Filed under: Transition
The following is an article I recently wrote for More.com. It’s about our insatiable desire beyond stability for “things”—and how this can stifle our quest to reinvent ourselves.
“There are two kinds of hunger—the hunger for food and the hunger for more. I’ve been taught to look past what I have to what I don’t have. I have a car, but I’m always noticing the car I’d rather have. I have 12 shirts, but I’m always noticing the 13th shirt that I want to buy. We’re suffering from a profound lack of relationship with enough—we are about what we don’t have.”
—Dan Karslake, Documentary filmmaker of Every Three Seconds, an upcoming film about ending world hunger
No doubt about it, there’s great beauty in having enough. It gives us the freedom to reinvent ourselves. If we’re living at a survival level and spending most of our time worrying about paying our bills and meeting basic needs, it’s quite hard to focus on finding our purpose and pursuing our life’s work. As Abraham Maslow pointed out in his famous Hierarchy of Needs pyramid, we must first satisfy our needs for survival and safety before we can address the higher level of self actualization.
Yet how many of us actually know what “enough” is? If there were mile posts on our journey, that marked “survival,” “basic comfort” and “excess,” would we even know when we past each point? Probably not. As this excerpt from my book, Professional Destiny, discusses the cost of “more” can be quite high.
“A trap that we are all susceptible to, especially in the Western world, is that we overlook the concept of having enough. We come to never fully enjoy what we have because we are always thinking about what we don’t yet have (a nicer home or car, more possessions, a bigger company, more money, finer art). This sense of wanting more is an insatiable hunger. It is poison to our soul and kills new, creative possibilities because it locks us into a pattern. It might make our life more comfortable but it doesn’t bring us true fulfillment, which only comes when we feel like we are making a difference in a genuine, meaningful way.
You can be financially successful, a respected leader in your profession, be admired for your status, have beautiful possessions and a lovely family—but still feel a nagging sense of emptiness.
I find that most people who have made it in their career and have achieved success have just about everything they want materially, but do not feel fulfilled. They want to venture out and make a difference, but are immobilized by fear and the need to have a familiar sense of security, stability and enough…
Security often means that they do not take risks or allow themselves to be open to new possibilities. Many have lost the concept of having ‘enough’ and cannot accept the idea of making less money for a while, even if it makes them happier. They cannot escape the money trap and therefore are not free. Because of the overwhelming need for survival, even beyond the point of enough, we ignore our deepest yearnings and continue in a job that is not fulfilling—or even worse, a job that is sapping our lifeblood and essence. We think we are making a living, but in reality our spirit is slowly dying.”
Maybe it’s time to take a fresh look at the hidden—and not so hidden—costs of our addiction to more and how it hinders our ability to reinvent ourselves. If we’re able to recognize when enough is enough and get a grip on that insatiable hunger, we just may be surprised to discover a fulfilling, new—and different—richness in our lives.
December 7, 2010
Last night as I was pondering what to write in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I picked up a book that my friend, Perch Ducote—one of the wisest men of all—suggested I read. It’s called, The First 30 Days, by Ariane de Bonvoisin and she’s a fellow Stanford grad.
As I thumbed through the pages, I landed upon a section called “Comparison Sickness.” It caught my attention. After all, how many of us get caught in the comparison trap? I found myself in it earlier just that same day.
If we honestly look at our thoughts, I’d wager a bet that many of us have a mind that points out each and every one of our shortcomings. I’ve written about this very topic at length in Professional Destiny. There I call it the “little voice.” Our little voice says things like this:
“Look at her success. Why do things seem easy for her? She’s got it together—I don’t.”
“Why is he making so much money and I’m not. Will I wallow here forever? Everything he touches seems to turn to gold, but for me—it’s a constant struggle.”
“She’s more fit and more engaging than I am. Her clothes are nicer too. I should just fade into the wall paper whenever she’s around.”
Then I read this story about comparisons and complaints in Ariane’s book. It went like this:
“One day, God was listening to all the comparisons people were making to others, and he asked each person to put all their problems in a transparent bag and place it in a separate room. Then he asked everyone to line up and, one by one, go into this room and pick a bag, any bag. Since the bags were transparent, everyone could see what others were going through—all the changes in their lives, the decisions they had to make, their complaints and their struggles with others. The first person looked around and finally decided to leave with his own bag. The next person did the same thing; she left with the bag she dropped off. In the end, everyone picked up his or her own bag. Why? Because we are meant to work through our problems, changes and crises. Even though it may not feel like it at the moment, you have not been given anything you cannot handle. In fact you’re an expert in dealing with your unique set of challenges.”
