Don't Find Something, Build Something - Part II

In Part I we talked about the mindset of asking for permission, often implicitly, for engaging in an area that interests us. The question we were asking was this:

Who can give me what I want?

Now I'm going to be discussing a strategy I've begun to use, that has helped me to gain more control over the direction my life takes. 

An Old Habit

I'll demonstrate how this has played out, in a small way, in my own life. Recently I've realized how much I remain fascinated by, and interested in, tech products. I follow a variety of tech blogs, and they comprise most of the news that I read on a daily basis. Even when I was at Microsoft I thought a great deal about the product I was working on, other products that Microsoft was creating, its decisions and strategies as a company, other companies in tech and how they were positioning themselves, etc. 

In 2014 as I was enjoying my year sabbatical and thinking deeply about what I wanted to involve myself in next, I kept returning to this interest in tech products. I wanted to be involved in thinking about the tech industry, in discussing products and strategies, and I wanted an audience that would listen to what I had to say. So I did what I always did at that point, I asked myself:

Who can give me what I want?

The answer I came to was tech blogs. There are several very popular ones that I enjoyed reading, so I began to investigate how to get a job on staff with them, so that I could get paid to think about and write about the tech industry. After looking at their requirements however, I realized that I'd have to move to one of the coasts and work there in person, and that I didn't have any of the experience they were looking for, so my chances for getting hired were slim. 

I was discouraged. Here was something I wanted, but wasn't in a position to obtain. With my former mindset I either needed someone to hire me, basically give me what I want, or drop the idea entirely. 

New Beginnings

After about a year I realized there was another way available to me. I started to wonder why was it that I believed I needed permission to talk about the tech industry, to write product reviews, to dissect corporate strategy? Why did I need someone else's platform to accomplish that? 

This led to a new question, one that has resulted in my engaging in several areas that I've always felt excluded from. The question I now ask myself is this:

What small step can I take towards integrating this interest into my life?

What's empowering about this question are two advantages:

  1. It frames it as a small step, so I'm not expected to think of a large leap
  2. It speaks of integrations rather than switching, so I'm looking to how to augment my life with this, rather than replace something in my life with it. 

I didn't need anyone's permission to start engaging with my interest. I could simply start my own blog and write whatever I wanted to, so that's exactly what I did. I started a blog called The Rural Technocrat, and I write about the tech industry. As of right now almost nobody reads it, but I'm having an absolute blast writing articles for it. 

Maybe one day it will lead somewhere and I'll have an opportunity to write for one of the larger publications, but it might also go nowhere. I'm happy with either outcome, because either way I get to be creative and engage in a topic that interests me. 

The point I'm making is this, there are usually many ways that we can integrate our interests into our lives, and greatly enhance our day-to-day enjoyment, but we often don't because we set the bar too high for getting involved. 

Are you interested in a field completely different than what you're working in? Instead of asking how you can get a job in that field, as yourself what small step you can take towards integrating that subject into your life. For example, what are some books you might read about it? Who are some people you might talk to about it? What are some online courses you might take about it? What is something you can contribute to the field, for example by doing some writing yourself? 

What are some areas in your life where you've set the bar too high for engaging in an area you are interested in? What is some small step you can take this month towards integrating that interest into your life? 

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Don't find something, build something - Part I

I've been working really hard recently to change a mental habit I have. It's something my clients have shown me (I'm learning as much from them as they are from me!), and once I identified the pattern with them, I immediately saw it in myself. 

The Pattern

It goes like this:

  1. I find an area of interest that I want to get involved with
  2. I search out an organization that is already working in this area, and I scheme about how to get a job at their company, or to work with them. 

Seems like a reasonable plan right?

What this has actually led to is very little movement into developing in many of these areas, because inevitably I'm faced with job requirements I don't meet, competition with other candidates that I can't match, etc. 

I'm finally getting tired of this cycle, and after some thinking here is what I realized:

I was waiting for someone to give me permission to participate. 

The implicit logic I was operating under was this:

  1. Areas of interest exist because there are people already operating in them (i.e. I've heard of a career because someone else already has it, I've heard about a concept because some company has created it, etc.)
  2. In order to participate in those areas, I need to join with someone who is already there.

The Problem

I'm giving someone else the power to determine an outcome in my life. The framework is that if I can't find someone who is willing to give me a chance, or hire me on, then I can't participate at all. 

How has this played out in the lives of my clients? It's subtle, but I'll listen for it. We'll identify some interest that a client might have, perhaps a different topic than what they're working in, or in an environment that's different then theirs, and the question inevitably gets asked:

How do I get a job doing that?

This is interesting for a few reasons. The first is the word "get", which implies that getting involved is something that is "given" by someone, and received by my clients. The second is that there is an implicit one-to-one correlation between involvement and employment. The thinking goes that if i'm interested in something, how can I make that my profession so that the two are one? 

Next Time

In the next blog post I'll talk about a better strategy, one that I've begun to use in my own life to great effect, that has moved me away from asking the question:

Who can give me what I want?

I'll give you a better question to ask yourself when you find an area of interest or direction that you want to move into, that will position the power in your hands, rather than the hands of others.  

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When work gets interesting

note: this is NOT a picture of me :) 

note: this is NOT a picture of me :) 

As I continue to read, coach, and think about the topic of work, work enjoyment, engagement with work, I try to clarify for myself certain definitions or terms that I tend to either say, or hear others say frequently. 

I absolutely allow myself to change these definitions as my knowledge and experience grows, but for now here is one that I've recently settled on. 

Term: Work Satisfaction

What I Think It Means: When you feel like you've contributed in a meaningful way, towards a meaningful outcome. 

