katie has a powerful process that can help you discover the truth behind your fears. First you identify your beliefs (for example, if I ______, ______ will happen). Then you ask 4 questions:
Is it true?
[If yes] Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
Who would you be without the thought?
7. Ask yourself: What’s the worst that could happen?
Often your worst-case scenario is not actually dangerous or devastating. Regardless, if you can find a way to accept it, fear will have no way to stop you.
8. Determine probabilities.
If your worst-case scenario is truly terrifying, get clear on how likely it is to really happen. Of all the possible outcomes, what’s the probability that this is the one you’ll be stuck with? To make sure you’re being realistic, have an objective third-party check your numbers.
9. Calculate your track record.
While we’re talking numbers, go ahead and calculate how accurate your fears really are. Write down all your worries for one month and then go back and note which ones came true. If we take the time to do this, most of us find that we’re batting somewhere close to zero (apology for the mixed sports metaphors).
10. Become your own mentor.
In The Fear Book, Cheri Huber offers the idea of becoming a mentor to the scared part of you. It’s a brilliant and effective strategy. To use it, just ask yourself anytime you feel scared: what would a wise and loving mentor tell me right now?
11. Turn it over.
Whether it’s God, goddesses, the universe, love, your highest self, or your dog, turning your fears over to something more powerful than you are is incredibly freeing. You don’t even have to believe in anything to get started. Just write your fears down, put them in a box, and say, “I’m turning this over to you, [insert higher power of your choice].” Then let go and see what happens, knowing it’s no longer in your hands. Review the items you’ve put in your box periodically and see how they’ve turned out to find evidence that regardless of how you feel about God, you are supported and cared for.
12. Take tiny baby steps.
Fear feeds on big, overwhelming tasks. To reduce the fear factor, break your goals down into steps. Then break those steps down into smaller steps. Then break those small steps down into even tinier steps until you have a task you can do in 10 minutes. You can do anything for 10 minutes, right? Afterward, be sure to celebrate your win and plan when you’ll take your next tiny baby step.
13. Make a back-up plan.
If things don’t go as you hope, what will you do? Create a plan for how you’ll take care of yourself during any setbacks and how you’ll continue to move towards what you want, even when things go awry.
14. Share with peers.
There’s something about sharing your fears with others who are going through something similar that inevitably breeds courage. Just be sure you’re sharing with people who are actively embracing and facing their fears, not running away from them.
15. Get feedback.
In his book Uncertainty, Jonathan Fields urges people facing anxiety in the creative process to get feedback from mentors, peers, and potential end-users early on as a way of building confidence and comfort. Asking people you trust to give you feedback on your efforts can be terrifying, but paradoxically, it’s also a powerful antidote to fear.
16. Practice discomfort.
When we fail to take action, we’re not usually avoiding a theoretical bad outcome so much as the immediate discomfort of fear or anxiety. Like someone with bad breath, most of us find fear so unpleasant that we’ll do just about anything to avoid it. To stop avoiding fear, you need to develop your ability to sit with discomfort. To do that, just engage in something that brings up anxiety on purpose every day, then practice sitting with it for slightly longer periods of time. When you’re able to tolerate discomfort, a whole new world of possibilities opens up.
17. Slow down.
Kindness is wonderful medicine for fear. If your fear is overwhelming, slow down and maybe even take a break. Do something comforting and familiar, something that makes you feel good about yourself, and then go back and try again.
18. Feel the edges of the fear.
Get curious about how your fear feels in your body. Notice where you feel it, what it feels like, and how it changes over time. After observing it for a little while, start to feel for its edges and begin to notice the places in your body where you don’t feel the fear (your little toe perhaps?). You’ll start to see that fear is actually just a bunch of sensations in your body, that it too has boundaries, and that it’s really nothing to be afraid of.
19. Address the fear’s concerns.
Your fear isn’t the enemy; it just doesn’t want you to become harmed, homeless, or humiliated. You probably don’t either, so let your fear know how you’re going to take care of what’s important to you even while you take a risk; remind it that things like what other people think of you don’t really affect your well-being; and watch as your newly consoled fear steps aside so you can open the gates of change.
20. Imagine a positive outcome.
If you want to loosen fear’s grip, you need to stop playing the worst-case scenario over and over in your head. Since you don’t know what will happen, and good outcomes are at least as likely as bad ones, you might as well choose to obsess about your best-case scenario in vibrant, gory detail.