This story contains such a relevant message for us during the week of giving thanks. Sure we have our share of problems and complaints—and our bag might seem worse than anyone else’s. But when it all comes down to it, we’re perfectly equipped to handle what we’ve got. And it we compare the other way, we can always find someone with a bigger and heavier bag to carry than ours.
It’s a wonderful reminder to be grateful for what we have. Happy Thanksgiving!
November 24, 2010
When pursuing your Professional Destiny, the difference between knowing where you want to go and actually getting there is discipline. In my book, I talk about the four types of discipline—of the mind, body, soul and actions—that are essential for maintaining focus and staying on course. In an earlier post, I’ve written about discipline of the mind. Yet to accomplish anything great, you must also make sure both your mind—and body—are fit for the task. Here is an excerpt from Professional Destiny about how to achieve discipline of the body:
- Hone yourself for your best performance. Like a true professional, you need to practice your gift every day. To do this you must be fit, rested and have your physical and mental capacities about you. Avoid substances that numb your mind and distract you from your goals. Focus on being alert and clear.
- Get energized. To pursue your passion, you must have energy and be strong enough to be in the places you need to be. Your body is what gets you there so it is important to take care of it. Healthy food is like high-performance fuel. Your engine will work better with it. You need energy to go the extra mile and accomplish your goals.
- Get active. Physical activity and exercise gets you revved up. During any physical training you develop good habits that serve you in life such as developing mental toughness to get through pain, becoming laser-focused and forcing yourself to continue even when you feel like quitting.
- Do not see yourself as trapped inside a limited body. Your greatest driver is your will—your will to succeed. With a strong will you can accomplish almost anything.
- Be physically and mentally prepared for a race of learning and doing. Prioritize your action items and plot your course. Meet your appointments. Jump over any hurdles that threaten to hold you back so you can put them behind you. And then go full speed.
- Lose the weight. This refers not so much to your physical weight, as your energetic weight. Streamline your relationships and your possessions and take only the essentials that you need. This means pulling the plug on draining or unhealthy relationships and breaking the bonds to unnecessary material possessions that keep you anchored.
In a sense, making significant change is like preparing for a marathon. It takes commitment, stamina and a huge dose of physical and mental discipline. Now the question is… are you ready for the run?
November 9, 2010
Yesterday I was interviewed by David Rawles for the Career Solutions Radio Talk Show. He asked several questions that took me back to the beginning—to the very inception—of Professional Destiny. And since that story hasn’t hit the blog rolls yet, I thought it would be fun to share the Cliffs Notes version here.
About ten years ago, I had a profound moment that changed my life and perspective. I was sitting on the porch at my house in Boulder, Colorado, looking across the street at the stunning Flatiron mountains thinking, “to everyone else I look like I have it all: two beautiful daughters, a good husband, friends, a great career, high income, a wonderful house and excellent health—yet deep down I feel an aching emptiness inside.” I had a nagging feeling that there was something more I was meant to do, but I didn’t know what it was.
For the next several years, I worked in a few notable Fortune 500 companies and was struck by how many people were “asleep” as I walked around. There was no real light in their eyes. So many smart, talented people were merely going through the motions of work each day simply to collect a paycheck. They seemed numbed out. And I was one of them.
So I began my search by reading voraciously, observing others and trying out new things.
Mark Misage - Physics Teacher
Then I met ordinary (yet at the same time extraordinary!) people who were lit up by their profession and who were intent on making a difference. I was fascinated by their stories and decided to learn from them. One was a physics teacher, one was a children’s author/motivational speaker and one was the founder of a global charitable organization. Each experienced a nudge to change, each faced significant challenges, and each chose to follow their dream. Their candid and inspiring first-hand narratives are included in my book.
All of us have something that we were born to do. It’s our Professional Destiny. We have a gift and we have a purpose—and we are meant to express them in a meaningful way. It’s this notion of making a genuine contribution that matches our interests, which differentiates our Professional Destiny from a job. A job is something we do merely to collect a paycheck.