Thinking back on my career, and the stories that I hear from my clients, those always seem to be the two ingredients present in every story of work satisfaction. They felt like they themselves were able to make a solid and meaningful contribution, on a project or situation whose outcome felt  impactful. 

Reflect: What is the last project or situation you were involved where you felt satisfaction?  Identify the meaningful contribution you made, and ask yourself why the outcome was meaningful? 

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When To Quit Your Job

As I was doing my daily Quora answering routine, I came across an interesting question:

What questions should I ask myself if I want to quit a startup?

I appreciated that this person was wondering what questions to ask, rather than just asking someone else what he or she should do (which I see a lot of on Quora). 

Knowing if you should quit your job is simply a matter of comparing what you want from work to what your current job is able to offer you. If it can't offer you what you want, then perhaps it's time to look for something else. The hardest part for most people lies in that first part, in knowing what they want out of work. 

Many of us got jobs out of college because that was what we were supposed to do. We never took the time to think about what kind of work and environment we would really enjoy. 

In order to understand if a job or workplace is right for you, you need to understand the following about yourself:

1. Intrinsic motivations

This is essentially the activities that bring you energy and joy. They are the types of work activities that when you're doing them, time just seems to fly by, you can get lost in your work, and you make look natural what is difficult to others. 

2. Context/Subject Interest

What subject matter or topic space do you want to be working in? Is it bringing water to those that lack it, building communication platforms to connect people, cars, sports, religion, finances, etc.? What can you talk about for hours, or find yourself thinking about while driving in your car or in the shower? 

3. Lifestyle Desires

A job provides you with income and benefits, and those go towards supporting a certain level of lifestyle. Depending on what level of lifestyle is important to you, and what level of comfort and security you want, this can be a huge motivator for many people. 


Once you know what you want, it becomes much easier to judge whether your current job satisfies it. What often happens however is that we don't have that clarity, so we pick other metrics that we try to feel good about fulfilling, such as working hard for the respect of our peers, or for money to fill our bank accounts. These are often shallow and leave us feeling tired, empty, and wanting more. 

Getting this clarity about ourselves isn't easy. Most people deeply struggle with understanding what they want, that's why so many are not only unhappy with their jobs, but stuck and unsure of how to proceed. 

Are you thining about quitting your job? If so my first question to you would be, do you clearly understand your:

  • Intrinsic motivations
  • Context/Subject matter interests
  • Lifestyle Desires

These are the building blocks to a fulfilling and enjoyable career. 

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Your Brain Is A Tool, Not A Guide

I've seen it enough times to know it's not an isolated occurrence. A client of mine engages in work that on the surface looks to be worthwhile, yet gains no fulfillment from it, dreading work and wishing they were doing something else. How can that be? Isn't work that's worthwhile supposed to leave us feeling fulfilled? Aren't we good at discerning what is worthwhile work? 

The question on their mind is: how is it that worthwhile work can be unfulfilling?  

The great disconnect

The problem is a subtle one, and that's why I believe it is so prevalent. The core problem is that there is a disconnect between the head and the heart

The brain is a tool and it's ability to solve problems is limited by three qualities: 

  • its innate aptitude
  • its experience/training
  • its input

These three components are in play every time we ask our brain to solve any kind of problem. We can't change our innate aptitude, that's what we're born with. Our education and lifetime provide us with experience and training, essentially giving us patterns for solving problems. The final piece is the one that's the most important to this topic, the input.

You can have the sharpest mind, have had amazing life experiences, but if the input you're giving your brain regarding a problem is bad, then your brain won't be able to come up with a good solution, it's simply impossible. 

The problem many people are having when I speak with them is that they've been feeding their brain incomplete input, it's no wonder then that it keeps coming up with solutions that feel incomplete. What is this input, and why is it incomplete?

The input being fed to our brain is to find work that is "worthwhile and fulfilling." With this our brain goes out and looks for what society considers to be worthwhile and fulfilling, and presents that as the solution.

What that often looks like is non-profit work, or anything billed as "changing the world" (think any tech start-up). We then pursue those jobs, get them, and mysteriously find ourselves lacking fulfillment and feeling lost. Our brains are telling us that the work is fulfilling, and we want to believe it, but something just isn't clicking. 

Here is the problem: your heart doesn't care what your head thinks. 

Your brain can tell you how worthwhile the work you're doing is, and what a great impact you can have on the world or your surrounding, but your heart just isn't having it. The heart wants what it wants, and nothing your brain can say will change that. Well what does the heart want, and why doesn't the brain know about it? 

The mind is sharp, the heart is dull

If you think about your education and life experience up until this point, how much emphasis has been placed on sharpening your mind and turning it into an incredible tool for productivity, and how much time and effort has been spent teaching you how to listen to what's in your heart? Our post-renaissance society loves logic, reason, and order, and while these are incredibly important, they don't paint a complete picture of our humanity.

What has been lost are the softer skills, the ability to know and understand our own emotions, to inhabit the stillness and listen deeply to the hopes and dreams that live within us. Most of us were simply never taught how to do this. 

When we give our brains input for what job to find us, we're giving it only a fraction of the information that it needs to do a good job. We're not providing it with input regarding the How of the work we want to do, and often don't include the Context that we want to work in either.

It's no wonder that our brain does poorly when finding a career or job for us to fall in love with, it's doing the best it can with what limited information we are feeding it. When we're unsatisfied, we ask our brain to come up with a different solution, without giving it any additional helpful information. So the cycle goes. 

Listen to the guide

The heart is the guide while the brain is the tool. We need to become in tune with our hearts, and learn the ability to listen in to what it desires for us. When we are able to do this we gain additional input for our brains to solve the problem of finding us meaningful and fulfilling work.

