Career Anxiety and the Courage to Be You

by | Jan 31, 2021 | Anxiety, Job/Career Change, Relationships, Trust Yourself | 20 comments

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. 

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20 Comments

  1. I have doubts about my choices and feel uncertain about my future . Happiness seems so close only to slip away for some unknown reasons or poor choices.

    Reply
    • I’m sorry you’re struggling, Jackie. I have many free resources on my site that may help, but of course I always recommend therapy as a first course of action.

      Reply
    • I’ve been there, Jackie… watching those tender new beginnings fade into what felt like the inevitable pull of my old habits and ways of thinking. Sheryl’s work has helped immensely, as has therapy. You’re not alone. <3

      Reply
  2. Dear Sheryl,

    As always, this post is really hitting home. First, I want to say that I have taken all your courses and the Trust yourself one has been the most transformative for me (maybe because I did it at a time when it really resonated with me). I believe it lays the most beautiful foundation to all the rest of your work🙂

    And this member’s post you share resonated so much. I fell I literally I could have written it as a fellow lawyer who has over the years also found a passion for nature, cycles and the feminine. And yet it is easy to fall into the trap of ‘should I stay or leave my law career and do something completely different?” I am to some extent still asking myself this question, but I think I have come a long way. Like relationship anxiety, there is no answer, but the key is to find a place to connect with oneself and feel at home.

    As I make space for this part of myself, for the feminine, for the cycles of the moon and the seasons, I see more clearly and create my life from this place. I am now on maternity leave and have been creating and learning a lot – creating a free online circle for women who have experienced pregnancy loss like I did, taking a training to be a peaceful parenting instructor (without the pressure of actually becoming one, if that makes sense – the learning is what matters most to me, rather than the title or outcome), taking courses on feminine energies…

    As I fully allow myself to explore and express myself in these realms, I am seeing that I can infuse these things in my legal/academic career too. Suddenly I can twist the dry areas I am doing research in: I plan to write an article on the feminine cycle and the law (why not?!), I can look at environmental law topics from a feminine, cyclical angle… And most of all, I realize that my work does not define me. That I don’t have to choose one career over the other. Or maybe I will at some point, but not now. The problem is often the amount of pressure we put on ourselves to conform, to please, when really all we need to do to be fully ourselves. When we do so, I believe things become very clear and we can make our best contribution.

    I find so much solace in seeing that I can do and be something else, and yet am able to not put pressure on myself to be one thing OR the other. Maybe I can be both? So as I, yet again, find myself in this space of “should I stay or should leave (in this case, my law career)”, I can allow myself to just see this uncertain space as a space where I can just exhale, get curious, and love the questions more the answers, rather than getting into an anxiety loop. The anxiety is not here because I feel fundamentally safe and rooted in myself.

    Thank you for opening a conversation on this important topic🙂

    Reply
    • Thank you Emma.

      “I fell I literally I could have written it as a fellow lawyer who has over the years also found a passion for nature, cycles and the feminine. And yet it is easy to fall into the trap of ‘should I stay or leave my law career and do something completely different?’”

      I was just about to write something very similar to this about the course member’s post, and then I read your reflection I saw you’d already written it! I had the same feeling reading her words. They could have been mine 13 years ago when I did leave my well paid job at a big commercial law firm to return to university to study psychology. Everything she wrote and you wrote was so familiar.

      There are clearly a community of lawyers looking for more who have found their way to their true path through Sheryl’s work. I am one of them. I am now a qualified psychologist working with the legal profession, and I source enormous meaning and satisfaction from helping lawyers connect with the human dimension of their work. But taking the plunge 13 years ago was incredibly scary.

      Thank you Sheryl. And thank you, Emma, and you, our anonymous course member and soul sister. I feel very connected to you all right now.

      Reply
      • Thank you Sheryl, anonymous course member, Emma, and Clara for taking your time to write out your stories. Reading them has helped me so much. I am also a lawyer with a well-paying job who struggles with these same issues. I spent the morning praying to God for guidance about what to do with my career, and the first email I saw in my inbox today was Sheryl’s article on this post. I believe He helped me through your stories. It seems this is worth talking about openly with our fellow lawyers who may be feeling the same way. Sending you love!

        Reply
        • This comment thread is quite extraordinary! Thank you Emma, Clara, and SEV2011 for your beautiful responses. It’s always been fascinating to me how many lawyers have been drawn to my work. Also teachers, social workers, and therapists… :).

          Reply
          • Social worker 😊👍

            Reply
        • Wow, I too really resonated with this post as, here we go, another lawyer. My ROCD was actually triggered during my engagement in my final year of law school. It has taken an awfully long time to be able to articulate what exactly happened there in that 3rd year 31 years ago (I proceeded into a 2 year federal clerkship and a 3 1/2 year stint and a medium sized law firm) before I finally left to be a full time SAHM.

          I have struggled with ROCD since, and went through a really challenging time once the kids were old enough for me to head back into the paid work world, trying to fit myself back into using that legal training because I had this sense that I “should” be using that degree I had worked so hard for, and that training I received. That’s where the whole career anxiety thing really came to a head.

