A Wild New Work Podcast: Ecological Guidance for Your Career is a monthly podcast which covers the major themes at play for us at work and it’s designed to support you in taking intentional, wise, soul-centered action in your career, all based on the rhythms of Nature.Read More
A Wild New Work Podcast: Ecological Guidance for Your Career is a monthly podcast which covers the major themes at play for us at work and it’s designed to support you in taking intentional, wise, soul-centered action in your career.Read More
Last summer, my mom, sisters and I took a weekend trip up to the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington. If you haven't been there before, go. It's a magical place that helps you feel connected to the Earth again, in all of its green and watery splendor.
While we were up there, we went on a whale watching tour to see some of the Orcas that hang out around the islands. Did you know that there are actually separate kinds of killer whales? Some are solitary, most live in pods, and they're separated according to their food source (marine mammals v. salmon).
The resident Orcas off the coast of Washington have always eaten salmon - that rich and fatty food source that was in abundance for millennia until we, you know, ruined their habitat.
Our guide Natalie let us know that in the past few years, the salmon supply has been too low to sustain the Orcas, leaving the hungry creatures with only two options:
Find a new food source in their existing habitat or swim farther and farther to find more salmon.
This got me thinking about what us modern-day humans do when our food source (read: purchasing power) is in short supply.
Ideally, we'd all have a year's salary in savings and live well within our means so that if we did lose our jobs or income source, we could float to the next thing without any desperation.
For most of us, that's just not where we are. If our income source runs dry, it can leave us feeling desperate and crazed as we search for the next thing that will pay the bills.
What do we do when we're in this place? It can be easy to make decisions that we might regret when we're in this state, and my goal in this post is to offer two strategies that keep you buoyed amidst the storm.
The first thing to focus on when the food source has run out is to secure a new source of nourishment. Do as the Orca do: stay where you are and switch things up, or get out of your comfort zone and reach for more of what you had.
Finding the food is non-negotiable. Maslow's hierarchy of needs is real, and even if it means you don't step into your forever job right away, you'll feel so much better knowing you can support yourself financially through this time.
In today's economy, there are more ways than ever to find side hustles and gigs that can bring in some extra income. You've got ride sharing sites like Uber and Lyft, services like Instacart and Task Rabbit, and lots of contracting sites like Fiverr and Upwork.
There are also temp agencies and, if you've got more experience, plenty of opportunities to start consulting or work with agencies as an independent contractor.
No matter what, secure the food source first.
Once you've done that, if you know the food source you've found is only temporary, you'll want to work on finding one that feels better to you.
This is the part where I see a lot of people in career transitions struggle: they get some kind of income stream secured but then still operate from a place of scarcity and desperation.
I totally get this - I've been there. You find the temp job, the contract gig, or whatever, but since it's not your top choice, you hustle and beg like crazy for something better.
Unfortunately, this usually means that our ego-driven, fear-based brains have taken over, which can be a recipe for disaster. The people we network with or interview in front of can smell the desperation all over us, which isn't very alluring.
So we have to commit, maybe more than ever, to the practices that ground us.
We have to exercise, meditate, play music, or do whatever it is that reminds us that we are going to be okay. We have to connect with our intuition every day and let that guide us instead of the parts of our brain that say "you're not good enough."
Having grounding practices and really focusing on the mental discipline it takes to stay positive are what's required in order to draw in and then recognize which opportunity is the right one for you.
I've seen this play out over and over again in my own life: if I'm feeling desperate or needy or making career decisions out of fear, I end up in situations that are not in my best interest. I compromise. I talk myself out of what I know I need.
If you, like the Orcas in the San Juans, are facing a major shift in your ecosystem, do whatever it takes to meet your basic survival needs.
After that, though, it's all about balancing the hustle and job searching with intuitive, centering work that reminds you of who you really are, which is someone capable of creating a worklife you really love.
If you've been in this space of desperation before, I'd love to know how you managed! If you're there now, take heart: it's only temporary. You can hop on over to my Facebook community to share your story and hear from others.