For many this is a difficult process, and where they most benefit from having someone to show them how to do it. This often comes about organically during a coaching session, as the client is talking, a story is being told between the lines, almost as if the heart is sneaking out coded messages, hoping to bypass the filtering of the brain.

A coach's job is to pick up on those messages, decode them, and play them back to the client. Oftentimes it's amazing to do that and see the client's face change as a new awareness spreads across their consciousness. Something inside of them shifts as a direct connection is established between the heart and the head. The wheels in the head begin to turn and work on the problem with this precious new information, and the client is able to finally move forward.  

Your heart is your guide. If you're deaf to it, how do you expect to find your way?

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Your Dreams Are More Real Than Your Fears

We are a species blessed with the ability for imagination. This gift is the precursor to creation and hope, it is unfortunately also the precursor to inaction and fear. For many of us, and many of the clients that I work with in my coaching practice, it is this second result that is often the case, particularly when it comes to our dreams.

We're Good At The Wrong Thing

When painting the landscape of our fears we are all Michelangelo, able to capture with such great detail all the subtleties, colors, emotions, and objects within our fears. We can articulate all the possibilities for an endeavor to go sideways, all the consequences of a decision, and all the loss we might experience. Many of us allow our fears to suck the air out of our dreams, choking them, never letting them grow into anything more than a disappointed whisper in the back of our consciousness.

Paying With Our Lives

Unfortunately there is a very real and painful consequence to ignoring our dreams: regret. An Australian palliative care nurse by the name of Bronnie Ware was witness to many deaths, and had many conversations with patients as they were transitioning out of this world. She recorded what she heard to be the top five most common regrets from her patients.

The number one regret, the one that she heard most often, she paraphrased as this:

"I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me."

She goes on to provide some commentary:

"When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made."

Can you imagine being at the end of your life with no ability to make any changes, and feeling an overwhelming sense of regret? Can you imagine that being the taste in your mouth as you go?

Loss At Any Cost

If we know that denying our dreams, many of which are objectively accessible to us, can have such terrible consequences, why do so many of us do it?

The reason partly has to do with how we're wired.There is a phenomenon in economics called Loss Aversion, which put simply means that we are wired to strongly prefer avoiding losses, more so than we are to achieving gains. Essentially we feel the psychological effects of a loss more so than the effects of a gain.

When it comes to our dreams we have a bias towards avoiding a loss, even if when we can gain so much. The irony, as we've seen from the regrets of those dying, is that we are actually embracing an even larger loss in the long-term.

The Answer Is A Question

What can we do to overcome this innate wiring that we have, which has us focusing on our fears? There is a set of great questions my wife's former workplace created in conjunction with the Conscientious Leadership Group, titled Questions For a Curious Leader. They've compiled them into a PDF that I highly recommend you check out. 

Contained therein is this question: 

Am I seeing that the opposite of my story is as true as my original story? Am I recognizing that the meaning I draw from my story is my chosen interpretation, not “The Truth”?

If I'm describing a possible outcome and it's clear that it's coming from a place of fear, I'll do two things:

1. Tell the opposite story of the one that I'm telling. 
The fear story I used to tell was that if I quit the job I was unhappy with no other company would hire me, I wouldn't find work that made me happy, and I would live out my days regretting my decision. The opposite of that, or the dream story, would be that I would find other work, that the work would be fulfilling, and I would rejoice at having had the courage to quit my job.

2. Admit that the dream story could also be true.
I then confront the possibility of the dream story also being true, as true as I believe the fear story to be. 

This process is great for two reasons. The first is it requires you to generate the dream story and articulate it in detail and out loud. The second is it helps you to accept that it might also be true, as likely to be true as the fear story that you were telling before.

A Step Forward

Our dreams are important. The regret that those patients felt was probably one of those most profound experiences of their lives. They had it, then they gave up the ghost.

What a tragedy. Not because they were the victims, but the greatest tragedy of all is that they visited it upon themselves. There is not one person reading this article that is beyond pursuing some of their dreams. Every day for the rest of this week you will wake up and either pursue your dreams, or ignore them. You'll be faced with the same decision every morning of next week, and the week after, and every day for the rest of your life. That is of course until you have no more days.

So today, right now even, I want you to think of the primary fear story in your life, the biggest, baddest story that's keeping you from taking a step towards that dream that's inside of you, maybe one that you've never told anyone else about. I want you to articulate the fear story first, and then create the dream story. Once you've done that, I would love to hear about them from you. Email me at samuel at thelittleyes dot com and share your stories with me. 

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What do you do exactly?

When I tell people what I do, I often get asked what career coaching is, understandably so, since it is a vague term. The main difference between the types of career coaching that someone can receive varies primary by where they fall on the spectrum of focus. On the narrow end of the spectrum, there is very tactical coaching that someone can receive, things like how to better speak in public, or how to have effective one-on-ones, or resolve conflict, etc. 

Most of my business comes from working with clients much higher up on the spectrum of focus. I primarily like to work with individuals that are asking fairly high-level question regarding their careers. Things like:

  • What should I be doing, or what was I meant to be doing?
  • What kind of job would be good for me?
  • What kind of work would make me happy?  

To address those questions I work with clients through the process of clarifying two important aspects of their professional identity: how they want to work, and the context in which they want do that work. I'll explain these assuming you're asking yourself those same high-level questions.

The How

The first step is to clarify How you want to work. Another way to think about this is trying to clarify, in your ideal world, what activities you're doing during a typical work day/week/month/year, and in what type of surrounding. This may seem obvious, but very few people actually go through this exercise. Most view their job as a single blob with some good and bad parts. What is immensely useful is to identify the good parts, because those highlight for you the activities that are life giving and energize you. I call these filters, since it allows you to filter any potential job opportunity through this list to determine, in a somewhat objective manner, if it will be a good fit.