          It’s taken a couple of years of grappling with that for me to come to understand that the whole law school path was part of an academically achieving black and white world that I had created for myself from a young age- it honestly kept me from getting into the nitty gritty of the potential grays of an inner world, I think, and any capcity to explore, with curiousity, my motivations. I’ve actually had to work very hard to build an exploring nature- it’s like the neural pathways were never developed, I was so busy being black and white.

          Maybe there is a research niche here! Clara, your work sounds very interesting! I have found satisfaction too, in simply working in a capacity where I can use my well-honed analytical and organisational skills, but create networks and communities of compassion and empathy for the network that I work within, as well as provide a deep well of support for my neurodivergent children as they navigate their world.

          Reply
  3. Dearest Sheryl,

    This is exactly what many of my coaching clients are sharing with me. Their clinging to jobs that make them feel empty out of fear of what’s to come after Covid. The illusion that their emptiness, lack of fulfillment and anxiety is necessary “because so many people’s jobs are on the line”. I honor your course member for being so brave. I hope we can be a loving container for people so that they honor presence, self-compassion, and their deepest needs. Thank you dear.

    Reply
    • Thank you, beautiful Georgina. xo

      Reply
  4. Hi Sheryl,
    I commented on the previous post but I understand you get a lot of comments & responses and will be very busy so may not have seen it or had time to respond…
    I just wondered, if I am scared to be single/alone, do I have to leave my partner to confront this fear and heal and learn to be okay alone? Or can I heal from this fear WITHIN my relationship? I don’t want to leave ( it’s a very loving, supportive and healthy relationship that allows for growth and it has no red flags ) but the culture says I should to learn to be alone. Can I heal this fear AND stay?
    Thank you 🙂

    Reply
  5. I left a career that I had felt boxed into by values that weren’t mine, by gendered assumptions of what I was supposed to do.

    Ever since I was a little girl, I felt tracked towards a care-giving profession. As an adult doing that work, I awakened to feeling deeply undervalued. Which felt deeply unfair. Which led to deep rage.

    I hope that care-giving work can be more appropriately valued in the economy. And I also hope that little girls have a wide range of stories available to them about how they might contribute their gifts as adults. Free range to write their own stories.

    Through life coaching and career coaching, changes of context, and Sheryl’s self-trust course, I learned to listen to myself and tune out the rest. Now I’m on a career path that I feel wonderful about. And I do a lot of activism around mentoring young women into diverse, fairly compensated, fulfilling career paths that reflect their authentic selves.

    Reply
    • Incredible, L, especially this:

      “Now I’m on a career path that I feel wonderful about. And I do a lot of activism around mentoring young women into diverse, fairly compensated, fulfilling career paths that reflect their authentic selves.”

      YES and THANK YOU!

      Reply
  6. I’m so glad this member shared this and I’m so glad you posted it. I relate to it so much where I’m at right now and it really warmed my heart. Keeping it open on my tab to reread again in the morning. Thank you <3

    Reply
  7. I wanted to reach out and say thank you for this post. It was very timely. I’ve been struggling with relationship anxiety for a few months, and it recently transitioned to career anxiety. I know they both are coming from the same place. I’ve been discovering who I really am for the first time in my life, and with that came the realization that as interesting as the educational path I was on was, it wasn’t for me. I’ve always thought I would be a Doctor. But as I dig deeper into my heart, conventional medicine does not align with what I believe in. I of course believe it has its place, but I would never be able to perpetuate its core. I also have a new desire to be married and have children with my partner, whereas I previously thought I would never create those bonds, and understood that having a family while going through medical school would be incredibly difficult (I have a new-found respect for Drs with families). I dove back into my passion of animals, and in my deepest moments of despair about my relationship and career choices, turned towards creativity. A month ago, I started a line of all natural pet care products. I feel that it encompasses all of the parts of me- animals, the need to heal, create, be at home with my animals and family, etc. Anyway, this post just gave me some much needed “permission” to explore this new path. Thank you.

    Reply
    • This is incredible to read, Tess! I’m so happy that you’ve been able to trust yourself on this very deep level and make such courageous choices that are in alignment with your core values.

      Reply
  8. Dear Sheryl,

    Here I sit all the way in Namibia, Southern Africa, with an absolute AMEN in my heart. Thank you so much for this post and for the testimony of your client. It spoke to me in a million ways.

    I quit my job in Nov 2019 and yes, it has been “brave, messy, empowering, and grief-filled all at once”. Just yesterday I stayed in bed until 1pm and cried for so many things. At my computer is a note that says “Only you can know and feel what is best for you, for your ship and where your journey is going. Trust yourself.” The hardest part for me is to unlearn what the voices in my head keep telling me and to trust my own voice without having a clear picture of what I’m working towards. But posts like this fill me with hope & energy. The synchronicity of the universe.

    Thank you!

    Reply
    • *November 2020

      Reply

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