When we feel like we have made a difference, we are fulfilled… and we have the wonderful, energizing feeling that we’re finally doing what we were born to do.
Stay tuned for part two of this interview series and the discussion of the five back-to-basic steps that are essential in following your Professional Destiny.
April 14, 2010
A couple of weeks ago I was interviewed by Eilene Zimmerman, a journalist who writes for many national publications including the New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor and FORTUNE Small Business. This interview was for her personal blog, takingmyownadvice.com, which is a warm and engaging chronicle of her journey through transition, as a mother and soon-to-be ex-wife, as she avidly seeks a career and financial education.
Here is an excerpt of our discussion as she quizzed me about my experiences and the Professsional Destiny approach:
“Here it is April 1st and it’s no joke, I can’t figure out if I really need to talk to a coach. I’m torn, probably, because I spoke last week with Valerie Hausladen, and that felt like a coaching session in and of itself. Of course it wasn’t, it was an interview about her new book, Professional Destiny: Discover The Career You Were Born For. Her take-away is this: ‘Anyone can make a change at any time.’ But she also realizes change takes time. Her book is about transitions, something I’m interested in myself, as I’m in transition at this very moment.
Hausladen’s story is anything but straightforward, and that’s the rub. Making changes in your life can be tough, can take a while, and the path isn’t always linear…
Hausladen hadn’t changed her life overnight–it took a decade. She had always wanted to write a book and finally did it. She became a coach and started her own management consulting firm–Edge Communication Group in Austin.
She’s not suggesting that people up and quit their well-paying (or, in this economy, even their not-so-well-paying) jobs, but she is saying take that first step. ‘If you can’t leave your job, start doing one or two things a day towards what you really want to do. Connect with others in the industry where you want to be, get some more information about changing jobs or careers, ask for resources. Just do something towards that goal every day,’ she says. The first step–whatever it is–doesn’t have to be right, says Hausladen. It just has to BE. You have to take it and then if it’s wrong, you learn from it. But many of us are almost paralyzed by the choices we have–or think we have. You have to pick something or you’ll never pick anything.
Even if you haven’t worked in fifteen years and your teaching credential has long since expired, or the last time you worked in HR they didn’t have computers, don’t be discouraged. Maybe start by volunteering. Or by simply going online and researching the industry. Calling a school to see what that nurse practitioner program entails. Etc.
Maybe it sounds just a little corny when Hausladen says, ‘Take the first step and the next one will show itself.” But she’s right–you just can’t see the whole destination yet. In time though, with a little luck and hard work, you (and me) will.’”
To read Eilene’s full post, including more details of my personal transition, click here.
Eilene Zimmerman is a journalist based in San Diego, Calif. who writes about a variety of topics, including business, social and political issues and family life. Her work has been published in national magazines and newspapers including The New York Times, Glamour, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Christian Science Monitor, FORTUNE Small Business, CNNMoney.com, CBS MoneyWatch.com, Wired, Harper’s, Salon.com, Slate.com, Psychology Today and others.
Once a month she writes the “Career Couch” column in the Sunday New York Times Business section.
April 7, 2010
In the past week, I must have talked to a hundred people (well maybe that’s a teeny bit inflated) about a term I concocted a few years ago called the “freedom plan.” Quite simply, the freedom plan is a plan you adopt to fund your freedom. In other words, you invest in yourself to pursue your passion.
When I was in career transition from president of an advertising agency to budding author and professional coach, I knew my income was going to take a serious dive during the first year while my new business ramped up. In the old days, I would have found the idea of making less money to be an insurmountable hurdle. And I would have run right back to the profession I knew (and didn’t love) to find another position that was at near or equal pay. In this frame of mind, I was stuck.
If you think about it, anytime a new business or major endeavor is starting up, you can expect to make some sort of investment. This applies to changing careers from one field to another in existing organizations as well. Some people pay for advanced education or training to make a change. That can be expensive. Some entrepreneurs look for outside investors and/or invest in their business themselves. That’s not cheap either. Another way is to accept the idea of temporarily making less income while you get started.
If you view this transition period as a time to invest in yourself, you will get unstuck. You can decide to cut back to the bare essentials for a period of time (six months, one year or whatever you can tolerate) in order to fund your freedom and pursue what you love. Instead of thinking of this time as a period of lack, think of it as liberation.