Examples of filters include aspects like whether you'd rather work collaboratively or individually, prefer small or large teams, care about immediate or longer-term impact, enjoy speaking in public, building things versus conceptualizing them, etc.

It is very important to fully understand how you want to do your work, if you are going to unlock your full creative and energy potential.  

Simple Exercise

Identify some times in the last few weeks where you really enjoyed yourself, either at work or in your personal life, and write these down in a list. Next look over this list and ask yourself what each of these have in common, what activities you were doing, who were you doing them with, and how they made you feel. From these answers you can begin to extrapolate filters which will indicate to you How you enjoy working.

The Context

Once you've identified How you want to work, the next step is to identify the context in which you want to do that work. This concerns the domain that you are passionate about and want to apply your work to. This is where your interests come in, in other words what you're naturally thinking, reading, and getting excited about. Examples of domains could be law, technology, public service, the environment, urban planning, global warming, social justice issues, etc.

Imagine you're a software engineer, you love creating software, and your current company allows you to work in the exact manner that you prefer. Now let's say that same company builds firmware for paper shredders. It's entirely possible that you could feel unmotivated by work. You might enjoy How you do your work, but the context is all wrong, leaving you unfulfilled. You've always wanted to leave some mark on the world, to feel like you were making it a better place, and in that case shredders are just never going to do it for you.

Simple Exercise

Create a list of all the topics you find yourself most interested in. This can be from the books and articles you read, to the shows you watch, to the conversations you have with others, to what you find yourself thinking about on your own. Next look over this week and identify the ones that have been with you the longest, as these are the ones that are the deepest inside of you. Take that smaller set and create a prioritized list ranked by most interesting to least. Look over this prioritized list and focus on the top three or so, as these are likely examples of Context that you really care about and would enjoy working in.

It's important to identify both the How and the Context that's a good fit for you if you are to enjoy your work, and derive fulfillment from it. When I work with clients the goal is to help them get clarity around these two aspects of their careers, because the best great career match is one that is in a domain you are passionate about and doing work that aligns with how you are wired to do work. 

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How People Get Stuck - Part II

Last time I covered why people get stuck and offered a few examples to illustrate the point. In this post I'll be digging into how to become unstuck, and what that process looks like. 

Step 1 - Identify Conflicting Goals

What is so tricky about being stuck is that we are often unaware of the goals that are driving our decisions. The first step to becoming unstuck then is to determine what implicit goals we've been working towards, and which ones are in conflict.

The best way to go about this is to ask yourself why you're doing what you're doing, and why you're feeling what you're feeling. If you feel stuck at your job, why are you staying if you don't like it? It could be because you love the security it provides, or the money it provides to pay for the big house or nice car or vacations that you take. Whatever the answer, that is the goal that's keeping you there. What is the reason behind your desire to leave your job? That answer is the goal that can only be fulfilled by you leaving. 

Step 2 - Goal Disengagement

The next step is to willfully and actively choose to disengage from one of the conflicting goals, in order to be free to pursue the other one. 

This process is less about quitting a particular job or endeavor, but rather quitting the goal that the job or endeavor was fulfilling. Seeing the world through the lens of goal disengagement is incredibly empowering, because it moves us away from the guilt often associated with quitting ("I just couldn't cut it" or "I wasn't able to push through until the end"), and we can instead deal on the level of goals ("It was no longer a goal of mine to ...").

There is no "right" goal to disengage from

Can someone really disengage from the goal of making themselves happy? I believe they can, in fact many people in the workforce find themselves in this very position. Think of the person who cleans your house, or cleans your workplace. They might not be fulfilling their goal to find career satisfaction, but they likely have other goals that keep them working, such as a goal of providing for their family, being a loving husband or wife, or father or mother. 

Becoming unstuck isn't about what decision you make, but about actually making a decision to disengage from one of the conflicting goals. 

My story of becoming unstuck

On the day of my fourth anniversary of working at Microsoft, a new goal appeared in my life. Until that moment I was happy with the work I was doing and felt like I was on a good path. All of a sudden however I found myself unsatisfied and wanting more out of the time I was spending at work. This led me to struggle with being stuck for three years before I was finally able to move forward. 

Looking back on my process through the lens of goals, I now understand that what happened was that a new goal emerged for me, which was to feel fulfillment and purpose in the work I was doing. I wanted to feel like the work I was doing was something I was gifted at, and drew upon something deep inside that was unique to who I was. This wasn't a goal that could be filled in the career path I was on.

Why didn't I quit? It turns out that I had another goal, one that was actually much stronger: financial security. I felt stuck because my goal to find fulfillment in my work was in conflict with my goal to have predictability and financial security, and for three years, the financial security goal won. I remember several times almost quitting Microsoft to try other opportunities, but each time couldn't pull the trigger because I was too afraid to give up the financial security that I had. 

I see now that it was my mother's passing and coming face to face with how short life really is, that finally let me disengage from the financial security goal, and be able to pursue my goal to find fulfilling work. 

What is your story?

The stories I've come across of conflicting goals that cause people to be stuck are incredibly varied. If you feel stuck in your career, then it's time to start looking into what your career goals are, because it is likely that you have two goals that are conflicting. Finding those conflicting goals will be a huge step forward, as now you'll know exactly what the problem is.

The step after that is incredibly difficult however, because for many it becomes about discovering what career or job path would lead to the meaningful work they are hoping for. This is where a career coach can be of immense value, in helping you first identify the conflicting goals that are in place, and then helping you get clarity around who you are and what you want in a career.

Clarity allows you the confidence to disengage from a conflicting goal, and pour your energy into moving forward with the other. 

