5 Ways of Coping With Your Inner Critic

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Most of us have a judging mental voice that I call the inner critic. It comes out of nowhere to let us know, loudly, when we (1) have screwed up, (2) are screwing up, or (3) might be about to screw up.

 

I've gotten to know this voice pretty well. However, I've also spent a lot of time studying and learning how to tame it. What follows are a collection of tools I've used with myself and my clients over the years. I hope that you find something useful if you're struggling with your own critical voices.

Top 5 Things to Know About the Inner Critic

  1. Almost everyone has one. Some are louder than others, and some people have gotten better at making peace with theirs.
  2. It was formed at a young age. As a little kid, you probably noticed that you got rewarded when you were “good” and got punished when you were “bad.” In the beginning, adults did the judging for you, but eventually you created your own internal judge to keep you in line even when no one else was around.
  3. Its fundamental purpose is to keep you safe. The implicit promise is that if you’re always “good,” you’ll be worthy of love and never have to experience pain or rejection. Therefore, if you ever experience those things, you just aren't trying hard enough. The pain it causes is justifiable because it keeps you safe, like an adult jerking a kid out of a busy street. It might hurt in the moment, but it’s better than being run over. Except the inner critic sees cars everywhere, even where they don’t exist.
  4. It can't follow through on this promise. The whole “Just be perfect and you’ll be safe and loved” line is a scam at worst and wishful thinking at best. Painful things happen, and the inner critic will take those things and use them as retroactive evidence that you fell short. You will never be able to meet its standards.
  5. You can’t get rid of it or shut it up permanently. However, you can lessen its impact in your life by using one or more of the following strategies.

1) Stop buying into its implicit promise.

Now that you know it can’t promise success, acceptance, and security, stop feeding it!

I understand that self-criticism can be a hard habit to break, but seeing it as an unhelpful pattern rather than a virtue interrupts the cycle.

The inner critic will always be around in some form, but when you stop actively buying into what it says, it loses a lot of momentum and power. Sometimes it really is that easy.

Still skeptical about whether it's worth giving up? Maybe you really do need it to to stay motivated. I respectfully disagree - read why in my article on self-kindness as an effective job-searching strategy.

2) Accept and defuse it.

When you’ve stopped buying into its dubious “wisdom” and accepted that it will always be a part of your life, you can stop fighting it.

Think about how much mental and emotional energy has gone into trying to shut it down or live up to its impossible standards. What would it feel like to opt out of the whole mess and just move on with your life?

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy gives us lots of tools for “defusing” the inner critic. When we stop taking it so seriously and start seeing it as something separate from us, we can spend our energy doing things we actually care about.

Here are a few defusing techniques to try:

  • Imagine its monologue as a crappy mix tape. What are the top 10 tunes? Then when it starts playing, you can say, “Oh, there’s my ‘I’m a failure and doomed to die alone’ tape!”
  • Play the thoughts in your head but imagine them in silly voices. How does the “You’re totally inadequate” thought feel different when Donald Duck is saying it?
  • Picture a stream with leaves floating by on the surface. Put each thought you notice on a leaf and let it drift away.
  • Imagine your negative feelings as a beach ball that you’re trying to keep submerged under water. Notice how hard it is to concentrate on anything else. What would it be like to let go of the beach ball and allow it to float in a corner of the pool? It’s still there, but it’s a lot easier to swim and relax than before.
  • Give your inner critic a face and a name. Who or what do they remind you of? When they start talking, ask yourself, “Is this really someone I want to take advice from?”

Note: A major tenet of ACT is that feeling better isn’t the point, although that often happens when you defuse from your painful thoughts. Ideally, you’d notice the critic was active, do what you need to do to create some space between yourself and it, and then go on with your life. You don’t want to devote too much time and energy to arguing with a mixtape, after all!

3) Open a dialogue.

This takes a slightly different attitude towards the inner critic than the ACT tools. While Accepting and Defusing treats the inner critic like a fundamentally mindless voice that runs on autopilot, Dialoguing comes from the point of view that the critic has good cause for what it’s doing and can be reasoned with.

This approach asks you to accept that you have different parts within yourself that want different things (like when one part of you wants to exercise and another wants to watch TV).

When you accept that the inner critic has its own needs and desires, it’s easy to see that its main motivation is fear. If you let yourself be satisfied with who you are, who knows whether it would be good enough? The inner critic isn’t going to take that chance.

A basic approach to reaching an agreement with your inner critic:

  1. Listen to what it's afraid of and all the things it's been doing to try to keep you safe.
  2. Respond to the fears with compassion and the efforts with appreciation.
  3. Come up with some alternate ways of dealing with the fears that don’t make you feel like crap.
  4. Ask the inner critic what it thinks and listen to any objections that come up.
  5. Continue to negotiate until you come up with a plan that satisfies the inner critic and makes it feel safe enough to take a break.

This approach is really well-suited to working with a coach or therapist. If you’re doing it by yourself, I recommend journalling. One surprisingly effective technique is to use your non-dominant hand for the critic and dominant hand for the interviewer.

Coach Havi Brooks has a unique and playful way of talking to her "monsters," as she calls them. Check out her blog posts Not All Monsters Like Cookies; The Negotiator, the Monster, and the Scribe; and Monster-Watching: Some Notes.

An important thing to keep in mind here is that you want to be talking to your inner critic from the kindest, wisest, most patient part of yourself. Think of a nurturing parent, a wise friend, or a supportive teacher. If you’re having trouble accessing those qualities, check out the next approach.

4) Develop compassionate inner resources.

In addition to your inner critic, you have a positive counterpart. I call it the healthy adult; some people call it your inner wisdom or your inner mentor. This is the part of you that always acts with compassion and wisdom. It knows the truth: that there is nothing wrong with you.

One way to tap into this resource is to recall times when this part of you was present to make good decisions. Let yourself relive those memories.

What qualities did you exhibit? Love, kindness, patience, good boundaries, courage, perspective, and groundedness are all qualities I’ve heard from clients over the years. How does it feel in your body when this part of you is really present?

Hypnosis is a fantastic way to get in touch with this part of yourself - check out my stress-relief and self-confidence session if you’d like to experience this in a really concrete, empowering way.

Another way is to imagine yourself 20 years in the future, all grown up into the person you always hoped you’d be. What would that person say or do? How would they act? What suggestions would they make?

Author Tara Sophia Mohr has a beautiful guided meditation to take you through this process, available here (free in exchange for your e-mail).

A third way is to take the love and kindness you feel towards someone dear in your life and direct it inwards. How would you treat them in this situation? How would they treat you? Sometimes it’s much easier to access compassion and understanding for others than it is for ourselves.

Finally, a quick and dirty way: fake it till you make it. Ask yourself, “How would I act if I loved myself completely and unconditionally?” Do whatever the answer is.

5) Finally: be a scientist.

The opposite of judgment is curiosity. When you notice the inner critic coming up, get curious. Start gathering data. When do you notice its voice being particularly loud? Is it a constant presence, or are there certain situations that trigger it? The inner critic isn’t especially complicated - the thoughts that come up tend to follow certain patterns.

I’ve found a journal especially useful for staying in scientist-mind.

Here are some prompts to get you started if you’d like to begin taking your own field notes:

  • I’m noticing that…
  • My inner critic is especially loud when:
  • Underneath the criticism, I’m really afraid of:
  • If I stopped being so hard on myself, I’m afraid that:
  • What’s helpful in dealing with my inner critic:
  • What’s not helpful in dealing with my inner critic:
  • Internal and external resources I can count on:
  • What would be helpful to remind myself of?
  • Healthy ways to distract myself from my inner critic monologue:
  • I envision my inner critic as…
  • What do I need right now?
  • What am I believing that it’s not okay for me to need, want, be, have, or do?
  • What would it be like to accept myself exactly the way I am right now?

So there you have it.

There are lots of ways of dealing with this voice in our head. Whether you see it as an enemy, a misguided coping mechanism, a scared little kid, or just a tape loop, this part of you is here to stay - so you might as well make peace with it.

Obviously, this is an incredibly broad overview about a complex topic. Nevertheless, I hope it gives you a place to start and some ideas for things to try. Whatever you do, don't let your inner critic turn your self-compassion practice into another stick to beat yourself with!

Unlearning the patterns of self-criticism and replacing them with self-kindness isn’t easy for all of us. I remember thinking, “What would I do with myself if I’m okay the way I am?” I was invested in looking for problems to fix beause I thought that was the only way to make progress.

But when I remember to approach my life with curiosity, compassion and humor, it’s amazing how much gets done - no stick needed. Go ahead, try it out and see what happens. As Cheri Huber says, “If it doesn’t work, you can always beat yourself up twice as hard tomorrow!"

Inner critic making it difficult for you to make progress on your career goals? Schedule a complimentary strategy call with me to discover how coaching can help you move forward. 

Recommended Reading on the Inner Critic:

  • Cheri Huber, There Is Nothing Wrong With You
  • Kristen Neff, Self-Compassion
  • Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance
  • Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
  • Tara Sophia Mohr, Playing Big
  • Russ Harris, The Happiness Trap

image credit: freeimages.com/Marcelo Gerpe

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Unemployment & Living with Limitation

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While I was healing from a foot injury this spring, I spent a lot of time thinking about the similarities between injury and unemployment.

 

You're moving along, living your life, getting things done, and then all of a sudden everything screeches to a halt. Your life feels smaller and more constrained, defined by the things you can’t do. Your only option is to be patient and do things that support getting better.

It was a frustrating month, but the experience surprised me with some hidden gifts that I want to share with you today.

8 lessons learned from a month on the couch

  1. Not everything happens for a reason, but you can create meaning to reduce suffering.
  2. Don’t force gratitude, but notice it when it arises.
  3. Let yourself rest. 
  4. Detach from any roles you’re currently over-identified with.
  5. What opportunities does this situation present?
  6. Things may be happening behind the scenes.
  7. Learn to be okay with asking for help.
  8. Notice and appreciate your abilities when they return.

1. Not everything happens for a reason, but you can create meaning to reduce suffering.

I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason. However, how you choose to interpret what happens can have a big effect on your outlook. Reframing an unfortunate event (like unemployment or injury) as a challenge and a potential source of growth is an incredibly powerful practice.

