Self Doubt: A Love Letter and a Guide

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A few weeks ago a wave of self doubt overwhelmed me like a particularly bad case of the flu.

I struggled to make important decisions, like whether to watch a movie or take a nap. The consequences were clearly enormous, and I was afraid of getting it wrong. When I did finally manage to choose something, I made up for my momentary success by spending more time second-guessing my decision than actually carrying it out.

Nothing I did felt good enough, and I was critical of every effort I made. I looked for evidence of failure everywhere, and when I found that I did something with less than optimal consequences, I chewed on my mistake like a dog on a bone and snapped at anyone who tried to take it away from me.

The worst part was, when I realized what was happening, I turned it into more fodder for my self doubt. I know better, I thought. I can’t believe I’m doubting myself again. I proceeded to beat myself up for beating myself up.

An Epidemic of Doubt

Self doubt is incredibly common in people who are struggling to find their purpose in life or who feel trapped in jobs they don’t like.

For example, one woman I spoke with recently has a job that she knows isn’t sustainable physically, financially, or emotionally. She wants to move into something that’s more enjoyable and rewarding, but she worries that she won’t be able to successfully transition into a new industry, fears failure, and finds the tasks necessary to make a change overwhelming.

Beyond these common symptoms, however, self doubt has an even more destructive component. It erodes our ability to be true to who we are.

When things aren’t going the way we’d like in our external lives—in our jobs, families, friendships, or other pursuits—we start to believe the corrosive voice in our heads that tells us that there’s something wrong with us. We turn on ourselves, and instead of embracing the things that make us unique and allow us to work through our challenges and contribute great things to the world, we condemn them, seeing irredeemable flaws not just in what we do, but in the fabric of who we are.

The Love Letter

It would be easy to condemn self doubt itself as another irredeemable flaw. I would propose a different way of looking at it, however.

Self doubt comes from our desire to be good. It’s a sign that we care about ourselves and our world. It’s misguided, yes, but it’s also a sign of a beautiful heart. If you didn’t care, if you didn’t want what’s good for yourself and others, you wouldn’t doubt. And as I mentioned in my previous post, wanting and caring are key to transforming not just your life, but also the world for the better.

Perhaps because of this, self doubt is also one of the best guides I know of to help you find your path. It points to the exact place where your gifts are needed and where you’re likely not sharing them freely.

I can probably explain this most clearly with a story from my recent meditation retreat.

The Gift of Self Doubt (Based on a True Story)

I’m a loud meditator. I meditate in a tradition that encourages you to become aware of and then surrender to whatever emotional, physical, or spiritual energy is moving through you. You’re also invited to express it through sound and movement. Over the years, I’ve found that my energy often wants to express itself through deep and relatively loud noises. The group I meditate in, however, is filled with other noisy meditators, so I’m usually not the loudest one in the room.

Then last weekend I found myself in a meditation retreat where the group was much quieter. My urge was to override my energy and remain silent as well. My teacher, however, encouraged me to stay true to whatever energy was arising within me. To my constant dismay, that meant making loud sounds.

The first night I was filled with self doubt. I could almost hear the other participants’ internal judgments and feel their irritation through the walls. I convinced myself that the only reason I needed to be loud was because I’m an emotional mess and can’t manage to get my $#*! together like everyone else.

The next morning I shared my doubts with the group. They were encouraging, but I wasn’t convinced. When we paired up for the next meditation, I was with a woman who was new to this particular practice. She was dealing with a lot of sadness but having a hard time letting herself feel it. As I settled into my meditation, I felt energy rise within me and want to be expressed. I will not make a noise, I thought to myself. The teacher came over and put her hand on my back. I knew she was trying to assist me in moving energy, but all I could think of over and over, was I will not make a noise. I will not. I will not.

Suddenly I had the image of the entire energy of the earth beneath me knocking on a trapdoor at the base of my spine. “Will you open the door and accept this gift?” it seemed to be asking. Part of me didn’t want to. Part of me desperately wanted to keep that door shut. But I knew enough to know the power of the gift being offered, so I opened to it.

A wave of incredibly strong, rooted energy immediately flowed through me. I opened my mouth and let it all come out. Aware of the power of the energy, I extended it to the woman in front of me, offering it to help her as well in any way it could. I sat with her for what felt like a long time, feeling connected, compassionate, powerful. And loud. I was very loud.

