I’ve noticed a sharp upsurge lately around the topic of career anxiety. I imagine it has something to do with the pandemic and the fact that our lives have been upended. When we’re turned upside-down, as happens with all transitions, we’re given an opportunity to either become more entrenched in our current patterns, even if they’re not serving us, or seize the gift of the moment and ask, “What am I ready to throw into the cauldron of this transition?” For many people right now, it seems that the element that is ready to be thrown into the alchemical fire where it can transformed in a positive way is their relationship to work or the work itself.
What I’ve noticed with work and career anxiety is that the most critical component to address is self-trust: when we know ourselves, which includes knowing our temperament, interests, gifts, learning style, rhythm, family expectations, and social needs, we’re able to steer ourselves towards career choices and work environments that are in alignment with our core nature. And if it’s not possible to change careers or jobs, self-trust helps us to navigate through the current situation and negotiate boundaries in a way that is more honoring of who we are.
The key element in self-trust is learning to drop out of the head space of anxiety and the belief that if make enough pros-and-cons lists we’ll find our “answer.” Answers don’t come from the head; they come from learning to listen to the language of the unconscious, which speaks through the body/psyche through subtle signals, dreams, and metaphors. This isn’t a language that our culture teaches, and yet if we’re going to learn how to chart our own lives, make decisions based on self-trust instead of seeking approval, and create work environments that are conducive to growth, learning this language is imperative.
Along these lines, I’m very excited to share (with permission) this stunning post that a member of the April 2019 Trust Yourself course shared on the forum. When I first read the post, it took my breath away, and when I read it again in preparation for posting it here it filled me with the warmest nectar of poetic truth. She speaks beautifully to the process of individuation, which hinges on learning to define ourselves according to our own value system as opposed to the one we were handed in our families. As she writes, “I was still living a life that wasn’t mine, attending law school pursuing “success” in the terms that were defined throughout my childhood… I am not “giving up” or “failing” by leaving my career as a lawyer. I am letting go of a path that isn’t mine. I am finding my own way. I am following my heart. I am honoring my need for a healthy lifestyle. I am pursuing a simpler life.”
This is what self-trust looks like in action: it’s brave, messy, empowering, and grief-filled all at once. But if we’re going to live a life according to our own North star and reclaim the birthright of self-trust that was outsourced at a very young age, we must dive headlong into the churning ocean and trust that we’ll come out the other side, more clear, shining and alive than before.
I’m seeing a strong contrast between the way I sense that I am perceived by my family and what I feel to be the truth about who I am. The more I engage with this coursework, the more consistently I see my own goodness. I’m already a bit nervous about the end of the course and seeing my family again. When I’m around them, all of my self-doubts are activated and I see myself as seriously deficient and backwards. It takes a lot of journaling and solitude for me to find myself again.
Listening to the “You Are Loved” MP3 brought me to tears. Even if I am physically alone, I know that there are others out there who think and feel and see things much like I do. “I don’t know how I know, but I know.” Yes. Me too. And I’m grateful to you Sheryl for your courage in putting your heart and soul out into the world.
When I am alone, laying in my hammock by the river writing in my journal, I feel love for myself. I look at my story and see that all along, there has been a strong current of Realness underneath all of the anxiety and depression. I have persevered through some real challenges. My dad died nine years ago when I was a senior in college. Much of my sense of self was externalized up to that point– in many ways I defined myself by my relationship to him. I fell into a hole of depression after he died and said, “I will never be truly happy again,” and believed it. But it wasn’t true.
The confusion and grief and fear drove me to look deeply for myself. I prayed, read spiritual/personal growth books, meditated, wrote, walked, practiced yoga and worked with therapists. I unraveled patterns and mysteries from childhood, and cried rivers of tears. I was still living a life that wasn’t mine, attending law school pursuing “success” in the terms that were defined throughout my childhood. But I was also developing a connection to my deeper Self all the while.
I am not, as my dad once said, “a dog on a friggin’ bone.” I am persistent. I commit, I focus. I am determined to heal and to become more deeply aligned with soul.
I am not a drama queen. I am connected to my emotions. I feel deeply.
I am not “giving up” or “failing” by leaving my career as a lawyer. I am letting go of a path that isn’t mine. I am finding my own way. I am following my heart. I am honoring my need for a healthy lifestyle. I am pursuing a simpler life.
When I connect to what feels Real for me, I find that I’m naturally curious. I believe in the Divine. I believe in regeneration, renewal, the cycles of life and death.
When I was 15 I wrote in my journal, “I want to be the calm center in a chaotic world.” I knew what I wanted. I have always known.
Yes, after that I strapped on patent leather heels for a time. I bleached my hair. I won awards and accolades and scholarships. I took prestigious internships. I got into a great law school and got good grades and practiced law for a time, and and and… it was all empty. In the end, that path led to a deep disconnect with myself. I left…
NOW I am home. I get to listen to birdsong every morning. I watch sunrises with my man. I journal. I write. I continually look for my center and listen for God’s voice.
Yes, I feel lost and confused and anxious when I am disconnected from this deep taproot. Some days I am insanely fearful that by leaving Lawyer/Career Woman behind, I am dooming myself to failure, financial ruin. I have dreams of being sent to a mental institution or prison.
But many days, and especially the past few weeks with this course, I know that it’s okay that I don’t have a new “career path.” I am working. I am meeting my financial needs. I am taking care of myself. I am courageous for walking into the darkness. I am finding a new path.
Invited by the emails about creativity and essence, this week I dusted off the guitar I got for my 13th birthday. My dad gave it to me… I wanted to be Faith Hill when I grew up. I played a few chords, found a rhythm that felt right, and warm honey flowed through my veins. YES. This is my YES.
I pulled out a sketchbook and a pencil to draw the lilies that are blooming by the river. I let it be the worst picture in the world and it actually wasn’t It isn’t technically perfect or well shaded or anything like that. But I can see that I was focused on the lines and shapes of the flowers and the drawing says something about the way I see.
I am a woman deeply committed to excavating for Soul. THAT’s who I really am.
NB: this feels super vulnerable, a bit like an overshare, and self-indulgently lengthy. But… if you made it this far, thank you for reading my words. I’ve never shared this much of myself in such a public way and I appreciate the opportunity to practice in what feels like a very safe environment.
The 15th round of 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 will begin on February 20, 2021. If you struggle with self-doubt or perfectionism in any area of your life, from career anxiety to relationship anxiety to parenting to health, I encourage you to consider joining us. This is one of my most popular courses, and spots are filling fast. I look forward to meeting you there.