Here’s an example of how this concept worked for me. In order to fund my transition, I reduced costs by cutting everything that wasn’t essential. Things like: expensive dinners out, pedicures, a new car after mine reached 100,000 miles, cable TV (yes, I cut down to the basic five channels) and extra clothes. If someone invited me to dinner at an expensive restaurant, I’d suggest a more casual (and affordable) place. Occasionally I’d get teased about this, and I’d smile and explain that I was on my freedom plan and would rather pursue my dream than drink expensive wine. I called my savings my “freedom money” and guarded it fiercely. Instead of thinking about it as not having enough money to buy extra things, I thought of it as having a choice. The money I saved was money I could invest in myself… and you can do the same.
The formula is simple:
- Reduce your expenses
- Cut out everything you don’t need
- Change your mindset from lack to liberation
- Pursue what you love
The freedom plan allows you to reevaluate priorities. You can change your focus from having things to having opportunities. Yes it’s a sacrifice, but when in doubt, ask yourself…
“What is it worth to pursue your dream?”
March 17, 2010
Transition in life can be like entering a long, dimly-lit tunnel. One moment you’re driving through comfortable surroundings and next, you find yourself suddenly underground, not knowing exactly when you’ll emerge. Whether you are changing careers, ending a relationship or starting an entirely new chapter in life, it takes confidence, strength and commitment to see the light on the other side.
In Professional Destiny, I talk about the importance of discipline of the mind, body, soul and actions. Here is an abbreviated excerpt from the book about the importance of preparing your mind in order to fast-track to your next destination.
“Align your thoughts with the future you want to create. Your thoughts are weaving your reality, so be aware of the reality your thoughts are creating. Are your thoughts from the past—or from your vision? Dwelling on thoughts from the past can hold you back, while thoughts of the future can begin creating a new reality. Are your thoughts serving you? If not, change them to align with your vision.
Enlarge your view of possibilities. Look openly at things and see all possibility. Don’t see only what your eyes see right in front of you. If you do, you accept limitation. Actively search to see new potential.
Break the chains of negative thought. As soon as you recognize a limiting thought—fear, uncertainty, doubt, limitation, guilt—replace it with your vision. Remind yourself of the progress you’ve already made in the past week, month or year. It helps to write down your accomplishments so you can feel a real sense of satisfaction.
Rally against the fear and stop all self-effacing and tentative behaviors. This means actively weeding out self-doubt. The first step is awareness. Notice when you are back-tracking on yourself, or giving yourself excuses for why your dream might not work out. Squash the idea of sellout plans and how to rationalize them. When you are tempted to compromise and settle for something easier… don’t.
Closely guard your confidence and sense of self-worth. If you feel them slipping, remind yourself of how valuable you are and that your time is precious. If you have moments when you can’t see this for yourself, seek out someone who will see it for you.
Make commitments. Every morning make two commitments: a “To Be” commitment based on who you want to be today and a “To Do” commitment based on what you want to achieve. Your “To Be” commitment sets the tone for the day and your “To Do” list ties to the importance of your goals. Determine what step is necessary to make something happen. As you complete a task, cross it off your list and give yourself a sense of accomplishment.
Value your time. Another important part of discipline is not distracting yourself with appointments or tasks that don’t advance your goals. Your time is your most important asset. Value it.”
Discipline of the mind is essential for getting from point A to point B, especially when you’re in unfamiliar and uncomfortable surroundings. When you equip your mind with an unshakable belief that you can and will move forward, you’ll soon find that the light at the end of the tunnel is much closer than you think.
March 10, 2010
One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.
Whenever we’re in the midst of transformation, we can expect to be uncertain. We are leaving behind the old and preparing for the new. This blog post, an excerpt from my book, Professional Destiny, is the next installment of last week’s discussion about Moving Through the Void.
“Get comfortable with uncertainty—it’s the time of our greatest opportunity. A time when all possibilities are open to us. If we hold our vision and resolve to take a step toward it each day, we can be assured that great uncertainty only lasts for a while. This too shall pass.
Oftentimes even when we start our journey, our fear of failing returns and our hope of finding our purpose fades. We have no proof that things will turn out the way we want so we are hesitant, or even unwilling, to take the risk. Sometimes it takes a great deal of pain to get us motivated. Our fearful beliefs immobilize us and slowly but surely kill our spirit. We can feel ourselves being drawn back to the comfort of familiar territory—even though we haven’t been happy there for a long time. We become more anxious and wonder if we are crazy for wanting to do this.