When we were done, the woman looked up at me in tears. “You energy was so strong, and so helpful,” she said. “I felt it there assisting me the entire time. I’ve never felt so held, so surrounded by support.” She said she was finally able to access some of the sadness she had resisted earlier. “I finally feel like everything’s going to be okay,” she said at the end.

What I learned about self doubt in that moment is that it is wildly inaccurate, almost humorously so. I also learned that it has the ability to point us to both the exact thing that makes us unique and the best way to share our gifts at any given moment in order to help those around us. All I had to do was resist the temptation to turn on myself, embrace the very thing that felt worthy of shame, and go in the direction the doubt was trying to steer me away from.

Not easy to do, sure, but a signpost couldn’t have been clearer in helping me find my way.

The Guide

There’s no easy way to work with self doubt. Positive affirmations work for a lot of people, but they’re never worked well for me. Or at least, not by themselves.

In my experience, you can’t talk yourself out of self doubt. That’s always my first instinct, but it rarely works for long. There are other things you can do, however, to transform it into self love and a powerful gift to give to others. Here are some ways I’ve found to work with self doubt:

1. Listen for the story the doubt is telling.

Self doubt is born from the stories we tell ourselves, consciously or not. Get curious about what these stories are saying about who you are. You can often do this by paying conscious attention to your thoughts or through stream-of-consciousness journaling about whatever situation is triggering the doubt.

Is your doubt saying that you’re too (strong, weak, loud, quiet, selfish, lazy, fearful, indecisive, impulsive…) or not (calm, generous, clear, productive, enlightened, loving, selfless…) enough?

As you’re listening for the story, it can be very helpful to feel the fear as well. Usually self doubt comes up when we’re scared about something. Admitting to yourself what that is and letting yourself feel the fear (I do this by getting curious about where I feel it in my body and then letting it be there without trying to get rid of it), can be very powerful in transforming the doubt.

When I was doubting myself the other weekend, the story I was telling myself was that I wasn’t doing enough to take care of my house, my marriage, my family, my health, or anything, really. I was scared that I wasn’t the type of person I wanted to be, and that I would lose what I cared about most. The basic message came down to “I’m a lazy, selfish person, and I’m going to lose everything I love because all I want to do right now is lay around and take a nap.”

2. See the truth beneath the story.

This can be tricky, because the doubt can feel so convincing. See if you can look at the situation as if through the eyes of someone who loves and respects you very much. Can you find any evidence that the opposite of what the doubt is saying is true?

In my case of feeling I wasn’t doing enough, I began to remember many things I had done over the past week to take care of the people and things that are important to me. I could also see that my house, overall, is in good shape, as are my relationships, my health and well-being, etc. Once I started looking for it, I found evidence that not only do I do a lot, but I’m pretty darn effective at taking care of what matters most.

What my doubt was missing was that while taking care of business is well and good, it’s not the most important thing. Staying in touch with the present moment, my Inner Wisdom, and my connection to something larger than myself, is actually what’s most important to me. It’s what allows me to move away from ego and towards my true self, feel greater joy and serenity, tap into my creativity, share my gifts with the world, and grow towards health and wholeness. It also requires lots of space, rest, and time to be and not do. For me, that often looks like moving slowly, not getting much done, and yes, taking naps.

Self doubt is like a giant arrow pointing away from your most powerful and unique strengths. Go in the opposite direction of the arrow, and you’ll find your greatest gifts like a pot of gold at the wrong end of a confusing rainbow.

3. Get others to help you.

If you’re having a hard time seeing what the truth really is, ask someone you trust for help. Compassionate family members, friends, or colleagues who get you can help you find a new, more objective perspective than you might be able to access on your own. They are also usually able to recognize and articulate your talents and gifts when you simply can’t.

Other people can also help in another important way. A lot of times we feel self doubt because we haven’t done something before. Chances are you aren’t incapable of doing what you feel called to, but you may need some time and help to learn new skills. Other people can help you navigate learning curves, whether as teachers, coaches, mentors, or peers. Asking others for help can not only speed up the learning process, but make it much more enjoyable as well.

4. When in doubt, experiment.

Instead of believing your self doubt, which tells you that you’re incapable or unworthy of getting what you want, find out the truth for yourself. The best way I know to do this is to conduct experiments.

It’s hard to convince yourself that you can do something without actually doing it. But when you try it and find that you don’t fall flat on your face, it provides evidence to the skeptical part of yourself that you may not be such a nincompoop after all.