21. Talk to someone who’s succeeded.
Fear likes facts. When I tell my fear everything will be okay, it demands proof. Finding someone who’s done what I want to do and flourished is pretty strong evidence that success is possible, and learning from their perspective makes it all the more likely. My fear is smart, but it can’t argue with that.
22. Talk to someone who’s failed.
When you do this, your fear is going to want you to use it as an opportunity find all the reasons you’re going to fail too. Resist this urge. Instead, ask this person all kinds of questions about how they recovered from their failure, what they learned, what skills they gained, and what new possibilities it opened up. When we’re afraid of failure, we forget that it actually carries many gifts, and your job is to discover from this person exactly what those are.
23. Find a purpose greater than the fear.
Fear usually stems from our egos’ concerns, like not having enough money or status, or looking bad to others. These aren’t the things that truly make us happy, though. To focus on what matters, define a better purpose for any given venture, one that you can fulfill regardless of where you end up. What might you get out of embarking on this adventure that’s more important than wealth or popularity? What might it allow you to give to others? What would make this effort worthwhile regardless of the outcome?
Fear isn’t the problem; believing everything it tells you is. Meditation is a great way to practice noticing your thoughts without buying into their conclusions all the time. It gives you the awareness you need to question your thoughts and the ability to let them go when they aren’t serving you. It also gives you a way to experience fear without being paralyzed by it. An ongoing meditation practice is one of the main reasons I’m able to do things that scare the pee out of me, over and over again.
Am I repeating myself? Yes. Is it for a good reason? I think so. In addition to giving us the ability to let go of unhelpful thoughts, meditation also connects us to our serenity, wisdom, and courage. We all have these qualities at our core, but we become unable to access them when fear is yammering in our ears all the time. Getting quiet, even if only for milliseconds at a time, helps us reconnect to the part of ourselves that is always compassionate and unafraid.
26. Bonus Idea: Meditate.
I’m not being lazy here, I swear. It’s really that important.
Over to You
What helps you feel your fear and do things anyway? I’d love to know, and so would everyone else. Please share in the comments below.
A few weeks ago a wave of self doubt overwhelmed me like a particularly bad case of the flu.
I struggled to make important decisions, like whether to watch a movie or take a nap. The consequences were clearly enormous, and I was afraid of getting it wrong. When I did finally manage to choose something, I made up for my momentary success by spending more time second-guessing my decision than actually carrying it out.
Nothing I did felt good enough, and I was critical of every effort I made. I looked for evidence of failure everywhere, and when I found that I did something with less than optimal consequences, I chewed on my mistake like a dog on a bone and snapped at anyone who tried to take it away from me.
The worst part was, when I realized what was happening, I turned it into more fodder for my self doubt. I know better, I thought. I can’t believe I’m doubting myself again. I proceeded to beat myself up for beating myself up.
An Epidemic of Doubt
Self doubt is incredibly common in people who are struggling to find their purpose in life or who feel trapped in jobs they don’t like.
For example, one woman I spoke with recently has a job that she knows isn’t sustainable physically, financially, or emotionally. She wants to move into something that’s more enjoyable and rewarding, but she worries that she won’t be able to successfully transition into a new industry, fears failure, and finds the tasks necessary to make a change overwhelming.
Beyond these common symptoms, however, self doubt has an even more destructive component. It erodes our ability to be true to who we are.
When things aren’t going the way we’d like in our external lives—in our jobs, families, friendships, or other pursuits—we start to believe the corrosive voice in our heads that tells us that there’s something wrong with us. We turn on ourselves, and instead of embracing the things that make us unique and allow us to work through our challenges and contribute great things to the world, we condemn them, seeing irredeemable flaws not just in what we do, but in the fabric of who we are.
The Love Letter
It would be easy to condemn self doubt itself as another irredeemable flaw. I would propose a different way of looking at it, however.
Self doubt comes from our desire to be good. It’s a sign that we care about ourselves and our world. It’s misguided, yes, but it’s also a sign of a beautiful heart. If you didn’t care, if you didn’t want what’s good for yourself and others, you wouldn’t doubt. And as I mentioned in my previous post, wanting and caring are key to transforming not just your life, but also the world for the better.
Perhaps because of this, self doubt is also one of the best guides I know of to help you find your path. It points to the exact place where your gifts are needed and where you’re likely not sharing them freely.
