Career Anxiety And How To Trust Your Path

by | Nov 10, 2019 | Trust Yourself | 13 comments

I receive a lot of questions from course members and clients on the topic of career anxiety: “How do I know if I’m at the right job? How do I know if it’s time to change paths? Have I missed my calling?” (If you’re struggling the myth of a calling, please read this post.) These questions predicate on one of ego’s most compelling beliefs, which is that there’s one “right” path and that if you find it you’ll feel fulfilled and alive. It’s similar to the belief that if you find the “right” partner you’ll be lifted above the messy pain of life and be transported into a land of eternal bliss. “A calling” and “the One” share a common escape-hatch fantasy fueled by a culture that is informed by a mindset of abdication of responsibility, one that says that your answers live outside of you.

When we shatter this ego belief we see that at the core of these questions is an invitation to grow self-trust, for self-trust originates from a full well of Self and when the waters in the well are full, we stop seeking answers and validations externally. Self-trust is the place inside that knows that you are worthy, deserving, and enough. Lack of self-trust indicates that you haven’t yet learned how to fill the inner waters and so you’re walking around holding a bottomless bucket in front of you, expecting other people or external situations – like work – to make you feel worthy and alive. So whether we’re talking about career, relationships, having kids or decisions around parenting, when your inner well is full and your self-trust is intact, you have a deeper trust in life and you can make decisions from this rooted place.

One of my long-term clients is at a threshold in her work life. As she sits in this liminal zone, where she’s not quite done with her current position but is uncertain about where she’ll land next, she’s marveling at her ability to surrender to the uncertainty and even enjoy it. She’s been on a self-healing path for years, decades even. She has thrashed through several dark nights of the soul and endured challenging moments in her marriage. She has watched as her loving inner parent has slipped on and offline, stepping into the driver’s seat then jumping ship. Over the years that I’ve known her, she has gotten married, moved, changed careers, gone back to school, become a mother, lost her identity, then reclaimed it. All the while she has remained committed to her inner path, even when the outer one was foggy. And in the last couple of years she’s been enjoying the fruits of her labor: a stable marriage, confidence in her parenting, clarity around her career, and, at the core, a continually deepening relationship with her self-trust.

For self-trust is the foundational stone upon which the other rocks rest. Through her inner work and growing both her inner loving mother and her inner father, she recognizes that her career is an expression of her core self, not a validation of it, and by resting in self-trust and trust in life she finds serenity even amidst the uncertainty of the liminal zone. As she shared (with permission):

When I drop into myself, even amidst the uncertainty of my career and raising a toddler and recently having moved into a new house and sensing that another baby is on the horizon, I see myself on a paddle board in the ocean. This is my ground, my anchor. The water is the in-between place but I have a board – I’m floating and I watch the waves lap my body and I see the kelp all around – but it doesn’t take me under like it did in the past. I can trust that I will hear the call for what’s next. I can trust that I can hang out in this still point that always exists even when life is chaotic. I don’t have to doubt. I hear the voices of self-doubt come in but I don’t latch on. I will know when it’s time to move and I will start paddling. I will hear the call and I’ll know which direction to go in.

After she shares this beautiful image of her self-trust in action, I say to her, “This is what self-trust looks like. Ego – the part that thinks it can figure life out and decide what’s next by making pros and cons lists and ruminating and pondering and obsessions – is out of the way. You’re settled into the core of your being.”

She smiles a knowing yes. From this place, from the rootedness of sitting on the paddle board in the ocean, she knows that she can handle anything that comes her way in this life. She trusts the process, she knows how to listen to the subtle layers, she trusts herself, and she anchors into something greater than herself. As she waits, so she trusts: I will know when it’s time to move and I will start paddling. I will hear the call and I’ll know which direction to go in.

Self-trust isn’t a mysterious gem reserved for a select few. It’s available to you, waiting for you in the center of your being, just as it’s been waiting for my client. When you learn the mindsets, beliefs, and traumas that caused your self-trust to rupture then learn to the tools for repair, you’re on your way to retrieving this crystal compass that allows you to chart your life according to your own North star. This is what I teach in Trust Yourself: A 30-Day Course to help you Overcome your Fear of Failure, Caring what Others Think, Perfectionism, Difficulty Making Decisions, and Self-Doubt. I’ve guided over a thousand people through this course, and I look forward to guiding you as well. This live round starts on November 16, 2019, and I very much look forward to meeting you there.

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13 Comments

  1. Thanks for this article Sheryl. I was actually thinking I would love to read something about career anxiety from you last week.

    Do you think you would have anything else to add for someone who is approaching 30, miserable in every single job they’ve ever been in and still has not even an inkling of what they would enjoy? I have started to believe that maybe there’s something wrong with me and/or there’s nothing out there for me.

    Reply
    • I promise you that there’s nothing wrong with you. You haven’t found your way yet but if you keep learning about yourself and filling your will you will find your way.

      Reply
    • Hi Hannah, I can relate. I’ve had many different jobs, and always after some time lost interest or felt incapable or whatever. Very discouraging. At 49, I feel like I’ve finally found my place — and I can relate deeply to what this piece says about your career being a reflection of your abilities and strengths, not being validation. Keep trying different things out, think about what resonates with you, what you’re curious about … even the weirdest things. I started thinking about my top strength — empathy — and finally landed at a non-profit hospice. Very meaningful work that I am naturally drawn to. Took me a long time to get here. You will first your way. ?