So the next time your doubt is trying to talk you out of something, come up with a way to do an experiment and test your hypothesis that you’ll  ___(fail, be rejected, embarrass yourself, find out you’re not as good as you thought you were, etc.)____. In the case of the woman who felt stuck in an unsustainable job, this might be signing up for a class or volunteering for an organization in a new field she’s interested in. For me the other weekend, it might have been taking a nap when I worried I should be doing something more productive.

No matter what experiment you decide to try, be like a scientist and observe your experience carefully. What thoughts, emotions, and body sensations arise during the experiment? What happens as a result? Do things fall apart? Do you fall flat on your face? Or does something good actually come about?

Pay attention to your expectations as you do this as well. (This is true for everyone, but especially for those of us with a tendency towards perfectionism.) Are you allowing yourself to be a beginner and get more effective over time, or are you expecting yourself to be a prodigy and pick this up in a day, week, month, or even year?

5. No matter what, be extra kind and gentle with yourself.

In many ways, the antidote to self doubt is self love.

That means being compassionate with yourself, recognizing that this is something that everyone struggles with in one way of another. It’s also not something you should already know how to do. Learning how to be true to yourself despite fear and self doubt is a lifelong process, and we’re certainly not taught anything about how to do it in school. Rather than getting in the way of progress, I actually believe it’s one of the most worthwhile things we can spend time on while we’re here.

Loving yourself also means being kind and gentle. Allow yourself to go slowly. Let yourself make mistakes. Do all the things you can think of that feed and nourish you. For me, that’s walking in nature, spending time with animals, connecting with loved ones, taking hot baths, napping, doing something creative, reading fantasy books, and watching funny movies.

You don’t have to wait until you’re confident or over your self doubt to treat yourself well. Often confidence comes once we’ve made the decision that we’re worthy of a little kindness and tender loving care.

Support for Transforming Self Doubt

I don’t have any openings right now for individual coaching clients, but I am thinking about starting another group coaching cohort this summer. If you’re interested in working in a safe and compassionate community of peers to transform self doubt, identify your calling, and take steps towards work you love, you can  find out more and apply for the program here.

Over to You

What self doubt is coming up for you right now? What gifts is it pointing you towards? What action feels most important to take in order to transform it?

Please share in the comments below.

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

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One of the most common concerns I hear from people who want to find more fulfilling work is that they don’t want to start over.

Starting over—whether it’s in a new field, new role, or new organization—definitely has its challenges. For one thing, in many industries rookies aren’t paid as much as veterans, so starting over can mean at least a temporary pay cut, which some people just can’t afford.

Career change also implies that you’ll need to learn new skills. This takes time, sometimes a lot of it, and can be very humbling. Nobody’s ego likes to be a beginner. If you’re used to being an expert, or even just experienced in your field, it can be uncomfortable to suddenly become the new kid on the block, asking the questions instead of answering them.

There are, however, ways to work through these challenges. As I like to remind folks (including myself), you always have options. Here are 3 ideas for you if you want to make a career change but don’t want to start over:

Option 1: Look for a job that changes enough but not too much.

Sometimes we don’t need to transform everything about our work in order to find fulfillment. In my experience, when people take the time to get clear on what’s absolutely essential to their happiness at work, they discover that they could find these things in a variety of ways, some of which can leverage their existing experience.

For example, I had a client once who was miserable in his job as the manager of an IT department. He tried out some radical changes, including becoming a comedy writer and an Uber driver.

Eventually he found that starting over so suddenly and dramatically didn’t work for him. He went back to the things he had identified that were vital to his fulfillment at work. Central to these were working more directly with customers, helping people, and having time outside of work for other things that were important to him.

Before long he found a job at a local department of community affairs. It provided all the key elements he needed to feel fulfilled and leveraged his 20+ years of IT experience. It also gave him the opportunity to continue to explore a career in writing in his time off.

If you don’t want to start completely over, you might:

  • Change industries, but not roles;
  • Change roles, but not industries; or
  • Change organizations, keeping the same role and industry.

This last alternative includes the possibility of going from employee to freelancer, which I’ve seen work well for many people.

You have so many options for how you put your strengths to use in the world. The key is to take the time to uncover them by brainstorming, exploring, and asking those around you to help you discover possibilities you may never have thought of on your own.

Option 2: Go slowly and work your way in gradually.

Often you can avoid the most difficult parts of starting over by doing it one step at a time.

If you’re interested in starting your own business, for example, you don’t have to quit your day job right away. You can start your venture on the side and work your way through the learning curve at your own pace. This also allows you to have a steady income for as long as you need until your business is big enough to support you on its own.