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How People Get Stuck - Part I

I am in the process of reading through a book titled Mastering the Art of Quitting, which digs into why we, especially in America, find it so hard to quit jobs, relationships, locations, etc., even when they are clearly no longer of service to us. I came across an explanation for why people get stuck that rung incredibly true to me, and I wanted to share it with you all because I think it's such a powerful way to look at the condition. 

HOW WE GET STUCK - two examples

The book spends a great deal of time talking about goals and how the decisions we make reflect the goals that we have. The trouble is that not all goals are compatible with each other, and when two goals come in conflict, that is when we get stuck. 

example I

The example from the book was a couple who lived in different states but were about to retire and move in together. The man spent his money liberally, racking up credit card debt, while the woman saved up her money and tried to create a financially secure future for herself. This difference in how they handled their finances become a major source of stress in their relationship, particularly for her, and so she began to feel stuck. Why? She had two goals that were in conflict. One of her goals was financial safety and security, and that goal meant that she wanted both herself and her partner to be saving money and spending it responsibly. The other goal was to be in a relationship with her partner and to not grow old alone. So the goal to be financially secure tells her to leave as her partner continually refuses to adjust his behavior to align with that goal, while the goal of being in a relationship and not growing old alone tells her to stay. This causes her to go back and forth between wanting to leave and wanting to stay, creating a malaise and feeling of being unable to take action. 

Example II

Imagine a lawyer, we'll call him Paul, who went to a great law school, got a job at a great law firm, and has been working as a lawyer for a few years. He realizes that the work isn't making him happy, and as he looks ahead to those higher in the firm, he knows that he's not interested in moving up and getting promoted. His father was a lawyer however, and it was always been his father's dream that Paul become one as well. Paul feels stuck. He's unhappy at work because he has a goal of doing work that he considers meaningful and fulfilling for him, and satisfying this goal would mean leaving the law profession. He has another goal which is to do what he believes will make his father happy, which is to be a lawyer, and this goal compels him to keep working hard and advancing in the ranks at his law firm. These two goals are in direct conflict, and until that conflict is resolved, Paul will remain stuck, dreading work, but also feeling that he is unable to do anything about the situation. 

THE COST OF BEING STUCK

There is a temptation to try to make the best of things, to soldier on. We might feel like sometimes we're just complaining and that we should feel grateful for the stable job that we have. There is a cost to being stuck however, and when we weigh our decision to take action, we must also factor in the cost of not doing anything. 

Energy

The book talks about a concept called ego-depletion, which says that you have a finite amount of self-control or willpower, and every decision you have to make, emotion you have to suppress, or control you have to exert in a day, drains you. As you become drained you're less likely to make what you would normally consider to be good decisions. 

When we are stuck we spend time and energy suppressing that "stuck" feeling, so that we can carry on with our day and perform at our jobs. The cost of this suppression of emotion is that we are using up some of that willpower to keep ourselves moving forward. This means that we have less energy overall to apply towards other areas of our lives that require decision making and action. 

Imagine all of the energy that someone is burning every day dealing with the feeling of being stuck, and each step they take as it weighs on them. Now imagine how much more energy they would have, how much freer and lighter they would feel, if that were removed. They will never be able to perform at their best if they're having to spend energy suppressing the feeling of being stuck, the only solution is to move through it and get clarity. 

Health

The book mentions research done into goal conflict and the results were that “when there’s conflict between personal goals, people ruminate more, but do less, about the goals.” Not only was that a source of energy drain, but “conflict appeared to have an immobilizing effect on action and was associated with lowered well-being.” This means that the having conflicting goals actually negatively affecting peoples’ psychological and physical well being. 

Simply put, being stuck takes a major toll on your energy and your health, and thus it becomes crucial to make an effort to resolve the conflicting goals if you are to leverage your full health and attention towards productive efforts.  

Part II is now available which explores the process of becoming un-stuck.

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Frustrated in your career? This might be why.

If you are alive in America today it means you are living in one of the most safe and prosperous places and periods in all of human history. Never before have we had such wealth, comfort, and  security. Because this is a relatively recent and unprecedented phenomenon, there are several consequences that many in our generation (I use generation here to mean people still in the workforce) are facing. There is one in particular that I have seen come up time and time again with my clients that saddles them with a burden of unease, but freezes them from action. 

They have the sensation that they are drowning in choices.   

We all know the advice we've heard from our parents or grandparents, which is to find a good job and stick with it until retirement. Having a good job was fortune enough, and if you stayed with it you'd be taken care of, likely get a pension, and could retire comfortably. Compared to the Great Depression, followed by WWII, a guarantee of comfort and safety were enough of a carrot to make that a satisfactory life path. 

Now that we have comfort, we want more. 

We grew up being told that we could do anything or be anything that we wanted to. That's an extremely helpful mindset to instill in children as it encourages them to dream big and believe that they can attain those dreams. Telling someone that they can do anything or be anyone is also an incredible burden. Who should you be? What should you do? These are the questions that many of my clients are still wrestling with today ("should" being a word that I dislike). I had one client tell me that she "still didn't know who she wanted to grow up to be." That makes sense. We are told so much of all the possibilities out there, how are we supposed to be happy with any one of them? 

The choices we celebrated become frustrations. 

Imagine someone is buying a backpack, so they pick one and buy it. It might work well for a while, but they they start to see other people with different backpacks and wonder if they should have gotten those models instead. This other person seems really happy with their backpack, perhaps they should have gotten that one. Or how about this other person who does a lot of extreme sports and makes a lot of use of their backpack, perhaps they should have gotten that model. All of a sudden they're no longer happy with their choice of backpack, because they're so worried about all the other options there are out there. Even if they wanted to go in and buy another backpack to replace the one they have, which one should they get? There are so many models out there they're worried about picking another one and just being disappointed again. 