This doesn’t happen quickly for everyone. Depending on your circumstances, you might have to move through your grief, anger, and disappointment before you can start looking for the gold.

I would never compare my experiences to that of concentration camp survivor Viktor Frankl, but I often find comfort in his words: "We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed. For what then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement. When we are no longer able to change a situation...we are challenged to change ourselves."

2. Don’t force gratitude, but notice it when it arises.

When someone tells me to “look on the bright side,” I usually feel like throat-punching them. That being said, I’m surprised by how much gratitude I felt once the worst of the pain was over. I had access to help and resources that made my situation much more bearable than it could have been.

You might not be ready to look for the positive in your situation, but I suspect that it’s there. Check out my blog post on gratitude journal alternatives for ungrateful people if you’d like a little help reframing your situation.

3. Let yourself rest.

I spent the first few days after my accident sleeping on the couch. I told myself that I was putting all my available resources towards healing. Even though I’d given myself permission to rest as much as I wanted, I started feeling restless and wanting something to do after only a few days.

If you’ve just become unemployed, whether or not it was voluntary, you might have some detoxing to do. Give yourself permission to slow down.

I think it’s likely that if you let yourself truly rest without guilt, you won’t need nearly as much downtime as you might think before you’re ready to start taking action again. Check out this article if you have trouble with guilt-free rest.

4. Detach from any roles you’re currently over-identified with.

After my accident, I temporarily lost my identity as an avid walker and hiker. I had to reconcile myself to becoming more dependent and sedentary than I was comfortable with. That didn’t feel good!

Identity shifts are a part of life, but that doesn’t mean they aren't jarring. If you really identified with your former profession, or as an employed person, you might be looking around and trying to figure out who you are without those labels.

It can feel vulnerable and awkward, but it’s helpful to remember that you never were those external markers - you just carried them around for a while. What are the parts of you that are impervious to loss or the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune?

5. What opportunities does this situation present?

This is the big question, the one that’s hard to ask when all you can see is lack and limitation. For the first few days after my accident, all I could think about were the things I couldn’t do.

But then: I rekindled my love affair with crochet. I spent more time learning tarot, something I’d picked up right before my accident. I hobbled to the library to check out books on neuroscience, work habits, and contemporary spirituality (also Squirrel Girl, because sometimes a lady needs a break).

What opportunities are you being given here? Unemployment often comes with the gift of time. You can’t spend 100% of the day researching, applying to, and interviewing for jobs. What are you going to do with the rest of the day? Volunteer, cook, build something, take a free class?

I understand that you have to be at a certain place mentally and emotionally before you can even start contemplating this stuff, but know that these options exist for you when you’re ready.

6. Things may be happening behind the scenes, even if you can’t see them.

The first week of wound healing is dedicated to the "inflammation period," when it looks like nothing is happening. My toe looked just as terrible on day 5 as it did right after the accident. But by day 7, it didn’t just look a little better - it looked a lot better.

So little of the job searching process is in your control. Sometimes it feels like you’re constantly waiting for people to get back to you. When you get frustrated, it can be helpful to remind yourself that you’re planting seeds to see what will sprout.

One of my clients got invited to an interview for her dream two months after she applied. Another didn’t hear back at all and it turned out to be because they were rewriting the description to something that actually suited her better.

This is a good time to let go of what you can’t control and focus on areas where you can make a difference. Brush up on your skills, take a class or a training, or throw yourself into a personal project. Satisfy your need for progress in another area of your life while you’re waiting for this one to bear fruit.

7. Learn to be okay with receiving help, because sometimes you don’t have a choice.

I’m an independent person. “No problem, I can do it” is a personal motto. There was a lesson for me here, too. My husband cleaned and dressed my wound twice a day. He also brought me things, helped me shower, and listened to me complain.

Receiving without giving back brought up a lot of emotions: humility and frustration with my limitations, guilt that I wasn’t able to reciprocate, fear of being too much of a bother - and then finally gratitude and appreciation.

The bootstrapping myth is strong in our culture and it can be difficult to overcome that conditioning. But I’ve seen over and over again that the fastest way forward is by getting help. Practice asking for support, information, advice, an introduction. It feels vulnerable, but the worst you’ll get is a “no” and the potential payoff is enormous.

8. Notice and appreciate your abilities when they return.

I’m newly appreciative of things I'd taken for granted before: wearing normal shoes, walking to the end of the block, showering without standing in a plastic bucket.

Humans are quite adaptive and I’m sure I’ll be back to showering bucket-free without a second thought in no time, but for now I’m reveling in the novelty of ease.

When you do return to work, take the time to notice what becomes easier in your life. It may be financial breathing room or a sense of stability, security, and personal value. It might be the pleasure of meeting new people and learning new skills.

What did you miss about having a job? Let yourself enjoy having those things again.

Who knew limitation could be such a profound teacher?

If you’re feeling discouraged, I hope there’s a useful takeaway or two here for you! And if you liked this and could use some extra support with your career exploration, I've got you covered.

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What do your interests say about you?

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What are your interests? What do you find yourself thinking, talking, or reading about in your spare time?

Whatever they are, maybe you should be paying a little more attention to them.

Back when I was desperately trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, I spent all my free time reading self-help books and blogs. I thought if I just did enough journalling exercises, I'd stumble across the right path. Maybe you've been there, too.

When I wasn’t reading books with titles like Finding Your Own North Star (an A+ read, by the way), I was checking out books on neuroscience and psychology. I was also weirdly drawn to marketing blogs, even though I didn’t have a “thing” I was trying to market at the time.

In retrospect, it’s kind of surprising that it took me as long as it did to figure it out.

I'm sure you've guessed the big reveal already:

Eventually, I realized that nothing made me happier than thinking and talking about...what makes people happy. Where they get stuck. Why they do the things they do.

From there, I just had to connect the dots to find a way to do that as a living.

So, let me ask you:

  • What interests could you spend all day doing or talking/thinking about?
  • Where are you already spending your free time, attention, and energy?
  • If you woke up tomorrow with no responsibilities, how would you spend your day? (Let’s assume you’re already well-rested and don’t need to catch up on sleep.)
  • If you could become an expert on anything, what would it be?

I’m not saying that your answers to these questions are The Answers to what you should be doing with your life. But they might have some valuable clues you’re overlooking. Maybe your love of legos will reveal something deep and profound about yourself!

Hint: watch out for thoughts like, "But isn't everybody interested in [X]?" or "[Y] is just a dumb thing I'm into, there's no way I can make a career out of it." Give your inner critic a rest and let yourself be curious about what comes up. Let me know how it goes!

If you'd like some help sifting through the data, sign up for a chat. As you already know, talking about this kind of stuff is my happy place. Who knows what we might discover together?

Image credit: freeimages.com/Terry Eaton

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What are you doing to feed your soul?

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What are you doing in your life that’s just for you?

Me? I walk. I like taking pictures, too.

I wear a lot of hats in the course of my day. I’m a coach, a cat-mom, a spouse, and a friend (not to mention a housekeeper/cook/financial manager/general adulting person).

There's a lot to keep track of, and I've learned it's necessary to my (physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual) health to get outside and ramble on a regular basis.

Going for a walk in the middle of the day sometimes feels like a luxury (especially when I’m busy), but I know from experience that it's vital to my sanity and optimal functioning - especially when I’m busy.

I'm sure you have a lot on your plate, too.

It’s easy to get into the habit of talking about how busy, overwhelmed, and overcommitted you are. It seems like you just don’t have any time for yourself!

I do it, too, and then I have to remember all over again what I wish I could beam directly into your brain: taking that time for yourself makes everything else work better.

If you are in the process of trying to figure out what you want to do with your life, this time becomes even more crucial. Who are you when you’re not a helper or a worker? When you’re by yourself and all those labels fall away?

If you can’t connect to those things that bring you joy, it's much more difficult to find your path.

My invitation to you, if you’re willing:

Take 10 minutes today to do something that feeds your soul. If you have no idea what that might look like, try something, anything, and see how it feels. Do it again tomorrow.

Pay attention, take notes, learn what lights you up. Find your way back to yourself, one step at a time. Take my box turtle friend here as inspiration.

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Let me know how it goes!

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Book Review: Designing Your Life

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If you're trying to figure out your career direction and you only read one book this year, it should be this one.

Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans came into being when two Stanford School of Design professors asked, "What if we take the tools we use to solve design problems and use them to create a roadmap for life satisfaction?"

I honestly can’t say enough about this book. I recently listened to it as I was driving across the state and I kept wanting to pause and take notes. Over and over again, I felt that spark of mingled admiration and envy that happens when someone puts your ideas into words and does it more elegantly than you could.

Your Powers, Combined

One of my main annoyances with the world of career planning is the dichotomy between what I’ll call the Dreamers and the Doers. You’ve probably encountered both: one person tells you to follow your passion, the other tells you how to hone your networking skills. You’re either floating in fantasyland or bored by 101 interview tips.

In my never-so-humble opinion, the best sources embody the Talking Heads lyric of “feet on the ground, head in the sky.” They emphasize the importance of a dream and a plan, teaching you how to effectively combine emotion, intellect, and action. Designing Your Life does this better than almost anything else I’ve come across.

Start On the Inside, Work Your Way Out

The book starts out by introducing some basic concepts and mindset tips. You’ll learn the value of staying curious, trying things (instead of getting stuck in endless analysis), and asking for help. It encourages you to start where you are and gather data about your current situation to see what's working and what's not. Then, it takes you through the process of generating possible directions to explore.

The second half of the book encourages you to take what you’ve learned and put it into action. It walks you through road-testing your ideas through a combination of information-gathering and test experiences. Finally, it concludes with some last words about effective decision-making (because they know that even after all this work, it’s still possible to get stuck in second-guessing).

I can't believe I'm saying this, but...

If you’ve participated in a program with me before, this process will sound familiar. It’s very similar to what I do with my people and if you had enough focus and motivation, you would get just as much from this book as you would from one of my 1:1 coaching programs. That’s right - this book is good enough to potentially put me out of a job, and I’m still recommending it.

If you've read Designing Your LIfe, I'd love to hear what you thought! Leave me a comment below.

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Hire a Career Coach if You're Serious About Leaving Your Job.