There are similarly lots of ways to gain new skills and experience while still in your current line of work. You can take an evening class, volunteer with a non-profit, or initiate a project at work that would allow you to build your desired capabilities. I had a client, for example, who was interested in project management, so she persuaded her boss to install a more effective IT system and let her lead the implementation process. In this way, she got to try out this type of work and gain experience in a new role all as part of her regular 9 to 5.

If your current job won’t allow for this type of learning, you might consider making a lateral switch to a job that may not be ideal in the long-run but can provide a good foundation from which to make a slow and steady transition.

It’s not always what we most want to hear, but the truth is that most successful career changes happen over time and often in multiple steps. This is actually a good thing, as it means you don’t have to rush. It also lessens fear and anxiety, as you can continue to enjoy the security and familiarity of your day job while stretching yourself to step into new frontiers outside of it.

The other good news is that because we tend to feel better when we’re actively working towards something we want, we don’t have to wait until we’ve made our final move to experience more joy and satisfaction.

Option 3: Find something that makes starting over worth it.

A lot of people worry about having to start over before they’re even clear about what they want to do. This makes the possibility even more unappealing, as it’s really hard to be willing to give something up (money, time, professional kudos, etc.) if you’re not sure what you’ll get as a result.

You may find, however, that once you’ve explored some options and found something that excites you, you won’t mind investing time, money, or even some discomfort in making a change. This becomes easier to do when you have a better idea of what you can expect to get in return.

I had a client, for example, who worked in a well-paying job at a prestigious company. When we started working together, she desperately wanted to make a change but felt frozen and unable to justify giving all this up to start over in a new career that might end up disappointing her.

We worked through some of her fears together, and she became more willing to take necessary risks. But she wasn’t truly ready to take a leap until she found out about an opportunity to work on the gubernatorial campaign of a former colleague. Her love of politics, her respect for her former coworker, and her ability to visualize exactly what she would be doing and how she would feel about it gave her the confidence she needed to make a change. Suddenly the discomfort of starting over seemed like a small price to pay for doing work she would enjoy and was passionate about.

Before you make up your mind that you don’t want to give up what you have by starting over, you might want to take the time to explore whether there’s anything out there that would give you something greater in return.

It may not be as bad as you think.

There’s one other reason why you might want to consider starting over.

Sometimes we anticipate what we think it’s going to be like to begin again. We imagine how hard it will be, how embarrassed we’ll feel, or how much work we’ll have to do. We might envision every task that’s involved and feel overwhelmed, deciding then that it’s not for us.

But starting over doesn’t have to feel daunting. You can take it one step at a time at whatever speed works for you. Instead of going over the entire process in your mind, focus on whatever your next step might be.

And keep in mind that may not be as hard as you think. In my experience, when you’re moving towards your calling, the universe will help you in ways you wouldn’t have expected.

As Cheri Huber says, “Fear of the unknown is really just fear of our own imagination.” And fortunately, starting over can be easier, more energizing, and more enjoyable than you might imagine.

Over to You

What are your fears about having to start over?

When has starting over been helpful for you, or at least not as bad as you imagined?

What might you gain from a fresh start?

Your answers could really help others, so please take a moment to share them below.

From Archaeologist to Designer: How One Man Made an Unusual Pivot to Find Work He’s Excited About

I know how helpful it can be to hear about people like you who have made successful career changes, especially those who have overcome common challenges along the way.

With that in mind, this week I want to share with you Jeff Leon’s story so you can learn exactly how he went from a job that filled him with dread to work that he’s excited about.

One caveat: Jeff is a client of mine, first in Passion Quest and then in Pathfinders Group Coaching. Though this is significant, I also believe that his story can help inspire and guide you whether or not you ever choose to participate in one of my programs.

So, in the hope that it can catalyze your own journey to work you love, here’s Jeff’s story (in his own words):

How Things Were:

“In March 2016 I defended my PhD dissertation in archaeology at Cornell.  It was the end of a long and arduous process that took the better part of seven years, but rather than being a moment of excitement and enthusiasm for the next steps in my career and life, it was a moment of complete fear and confusion.

“I had realized by that point that I spent the better part of the last three years of my PhD dreading the work I was doing, dreading the solitude of the research, and dreading many of the professors and administrators I was working with.

“I knew I wanted (and needed) to make a career change and find something that was more fulfilling and rewarding to me, but I didn’t have anything resembling a professional support system. I was blessed with strong personal support from family and friends, but no one quite knew how they could help me or what my next steps could look like. I felt like I was staring into the deep, dark unknowable future all by myself.”  