Replace backpack with career, and that's exactly what many people are facing. What they need, which is the same thing the person buying the backpack needs, is a clear understanding of what they want out of a backpack (or career). Does it need to carry a lot, be rigid or soft, be lightweight or sturdy, small or large, simple or complex, etc.? If you knew precisely what your requirements for a backpack were, picking one, and feeling confident that you made a good choice, would be easy. 

Clarity is the solution to the problem of choice. 

When you have clarity regarding what work you love to do and what kind of lifestyle you want to live, picking a career, and feeling confident in that decision, becomes easy. Clarity gives you the tools to eliminate many of the choices you find yourself facing, and helps your identify which are the ones that would actually be good options. Imagine being in a noisy room and trying to hear the person sitting across from you. Having clarity is like being able to mute the surrounding noise, so all you hear is the conversation that's important to you. 

Do you find yourself feeling overwhelming by the choices around you? Do you wonder if you're in the right career, but haven't been able to get clarity regarding what other careers you might want to go in? Perhaps you just feel stuck at your job and wished you knew what you should be doing. If any of these describes you then I'd love to work with you to get clarity. 

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The First Step To Freedom

Discovering your internal wiring is the first step to determining a direction for your life.  Without a clear understanding who you are, you simply can't move forward.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO UNDERSTAND YOURSELF?

Your internal wiring shows you how you're built, and would be true of you regardless of external influences (where you grew up, life experiences, etc.). 

To understand yourself means to understand what is uniquely true about you. As an example of a truth, some people love to come in, close themselves in an office, and just work (code, write, research, etc.), while others want to be engaged relationally with people throughout the day, and for them work is defined by how much they were able to engage with others. You can imagine that if you swapped these two people, one would feel unfulfilled working alone, and the other would feel drained and frustrated by all the interactions they were having. This is a simple example but without knowing that about themselves, these two would not understand why work was so draining or unfulfilling. 

The goal is to uncover strong truths, these are things that you have a strong preference for. So if you like to work alone, that doesn't mean that you don't like to ever work in a team or with anyone else, it just means that if you were in a job where working collaboratively was your main focus, you would crave being able to run off into your own space. You want to find strong truths, since those are what will give you the most clarity.   

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?

These strong truths will become the foundations upon which you will begin to build your life. Many people feel stuck because they have been building their lives on other foundations: security, what their parents wanted for them, what they think society wants from them, etc. 

When you are stuck and evaluating your options, it's easy to become overwhelmed with the choices of what you could move into. Of all these possible directions or opportunities, how can you know what would be a good fit? The strong truths you've uncovered will act as an objective filter you can run any opportunity through to see how many truths it covers. 

Perhaps an opportunity comes up and you're interested, but unsure if it’s a good move for you. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the choice, you're now equipped with a valuable tool that will let you judge the opportunity by comparing it to what you now know to be true about yourself. If it aligns with much of what you know to be true about yourself (collaborative, analytical, in the financial field, etc. for example), then you can feel confidence that it could be a good opportunity. 

HOW DO YOU COME TO UNDERSTAND YOURSELF? 

It’s all about the questions. What comes naturally to you? What do you always find yourself just automatically doing? What makes you come alive? What seems to sap energy from you? 

The good news is you have all the answers to these questions, only you can know what brings you joy and what your passions are. The bad news is that you're likely in the worst spot to answer them. It's hard to learn your strong truths because you’re too close to the problem, and you sometimes need help from someone outside looking in to reflect back to you what they see. 

Here are two tips to help you start this process on your own:

  1. Pay attention to your energy throughout the day. When are you energized and feeling alive and when are you feeling like your energy is being sucked from you? When do you find yourself having fun? When are you dreading what's coming next? Your energy levels are your body's way of telling you what it likes and doesn't like. Start to take note of it and write down what you're finding. Keep this up for a few days/weeks and see if you can discover a pattern. 
  2. Ask a friend or family member. Often those around us know and see things that we are totally blind to ourselves. Have an intentional conversation with a friend or family member where the goal is to hear from them about when they've experienced you come alive, what they think you make look easy, and when they see you happiest. This is obviously very biased feedback, but you'd be surprised what kinds of patterns will emerge when you start to intentionally ask these questions.

If you're curious to learn more about yourself and want to develop this list of truths, I work with people helping them do just that. Get in touch with me to setup your free initial conversation to learn more about this process, and how it can bring you clarity that you can leverage for the rest of your life. 

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The Most Dangerous Word I Know

On the day of my fourth anniversary at Microsoft, I had a realization that my job no longer felt like a good fit. I was very successful, but I was realizing that engineering wasn't what I was cut out for, nor was it what I was passionate about. The obvious question I started to ask myself was, if not this, what else should I be doing? 

That started me down a three year road of asking myself if I should leave Microsoft, if I should pursue several opportunities that came up along the way, and what I should do post-Microsoft. I felt like I no longer wanted to be there, but had no idea what else I should do instead. It wasn't until I left my job and gained some perspective, that I realized a large part of my feeling stuck was directly tied to the way I was asking the questions. 

Specifically, I've come to realize just how damaging it was to use the word "should." It's such a small word yet it completely transforms how we make decisions and how we view the world and our place in it. 

This word hides two subtle but extremely important fallacies

1. Fallacy - There is one right answer to your question

When we ask what we should be doing, or what we should do next, implicit in the question is the assumption that there is a single correct answer that we just need to find. We treat our life’s direction like a test question where the answer will be judged against some rubric of our ideal life, and we will have either chosen correctly or incorrectly. This thinking raises the stakes for our decision beyond what it needs to be. With this mindset you’re not only responsible for finding an answer, but you’re responsible for finding the only correct answer. 