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So you’re ready to leave your job and look for something new. You've been thinking about it for a while, going back and forth, but now you're sure. Whatever mental and emotional calculus you had to go through, you’ve come to the conclusion that it needs to happen. What now?

Consider working with a career coach to plan your strategy.

Do you know what you want to do instead? If not, how do you plan on figuring that out? Do you know how to make the most of your precious free time so that you can make the jump as soon as possible? Where should you start?

How will you decide:

  • which of your options to pursue?
  • what trainings/career development to invest in?
  • how to break into your chosen field?

You might be smart (and you probably are, if you’re like most of my readers), but that doesn’t mean that you automatically know all the ins and outs of a successful career transition. A career coach can make this process a lot easier, because this is what we do.

Could you figure it out on your own?

Probably. Eventually. Like I said, you’re smart. I muddled through my own transition without professional help. I relied on self-help books and assessments and luck to get me where I needed to go. It took forever and I spent a lot of time wallowing in anxiety, self-doubt, and indecision. But I did get there in the end! You probably can too, if you're extremely self-reliant, motivated, and patient.

How can a career coach make things easier?

I’m so glad you asked. Here are just a few of the ways that working with a career coach will make your transition smoother, faster, and less stressful.

1. A career coach will guide you through the process.

It’s okay that you don’t know what to do next - I’m not an expert in whatever you do for a living, after all. I’m guessing that your situation is stressful enough without also trying to figure out and execute all the elements of a successful transition.

When you work with a career coach, you don’t have to be the expert. All you have to do is show up and be you, and I’ll guide you the rest of the way. I’m not going to tell you that changing your job is easy, but it’s a lot easier when you’re following a time-tested plan instead of trying to reinvent the wheel.

2. A career coach will help you with focus and follow-through.

Why do people have gym buddies? Because there’s more incentive to show up if you know someone else will be there. Why is it easier to learn from a class than from a textbook? Because you get accountability, homework, feedback, and the chance to ask questions.

When you’re feeling discouraged about your career, it’s easy to get lost in the conflicting thoughts and feelings about your situation. Even if you’ve created a plan/strategy/to-do list, it can be difficult to stick with it on your own. A coach can keep you on track and help you plan your next steps. Plus, I’ll help you maintain your sanity and humor along the way. :-)

3. A career coach has seen most of it before.

When you’re in the thick of your career drama, it can feel overwhelming. You may have never had to go through something like this before. Imagine someone telling you, “It’s okay, I’ve helped people in your situation before. It’s normal to freak out right now, but you're going to get through this.”

You are beautiful and unique, but your circumstances probably aren't. Stay-at-home-mom returning to the workforce? New grad with no clue what to do next? Burned-out non-profit employee? Only had one job since graduation? I’ve worked with someone like you.

If you're sick or in pain, you go to a doctor. Your discomfort may seem specific to you, but she’s seen lots of people with your symptoms. In fact, that’s one of the reasons you’re there. She knows what questions to ask to determine the best course of treatment.

If reading a career book is like browsing WebMD, working with a career coach is like consulting a top specialist. Yes, it’s more of an investment, but you also know you’re getting the best available care.

4. A career coach will support you without getting emotionally invested.

Why is this important? Well, in the course of your ponderings, you may have talked to friends or family about your situation. That’s great! It’s good to have a support system in place. However, you may have noticed a few issues cropping up:

  • Your spouse/partner gets anxious about your financial future whenever you bring it up.
  • You don’t want to spend all your time unloading on your friends, but it’s still on your mind.
  • Your family has certain expectations of you that influences their advice.
  • People are offering a lot of suggestions and you don’t want to be ungrateful, but it’s really getting on your nerves.
  • You feel like you need to look like you have it all together, even if you’re flailing internally.
  • Resentment builds up if any of this goes on for too long, affecting your relationships and quality of life.

A nonjudgmental, supportive sounding board can be a real lifesaver in this situation. Your coaching sessions will become a haven where you can be yourself and talk things out without worrying about anybody else’s feelings, thoughts, or reactions.

Because you have this time blocked off for dealing with all your career woes, you can enjoy your time with loved ones more fully. Trust me, your family and friends will appreciate this almost as much as you do!

5. Finally: hiring a coach tells your brain that The Game Is On.

Reading blog posts and self-help books is fine. I’ve spent many happy hours doing just that. But it also can be a sneaky way of feeling like you’re taking action without actually doing anything.

You can daydream about the 47 perfect ways your life could turn out, create a vision board or two, decide what your top five values are. These are all valid activities, but they’re not getting you closer to a more fulfilling career on their own.

Hiring someone is Serious. It sends a signal to your subconscious that This is Not a Drill. It’s a statement that your future is important and worth an investment of real time and money. When you raise the stakes, you’re more likely to do something about it.

Think about it. That’s all I’m asking.

If you’re here to get inspired and think about what you might want to do next, that’s awesome. I've got a whole library of articles for you to check out! But if you’re really, truly serious about finding sustainable, satisfying work - it might be time to call in the big guns. Next step? Check out my article on how to tell whether a coach is right for you.

Image credit: freeimages.com/Asif Akbar

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4 Alternatives to Gratitude Journals for Ungrateful People

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I'll tell you a secret: I'm allergic to gratitude.

If you’ve spent any time in the self-help world at all, you’ve probably heard about the benefits of keeping a gratitude journal. This practice does nothing for me. I understand why it might be useful for some people, but I don’t love it.

I've spent so much time telling myself "You should be grateful for [x]" that the word itself brings up feelings of irritation, resentment, and guilt. If you look up gratitude in a thesaurus, you get synonyms like indebtedness, obligation, and requital. Ugh. No thanks. I'm done with trying to force myself to feel a certain way.

However: humans are wired to give more weight to negative events. It makes sense to somehow emphasize the positive ones and balance out your worldview. And there is a lot of evidence out there that a (ugh) gratitude practice has a meaningful effect on your life.

So how can we do this without it feeling fake, forced, or obligatory?

Four Alternatives to the Gratitude Journal

1. Change the word

If you hate the g-word as much as I do, how do you feel about appreciation? While one of the definitions of appreciation is gratitude, another is recognition of worth. This feels so much more empowering to me. It's a choice I've made to recognize the worth in the world around me. A gratitude journal may make me want to gag, but an appreciation journal feels a little more doable.

2. What went well?

This exercise comes from Martin Seligman, the “father of positive psychology.” According to him, three weeks of doing this had a positive emotional effect on test subjects up to six months later.

At the end of your day, simply note down three things that went well. In his version, you can also add why you think they went well.

The language of “what went well” accomplishes three things: it takes the gratitude label out of the equation, leaving you free to feel appreciation, satisfaction, relief, or a spectrum of other positive emotions.

Secondly, doing this exercise helped me realize that the majority of events in my day happen without a hitch. I got better at putting the occasional glitch in perspective.

Thirdly, it gave me a body of data to look back at and see what I thought was worthy of labeling as “going well.” I frequently mentioned time with friends, time spent creating, and time outdoors. Sometimes I’d list a memorable meal or a workout.

Something like binge-watching Steven Universe, while technically going the way it was supposed to, didn’t make the list. This gave me some great insight as to where I’d like to put more of my time and energy.

3. What do you want to remember?

This was inspired by a Seth Godin article. So many things happen to us throughout the day, most of them forgotten by the next. Unless we do something to tell our brains “This is important,” it tends to get lost in the shuffle.

We already do this automatically with painful, stressful, or embarrassing things because we’d like to be able to avoid those kinds of situations in the future. But what about the sublime, the cozy, the just-right? What happened today that you’d like to remember five years from now?

4. Noticing what you’d like to continue happening.

For one day, make a mental note of everything that happens to you that you would like to keep happening in the future. This can be anything you can perceive with one of your senses. This exercise comes from Solution-Focused Brief Therapy. When I do this, I find it easier to stay in the present and appreciate life's small pleasures.

Don’t worry about sticking with it indefinitely.

A lot of gratitude journal proponents will tell you that you need to do this every day. I agree - up to a point. Like any routine, it’s meant to support you. When you don’t need it, you can let it go. It will always be a part of your toolbox, after all.

Start with committing to one of these exercises for 1-3 weeks. As Martin Seligman showed, even this brief amount of time can have positive repercussions far into the future.

To document or not to document?

The gratitude journallers will tell you that you need to physically document your list. In the case of the "what went well" and "what do you want to remember" exercises, I think that a written record is helpful for the reasons I mentioned above. The last is more of a mindfulness practice and doesn't require the same level of documentation, since you're looking for many small moments throughout the day.

If you have a smartphone, keeping a record is incredibly easy. Set an alarm for the evening and when it goes off, use your favorite note-taking app to list three things that went well or that you want to remember from the day. That’s it - the whole thing might take you five minutes. Of course, you could use a physical notebook or a voice-recording app if that's more your style.

Let me know how it goes!

I’d love to hear about your experience with these exercises or your own favorite gratitude journal alternatives.

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Treating Shock and Getting Through Hard Times

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Shock keeps us from effective action. It steals our memory and higher brain functioning. It numbs us out when we need to stay awake and aware. It dampens our compassion, empathy, creativity, and wisdom.

Shock is a silent saboteur.

The following is a book I wrote for my clients after my article on taming the fight-or-flight response became one of my most-read posts. I'm making the full text available for free now because this is a hard time for many people (about a month after the 2016 election, if you're reading this in the future).

I hope it helps.

Don't get overwhelmed by the information below. Pick one or two things to try. Write them in a note on your phone. Set them as a text alert. Put a sticky note by your computer. Keep a stone in your pocket that reminds you to reach for those lifelines.

Obligatory Disclaimer:

This information is not intended to diagnose, prevent, or treat any disease. If you suspect you may be suffering from depression, anxiety, or other illness, please seek help from a trained professional.

Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Okay, let's do this.

What is Shock?

Shock is a physiological response that happens when we're temporarily overloaded by a stressful situation. It's also known as the "fight-flight-freeze" response or an "acute stress reaction," and it's a lot more common than you might think.

Recalling a past stressful event, how did you react to it? Did you go into overdrive and try a million things to fix the situation? Or did you retreat and zone out with a substance (like food or alcohol) or a behavior (like napping or Netflix-binging)? Or did you start out in one state (say, putting out fires at work all day) and end up in the other (unwinding with a beer in front of the TV)?

