I can’t answer for you but I can share the lessons I’ve learned in the year since my life was turned upside down.
In May 2018, I collapsed in the street. For months I couldn’t trust my body to do the most basic things like stand upright and walk in a straight line. In the endless hours I spent on my own, willing my body to get better, I was forced to confront and challenge myself.
Almost a year on I’ve realised that, in a curious way, my illness has been a bit of a gift. My outlook on life and my priorities have changed profoundly. I’m not fighting fit yet, but I have figured out what I want to do. And it’s a very different to what I thought I wanted.
When I reflect on how I reached this point, I realise that the most important thing my illness gave me was time. Time to think and reflect and ask myself questions I’d never thought to ask before.
So if you find yourself wondering whether you are in the right job or maybe you know you’re in the right career but you can’t land the promotion you want or you just feel a bit lost, here are five questions that I think will help.
1. What are you trying to prove?
Whether we’re aware of it or not, most of us are driven by the urge to prove our worth. We want to be able to say, with pride, “This is me” and “This is what I do”. We care deeply about what other people think of us. There’s no need to look any further than Instagram or Facebook for proof.
The hardest question I faced in the early days of my illness was “What do you do?”. It floored me. I had been a TV producer, but that door was now closed. I’d lost my professional identity and it scared me. I hadn’t realised until then that my job was the way I proved my worth to myself and to the people around me.
Ask yourself “What am I trying to prove?” “Am I doing this job to maintain my status with my friends? My peers? My parents? With myself?” Try instead the far more illuminating question: “What do I want?” And if that questions feels too big right now, start with “What do I like? Or “What excites me?” or “Which job would I be proud to tell people I do?”
2. What are you scared of losing?
The American psychologist Daniel Kahneman won a Nobel Prize for his discovery that we are far more motivated by what we stand to lose than what we could gain. In other words, we’ll fight harder to keep hold of the things we already have, than we will to pursue a potential gain. It’s a powerful insight and helps explain why so many of us stay in jobs we don’t like and set goals we never achieve.
When I look back I realise the thing that scared me most was the unknown. If I didn’t stick in TV what else would give my life meaning? The Unknown felt like a deep, dark and dangerous hole that I wanted to avoid at all costs.
Figuring out what you’re scared of takes time, patience and bravery. But it’s so important. You can’t fight what you don’t know. It’s only when you become aware of your fears that you can challenge them, question them and, hopefully, reframe them.
3. Are you looking in the right place?
In the recent series of the hit BBC 3 show Fleabag, the lead character visits psychotherapist (Fiona Shaw) for a counselling session. Despite repeated protestations from Fleabag that she hasn’t a clue, Shaw keeps repeating: “You know what you want”. Soon after, Fleabag is knocking at the priest’s door.
It might not seem like it, but you know what you want too.
It’s just really hard to figure it out when you are surrounded by so much noise. Being stuck at home cut me off from constantly comparing myself to others and it was a blessing. It’s only now that I realise that other people’s success drove me into a “got to keep up” mentality. I chastised myself for not climbing up the greasy pole as quickly as I thought I should and I never thought to question whether it was what I wanted in the first place.
Stop looking outside for answers. Look in.
4. Are you starting with the end in mind?
This question comes from Stephen Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. He points out that no-one would build a house without a detailed architectural plan, yet many of us show up in our own lives not knowing where we are trying to get to.
This was true for me. I had a rough idea of where I was trying to get to, but I had no clue how to get there.
The solution? Understand the values that drive you. Once you know your values you can set a goal that you are far more likely to stick at.
The three most important values for my career are to have fun, to have creative freedom and to be valued for the work I produce. That was why I picked a career in TV, I was just blind to the fact that that the job had changed so much in 15 years, that it was no longer fulfilling my values.
Try picking your top three values. Here’s a list of some of the most common ones; Independence, achievement, recognition, stability, adventure, job tranquility, competition, fame, flexibility, quality, integrity, loyalty, helping others, status, work alone, customer contact, balance, precision work, security, fast pace, participation, excitement, high earnings, physical challenge, time freedom, family happiness, personal development.
Now ask yourself – are you able to act out these values in your job and/or your life? If you are – you’re winning, if you can’t – can you find a way to reconcile the gap or do you need to look elsewhere?
5. Challenge your inner critic
One of the quotes that really struck me recently was by the tennis and business coach Timothy Gallwey: “The opponent within one’s own head is more formidable that the opponent on the other side of the net”.
It’s vital to tune into the loops of thought that can play, on repeat, in our heads. We all have them. Some are positive, but many aren’t. You know the voice. It’s the one that pops up and tells you “No you can’t possibly do that”, “Be careful, you’re not good enough for that”, “When will my boss realise I can’t do what she thinks I can?”
Gallwey points out that we achieve the things that we think we can achieve, not the things that we are capable of achieving.
My inner critic used to tell me I wasn’t very good at writing. I thought my prose lacked impact and was overflowery. That’s pretty damning when I was dependent on my writing to earn a living. It seems mad that I never challenged it, especially given the pleasure it brings me now.
Think hard about what your inner critic tell you. It may take a few weeks of listening to figure it out. Now ask yourself this – if a friend came to confide in you about this problem, would you treat him/her differently? It sounds trite but becoming aware of the naysayer inside your head and learning to be kind to yourself is so important because it directly impacts what you can achieve.
We all have a default future ahead of us that we’ll reach if we keep things the way they are, but there’s an alternative future too that we could reach if we take the time to pause, look inside and then make the vital changes in our lives that set us on the right path.
If this post touches a nerve and you want to explore the issues it raises in more detail, consider getting a coach. A good coach will ask you questions you’ve never thought to ask yourself, they’ll challenge the thinking that’s holding you back and they’ll champion your ability to drive change in your own life.
Whilst I am a coach-in-training, I have three free spaces available to take on new clients. If you’re stuck in a rut with your career and need support to reach the next level or if you want to change careers but don’t know how, please get in touch. firstname.lastname@example.org
Post note: I’ve finally worked out how to add comments without the need to be registered with WordPress – so please comment away.