The reality is that there are likely many directions you could move in, and no one direction is inherently better. What needs to guide you in your decision making process is your understanding of yourself, which once clarified will help you sift through options and pick likely candidates. Your next move doesn’t need to be an absolute perfect decision, but rather a degree of improvement over where you currently are. This frees you from the pressure of feeling like you must choose correctly, and instead lets you just worry about choosing well. 

2. Fallacy - The answer to your question exists outside of yourself

Every time you ask what you should be doing, you are declaring that the answers are to be found in some external oracle that you just need to find. You believe that if you could find that external source, maybe the voice of God, maybe some successful person that would just tell you what to do, or maybe a fairy-tale event where you get "discovered" and pulled into an amazing life, everything would be fine. 

The reality is that you are wired a certain way to interact with the world, and nothing outside of you can dictate that to you. Nobody can tell you what your favorite flavor of ice cream should be (although advertising certainly tries), you know what it is simply because of the way your tongue is wired for taste. For this same reason you shouldn’t search externally for someone to tell you what your favorite activities will be, and what will make you come alive. That is all something that must come from within. You can seek help in uncovering what those are, which is what life coaching is all about, but the answers will all come from inside of you. 

What is external might be a framework that you are choosing to live within. This could be your country’s or state’s laws, and it also might be religious laws. These define boundaries for you and are guide rails to help you interpret what is appropriate behavior and what is inappropriate or illegal behavior. What they don’t do is define for you how you should live within those boundaries. The government doesn’t tell you what job you should have, nor do most religious texts for that matter. That is something that must come from inside of you. 

The answer is to change the question. 

Instead of asking “what should I do?” ask yourself “what do I want to do?” This doesn’t make it an easier question, but it makes it a much better one, and one that you can actually answer. When you change the question, you give yourself permission to pursue what makes you happy and what makes you come alive. You will orient your energy and focus inward, towards self-discovery, which will yield insight and progress. Ultimately, it is the only path that will lead you from being stuck to being fulfilled.  

Are you stuck and asking yourself what you should do instead of what you want to do? If you don't know what you want to do next, or do know but don't know how to get there, shoot me an email, give me a call, and we'll figure this out together.

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Three Signs You Might Be Stuck

With a physical illness, the scariest part is knowing things feel off, but not understanding why. Without an understanding of what's behind your discomfort, you feel powerless to improve your situation. Getting a diagnosis is never enjoyable, but there is a sense of relief that you now have a specific cause, and can begin a course of treatment. 

The same is true when you feel stuck. When you experience the symptoms, but don't understand the cause, it can feel highly frustrating. If you discover what's behind it however, you will feel more in control because you understand the why, and now can make a choice of whether to seek treatment. 

What are some symptoms that might indicate that we're stuck? Below I've listed three of the common ones that I've seen. Read through each description and see if any of them resonate with you. If they do, then it's probable that the the root cause for that symptom is that you're stuck somewhere in your life. 

1. From Choice to Bondage

This symptom can be summarized as a feeling of helplessness, often in relation to your job. You started out by choosing into a career or position, but now feel like you have no choice but to stay. Your inner dialog has changed from "I'm here because I want to be" and slowly has become "I'm here because I can't leave as there is nothing else that I could do/there is nothing else that anybody would pay me for/I'm not qualified to do anything else." 

The transition from choosing into a career or position, which is a position of power, to feeling like you're staying because you have to, can be a long and subtle one. It is sometimes only when you start to feel dissatisfaction and think about leaving, that you realize this mental shift has happened. You feel like you're now in bondage to it and can't leave, and that makes your dissatisfaction all the more uncomfortable. 

Do you feel like you're in a situation that you want to get out of, but don't feel that you can?

2. Yesterday, same as tomorrow

This symptom is when you feel like your life have become routine. When you can't remember what you did last week, or the week before, or the week before. It's all the same. Question: what are you going to do tomorrow? Answer: the same thing you did yesterday. This is a feeling that the only thing in your life that's moving forward, is time. 

Do you feel like your life has become routine? That you're struggling to think of the last milestone you've passed through or the last big shift that has happened? Does it feel like your life has flatlined? 

3. Words: the ultimate idea trap

Have you had an idea of something you've wanted to do for a while? Perhaps it's to start a new side business, change careers, take up a new hobby, get into shape, or to lose weight. You've talked about it, you've researched it, you've brainstormed, you've told friends about it, you've done everything except actually do it. Your idea has become trapped in your words and needs a way out! This is when you sit back and realize "wow, I've been talking about this for weeks/month/years!", or sometimes worse, your friends or family reflect this back to you. 

You're at the starting line, you know the right shoes to wear, the right amount of water to drink, the right pace to set, the right direction to go, you just haven't ever taken a step to actually start the race. 

Do you have an idea or dream that's been germinating for so long, that it's started to feel like it's rotting? Do you wonder why so much time has passed and you still haven't acted on it? You can't point at any one thing that's stopping you, you just haven't started for some reason. 

If any of these three resonated with you (or perhaps several did), then you know now the cause, which is that you're stuck in some area of your life. The question now becomes, what course of treatment are you going to pursue? Your choices are:

  1. pain management: you can do things to numb the discomfort such as watch tv, bury yourself in work or family, bounce around with hobbies or social relationships. Basically anything to distract you from those feelings. 
  2. seek a cure: you're tired of these feelings and want to deal with the root cause. You can recognize that what you've been doing thus far hasn't been working, and something needs to change.

Those that choose the second option are the kind of people that are ready for change, and right for a life coaching relationship. They recognize the symptoms, they've identified the cause, and most importantly, they've chosen to seek a cure. 