Sometimes fear can be good. It can motivate us into action, especially if we fear our situation will get worse if we don’t act now. But it is not good when it paralyzes us from moving forward. This is the point when we look into the unknown, feel our fear, take a deep breath and step forward anyway. Do it even if you’re scared.
If you are willing to do the thing you are afraid to do, you often do not have to. Face the situation fearlessly and watch it dissipate.
Most things we worry about never actually happen. So worrying is an unproductive emotion that drains our energy and creative forces. Sometimes we just need to find humor in our fears.
The longer we stay in an unfulfilling and unchallenging situation, the more resigned we become—and the more we risk losing our individuality, unique gifts and edge.”
It’s essential to catch ourselves when we feel the urge to stay complacent. While change can involve letting go of things that are familiar, the cost of settling in an unfulfilling situation may greater than we originally think. So, while uncertainty might not feel good at the moment—get comfortable—it can open our eyes to things we wouldn’t normally see and may turn out to be a blessing in disguise.
February 24, 2010
The void is a place you go into when you’re “in between.” It could be you’re in between jobs, in between relationships or you’ve just had a child leave home and you’re wondering what to do next. It’s a state of being when you let go of old things and prepare to move into the next level of growth. In the void you leave behind familiar patterns, habits, thoughts and actions. Think of a butterfly in a cocoon. The cocoon is the void. Just as a caterpillar enters the cocoon to be transformed into a butterfly, you go into a void to prepare yourself for your next level of transformation. You are preparing to fly high.
The void is a time when you’re shedding something that no longer fits the person you are becoming. It can be quite uncomfortable unless you learn to accept it as a natural and essential state. It’s a time of transition and may feel like all of your foundations are falling away, leaving you nothing solid to cling to. In other words, you know what the “no” is (what you’re leaving), but you don’t yet know what the “yes” is (what you’re moving to). The tough part is that the new is not quite here, but the old has not completely left.
This place of uncertainty, of not knowing—can be disconcerting, especially for those of us who like to plot and plan our life. It may feel like a time of not-doing or emptiness. Yet, it is meant to be a time to stop knowing in your usual way, so that you can begin to learn things in a new way. You may even feel that things are falling apart or that things that used to come easy to you, are no longer working. This is because you are meant to move on.
The void is a time when you:
- are expanding beyond your old habits and patterns
- learn to think in new ways
- replace things that are no longer working for you, with things that do
The following is an analogy I shared in my book, Professional Destiny…
“Imagine Tarzan swinging from vine to vine in the jungle. He can’t move forward on a new vine, without letting go of the vine he was on. If he holds on to the old vine and doesn’t grab the new one, he’ll go backward. If he tries to hold both vines, he’ll get stuck. He must let go of the old vine and grab the new one to ride forward to his destination.”
The void is that exact moment when you let go of the old vine and reach out to grab the new. You leave a place of security to venture into the unknown. The secret is to embrace this transitional time. It’s an opportunity to rest up, recharge and explore an expanded range of choices. Don’t worry if the new direction hasn’t quite shown up yet. Your job is to be open to all of the new possibilities so that you can recognize the best one ahead of you.
Our time in the void can last for hours, days, months or even years. Since all people go into a void at some point in their lives, and many of us experience it multiple times, how do we make the best of our experience there? Enjoy it! Just like the cocoon is to the butterfly, the void is a natural and essential state for your transition. It’s necessary to experience it to shake up your familiar structure in order to free you to think and act differently. You’ll move through it faster if you don’t resist. Rather than focusing on how uncomfortable you are, accept the unfamiliar and focus on the new opportunities that are open to you. You may not see the end-game at this point, but take the first step and the next steps will come. When you reach the turning point, circumstances will start appearing that are better and more satisfying than what you experienced in the past.
If all else fails, change your vocabulary. Instead of thinking of this time as a “void,” think of it as a “vacation.” You might as well enjoy it, because—like it or not—you’re going to be in it! Embrace it as your time to leave behind the old, prepare for the possibilities ahead of you and emerge fully ready to experience the new.
February 16, 2010