In just a couple of weeks, my friend Claire and I are starting a series of "professional support groups" called Realigning Your Professional Self. We wanted to put this together for a couple of key reasons: First, there are not enough spaces where professionals can vent, gain perspective, or just be seen and heard. Work is hard, y'all, and without a safe place to process what goes on there, we can get burnt out, resentful, and lost.
Second, not everyone needs a major career overhaul. Sometimes we just need small tune-ups along the way, as if we're getting a regular "Career Oil Change."
It can be tough to know if we really need something to be different in our career or if something else is at play in another area of our lives. If you're feeling relatively healthy and stable in your body, your relationships, and your finances, it's much easier to pinpoint a work-related issue.
Even if you're not feeling stable in those areas, however, there are still a few sure signs that a tune-up would be useful:
- You constantly feel overwhelmed and mentally "flooded" at work
- You get a pit in your stomach when you walk through the office door or even think about going to work
- You find yourself getting anxious, angry, or sad at the end of your weekends
- You're exhibiting physical symptoms that weren't there previously, like a racing heart, excessive sweating, headaches, etc.
Other less urgent signals might be things like boredom, feeling drained at the end of each day, or just sensing a tug toward something new.
None of these signs mean you're bad or that you've done something wrong, they're simply your intuition trying to send you a message.
You probably need a little professional realignment, and knowing what kind of tune-up you need is immensely helpful.
When we're in that space of sensing that something's not quite right, we can ask two powerful questions that are posited by Chris Guillebeau in his fun and accessible book, Born For This: How to Find the Work You Were Meant to Do.
The first question to ask ourselves is: Is it working?
Is the work you're doing actually working, as in: Is it bringing in enough money for you? Are you able to produce quality work? Is what you're creating resonating with the people it's meant to resonate with? Basically, is your career functional?
The second question is: Do you still enjoy it?
You might be getting promotions left and right, but do you hate the work? That's a red flag. In order to create a career that's energizing, meaningful, and a reflection of your unique giftedness, it's critical that you actually enjoy the day to day work.
Try to determine whether you enjoy the work itself or the fruit of the work, like praise from others, the "status" it gives you, industry accolades, etc. While all of those things might be fun results, if you don't feel a connection to the work itself, you may not be operating in alignment with your strengths, which can eventually feel really draining.
If your answer to both of those questions is "yes," then you're probably in the right spot professionally, which is great!
If you answered "no" to one of them, then maybe it's time to make a career pivot or switch some things up in your current environment. This might mean that you need to take on more responsibility at work, foster more connection with your peers, or commit to doing less each day. Your first step if you answered "no" to just one of them will be to try and optimize the aspects of where you are right now.
If you answered "no" to both of them, then something bigger needs to shift so that you can be expressing your gifts in a way that's more fulfilling and in a way that actually works. If you're in this bucket, there are a lot of amazing resources available to you, whether it's a book like Born for This, a career coach you connect with, or (the most amazing resource) your own intuition.
A very important point: going through this exercise will only be helpful if we can be completely honest with ourselves as we answer those two questions.
If there's any part of you that hesitates to admit that things aren't working, or that tries to convince yourself that you do still enjoy it when deep down you know you don't, notice it.
It can be really hard to admit to ourselves that something we've worked at for so long just isn't fitting for us anymore. I've been in that place, and I can tell you how uncomfortable it is.
This summer, I reached a breaking point in my own worklife where I knew that the answer to that first question, "Is it working?" was a "No." My work didn't seem to be resonating with my community, the money wasn't flowing like I needed it to, and things were just totally stagnant.
It took a while to accept this reality, but finally I broke down to a mentor and, in-between tears, I admitted that things were broken.
Just saying those words was incredibly freeing. It didn't mean I knew how to fix things, but I was putting so much effort toward strategies that were getting me nowhere, and in that moment, I got to reclaim all of that misguided energy.