      Reply
      • This is a beautifully wise and empathic response, Jen. Thank you, and I’m so glad you found your way!

        Reply
    • I have been in a similar place recently, and while it can be discouraging and frustrating that your purpose isn’t clear (yet), I’ve found peace in the knowing that I do HAVE a purpose, but it isn’t clear yet and that’s OK. And when the time is right, it will become clear. And that your purpose may change a few times throughout your life and that’s normal and OK too. I’ve found peace and intuitive pings/hints through quite space (meditation). This practice along with the above mantra/reminder has reduced my anxiety around the topic and helped me release the pressure to find my purpose now.

      Reply
  2. Wow, there are so many times that this weekly post is relevant to my life but this week is right on the nose. I’ve been recognizing that my anxiety doesn’t spike around my romantic relationships as much these days but I get spikes and spiral off around work a lot. I’ve been able to say “oh hello anxiety wack a mole” and recognize that feeling like “What if I change companies I work for? What if I change fields?” are all the ego looking for that escape hatch from the pain of recognizing that working in health care is really frikken difficult.
    Looking at this headline I thought “wow, Sheryl and I are definitely tapped into the same collective unconscious.” Then reading your clients story of bobbing on the ocean on a paddle board, I remembered in the book Ecstasy (which I totally bought and read after you quoted it the other week) him describing ego’s relationship with the collective unconscious as like a cork bobbing on the ocean.
    I am so looking forward to your workshop in Santa Cruz and connecting with other people bobbing in this ocean ? *sings modest mouse “and we’ll all float on all right…”*

    Reply
    • What a beautiful response. I look forward to meeting you in Santa Cruz alongside all of the other bobbing and singing mice :).

      Reply
  3. Thank you for this. I have my first job interview in a few hours and just got notified of this new post! So interesting what you write and I just see so many parallels to my relationship anxiety. Sometimes it all really makes sense… 🙂

    Reply
    • I hope your interview went well!

      Reply
  4. Sheryl, thank you so much for this post. I’ve struggled with career anxiety for as long as I can remember, and your words and insight are really helpful.

    Reply
    • I’m so glad they helped, Irina.

      Reply
  5. Hi Sheryl,

    This is not completely relevant to this post but I was hoping by posting on a new blog I might receive more feedback etc.

    I read on another blog that pain around family can cause anxiety. A few months ago I moved back home (out of a place with my partner) in order to save money to go on a gap year together (been together 7 years, through college and university, both graduated a couple years ago).

    Living back home with my mum was great at first since I had missed her a lot. However after a couple of months we started arguing. I saw in her so many negative qualities that I despised and at the same time saw them in myself through her.

    I remember crying to my partner about how I didn’t want to be like my mother in our relationship. I didn’t want to be so unreasonably out of order or so emotionally stressed and unjustifiably mean and controlling that it would hurt him. As I could see in my mother these traits that I was then seeing in myself. Like looking back on past arguments with my partner and realising I was like my mother.

    This however was before the anxiety hit. It was during a time when we were properly moving house. My partner was downsizing as well. This was upsetting him. He wanted us to be living together. I got food poisoning at the same time and overnight this intense fear and worry hit me.

    In less than one night it felt like my emotions had done a complete 180. I couldn’t feel my love towards my partner or any passion to go on the gap year.

    My passion to go abroad stems from my language degree. The gap year aim was to find a job associated with my passion (language).

    Now I’m worried that this desire to travel was an escape hatch fantasy? Even though I’ve loved Japan and the language since I was 14 (now almost 25).

    I’m also concerned about these negative qualities that I see in myself and my family. You mention loving yourself completely, but I want to rid myself of these flaws and become a better person and partner?

    Sorry this is so long.

    Any replies would be most appreciated X

    Reply
  6. Hi Sheryl,

    Its been a while since I have been on here, but knew that it was the place I needed to go tonight. So similar to the lady in this article, I feel I am in the liminal, at the cusp of something new. Thanks so much to your work I also have a stable marriage, two beautiful children and have just finished my Masters. I am now at the in-between phase, I have to complete additional requirements over the next few years to get the most out of the Masters (equivalent to 2 years full time work – but I only work part time, which means it could take much, much longer). It’s all I have been thinking about – when/where/how much to work, how much time with the kids, I don’t want to work more, finances, spreadsheets galore, what about another baby, sadness that another baby might be my last, rumination and anxiety ++++++

    I am trying so hard to stand on the board and trust. Trust that the right things will become clear. It is just so hard. I normally dive in so quickly, terrified to lose a minute of time, always jumping ahead, ahead, ahead. My mind is so foggy with it all. I am holding back latching onto any solution I can think of in desperation… I know myself well enough by now, that if I do that, I usually end up back tracking… but it’s so hard Sheryl. It’s like the reeds are around my ankles just saying “quick, now, make a decision, go, go, go” but I am on the board still, I know I don’t know the answer yet.. I am on the board, it’s just not calm and peaceful yet (I’m holding on for dear life!)!

    I have to sit still and trust. I’m about to go sleep and I am going to imagine being calmly on that board in the beautiful bay I live near.

    Thank you Sheryl.

    Reply

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