This is such a normal way of existing for many people that it might seem odd to give it a label as serious as "shock." But living your whole life swinging between these two extremes is quite hard on your physical, mental, and emotional health.

The following charts describe the symptoms of the two different kinds of shock so that you can start putting your own experiences in context.

Sympathetic (“Fight or Flight”) Shock

Emotions:

  • Panic/fear/anxiety
  • Rage/anger/irritation

Mental state:

  • Racing thoughts
  • Overpowering thoughts/emotions
  • Feeling the need to control

Physiological response:

  • Elevated breath rate or pulse
  • Cold extremities
  • Constipation
  • Excessive sweating
  • Muscle tension
  • Teeth grinding/clenching
  • Nervous tremors
  • Hypervigilance (easily startled)
  • Insomnia
  • Sensation of pounding in head

Common activities and/or addictions:

  • Frantic/constant movement
  • Talking quickly without stopping
  • Compulsive working, spending or shopping
  • Multi-tasking or constant planning
  • Using substances like tobacco, alcohol, food or 
“downers” like pot to calm down

Parasympathetic (“Freeze”) Shock Symptoms

Emotions:

  • Disappointment, grief, shame, guilt, and despair
  • Depression
  • Helplessness

Mental state:

  • Inability to focus
  • Numbness or feeling “shut down”
  • Boredom

Physiological response:

  • Feeling disconnected from body
  • Nausea or dizziness
  • Indigestion, cramps, or constipation
  • Feeling tired or sleepy often

Common activities and/or addictions:

  • Isolating or withdrawing from others
  • Sleeping a lot
  • “Zoning out” in front of the TV or internet
  • Intake of stimulants like caffeine or nicotine to wake yourself up

Okay, I’m in Shock. Now What?

If you're like me and many of my clients, you might be surprised at how much of your life you've spent in one (or both) of these states. Fortunately, there are many ways to treat your shock in the moment.

Pick one or two of these to try out the next time you're feeling "shocky," and know that it becomes easier with practice. If a technique doesn't work for you, let it go and try something different.

Please note: these techniques should be used in conjunction with more long-term treatment to help you discharge the original trauma (if necessary) and build up your in-the-moment coping mechanisms.

If your shock symptoms are chronic or overwhelming, please seek advice from a physician or mental health practitioner. These techniques have worked for me and my clients, but should not be considered a replacement for medical treatment.

Come Back to Your Body.

A common symptom of shock is a lack of body awareness. By bringing your attention to your sensory experience in the moment, your body will naturally begin to return to a neutral state. Keep reading for some ways to do that.

Breathing.

Bring your attention to your breathing (either the sensation as the air enters your nostrils or the feeling of your abdomen rising and falling) and gradually let the inhale and exhale even out. Don't breathe too deeply - just focus on making it smooth and even, as though you were asleep.

Touch.

You can press your palms together, gently hold on to one finger with the opposite hand, or give yourself a hug. Try tapping or rubbing gently right underneath your nose, at the crown of your head, or on either side of your upper chest. These types of actions let your body know where it is in space and also stimulate various accupressure points. See the end notes for related resources.

Awareness.

Notice the sensation of your feet on the floor or the way you're being supported by your chair or bed. See if you can direct your awareness to your hands and feet - what sensations do you feel there? Can you sense the life inside them? What about the inside of your head? Can you imagine the distance between your temples, as though there was empty space between them? Can you let this awareness expand to fill your whole body?

Temperature.

Hold a hot or cold beverage in your hands and sip it mindfully, feeling it travel from your mouth down your throat. You can also use a hot or cold compress on your forehead, back of the neck, chest, belly, or feet.

Support.

Find a wall and rest your forehead against it. Place your palms on the wall on either side of your head. Press your heels into the ground. Breathe. Feel the support.

Release the extra energy.

Scream into a pillow. Whisper scream. Hit a wall or the floor or the bed with a towel. Let that energy move out of your body.

Trauma Release Exercises.

These exercises help relax the psoas muscles, which tend to seize up or contract when you go into shock. This set of muscles attaches to 22-24 different places in the body through your thighs and vertebrae; in other words, how tense they are really affects the way you move, stand, and walk.

Here's the first one: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Put one foot in front of the other and all your weight on your front foot (your back heel will naturally lift off the ground). Using your back foot to balance as necessary, raise yourself up on the toes of your front foot and then slowly lower yourself down. Do this 5-10 times; you’ll probably feel a slight burning sensation in your calf muscles. Then put your weight on your back foot and lift the front foot, shaking it out – it'll quiver on its own for a bit.

Check out Youtube, the TRE iOS app, or David Bercelli’s book The Revolutionary Trauma Release Process for the rest of the exercises.

Give Your Mind Something to Do.

Whether your mind is racing or spaced out, giving it something to focus on can bring you into the present moment.

  • Repeat some soothing words to yourself: "Be safe, be well, be at peace." Or "You've got this." What would you most want to hear right now?
  • Notice your physical environment. Name objects, colors, shapes.
  • If you believe in a higher power, ask for help in dealing with this moment.
  • Mentally visit a "safe place" (maybe a favorite memory or a place out in nature).
  • Harness the power of acceptance. Can you accept without judgment that this is the way you feel right now?
  • Remind yourself that in this moment, right here and now, you are safe. Focus all your attention on getting through the present moment.
  • Journal. Write down what you're feeling. Start with "I'm feeling..." or "I'm noticing..." or even "I'm noticing that I'm feeling..." and go from there. Get those swirling thoughts out of your head or use this tiny action as a way to jumpstart your momentum.
  • Try out some "Even though" statements. "Even though I'm in shock, I'm going to take care of myself. Even though I'm stunned, frustrated, and discouraged, I'm open to letting these feelings shift when they're ready. Even though I feel helpless, I'm going to be kind to myself and others in this moment."

Look Outside Yourself for Help

If you can't deescalate or shift your energy on your own, there's nothing wrong with getting help.

  • Physical affection - would a hug from a friend or time cuddling with a pet help?
  • Music or comforting words. Listen to a favorite song or read something that feels comforting or inspiring. (Check out the end notes for some suggestions).
  • Listen to a guided meditation or relaxation recording.
  • Trust your own experience: what's worked for you in the past?
  • Get grounded. Go outside and put your bare feet or your palms on the earth. Imagine that the earth can absorb whatever you're feeling. Let the physical sensations bring you back to the present.
  • Don't isolate. Reach out and connect to someone. 7 Cups of Tea is a free online resource for connecting with a sympathetic listener if you don't have a friend handy.
  • Find a way to help someone else. Donate to a cause, show up for a friend. Take pride in your ability to function well in difficult circumstances.

Long-Term Treatment of Shock

Keep in mind, the previous suggestions are band-aids. Once you've regained your equilibrium, put a self-care plan in place.

  • Work with a counselor or coach. No money/insurance? Check out this page for suggestions.
  • Adopt a mindfulness practice, like yoga, t'ai chi, sitting meditation, or spending time in nature.

Final Thoughts.

The Hardest Part is Knowing When You’re in It.

By the time we recognize we’re in shock, we’ve likely already spent much of our lives in that state. So the most challenging part can be identifying when we need to intervene. Congratulate yourself when you notice you’re feeling disconnected and take steps to bring yourself back.

Treat Your Shock Before You Do Anything Else.

Once you’ve recognized you’re in shock, take the time to bring yourself back to balance before going on with your day. Any actions you take or decisions you make will be much more effective when you’re fully present in the moment.

Shock is Contagious.

It’s very easy to pick up on someone else’s shock (and vice versa). Take the initiative and treat your own shock to keep it from being spread or magnified further.

Start Mapping Your Triggers.

Begin to notice what circumstances trigger your shock. A common one is worrying that you’re not going to get what you need (which can manifest as panicking or becoming resigned/defeatist). What else do you notice?

End Notes

Online Resources

Reading for Hard Times

  • Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
  • Care of the Soul by Thomas Moore
  • F*ck Feelings by Michael and Sarah Bennett
  • The Happiness Trap by Russell Harris
  • Anne Lamott's Facebook Page

Soothing Music (YouTube Links)

More Reading about Shock and Treatment

Overcoming Shock by Diane Zimberoff and David Hartman. Much of this information was taken from that book.

What is Shock and How Can I Find Treatment?  by Diane Zimberoff.

We Are All in Shock: How Overwhelming Experiences Shatter You...and What You Can Do About It by Stephanie Mines. Mines explores a variety of Jin Shin Tara (therapeutic touch) techniques for treating shock.

How to do EFT Tapping Basics – The Basic Recipe. EFT is a method of tapping on various acupressure points on the body to release negative emotions.


If you're reading this: I love you. Please take care of yourself. The world needs you.

Have a resource you think I should add?

Leave it in the comments.

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A Better Question Than "Why Can't I Do This?!"

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I don't care who you are, at some point you're going to try something hard and get frustrated when it isn't working the way you want. It's easy to question yourself when that happens, which means all forward progress grinds to a halt. "Why can't I do this?!" tends to be one of my first questions. It's actually not a great one because all my answers tend to be judgmental and mean. (Because you're lazy! Because you're dumb! Because you're just not cut out for this! Etc.)

Sure, it's possible to answer the question with kindness (e.g., "Because you don't know enough yet, sweetie!"), but if I'm already frustrated, self-compassion isn't my default response.

It's time to start asking better questions. In fact, here are 15 to try instead.

  1. If my fairy godmother were going to take over for me, where would I tell her to start?
  2. How can I break this down into smaller chunks? What's the first chunk? Can I make it even smaller?
  3. How can I set myself up for success? What resources do I need to succeed?
  4. What's the story I'm telling myself, and is it true?
  5. Who can I ask for help?
  6. What are all the reasons I don't want to do this?
  7. What am I afraid will happen if I mess this up?
  8. If I were a scientist gathering data on all the ways to do this, what would I try next?
  9. What are my assumptions? Is it possible that some of them are wrong?
  10. Is it possible to re-frame this as a mystery, puzzle, game, or quest?
  11. What would I have to think and feel to be able to move forward?
  12. What is my end goal, and are there any other ways I can accomplish it?
  13. Where am I succumbing to black-and-white thinking? What's behind Door #3?
  14. When have I done something similar in the past and what lessons can I take from that experience?
  15. Why can I do this?

