Successful career? Yep. Track record of achievement? Yep. Impressive earnings? Yep.
Living the life you truly want? Fulfilled? Um, not really.
You’re not alone!
Many of us reach a point of frustration and confusion when our hard-won success leaves us unfulfilled. We feel something is missing. We might even have everything we’ve always wanted, but we begin to suspect we’ve always wanted the wrong things. We sense it’s time for a change. Maybe we’ve even made one–moved to a new company, gone freelance, gone part-time–but it hasn’t delivered for us.
Whether for the first time or the fifth, we find ourselves at a crossroads.
The main problem undermining people at a career crossroads (and with most other big choices) is narrow-mindedness. I mean this in a number of ways:
- Thinking that the destination is a career rather than a life;
- Having a narrow (and outdated) sense of self: our aims, our capabilities, and our identity;
- Feeling too little ownership of our current situation (even if we wrongly beat ourselves up);
- Putting too much weight on introspection over action and relation.
I’ve been there. More than once! Through a working life that has spanned the military, blue-chip consulting, big tech and the nonprofit world, I enjoyed success but not what I assumed would accompany it.
Along the way, I’ve helped countless people with their careers and professional development. But it was only when I addressed my own, their, and our common human narrow-mindedness that real breakthroughs occurred.
How does narrow-mindedness get in the way?
Work is a critical element of life. Getting your work to deliver for you requires a good match of 1) what truly matters to you in life, 2) the characteristics of the work itself, and 3) your actions and behaviours in work and life.
Makes sense, right?
The problem (which typically makes itself felt by the late thirties or forties) is that many of your deepest beliefs about yourself, life, work and money – the filters of your experience and drivers of your behaviors – were inherited from others a long time ago. They are in the deepest sense not yours. They arose to protect you, and they have. But now, they narrow your mind and limit you. They distort your understanding of the three elements you’re looking to align. They no longer serve your adult life.
Much of your life is run on auto-pilot, based on templates that are long out of date. By this time in your life, you can’t help but notice that something is out of sync. But because these templates (I like to call them stories) are unconscious, you can’t uncover and address them through mental activity alone. They show up through interaction with the world and other people.
Luckily, there is a solution to this problem…
Exploration and Creativity
To get a career and life you truly want without being bound by unhelpful habits and inaccurate assumptions, you still need to follow a structured process to define your aims, generate options and evaluate them – the old-school formula. But that formula suffers from built-in narrow-mindedness.
We now know that to do this effectively, you…
- Discover and question your unconscious assumptions about yourself, so that you bring your true self and a clear picture of the world to the process above.
- Explore and experiment. Engage with multiple options to learn about them and yourself concretely.
- Recognize that this isn’t a one-off but a path of evolution in which you develop and manage a portfolio of selves and options.
- Finally, realise that your path will likely require internal change. See how your current behaviors rest on old assumptions. See and test what new assumptions would support any required new behaviors. Adopt practices to create and reinforce the self (or selves) needed for both your career and life transition.
Sure, the old-school formula will bring order and discipline to what might otherwise feel too large and complex a decision. But if the input to its static, theoretical calculation is based on the same outdated set of assumptions and self-definitions that have shaped your life to date, you’re likely to get a solution tailored to that synthetic self-image rather than one that serves your full, evolving self. Fulfillment will remain just beyond reach.
Likewise, if you don’t take ownership of your behaviors and their conceptual underpinning, you’ll be bringing a habit-driven, narrow version of yourself to your next phase of life, rather than bringing the fuller, creative ‘you’ that has always been available but only recently been freed. You’ll change your environment but the ‘same old you’ will still be there.
Guidance and support for your journey
Now obviously, combining these elements is easier said than done, right?
You can’t normally just get to the heart of your unconscious habits and limiting beliefs to see how they affect your career and your decisions because, well, they’re unconscious! They are transparent to you, taken as fact without questioning.
But other people, including an attentive coach or guide, can see the contours of your habits and stories, point your attention toward them, and help you explore them. The aim is to get them ‘into the open’ so that you can question them and experiment with alternatives that serve you better. You needn’t revisit your past, but you need to pay new attention to what’s happening in and around you now.
The challenge doesn’t stop with exposing these assumptions and stories, because you (just like the rest of us) may struggle with the discomfort of discovering and questioning them. Sure, they are outdated and ill-fitting, but they are also familiar and comfortable.
This work takes curiosity, courage, and vulnerability, as well as the physical ability to access your body’s own relaxed equilibrium, even in times of intense feeling. These conditions all benefit from wise guidance and support.
Identifying your old stories, re-casting them, and expressing your new ones allows you not only to make optimal career (and other) decisions but also to bring the full, fit, ‘you’ to implement those decisions and step into the upgraded life they offer. The journey is illuminating, energising and includes a lot of fun. But despite its rewards, this process is unintuitive and daunting on your own.
That’s why I’ve created the Career Crossroads program. It provides structure, challenge, support and tools for your transition to the career and life you want. You get instruction, exercises, templates and one-to-one coaching to make the journey adventurous but not overwhelming, life-changing but not life-threatening.
At this crossroads, you step beyond narrow-mindedness to chart and own a course that is truly yours.