I can probably explain this most clearly with a story from my recent meditation retreat.
The Gift of Self Doubt (Based on a True Story)
I’m a loud meditator. I meditate in a tradition that encourages you to become aware of and then surrender to whatever emotional, physical, or spiritual energy is moving through you. You’re also invited to express it through sound and movement. Over the years, I’ve found that my energy often wants to express itself through deep and relatively loud noises. The group I meditate in, however, is filled with other noisy meditators, so I’m usually not the loudest one in the room.
Then last weekend I found myself in a meditation retreat where the group was much quieter. My urge was to override my energy and remain silent as well. My teacher, however, encouraged me to stay true to whatever energy was arising within me. To my constant dismay, that meant making loud sounds.
The first night I was filled with self doubt. I could almost hear the other participants’ internal judgments and feel their irritation through the walls. I convinced myself that the only reason I needed to be loud was because I’m an emotional mess and can’t manage to get my $#*! together like everyone else.
The next morning I shared my doubts with the group. They were encouraging, but I wasn’t convinced. When we paired up for the next meditation, I was with a woman who was new to this particular practice. She was dealing with a lot of sadness but having a hard time letting herself feel it. As I settled into my meditation, I felt energy rise within me and want to be expressed. I will not make a noise, I thought to myself. The teacher came over and put her hand on my back. I knew she was trying to assist me in moving energy, but all I could think of over and over, was I will not make a noise. I will not. I will not.
Suddenly I had the image of the entire energy of the earth beneath me knocking on a trapdoor at the base of my spine. “Will you open the door and accept this gift?” it seemed to be asking. Part of me didn’t want to. Part of me desperately wanted to keep that door shut. But I knew enough to know the power of the gift being offered, so I opened to it.
A wave of incredibly strong, rooted energy immediately flowed through me. I opened my mouth and let it all come out. Aware of the power of the energy, I extended it to the woman in front of me, offering it to help her as well in any way it could. I sat with her for what felt like a long time, feeling connected, compassionate, powerful. And loud. I was very loud.
When we were done, the woman looked up at me in tears. “You energy was so strong, and so helpful,” she said. “I felt it there assisting me the entire time. I’ve never felt so held, so surrounded by support.” She said she was finally able to access some of the sadness she had resisted earlier. “I finally feel like everything’s going to be okay,” she said at the end.
What I learned about self doubt in that moment is that it is wildly inaccurate, almost humorously so. I also learned that it has the ability to point us to both the exact thing that makes us unique and the best way to share our gifts at any given moment in order to help those around us. All I had to do was resist the temptation to turn on myself, embrace the very thing that felt worthy of shame, and go in the direction the doubt was trying to steer me away from.
Not easy to do, sure, but a signpost couldn’t have been clearer in helping me find my way.
There’s no easy way to work with self doubt. Positive affirmations work for a lot of people, but they’re never worked well for me. Or at least, not by themselves.
In my experience, you can’t talk yourself out of self doubt. That’s always my first instinct, but it rarely works for long. There are other things you can do, however, to transform it into self love and a powerful gift to give to others. Here are some ways I’ve found to work with self doubt:
1. Listen for the story the doubt is telling.
Self doubt is born from the stories we tell ourselves, consciously or not. Get curious about what these stories are saying about who you are. You can often do this by paying conscious attention to your thoughts or through stream-of-consciousness journaling about whatever situation is triggering the doubt.
Is your doubt saying that you’re too (strong, weak, loud, quiet, selfish, lazy, fearful, indecisive, impulsive…) or not (calm, generous, clear, productive, enlightened, loving, selfless…) enough?
As you’re listening for the story, it can be very helpful to feel the fear as well. Usually self doubt comes up when we’re scared about something. Admitting to yourself what that is and letting yourself feel the fear (I do this by getting curious about where I feel it in my body and then letting it be there without trying to get rid of it), can be very powerful in transforming the doubt.
When I was doubting myself the other weekend, the story I was telling myself was that I wasn’t doing enough to take care of my house, my marriage, my family, my health, or anything, really. I was scared that I wasn’t the type of person I wanted to be, and that I would lose what I cared about most. The basic message came down to “I’m a lazy, selfish person, and I’m going to lose everything I love because all I want to do right now is lay around and take a nap.”
2. See the truth beneath the story.
This can be tricky, because the doubt can feel so convincing. See if you can look at the situation as if through the eyes of someone who loves and respects you very much. Can you find any evidence that the opposite of what the doubt is saying is true?