Our brains love questions, but we have to ask the right ones.

When you ask yourself a question that piques your curiosity, you are more motivated to find the answer. Asking yourself why you can't do something is often a shorthand for "What's wrong with me?" which is mostly rhetorical and not fun to answer.

The questions above are phrased to help you move from self-recrimination into problem-solving mode. It's impossible to be both judgmental and curious, because the curious mind sees all data as useful. Add in some self-reflection and perspective, and you're well on your way to giving your mental wheels the traction you need to move forward.

What question would you add to the list?

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Using Self-Kindness to Help You Get a Job

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A couple of weeks ago, I suggested to a job-hunting client that she spend a few minutes every day sending herself some self-kindness. She looked at me a bit skeptically. "How will this help me get a job?" she asked. Good question.

When you're focused on improving your career situation, taking time to be gentle and understanding towards yourself probably isn't a top priority. However, the truth is that self-kindness has a positive impact on every stage of the career transition process.

Read on to see how it can improve your confidence, motivation, creativity, and even your resume-writing skills. Then you'll learn a four-step process for building your own self-kindness habit.

4 Ways Self-Kindness Improves Your Job Search

1. It builds confidence.

Do your inner voices tend to be cheerleaders or inner critics?

If you're a recovering perfectionist, your inner peanut gallery is probably happy to point out the ways that you're falling short, missing opportunities, not fulfilling your potential, or just plain screwing up.

This relentless inner monologue can really affect your attitude towards your job search. If you're not convinced of your own worth, why should you try to share it with others? If you don't think you can do the job, why should your prospective employers?

When you consciously cultivate a habit of self-kindness, you're providing a needed counterpoint to those voices. You're taking a stand and saying, "I'm a person who has a lot to contribute. I know I can do this."

Which attitude do you think makes it easier to land a new job?

2. It improves motivation.

Inner critics often masquerade as motivational speakers, which is why so many people are reluctant to shut them down. "If I stop being hard on myself, I'll never get anything done!"

This is a lie. Don't listen to it.

Constantly trying to prove to your peanut gallery (or your prospective boss, in-laws, ex, parents, etc) that you're good enough is exhausting.

What's more, your inner critic makes it so you can't win, no matter how hard you try. 

  • You work on the thing and it succeeds. Your peanut gallery: "You probably got lucky."
  • You work on the thing and it fails. Your peanut galley: "You suck and can't do anything right."
  • You ignore the thing and numb out with your substance or behavior of choice. Your peanut gallery: "You're so lazy! You must not want this that much."

See how you never get to feel good about yourself?

Mindful self-kindness turns this scenario upside-down. Rather than saying, "I'll do the thing, and then I'll feel good about myself," it posits that if I feel good about myself first, doing the thing will become easier.

It can feel scary to abandon your carrot-and-stick philosophy, especially if you think it's what's gotten you this far to begin with. Don't take my word for it - try it with something small and see what happens.

3. Self-kindness increases creativity and problem-solving skills.

If your peanut gallery has a habit of shutting down every idea before you have a chance to explore it, you're missing out on your natural creative abilities.

Letting yourself dream big, crazy, and impractical before you pull yourself back to earth is a vital part of the process. That's why writers have rough drafts - if we needed every word to be perfect from the start, most of us would never get anything down. Give yourself some creative breathing room!

4. Self-kindness improves your interviewing skills and application materials.

The human brain is capable of processing millions of bits of information a second, most of which happens subconsciously. When you talk to someone, you aren't just listening to what they're saying - you're tracking their body language, tone of voice, facial expressions, and many other small cues. And they're doing the same to you.

This means that no matter what face you deliberately put forward while in an interview or writing your resume, the person on the other side of the desk is picking up a lot more than you might intend.

If your habitual messages to yourself are critical and harsh, you will speak and write about yourself differently than if you feel secure in your innate value.

To change the message you send to other people, you have to change your own internal programming first.

So how do I start practicing this self-kindness thing?

The first thing to keep in mind is that if your peanut gallery is loud and active, you won't be able to turn them into a cheerleading squad overnight. But over time, you can train your brain to travel down new (and kinder) neural pathways.

Pretend for a minute that your brain is a moving car driving down You Suck Boulevard.  Even if you wanted to back out and drive down I Believe in You Avenue instead, you can't instantly throw it into reverse - the car (and your patterns) have a certain amount of momentum. You have to hit the brakes and let your car (/brain) come to a stop, then shift it into reverse. So the first step is...

1. Slow down.

Become aware of whatever monologue is playing inside your head. Is it critical or supportive? Is it useful? You can't make any changes unless you know what's going on. Just becoming aware that this ongoing stream of thoughts is happening without your consent or control can be a big mindset shift.

2. Stop.

The best and quickest way to stop the internal chatter (even if it's only briefly) is to pull your attention into the present moment. Fully focus on the sensation of your breath entering and exiting your nostrils. Notice the colors and shapes around you. Put your hand on your heart. Act as though this is a holy moment created just for you. Experiment and see what works for you. You don't have to fix or change anything at first - just practice noticing the chatter and then bringing yourself to a place of neutral quiet.

3. Reverse.

Picture the small, scared part of you as something tiny and defenseless: maybe an animal or a child. Imagine that you can pick it up and cradle it against your heart - or just sit near it, if it doesn't want to be held. Tell it, "May you be well. May you be safe. May you be happy." Continue to send it loving messages until you sense or feel it relax. Notice how that feels in your own body. (Buddhist followers may notice the similarities to lovingkindness meditation.)

Once this part of you is completely soothed, you may feel inspired or motivated to take a particular action - or you may notice that your resistance to something you've been trying to get done has dissolved. In any case, you've just positioned yourself to act from a place of peace instead of panic.

4. Practice. Often.

You are literally changing your brain here, and that doesn't happen overnight. To your brain, the old self-critical pathways look like a six-lane highway and these new, kinder behaviors are the equivalent of hacking through the jungle with a machete. You have to keep walking that trail to keep the jungle from growing back over. Over time, you'll notice that it becomes easier to return to peace and equilibrium.

If you're looking for a next step to take, why not spend a few minutes getting clarity on your dream career direction? You might be surprised what insights come to light when you give your inner critic some time off. :-)

Image credit: Yair Haklai (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

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What is your fear telling you?

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Fear gripped my heart as I sat in the passenger seat of my husband's car. It was a beautiful fall day, but it went unappreciated as I stared at my nemesis: a perfectly innocent-looking gearshift.

I’d offered to drive part of the way back from a family reunion, but I couldn’t remember a thing about driving a stick shift. Even though I’d watched my husband do it a million times, my mind was completely blank. Instead of driving out of the busy gas station, I opted to have a low-grade panic attack.

As we got back on the freeway (my husband at the wheel) and I let the shame and adrenaline wash through me, I took stock.

Did I really want to learn how to drive a stick? Frankly, no. I knew that if I left it alone, my husband probably wouldn’t bring it up again.

But when it came down to it, we were most of the way through a road-trip that he’d done all the driving on. I found that I wanted to help more than I wanted a pass.

Sometimes your fear is saying "Be careful" and sometimes it's "Better not."

I’m not really a fan of “feel the fear and do it anyway” or “just push through it” philosophies. I think we feel things for a reason and it’s important to slow down and find out what they’re trying to tell us instead of just bulldozing through.

At the same time, basically nothing good about my life would exist if I hadn’t done something terrifying at some point. In fact, I wouldn’t be able to drive at all if I’d let my fear make all my choices for me.

In the car with my husband, I felt no relief at being given an out. Instead, I felt intense shame and disappointment.

As my emotions moved through me, they gradually shifted into determination. I was going to do this, somehow. I started looking for a solution that was slightly less traumatizing than a busy parking lot.

When we got to a rest stop, I said, “Here. Pull over here.” He drove through the rest stop and parked facing the on-ramp.

We switched places again. I went through the steps in my head: ignition, emergency brake, brake, clutch in, gas, shift, clutch out.

And then... I just did it. It was jerky and I had trouble getting into fifth, but we were on the highway and moving homewards.

I was shaking a little bit, but I felt so, so proud.

What is your fear saying?

“Be Careful” fear is about risk management. Sure, some of its worries are pretty out-there, but on the whole it exists to make sure that my chances of succeeding at the thing are as good as possible. It varies in strength depending on the favorability of the surrounding circumstances (e.g. a deserted rest stop versus a busy parking lot).

“Better Not” fear tells me to give this one a pass. This tells me that I don’t really want to do it, it doesn’t provide a future benefit, and it might have negative consequences.

When I contemplate trying something new that scares me, I ask myself these three questions:

  • If I went through the rest of my life without doing this, would I feel disappointed or relieved?
  • If I attempted this and succeeded, would I feel proud or just glad it's over?
  • If someone in authority told me not to do this, would I feel rebellious or grateful?

If it's the first, I should try to push through the fear and give the thing a try. If it's the second, it's fine to give it a pass.

I realize that people vary, but I’ve tested this against some of my own past scary experiences and I have to say it checks out pretty well.

Learning to ride a bike, introducing myself to a group of new people, or quitting a job and starting my own business? Be careful.

Cutting through a park alone at night or cliff-jumping with my friends? Better not (although I've done both).

My clients and I face our anxieties every day, but it gets a lot easier when we know when to proceed with caution and when to shut things down.

When we practice healthy discernment, we can honor our fear’s valuable messages without living the rest of our lives in a (literal or figurative) concrete bunker.

What about you? What ventures are you contemplating, and what is your fear saying about them?

If one of the scary things you're contemplating is a career transition, you might be interested in getting some individual support. I'll help you figure out what you want from a job and what you need to get there.

Image credit: freeimages.com/Anna Hunter

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Dare to connect imperfectly.

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This is something I wouldn't want you to know about me. When I heard that a former professor and friendly acquaintance had succumbed to a brutally fast-moving cancer over the weekend, I'm ashamed to tell you what my first thought was. It wasn't about her family or the partner she left behind. It wasn't even sadness at her passing.

My first thought was all about me and how I'd failed.