The Challenges:

“Looking back, the fundamental challenge I faced in my life transition in March 2016 was that I didn’t really know what I was even looking for – and it’s hard to find something if you don’t know what you’re looking for to begin with!

“In a sense, I had forgotten who I was, what I was naturally good at, and what I valued most; by doing that, I had lost touch with my purpose in life and, ultimately, happiness.

“During grad school, I had enjoyed and found value in discussions with students, debating, and problem-solving, but [later on] I was being encouraged to publish research that few people read, or present papers at conferences to add another line on my CV. Deep down this kind of work felt valueless and unimportant to me. I knew I wanted to spend my time making the world a better place, but I didn’t know how.

“I also suffered from a couple key mental blocks. For one thing, I had a bad case of imposter syndrome and it was doing a number on my self-esteem. When you’re surrounded by Ivy League PhDs who have 10, 15 or 30 years’ more experience than you, and whose job is to critique and ignore your work in equal measure, it’s easy to feel dumb and think you have nothing to offer the world.

“Beyond that, I looked at the years I took to complete the PhD as ‘sunk costs’ – I thought about how while I was sitting in a library by myself learning about things I cared less and less about, my friends had been off building job experience, professional connections and 401Ks. It seemed like if I didn’t become a college professor (even if it made me very unhappy), my 20s would have been a waste of time. But the problem was, I just couldn’t bring myself to apply for jobs in academia, which meant (in my mind) that the whole exercise in getting a PhD had been a big, long failure.

“As I was coming to grips with all this and wrapping up my degree, I began meeting with career counselors on campus. After a couple of meetings they told me that academics ‘weren’t my tribe,’ which was an important insight.  But, the trouble was, they didn’t know who my tribe was, and neither did I. I was adrift, unsure of which way to turn, and thinking I had wasted my 20s on a fool’s-errand of a PhD. Worst of all, I was terrified to make another seven-year career mistake.”

How He Did It:

“First, it took time and it took patience.  I know that’s the last thing anyone wants to hear when they find themselves in a period of chaos in their life – and it was the last thing I wanted to hear when I first spoke to Meredith, but it true and it was right. I (like many people, I imagine) wanted the 10-day solution, and maybe, just maybe I could hang on for the one month solution, but a six month-plus solution?! No way.  But that’s how long it took me, and it was well worth it.

“The first step for me was to ‘show up’ and confront the turmoil I was struggling with, and the second step was to trust the process.  I had to give myself the time, the space, and the permission to find out who I was and what made me tick. Weekly and bi-weekly group meetings with Meredith were crucial in helping me in this process. They were tangible examples of progress in my self-discovery and helped mark my progress. Plus, I learned to meditate and it’s a practice that I’ve begun to incorporate into daily morning yoga sessions to bring clarity to the beginning of my day.

“I also learned a number of important tools and exercises to help me check in on myself and to really listen to my mind and body to understand how different events and situations were affecting me. Most of all, I learned to trust myself again, and to give myself permission to explore, be curious, and make mistakes.

“I learned these things in a supportive, collaborative environment with other people going through similar challenges to myself—people who had suggestions, solutions, and—perhaps most important of all—smiles and words of encouragement. The unknowable future was (and still is) scary, but I began to feel much better equipped to take it on.”

How Things Are Now:

“After a few months of working with Meredith I had built up the confidence to begin setting up informational interviews in fields that struck me as interesting. In other words, I had re-developed the confidence and self-esteem to be curious again and to explore potential career options.

“I was intrigued by a user experience designer I spoke with, and one conversation led to another until I decided to enroll in a 10-week immersive user experience design program at an educational tech incubator called General Assembly. It was thanks to Pathfinders and the process of re-building my self-esteem that I was able to confront the fear of the unknown head on.

“Taking that leap was a great decision – I’m currently about halfway through the course, building a portfolio of work, and looking to apply for jobs in February and March.  The work is fascinating, the people are fun and energizing, and the field is growing, so I’m excited about my prospects.

“I realize my path is still uncertain, but having participated in Pathfinders I feel like I have the tools to help me navigate similar challenges throughout my life.”

Last Chance to Join the New Year’s Pathfinders Group

Pathfinders Group Coaching is one of the most powerful and cost-effective programs I offer to help you identify and move into work you love. It teaches you the most powerful tools and techniques I refined over 6 years helping dozens of individual clients find their calling and supercharges that process with the support and power of community.

There are only 2 spots left, and the group is starting next week. This is your last chance to start fresh alongside everyone else until I open a new group, and I’m not sure when that will be.