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This Business Of Yes

When thinking about what I wanted to move into after leaving my role as an engineering manager, I spent a lot of time exploring how I'm wired (or what comes naturally), and mapping that into potential next-steps I could take in creating a professional life for myself.  

What I found is that while an internal journey is always a good place to start, looking externally to the people you trust around you, and listening to what they have to say your gifts are, is also of incredible importance. This is because while you hold the most accurate image of your inner-self, only those around you hold the most accurate image of your outer-self. It is the self that you project, but cannot see. 

I would encourage you to take some time with family or friends and ask them a few of the following questions:

* What seems to come easy for me?
* What do people tend to come to me for?
* When do I appear most alive? 
* What can I go on and on about?
* What has been consistent about me since you've known me?
* What is my favorite thing to do?

These questions can illuminate a lot about you that you might have never realized. 

When I started asking these questions of friends and family, something that kept coming up repeatedly was that people valued my opinion and feedback. When I probed deeper it often wasn't so much guidance that I gave that was helpful, but simply the questions that I asked that helped to clarify a situation or feeling. I was told that I asked really good questions. 

That was one of my gifts then, to listen and ask questions. As I heard it I realized that it was true. I believe that part of listening is engaging with what the person has to say and helping them to dig for deeper truths inside themselves. 

The situations I have to engage this gift seem to just come to me. I've had a coworker come into my office and open up in tears about a break-up, I've had friends ask for counsel for life-changing decisions, or for how to comfort someone who is losing a family member, or for relationship and dating advice. Even coworkers that nobody else seemed able to get along with would naturally seem to gravitate towards me and open up. 

I couldn't control why, I could only control how I responded. I chose to respond by pursuing this gift in earnest, investing in it, by both investing in myself and investing in others. 

This was how I found the next step in my professional progression. I wanted and continue to want my life to focus on being a resource to others in need of a listening ear, a safe space for non-judgment, and help in digging deeper into whatever issues they are currently facing.

I hope that if you're reading this and feel an inward tug, if something in here resonates with you and you want to explore more, that you'll listen to that small voice and reach out to me so we can start your journey of self exploration.

 

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What Is Worth Your While?

Photo Credit: Valerica P.

Photo Credit: Valerica P.

I recently had a Skype session with a complete stranger who I connected with on Hacker News. There was a post from a 25-year-old claiming that they felt lost. I replied in the comments that I too had experienced a period of feeling lost and if they thought it would be helpful to have someone to chat with I’d be happy to make myself available via Skype. Someone else who had been reading that thread reached out to me, someone who had been struggling with the same issue of feeling lost in their life.

I sent him a reply, part of which included my redefining what I had felt in the past , not a sense of being lost, but of something else. Here is a snippet from my email:

While the word that I used in that time was "lost", I think really what I was searching for was not to be found, but rather I was struggling with feeling like my life had no meaning, no purpose. There is this song titled Shameful Metaphors by a band named Chevelle. Part of the chorus really resonated with me during that period as I meditated on the words:

"so why then, has my life made no sound?"

I felt like while I was doing a good job at work, had lots of friends, was making good money, was having fun experiences traveling, there was always this voice within me that was asking "is this it?" "where is my great adventure?" and then always saying "you were meant for more".

As I look at that response now, I even wonder if that is correct. What I have since realized was that even though that was the self-talk that I had, I think what I was really telling myself was that I was meant for something different. Not more, not less, not measured on some scale of worthiness, but rather something apart from what it was I was pouring my energy into.

I think therein lies a deep seated stumbling block for many of us. We have created a scale, a ranking, for our endeavors. The selfless non-profit worker is more worthwhile than the selfish private sector worker. The rich entrepreneur’s life is more worthwhile than the low-earning common worker. We have a single line upon which we plot these destinies, each of us with our own ranking.

I’m not so sure this scale is serving me anymore and I no longer buy into it. I don’t think the non-profit worker is doing something more worthwhile than the private sector employee. Whatever that non-profit person is doing will fade, the well they built will break and not be repaired, the person they helped will fall into some other difficulties, the laws they help create will be changed, in the end they are working within the context of a broken world that will never be repaired by human hands. I also don’t think that the CEO is more to be praised as worthwhile than the lowest employee. Whatever revenue the CEO creates will be lost eventually, whatever product they create will become outdated, or copied, or irrelevant. In the end both will have lived, and died, and very little of their lives shall remain. While I don’t think any of these endeavors is more worthwhile than the other, I do think that they are all equally worthwhile in being and doing.

What feels important to me, and what feels worthwhile, is that each person is doing what they feel was placed uniquely within them to do. They do it because to move further into that stream brings happiness, while to move out of it, even a little, brings a diminishment of joy.

A person in the non-profit sector who works because they think they will really change the world will always be left with disappointment. One who works because they have a burden for a particular people group or cause, and who gets to pour their talents into their work, will always be fulfilled, even if nothing changes. The CEO who strives to always be gaining higher and higher levels of success will never be satisfied, they will see their company as a means to an end. The one who enjoys strategy, planning, executing, and creating an organization that is unique and in line with their values will look at their company as a playground, as a place to express their talents, values, and desires, where the company itself is the end.

The question we must ask when we see each other is not “what do you do?”, because we then inevitably plot the response on our scale and weight it against our biases. We must instead ask “are you doing what you must be doing?” to which we should have a binary response. A yes means that we are living within our values, within what we know from within to be true for us. A no means that we are not, that we are living a life that each day lays another block on the tower of regret that we are building.

Take a moment right now and look at your life, no matter what you do or how much or little society values it, is it you? Is what you are doing really you? There is no “I don’t know”, because we all know. Deep down there is always that voice that is telling us so.

What is worth your while?

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