Ever since I'd heard about her diagnosis a few weeks prior, I'd been meaning to teach out and offer her some love and support. Overwhelmed and struck dumb by her situation, I could never find the words.

While I saw her other friends publishing #fuckcancer posts, I remained quiet. I wanted her to know how much she impacted my life and how grateful I was that our paths had intersected, and I kept telling myself I would send her a note as soon I knew what to say. I'm ashamed to say that I didn't want to sound like an idiot or (worse) like everyone else.

So I kept putting it off, waiting for the muse to visit, and now she's gone and it's too late.

Immediately after I heard the news, two things became clear to me.

  • There are no "right words" or perfect phrasing for this kind of situation. She was dying. She wouldn't have cared about originality or elegance. How many unique ways do we need to say You are loved?
  • You can't count on having another chance. She was given a three month prognosis just a few weeks ago. I kept telling myself that I had time to get it right. I was wrong.

I know that I'm not alone in standing on the sidelines of life, waiting for the opportune moment to jump in (or worse, to be invited). I know I'm not the only one who would sometimes rather be quiet than risk awkwardness or judgment.

But it's not about me. While I was agonizing over what to say, she was just in agony. Do I really think that she would have cared about anything beyond my presence?

It's too late for me to tell Sandra how much she meant to me, but I can still reach out to her family. I can contact the other people in my life who are fighting their own battles and let them know that I stand with them. I can show up, however imperfectly.

I believe that wherever she is now, she knows what's in my heart. Now it's time for me to check my ego and try my damnedest to make sure that those who are still in the world with me know as well.

Image credit: freeimages.com/Julia Freeman-Woolpert

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Your Online Dating Experience Makes You a Job Hunting Expert.

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You probably have one or two awkward date stories.

Here's one of mine - and how I used it to figure out what I really wanted.

I was sitting on the patio of one of my favorite brewpubs, wondering how long it could possibly take before our server brought the check. It was a beautiful fall day, but the atmosphere between my date and me was bordering on frosty. I thought about taking one more stab at conversation, but I didn't feel like having my opinions mocked yet again.

It turned out shortly after we'd sat down that Dude was a recreational arguer. Not only did he have an opinion about everything, he also had a list of reasons as to why all of mine were wrong. I swear, I think we got into an argument about whether smooth or crunchy peanut butter was better.

The low point had come when I thought we'd finally found a common point of interest and I recommended a great running shoe store I'd been to. When he found out where it was, he went on a multi-minute tirade about how awful that area was and maintained he never crossed the state line unless he absolutely had to. "There is absolutely nothing good about Kansas," he finished smugly.

"Well, I lived there for fifteen years, and I think I turned out okay, so."

And now we were waiting for the check.

Before, this would have discouraged me. (Okay, it still did.) But I had a reason to believe the afternoon wasn't a total waste. I was going to use this experience to help me get clearer on what I wanted.

Turning shit into fertilizer

When I got home, I pulled out my journal. I opened it to a list titled "What I Want in a Partner." At the bottom of the list, I wrote, "Listens to and respects my opinions. Desires connection."

(I could have put down, "Doesn't think opinions are a substitute for personality," but I was trying to keep it positive.)

Each date I went on during that year gave me similarly valuable information. At the beginning of my re-immersion in the dating pool, I really didn't know what I wanted. "Smart, kind, and funny, with some similar interests" was as far as I'd gotten when I first filled out my online profile. Months later, despite not really clicking with anyone, I had a much better picture of what I needed from a relationship.

What does this have to do with finding your dream job?

We've all spent time in jobs we dislike. I'm betting you've spent a decent amount of time daydreaming about something better - but what does "better" look like?

When I was feeling restless and dissatisfied with my job, one of my main anxiety loops was that I didn't know what to do instead. I had literally no idea. I had a lot of interests and a history of not sticking with any of them long-term, so I was nervous about committing to any one thing. All I knew was that I wanted something different.

Then I remembered the list from my online dating days (now, thankfully, behind me). What would it be like, I wondered, to take the same approach with my job?

Instead of trying to guess how this mystery dream job might look, I started with the things I liked and disliked about my current one. I looked at things like environment, commute, coworkers, work pace and type, and the skills I utilized. Slowly, a picture came into focus.

This was what I wrote.

I will use my whole self - every bit of my intelligence, compassion, resourcefulness, independence, and creativity - to both nourish myself and increase my right people’s well-being and happiness. Through my work, I will inspire others to do their best work, to rekindle their imaginations and engage with the world in a new way.

I will feel successful when:

  • I am working in a beautiful, supportive environment with/for intelligent, compassionate, engaged people.
  • I can see the positive difference that my work is making.
  • I have a schedule that works with my natural rhythms, instead of in spite of or against them.
  • I feel the satisfaction of overcoming challenges in a role that grows and changes with me.
  • I have the financial stability to meet my obligations, as well as fund some meaningful luxuries and adventures.
  • I can start and end the day by spending time with my husband.

It was still incredibly vague in some aspects, but it was a start.

The power of knowing what you want

As it happened, I didn't meet my husband during my months of online dating. He was someone I'd known for a decade - we'd even gone to the same high school. He wasn't anyone I'd thought about romantically before, but I impulsively asked him out on a date a few months after he'd broken up with his long-term girlfriend. It became very clear, very quickly that we were extremely compatible and we got engaged a scant five months later.

To be honest, I'd forgotten completely about my "what I want in a partner" list by then. It wasn't until we were getting ready to move in together that I found it while packing up my apartment. Frankly, it was eerie how perfectly it described him. I said a little prayer of thanks to the universe as I packed the journal away.

After my coaching practice had been active for about a year, I found the above list of desired job attributes. I read through them slowly, feeling a growing sense of gratitude and astonishment. I'd written it three years previously, hoping desperately that I wasn't asking for something impossible. As it turns out, I wasn't. Every single word of that document has come true.

Knowing what you want - being clear - has power. Otherwise, how will you know it when you find it?

Sometimes to find out what you want, you need to look at where you are now. What would you change? What are you tolerating? What feels like a struggle? What fills you with irritation, resignation, or despair?

I believe these feelings are here to do more than make you feel crappy; they are guiding you towards happiness, if you let them. It might not happen overnight - it took me three years to find that perfect job situation! - but how much easier is it to accept them and be curious about their messages if you believe they have something valuable to tell you?

Want to take this further?

This is hard work to do alone, which is why I created the coaching program Finding Your Fit.  In this three-month program, you'll get one-on-one support as you get in touch with your deeper purpose, discover your own version of success and learn the tools to get you there. Check it out here.

Image credit: Asaf R on Unsplash

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When all else fails, lie on the floor.

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Sometimes, when I'm trying to write, things just stop working.

My brain-harpies screech and scratch the inside of my head, picking apart each halting attempt. Every word feels fraudulent, forced, banal.

I think: this is it. There's nothing left to say.

I think: if only I were more articulate, or relevant, or authentic, or whatever the criteria for worthiness is these days.

I feel like crying, but the tears are stuck somewhere deep inside. I'd scream, but this is a residential neighborhood, and besides, my husband is sleeping.

Some mornings are made for going back to bed.

After a fitful night, we make a quiet breakfast and I drive my husband to work. I come home and go back to bed, huddling under an electric blanket and a cat. I put some music on and drown myself in slumber and uneasy dreams.

I half-wake a few times, think about clawing my way back to full consciousness, and slip back into twilight before the thought is finished. Too much work.

Finally, I lurch out of bed and blearily nuke last night's frittata. I stumble into the shower. I take myself on a walk around the block, trying to fumble my way back to normalcy.

I reach out, even though I really don't feel like it.

I call my friend Alice, who's also a coach, and the words spill out. I tell her my fears and my insecurities. I tell her that I wish I was better, even though I don't know what better means right now.

She listens and makes sympathetic noises in all the right places, until I say, "I just think, if only I'd been working harder all along..." and she cuts me off. "No. You're not going to go there. You're not going to do that. It's in the past and you can't change it."

"I feel like I'm spinning," I say, and she tells me, gently, to lie on the floor. Hundreds of miles away, she's doing the same thing. We breathe into our backs and shoulders and feet, all the places our bodies are touching the ground.

I sink further and further into my body, only now realizing how far away I'd been. I listen to her voice in my ear and imagine my body becoming heavier and heavier. The thoughts are quieting, settling like the glitter at the bottom of a snow globe. Alice tells me that the whole world is resting under my heart. The whole world is resting under my heart.

My thoughts settle and the truth emerges.

As I listen to Alice, I realize how much I was pushing. I wanted so much for you, dearest reader, to like me.

I wanted you to feel understood and encouraged, and in trying to guess what you needed to hear, I left myself behind.

Now, I am slowly returning, feeling my heartbeat thrum in my legs and head and chest and hands. I experience the floor holding me and relax into the feeling of being supported.

My heart opens.

When I'm in this quiet place, you no longer appear threatening or confusing or capricious. I'm not worried about meeting your expectations.

Instead, I feel my heart expand with affection for you, flawed and vulnerable like me. I wish you peace and spaciousness and enough room for all your complicated, beautiful, messy feelings.

I find myself wanting to connect, not because one of us needs the other, but because (as Ram Dass says) we're all walking each other home and I appreciate your company.

And so.

I don't know how you found your way to this little corner of the internet or what you're hoping to find here. Today, this is what I have to offer:

The moment of infinite stillness between inhale and exhale.

The knowledge that here, in this moment, all needs are being met.

The reminder that the floor is always a constant and willing source of support.

The certainty - however briefly it lasts - that you and I are enough, just as we are.


I wish you all the enoughness and comfort today! If this is your first time here, I'd like to direct your attention to my career transition program, Finding Your Fit, for those who are longing to find their right place in the world. Love to you for reading!

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4 Fear-Busters for Tough Times

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The primary emotion I felt when I thought about quitting my job was fear.

I was afraid that...

  • I would never find out what I was "meant" to be doing.
  • I would pick the wrong thing, invest a lot of time/energy/money in it, and then get bored and feel trapped.
  • I would disappoint the people in my life.
  • I was wasting precious time because I couldn't make a decision.
  • I wouldn't be able to find something that was satisfying and financially sustainable.
  • If I did quit and take some time off, I'd run out of money before I figured things out.
  • At heart, I was a flaky, lazy and irresponsible person.
  • My skills were so specialized, I'd never be able to do anything else.
  • I'd never have a better situation than the job I had right now.