It felt terrifying to face the shame I felt. I had been subconsciously hiding this secret, that things weren't working, because I thought that if I admitted it, it meant that I was a failure - that I couldn't be an entrepreneur, or a coach, or a help to anyone. But that wasn't true.
It was my own fear of facing what was really going on that was hindering my ability to support myself and others.
As with every other time I've spoken the truth to myself, I felt free.
I could rest. I could cry and admit that things really sucked. I let myself feel some self-pity, I declared that I wanted things to be different, and then something really lovely happened: the clarity I needed came to me and I've had the best three months I've ever had in my business.
I say all this because while Guillebeau's questions are elegantly simple, our egos can over-complicate things in order to try to protect us from the truth.
The truth will feel clear and expansive to you. Even though I didn't like the fact that I had to answer "No" to that first question, it was so lucid that it felt like an immense relief to accept it.
We have to be honest with ourselves if we're going to find our way.
If you're seeing the signs that something isn't working for you anymore, it can be an amazing opportunity to practice authenticity. You can choose freedom and answer those questions in a way that resonates deeply with you - the way that only the truth can.
Generally, the people who come to me for coaching are looking for help with the future. They wonder what they'll do for work, how they'll make a living doing what they enjoy, or how they'll get unstuck from office politics.
They wonder what will happen, which is a fair question when you're not comfortable with what is happening.
I love the future. I could live my entire life there, imagining possibilities, wishing for this that and the other, creating plans and spreadsheets, on and on.
The tricky thing is, fixating on the future makes it that much more elusive because it robs us of the energy to do something to create that future. We imagine and pine for the life we want and in the meantime, neglect the steps that could actually take us there.
The other week in one of my daily meditations, I tried an exercise I heard about on a podcast with Jess Lively. You write a question down and then wait for your intuition to answer, which you also write down. It's like you're taking notes for a conversation between your mind and your intuition.
This particular morning, I woke up feeling anxious about work, which I know is a total waste of time, but I'm human, and it happens. In my meditation, my mind kept going to the future, worrying about how I'd do this, how I'd make that happen, etc.
So I asked my intuition:
What can I do today to help make my business thrive?
Here's the answer I got:
Be present with every client today. Love them. Let go of the need to fix things.
Be where you are.
You see, I was freaking out about the future despite the fact that I had a full day of client work to look forward to, in a new office that I loved, with women who are brave and a lot of fun to be around.
My business was thriving, but my ego and my lizard brain were going berserk. My intuition showed up to help me re-align with the kind of person I want to be in the world.
You know what could really cause my business to un-thrive? Worrying about how to get more clients in the future and being blind to the people who were already showing up, doing the work, and giving me the opportunity to support them - right now.
What I keep learning, and what I share with the people on this path with me, is that the magic is right here.
All we can really do to create a future that we'll love is to love this present moment - to be here now, to accept what's happening, and to take the next, most open-hearted step forward.
Imagining the future you want to create is a lot of fun, and a worthwhile exercise for sure - it's something I do with everyone I see for coaching. But it has to be balanced by presence.
We can't neglect the gifts right in front of us and think more of them will just show up on command. We build a life - and a career - we love by honoring the gifts that are here now, by being present with the people in our lives, and by letting go of the need to figure it all out.
This is much easier said than done, of course, but I know we can all exercise this muscle.
Let's say you work with someone who drives you absolutely nuts - someone who gets under your skin every day. Your modus operandi thus far has been to resist them: to avoid interactions, to push back, and to complain about them to anyone who will listen. You think, "If they would just leave the company, my life would be so much better."
Can you be where you are with this person? Can you accept that no matter what the future holds, you're tasked to work with them right now? Can you let go of the need to fix things with them and just allow yourself a deep breath?
Can you ask yourself, "What is the next most loving step - loving to myself and to this other person - that I can take in this moment?"
How does that change things?
Is it possible that by staying present and focused on the next best step, you're actually already transforming your relationship with this person into something more positive?