Pathfinders Group Coaching includes:

  • Highly interactive small group sessions that walk you through the 5 Steps to Find Your Calling, help you work through common challenges, and give you opportunities get ideas and feedback from the group
  • Specific action steps to take in between sessions that help you clarify and move towards work you love
  • A private Facebook group where you can get support between sessions
  • Email access to me for any questions or challenges you need help with
  • An Enneagram assessment to determine your type
  • A one-on-one onboarding call with me to go over your Enneagram type and create personal strategies for you to get the most out of the group
  • Access to Passion Quest, the online course I created to teach you how to find your calling, and all its modules, recordings, and PDFs

 To find out more, click here to schedule a free 1:1 call with me. We’ll discuss your needs, go over the details of the program, answer any questions you have, and find out whether group coaching could help you find the work you were meant to do in the world. (There’s no obligation to buy anything on the call.)

Over to You

Which parts of Jeff’s story can you relate to?

Do you have your own story of successful career change that you can share to inspire others?

Please leave a comment below. (As a bonus, you’ll have the option of publishing a link to your latest blog post alongside your comment.)

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

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

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

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

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

1. Breathe deeply.

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

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

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

2. Shake it out.

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

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

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

3. Meditate and get present.

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

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

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

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

4. Exercise.

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

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

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

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

5. Get into nature.

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

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

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

6. Notice what’s going well.

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

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

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

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

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

7. Go slowly.

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

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

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

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

8. Feel your feelings.

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

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

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

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

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

9. Get curious.

Curiosity is like kryptonite to anxiety’s Superman strength.

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

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

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

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

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

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

10. Accept it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Key to Dealing With Anxiety

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

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

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

The Two Most Common Reactions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Negative Cycles

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Key to Dealing With Anxiety

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


If you’d like help on your own journey, I offer individual and small group coaching. Find out more here.


Photo credit: Leo Hidalgo // CC

21 Reasons to Get Out of Your Head

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

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

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

1. Your mind is a dark place.

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

2. There’s fear everywhere in there.

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

3. Your mental landscape is covered in rationalization.

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

4. In your head, self doubt is rampant.

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

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

5. Your brain has bad eyesight.

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

When you do…

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

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

 7. You feel more powerful and confident.

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

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

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

9. You’re less stressed.

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

10. You’re able to sleep more easily.

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

11. You obsess less.

And the same skill would make it possible that…

12. You stop beating yourself up over your mistakes.

 Not to mention the fact that…

13. You give your poor mind a break.

(Your brain gets tired too.) In addition…

14. You feel more connected to others.

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

And maybe best of all…

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

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

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

16. You’re more creative.

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

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

17. Decisions are easier.

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

18. You have greater access to your deepest desires.

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

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

19. You tap into your inner wisdom.

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

Because you have so much wisdom within you…

20. You get better without trying.

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

Because of that…

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

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

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

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

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

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


Photo credit: zaphodsotherhead // CC

 

My Fear Confession

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

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

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

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

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

The Commitment Conundrum

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

I hesitated.

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

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

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

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

The Fear We All Feel

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

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

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

The Crazy Simple Tool for Working With Fear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tips for Naming Fear

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

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

Don’t Let Your Fear Stop You

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


Photo credit: Jack Fiallos // CC

 

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

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

–Pema Chodron

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

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

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

The Pitfalls of Pleasure and the Perks of Pain

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

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

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

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

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

Relaxing into Groundlessness

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

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

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

She offers a few ways of doing this:

 1. Accept that you don’t know.

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

2.Don’t fall into automatic habits.

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

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

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

Dancing With Shadows

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over to You

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

Still feel like too much?

If you’d like help on your own journey, I offer individual and small group coaching. Find out more here.


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

How to Know If Saying No Is Wise…Or Otherwise

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

Stephen Pressfield, The War of Art

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

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

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

In short, I got scared.

Wisdom vs Fear

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

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

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

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

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

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

Identifying Wisdom

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

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

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

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

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

Listening to Fear

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over to You

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

Find Out What Your Intuition Is Telling You

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


Photo credit: Ahmed Rebea // CC

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

wall_no_career_options_feel_right_new

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

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

Is it the options, or is it you?

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

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

1. Get more information.

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

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

2. Try it out.

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

3. Get clear about what you want most.

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

4. Look for the should.

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

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

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

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

6. Brainstorm more options.

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

7. Wait.

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

Over to You

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

Find the Right Path for You

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

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