It felt like things were falling apart and I didn't know what to do.

I was in the middle of what Martha Beck calls a "Square One Meltdown." My sense of identity and my plans for the future were dissolving before my eyes, and I didn't know how to react other than with panic. At the time, I didn't have the context for what was happening to me, so it felt even scarier.

Now, three years later, I still get scared. Unfortunately, doing what you love does not inoculate you against fear. Coaching fills me with clarity and purpose, but there are plenty of days that I want to spend hiding under the covers.

The big difference is that I spend less time believing my fears, and I've learned to recognize the signs so I'm better at stopping a panic spiral before it gets out of control.

Here are the four things I do to bring myself back.

1. Get out of fight-flight-freeze mode.

When the nervous system gets overloaded by emotion, we disconnect from our bodies. For me, that looks like running around trying to get everything done, sitting frozen with thoughts racing through my head, or tuning out with a numbing distraction. My first step is always to realize that I've dissociated from my body and do what I can to get grounded.

I teach lots of ways to do this in Finding Your Fit, but here's one place to start:

  • Put one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest.
  • Inhale and focus on pushing out the hand on your belly.
  • Hold your breath for a few seconds.
  • Slowly release your breath, making the exhale longer than the inhale.
  • Try a count of in 4, hold 4, out 8.
  • Repeat at least four times.

What do you notice when you try this? I often feel like the air I inhale is attaching to all the tension in my body. When I exhale, I feel a softening, melting sensation in my neck and shoulders. The inside of my head gets quieter. I feel heavier and more grounded.

For more things to try, check out my article on getting out of fight or flight mode. It's important to get in touch with your body before you move on, because otherwise it's hard to slow down and focus enough to do the next steps.

2. Narrow your focus.

If you look at my list of fears up above, you'll notice that they are mostly abstract and based in the future. None of them are concerned with my immediate safety or survival. As my teachers like to say, "What part of this problem is in the room with you?"

Once you've returned to your body, take a moment to notice your actual real, present situation. Are you in danger? Are you being provided for at this moment? What needs to be dealt with immediately?

This isn't meant to be a "why aren't you happy with what you have?" type of questioning. It's a process of finding out how much of what's scaring you is in your head. When you take the time to notice that you are safe and secure, you can approach the next step with clear eyes.

3. Question your fears.

During my transition/soul-searching period, I was really good at journaling about my thoughts. Write down all your fears and insecurities? No sweat, I've got this covered.

While keeping track of these thoughts was a valuable first step, I just didn't go far enough. Once I wrote them all down, I accepted them as true. Instead of seeing my fears as a collection of words that were holding me hostage, I let them terrorize me into paralysis and called it "self-awareness."

Now, one of the biggest things I do with myself and my clients is identify and question the thoughts that cause us stress. We look for exceptions, assumptions, judgments, and projections. We see where we're voluntarily keeping ourselves small because being big is so much scarier. We let those fears be our teachers and direct us to those parts that need love and healing.

If you want some help getting started with this, check out the Work of Byron Katie. It's what I use with my clients and a powerful tool for seeing through your stressful thoughts.

4. Get help.

This isn't step 4 just because I'm launching a program - for me, it was the missing link between absorbing information and actually feeling some relief. I read a million self-help books on my journey, but nothing really sunk in until I sat down with someone whose job was to keep me focused, help me make connections, and point out my assumptions and blind spots. This process can be as uncomfortable as it is healing, and having someone go in there with you makes all the difference.

I hope that if you're freaking out right now, this has helped you calm down a little bit. And if you're ready to make a change and interested in finding some support of your own, check out how to work with me and see what kinds of things you're capable of when you approach your future from a place of clarity and confidence.

Image credit: freeimages.com/Ryan Dunaiski

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Don't wait to do what you love.

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When you're in a frustrating job situation, your whole life can feel like delayed gratification.

"Once I'm in a better place, then I can start enjoying myself."

"I'll be happy when I have a job I like."

Our culture doesn't help much; it demands a Serious Attitude when facing a Serious Problem (like what you're going to do with the rest of your life). The reasoning goes that if you're not worried about it, either you don't care that much or it's not really a problem.

I'd like to offer a counter-argument: enjoying yourself as much as possible has some very real benefits when it comes to figuring out your next steps. Let us discuss.

1. A positive mood improves your problem-solving skills.

In 2011, Scientific American reported that people who watched a comedy special were quicker at solving a word problem than those who watched an educational talk or a horror film. As it turns out, people in a positive mood have more activity in the area of the brain that is linked with sudden insight - those "aha" moments we've all experienced.

Approximately zero percent of my life-changing insights occurred during a freaked-out moment about my future. Even "useful" and "responsible" things like pro-and-con lists didn't play as big a role as you'd think in getting me or my clients where we are today.

Instead, these "aha" moments tend to happen (for me) during walks, naps, or conversations with friends. In fact, conversation in general played a big role in helping me get clarity, which is why I started my career-transition program, Finding Your Fit.

2. The things you enjoy are clues to your future happiness.

One of the reasons I never sought out a career coach when I was actively unhappy with my job is that I thought they would ask me about my interests and then offer related careers. "Oh, you like drawing? You should be an artist!" "You enjoyed planning your wedding? Obviously you should be an event planner!" (Turns out, this is actually not how coaching works.)

This line of inquiry might work for some people, but most of us need to dig a little deeper.

Here's an example: I love going for walks. That doesn't mean I'm destined to be a trail guide, but I can use the experience to gather clues.

Here are some things I get from the experience of walking:

  • freedom (the time, space and ability to do it)
  • beauty (looking at nature, peoples' houses and gardens)
  • moving my body
  • a mixture of solitude and companionship (I like going alone and with friends)
  • time to think
  • time to be without thinking
  • variety (I like to switch up my route)
  • autonomy (I get to pick the route and pace)
  • being outside in the fresh air and sunshine
  • feelings of curiosity, peace, appreciation

You can see how these desired experiences could translate to other areas of my life, like my career. I don't need all of them to be part of my job description, but my ideal situation gives me the time and space to make room for them in my life. Plus, when I focus more on the experience than the specifics, I don't get fixated on the outcome looking a certain way.

Your Turn!

Step 1: Make a list of at least 10 things you like to do.

If you need a place to begin, start by making a list of things you enjoy doing. What makes you laugh? What makes you feel free, peaceful, energized, engaged, or cared for? What feels satisfying?

For the moment, leave off the things that maybe you don't love but know are good for you (like exercising). You may feel better afterwards, but are you excited about doing it right now?

If there are some things you like doing, but know they can turn into self-destructive or numbing behavior if left unchecked, put them down anyway. For example, one of my clients loves reading fiction, but she knows that it's an easy escape from the rest of her life. There are still valuable clues to gather!

Once you have your list, see if there are any common themes. What do you like about each activity? Do you do them alone or with others? How long do they take? How much money do they cost? Are they location- or situation-dependent? What is the ideal time of day to do them? In a perfect world, how often would you do them?

Looking at them from a less literal place: what qualities are present in these activities? How do you feel when you do them? What other situations, people, or activities bring up those feelings? What experience are you looking for when you do them?

If you get stuck, a friend or coach comes in handy here to help you see things from an outside perspective and ask questions you may not have considered.

Step 2: Do these things often.

As I mentioned earlier, wisdom and insight bubbles up more easily from happy minds than angst-filled ones. I'm not trying to downplay the struggles you may be facing. I know it sucks. But when you take the time to do what you love, you bring that energy to other areas of your life.

Be curious about any resistance that shows up when you commit to enjoying yourself. I spent a lot of time during my own transition believing that dissatisfaction and unhappiness were my best motivators. While those feelings had some valuable information for me, I believe that you don't need to be miserable to deserve a change. The scared or judgmental thoughts that show up when you move towards joy can be amazing teachers - but only if you listen to what they have to say without buying into their messages.

If you're intrigued but have trouble seeing how having fun and lightness can improve your job situation, check out how to work with me - I'd love to help you tease out the insights hiding in your life. You already have everything you need to be successful - sometimes you just need a little help seeing it.

Image credit: freeimages.com/Julia Freeman-Woolpert

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Stop Faking It if You've Already Made It.

A Dream Deferred

When I first became a coach, I really wanted to work with people in search of satisfying and fulfilling careers. However, my own path was so convoluted that I doubted my ability to guide others through their own transitions. 

Obviously, I knew something about making decisions and trusting my heart, but I was so fixated on the specifics that I missed the larger lessons I was learning at the time. Instead, I decided to focus on the "easier" (to me) issues of perfectionism and procrastination.

It wasn't until I'd been doing this for awhile and decided to check in with some of my more successful clients that I discovered something surprising.

That thing I thought I couldn't do? I'd been doing it all along.

At the time of our coaching, these clients tended to be un-, under-, or unhappily employed. After working with me for a few months, they found better situations and ended up feeling optimistic about the future. It wasn't until I talked to several of them in a row that I began to see the pattern.

That's right - despite claiming all along that I wasn't a career coach and knew nothing about helping people achieve the same results that I had, each one of these women had crafted a path to greater happiness while working with me.

Underselling yourself isn't modesty - it's blindness.

"Fake it 'til you make it" isn't terrible advice, especially when it comes to matters of self-confidence. However, it can backfire when you've been slowly "making" it all this time but forgot to stop "faking" it - i.e., you've been improving, but your confidence hasn't.

This is when things like "imposter syndrome" (when you're perfectly qualified but feel like a fraud) come into play. You over-prepare for things, worry over every little detail, obsess over your perceived shortcomings, and dismiss your successes as flukes. You live in dread of being "found out" as less skilled than everyone thinks you are.

Once I was able to let go of my assumptions about what "career coaching" really entailed, I was able to see how my strengths had contributed to my clients' progress. As it turned out, I didn't have to know where they were going; all I had to do was help them get clear enough to figure it out on their own.

This was a huge epiphany for me.

I no longer had to fake confidence that I didn't really feel.

As much as I'd wanted to work with people in career transition, my lack of faith in my own abilities stopped me from specifically trying to reach out to them.