This practice could be applied to any situation at work - a desire to leave, an urge to figure out what your career will look like in five years, or anxiety about an upcoming performance review.
We're simply being asked to be where we are; then, when we're present, to take the most loving step forward.
It can be that simple if we'll let it be.
It can be really hard to know whether it's time to leave a stagnant job or just make some tweaks to improve the situation. If you're like me, then your first assumption when something really isn't working is to leave. Change. Move on. Most of the time, I appreciate my inclination to cut out what's not working and move on quickly, but that's not always a helpful impulse.
Sometimes when we're feeling the urge to leave a job, it's not because we really should - it's because our orientation to the job needs to change.
All of us get stagnant in our work from time to time, and we start to wonder how to shake things up again: do we leave? Do we stay? Do we stay but make changes?
Stagnation in a job can show up as fatigue, procrastination, or a general "numbness" to the work. There's a sense of agitation, like we just know that something's not right.
If you're feeling this way, I'd encourage you to slow down and carve out at least 10-20 minutes per day to get quiet and connect with your intuition. These periods of feeling stalled are so ripe for a deeper connection with our inner voice, which is there to help us figure these things out.
Assuming you're setting aside quiet time to still your mind, get outdoors, journal - whatever it is for you - then I have some ideas for how you can make the most of the situation while you're waiting for the answer to "what's next"?
Here are three things I suggest for folks who are feeling like their career is entering a transition period:
First, let go of the pressure to figure this out.
Your soul is on its own timeline, and it does not respond to our frantic rushing (trust me, I've tried). This transition will go much more smoothly if you can settle in and assume that the path will open up when it's time. Your life isn't a sudoku puzzle that you can solve with your mind. There are other things at play, and when we can stay calm and trust the process, we'll get the results that we need.
So, the mantra for this period is: "I'll know what to do when it's time."
Second, amp up the emotional labor you're putting into the work.
"Emotional labor" is a term I first heard from Seth Godin, and it's essentially the effort we put into cultivating meaningful connection through our work. It's the amount of effort we put into building strong, authentic relationships or expressing who we really are in what we do.
It's easier for many of us not to expend emotional labor at work. We like to hide behind our professional "personas." But if we're going to create careers that are meaningful, we have to expend emotional labor.
We need your heart in the work you do, and you need it, too. When we shield ourselves from the work and don't make the effort to show up human, doing work we're proud of, we stagnate - no matter how awesome the job was at first.
You can amp up emotional labor instantly. You can genuinely ask your coworker about his weekend. You can check in with your gut as you start on your next task and see if there's more "you" that you can put into it. You can be honest when your boss asks you how you feel about something.
The more you can show up in this way, the more energy you'll cultivate at this job, which will multiply and create momentum for whatever's next.
Finally, toss your job description in the trash.
It doesn't matter what you're "supposed" to do at work. Forget about that for a minute. Here's my question to you instead: what needs to get done?
Where are there holes? Who's in pain? In your sphere of influence (which is larger than you might think), who needs help? How can you help them?
Stagnation comes up when we've mastered our day to day work enough to feel like we could be doing more. We're going through the motions, starting to feel bored, but then we wait for someone else to give us the freshness we're seeking. We think we have to stay in these boxes because anything else just "isn't our job."
Choose instead to look around you. What can you help with? How can you expand your influence in a way that feels generous and interesting to you?
Now, if you're feeling stagnant, you might believe that there's no point in exerting extra effort where you are. But now is exactly the time for you to see your organization and the work with fresh eyes. Try pretending it's your first day again. What do you see? Where can you connect? Where can you show up more fully?
If you try these things, you'll start to create movement that will nourish you, and that movement will help clarify what it is you're meant to do next.
If you do these and get stalled at every turn by systems or peers who want to keep you in one particular box, then it may be time to leave.
But give them a chance. Do the work. Bring a little more of yourself to work each day.
No matter where your path ends up leading you, you will have done your part to be present with wherever you are, which is such a gift to the rest of us.