In my case of feeling I wasn’t doing enough, I began to remember many things I had done over the past week to take care of the people and things that are important to me. I could also see that my house, overall, is in good shape, as are my relationships, my health and well-being, etc. Once I started looking for it, I found evidence that not only do I do a lot, but I’m pretty darn effective at taking care of what matters most.
What my doubt was missing was that while taking care of business is well and good, it’s not the most important thing. Staying in touch with the present moment, my Inner Wisdom, and my connection to something larger than myself, is actually what’s most important to me. It’s what allows me to move away from ego and towards my true self, feel greater joy and serenity, tap into my creativity, share my gifts with the world, and grow towards health and wholeness. It also requires lots of space, rest, and time to be and not do. For me, that often looks like moving slowly, not getting much done, and yes, taking naps.
Self doubt is like a giant arrow pointing away from your most powerful and unique strengths. Go in the opposite direction of the arrow, and you’ll find your greatest gifts like a pot of gold at the wrong end of a confusing rainbow.
3. Get others to help you.
If you’re having a hard time seeing what the truth really is, ask someone you trust for help. Compassionate family members, friends, or colleagues who get you can help you find a new, more objective perspective than you might be able to access on your own. They are also usually able to recognize and articulate your talents and gifts when you simply can’t.
Other people can also help in another important way. A lot of times we feel self doubt because we haven’t done something before. Chances are you aren’t incapable of doing what you feel called to, but you may need some time and help to learn new skills. Other people can help you navigate learning curves, whether as teachers, coaches, mentors, or peers. Asking others for help can not only speed up the learning process, but make it much more enjoyable as well.
4. When in doubt, experiment.
Instead of believing your self doubt, which tells you that you’re incapable or unworthy of getting what you want, find out the truth for yourself. The best way I know to do this is to conduct experiments.
It’s hard to convince yourself that you can do something without actually doing it. But when you try it and find that you don’t fall flat on your face, it provides evidence to the skeptical part of yourself that you may not be such a nincompoop after all.
So the next time your doubt is trying to talk you out of something, come up with a way to do an experiment and test your hypothesis that you’ll ___(fail, be rejected, embarrass yourself, find out you’re not as good as you thought you were, etc.)____. In the case of the woman who felt stuck in an unsustainable job, this might be signing up for a class or volunteering for an organization in a new field she’s interested in. For me the other weekend, it might have been taking a nap when I worried I should be doing something more productive.
No matter what experiment you decide to try, be like a scientist and observe your experience carefully. What thoughts, emotions, and body sensations arise during the experiment? What happens as a result? Do things fall apart? Do you fall flat on your face? Or does something good actually come about?
Pay attention to your expectations as you do this as well. (This is true for everyone, but especially for those of us with a tendency towards perfectionism.) Are you allowing yourself to be a beginner and get more effective over time, or are you expecting yourself to be a prodigy and pick this up in a day, week, month, or even year?
5. No matter what, be extra kind and gentle with yourself.
In many ways, the antidote to self doubt is self love.
That means being compassionate with yourself, recognizing that this is something that everyone struggles with in one way of another. It’s also not something you should already know how to do. Learning how to be true to yourself despite fear and self doubt is a lifelong process, and we’re certainly not taught anything about how to do it in school. Rather than getting in the way of progress, I actually believe it’s one of the most worthwhile things we can spend time on while we’re here.
Loving yourself also means being kind and gentle. Allow yourself to go slowly. Let yourself make mistakes. Do all the things you can think of that feed and nourish you. For me, that’s walking in nature, spending time with animals, connecting with loved ones, taking hot baths, napping, doing something creative, reading fantasy books, and watching funny movies.
You don’t have to wait until you’re confident or over your self doubt to treat yourself well. Often confidence comes once we’ve made the decision that we’re worthy of a little kindness and tender loving care.
Support for Transforming Self Doubt
I don’t have any openings right now for individual coaching clients, but I am thinking about starting another group coaching cohort this summer. If you’re interested in working in a safe and compassionate community of peers to transform self doubt, identify your calling, and take steps towards work you love, you can find out more and apply for the program here.
Over to You
What self doubt is coming up for you right now? What gifts is it pointing you towards? What action feels most important to take in order to transform it?
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.
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.
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.”
“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.
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.)