But when I took the time to look back and examine some of my past successes, I didn't have to have faith that I could do it, because I'd already done it. I didn't have to hold on to some nebulous "belief in myself" because the facts told me I was already successful.

Turns out, I wasn't the only one doing this.

My clients were doing the exact same thing. They already possessed all the makings of their success, but just couldn't see them. I know that sounds cheesy, but it's true. They just needed to get to a place where they could stop discounting their gifts and their intuition so that they could see that they already had everything they needed.

When you're living inside your own head, it can be almost impossible to get perspective on your strengths and abilities. It's easy to discount them because they're easy for you.

I get it: I spent years feeling that achievement wasn't valuable unless I worked extremely hard for it. Now, I'm learning to lean into my strengths and play up to them and not take them for granted.

Here's a quick and easy way to do this in your own life.

Whether or not you're interested in changing careers, I can't imagine that it's a bad thing to get new perspective on what makes you awesome.

Here's the exercise:

Take a typical day in your life and write down all the things you do, beginning with getting up in the morning and making breakfast.

Move through the rest of your day, noting down the tasks and projects you're in charge of, the things you get done, and the people you interact with.

For each of those things, ask yourself, "What did it take for me to be able to do that?"

Even something as simple as getting up in the morning can take strength of will or self-discipline. Maybe you're drawing on your innate qualities of dedication, conscientiousness, or scrupulousness.

What skills did you have to utilize to get through your day? What strengths, abilities or qualities did you need?

You don't have to get pedantic about it or take it to a level of tedium - all we're doing is bringing a new level of self-awareness to the ways you're already rocking your life without realizing it.

I think it's important to note the difference between skills and preferred skills.

Just because you're really awesome at putting together spreadsheets or meal plans doesn't mean you like them.

It's good to notice all the skills you have to draw on, but it's also worth paying attention to how much of your day you spend doing things you're good at versus things you're good at and enjoy.

I hope you found this exercise illuminating! I'd love to hear what it brought up for you. If you're wishing for a job that that uses more of your skills, check out my career transition programs to learn how coaching can help you make the jump.

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When not knowing what to do makes you crazy.

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There’s a specific mental loop that I get stuck in at times and it goes like this:

I don’t know what to do → I should know what to do → I need to do something now → but I don’t know what it is!

Sound familiar?

I ran around this loop constantly when I was trying to figure out what the hell I was going to do with my life, and then again after I'd started my business and was blanking on my next steps.

If I’m not careful, I find myself going in circles, getting wound up tighter and tighter, until I get to the point where even if there is a good decision to be made, there’s no way I’m going to know what it is.

Today I want to break down this loop into its components and explore some of its implicit assumptions, which will hopefully make it a little easier to deal with (and eventually get out of!).

There are three parts: the initial thought, the judging thought, and the urgent thought. 

Part 1: I don't know what to do.

This thought is actually pretty neutral when taken by itself. It's a statement of fact. I'm pretty sure there are times when you didn't know what to do and it was no big deal.

Therefore, it's not the thought itself that makes us anxious, it's the judgments and assumptions we have about the thought. This leads us to the next part.

Part 2: I should know what to do.

This is what takes the first part and turns it into something to get stressed about.

These anxious feelings tell me that it's a really good thought to question, like so:

  • Is it true? Should I know what to do?
  • Who says? 
  • How is this thought trying to serve me? (And isn't that an interesting question!)

The reason I'm having the thought in the first place is that it’s trying to protect me, albeit in its own not-very-enlightened way.

Its purpose is to motivate me to look for new solutions and to supposedly keep me from giving up. If I don't know what to do, the reasoning goes, I need to keep working until I do.

Unfortunately, it doesn't really work that way. I usually end up just getting paralyzed and feeling ashamed, frustrated, and anxious.

Part 3: I need to do something right now.

What we want to question here is that sense of urgency. It feels like the clock is ticking, like you're wasting time. If you're a millennial like me, maybe you grew up hearing about your potential and then at some point became terrified of wasting it.

There's an implication that there's a right way to be spending your time and if you're spending it in the wrong way, you're letting it slip away. Time is a precious thing in this loop and it feels very scarce.

Again, the “helpful” reason that thought is there is to keep me moving forward and keep me from giving up or settling.

Instead, I go straight into sympathetic shock, which is a fancy way of talking about the fight-or-flight response. I start running around, doing lots of different things but not really making much progress on any of them. Nothing really gets done, and if it does, I'm more apt to make mistakes and things tend to take longer.

What you want to do when you're stuck in this part of the loop is to ask questions like these:

  • How urgent is this, really? 
  • Will someone die if I don’t act immediately?
  • Do I have to figure out the whole thing now, or just the next little piece of it?

Getting Out of the Loop

So, to recap, what we've done so far is 1) notice we're in the loop and 2) start questioning the judgments and assumptions. Now, we're going to do something about it.

1. Come up with some alternative thoughts.

What "better-feeling" thoughts can you offer your anxious, worried, harried brain?

  • I don’t know what to do yet, but I'll figure it out.
  • I have plenty of time.
  • All I have to figure out is the next step.
  • I’d like to figure this out soon, but it’s not imperative that it happens right now.
  • I don’t know what to do this minute, and that’s okay.
  • I have lots of different options, even if I can’t see them right now.
  • Relaxing helps me to see my options.
  • I’m exploring my options.
  • I’m learning about my options.

2. Give yourself a 10-minute "worry break" and reconnect with your body.

When you're in that fight-or-flight feeling, you're completely dissociated from your body and your pre-frontal cortex (the part that makes decisions and regulates emotions) goes completely offline.

Meditate, do some stretches, or take a walk. Even just feeling your feet on the ground, paying attention to your breathing, and putting your hand on your heart or your abdomen can help.

I've written a whole blog post about some other things you can try. Just give yourself a brief vacation from having to deal with your stressful situation.

3. Next, feel into your body and let this question bubble up into your brain:

"What needs to happen next?"

Like literally, the very next thing you're going to do. It might be to go get a glass of water or answer an e-mail.

But whatever it is, let it come into your consciousness without forcing. Just take that one next step, and then see what happens. Do you go back into your anxious loop, or does something else come up?

When you come from that quiet, calm place and ask what needs to happen next, you might be surprised at the answer.

If it's too anxiety-provoking to trust yourself that way, treat it like an experiment. See if you can do that for an hour. Just see what happens when you let yourself trust the part of you that knows how to answer that question.

I know this isn't easy.

The fact that you're here and reading this means that you're interested in changing your patterns. It happens a little bit at a time, so don't get discouraged if this doesn't come naturally at first.

I can tell you that if you stick with it, it becomes easier and easier to gently detach yourself from the doom spiral and trust that the answers will come.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this post, you can subscribe to my newsletter and get notified about new articles. If you need a next thing to do, you'll also get my free workbook Anatomy of a Dream Job: Bring Clarity and Focus to Your Career Search.

Image credit: freeimages.com/William Ray

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You're not a failure if your Plan A falls through.

plan-a-opt.jpg

So, your plan A fell through. Maybe...

  • you have an advanced degree but can’t find a job in your field.
  • you took a risk and moved for a job that you ended up hating.
  • you got let go and have no idea what’s next.
  • you spent years getting into an industry that wasn't the greatest fit.

These are all people I've coached. They did everything "right" and things didn't just turn out. They came to me feeling lost, frustrated, and confused - and who can blame them?

When your Plan A blows up in your face and you don’t have a backup, it's normal to feel unbalanced and uncertain for awhile.

It can be easy to start questioning your judgment or distrust your ability to make good choices. Maybe you feel trapped, stuck, or helpless. I know I did! There were also periods of hope, optimism, and relief - but that wasn't when I needed comfort or advice.

There is a time for pep talks, and there is a time for someone to sit next to you and rub your back and say, "I'm sorry, sweetie, that sucks. You're gonna get through this." This post is the latter (but check out the article library for the other stuff).

8 Things I  Want To Hear When I feel like a failure

1. It’s okay to be pissed that your nice road-map is now a crumpled smoldering mess.

For reals. The time for looking for silver linings and growth opportunities will come. Sometimes to get there you have to scream, cry, journal, or vent first. Let's face it: starting over kind of sucks.

2. You are not a failure.

People try things, and sometimes they don’t work out. It doesn't mean you made a bad decision or have poor judgment. This situation doesn’t have to define you, and you can learn from it when you're ready to look at it in a new way. (That doesn't have to happen today, btw.)

3. It’s not necessarily true that things would have worked...

...if you had only been braver, smarter, or more diligent. Perfection is not protection against life’s slings and arrows. Try not to beat yourself up for not being better.

4. You can figure this out.

You have more resources than you realize. It’s normal to be unaware of them right now because seeing your options while in a state of panic is like trying to solve a crossword puzzle...that's also on fire. It’s okay, just know that they’re there.

5. You don’t have to have everything figured out right now.

All you need to know is whatever will get you through the next day, or hour, or breath.

You may feel like you screwed up somewhere along the way. Whether or not that’s true, you still deserve kindness (yes, even from yourself).

6. It’s okay to hide when you need to.

You don’t have to act strong and smile for everyone when what you need at the end of a long day is tea and blankets and a good book. Give yourself a place where you don't have to have it all together.

7. You don’t have to try so hard.

If you’re doing your best, that’s enough. Possibilities and opportunities are easier to see when you’re not all twisted up inside, so do what you can and try to let the rest go for now.

8. You don’t have to figure this out by yourself.

You are not alone. It's okay to ask for help, or to admit that this is too much for you to deal with right now.

 

 

The people I've coached through situations like the ones in this article are all in happier, more stable places than where they started. One thing I've learned from witnessing their journeys is that you don't wait until after you've formulated a Plan B to relax. Instead, the process of calming your stressful thoughts is vital to figuring out your next steps. That's where your real work is, and the first step is accepting where you are right now (even if it sucks). After that, the rest takes care of itself.

I'll be writing more about this in the near future, and I hope you'll stick around for my next posts! If you subscribe to my newsletter, you'll get notified about new articles and you'll also get my free workbook Anatomy of a Dream Job: Bring Clarity and Focus to Your Career Search.

Image credit: freeimages.com/Zsuzsa N.K.

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