You know that feeling when you wake up and would rather stay under the covers or call in sick than actually go in to work?
Or maybe you wake up feeling completely overwhelmed by everything on your to-do list...and as your feet hit the floor you feel like you’re already behind before you even start.
Or perhaps you know that the career and life you have is killing you slowly...but you hate change and therefore would rather stay stuck for fear that there’s nothing else out there that could possibly make you happy.
Ohhhhh…my dear friend. I have totally been there.
I want you to know that you are not alone, and that it doesn’t have to be this way.
There is another way to live that is full of joy, love, and unending fulfillment in your life and career.
Wanna know what it is?
Of course you do! Otherwise you wouldn’t have read this far.
Before I get to that, let me tell you a story about my client Adrianna.
Adrianna came to me after having practiced as a physical therapist for 4 years.
And she wasn’t just any PT. She was a really good physical therapist. The kind that managers adore and patients line up to see.
She had graduated from an ivy league college followed by a top 5 physical therapy program. She got accepted to a sought after sports residency and then went right into a prestigious fellowship.
She was board-certified in two different specialties and had presented several times at national conferences.
Yet...with each accolade she chased after and achieved, she noticed within a month or so of receiving it, the “shiny-ness” of it started to wear off.
She had all these credentials and accomplishments, yet she was still seeing patients for only 15 minutes before she had to hand them off to a physical therapy technician who took her patients through exercises while she moved on to the next patient to do hands-on care for 15 more minutes.
Something was not adding up...
She didn’t get paid for that time, but it was kind of an unwritten expectation from her managers that it be done that way.
She didn’t want to let down her managers for fear she wouldn’t look like a team player or she wouldn’t get high marks on her employee reviews.
Adrianna LOVED helping athletes in pain to reach their goals because they seemed so grateful and joyful when they did.
But she couldn’t help but constantly hear this little heart-wrenching whisper in the back of her head:
I’ve met my goals, yet I don’t feel grateful or joyful.
She HATED that whisper. It came up once a day, if not more. Everytime it came up she felt so guilty.
She’d worked hard. She’d gotten a sought-after job. She was actually working with athletes--something she’d dreamed of since she was an athlete herself. So many of her colleagues didn’t have that. So she should be grateful, right?
Honestly, she felt guilty for even feeling guilty.
She didn’t know what to do...so she squashed the unending guilt and just kept plugging away...
Maybe I’ll see if I can get a teaching gig, take a new course, do a few more presentations at the next conference. That will give me something to be excited about!
As she searched through the internet for opportunities, she switched over to facebook and saw one of her colleagues post a news story she and her patient had been featured in. Her colleague had just helped a young athlete patient re-learn to walk after a spinal cord injury.
Instantaneously, Adrianna would find herself in a sea of more unpleasant thoughts:
Wow, that’s great. And look, she even made the news. I haven’t made the news yet, and I have way more accolades and credentials than her. In fact, she was kind of the slacker in school. Maybe I need to do something newsworthy? What could that be?
Adrianna felt herself wince as she heard herself saying these things in her head. She felt guilty for even being a little jealous about her colleague’s news story. Shouldn’t she be happy for her colleague, and especially for the patient?
Ugh. What a mess. She just didn’t know what to do to feel more joy and fulfillment in her job, but she knew she didn’t want to feel like this anymore. Something had to give.
When Adrianna and I first spoke, I asked her one simple question:
“Who are you, independent of the hats you wear, roles you play, jobs you have, accomplishments you’ve received? Who is standalone, independent Adrianna?”
I could feel her hemming and hawing through the phone.
“Uh, can you repeat the question?” She finally asked.
I repeated the exact same words.
Finally, as if she had forgotten to do her geometry homework and had to stand in front of the classroom and shamefully admit it to the whole class, she responded:
“Um...well, I um...uh...I’m not sure know, or maybe I just don’t understand the question???”
Yes, her answer was a question, not a statement.
She burst into tears and told me that she felt so helpless and lost.
Adrianna had fallen into the trap that most of my clients, and I myself, had fallen into at some point.
What’s the trap?
We have been unknowingly programmed to define ourselves--and moreover--our happiness--by external standards outside of ourselves.
Adrianna, like so many women (and men!) have fallen into that well-practiced pattern and belief system.
So many people (maybe even you!) have fallen into it, so much so that they don’t even realize they’re there!
Let me give you an example of how this may typically show up.
As children and teens, many of us may have received gold stars, pats on the back, or praise and adoration for making good grades. In turn, we unconsciously equated those gold stars of approval from our teachers or parents with being loved and worthy.
And because most of us want to feel loved and worthy--our little kid brains learned to attach our lovability and worthiness to those achievements.
Thus, as we moved into adulthood, we brought this story with us. We always sought approval or adoration from others--either by constantly chasing the next achievement or constantly trying to please everyone else.
But as so many of us come to realize--we don’t feel any more happy or loved. In fact, this endless cycle only drives us to constantly chase more and more. Nothing is ever good enough.
Because while it may feel good for a short time to get adoration and praise from others (or even ourselves), the truth is, those feelings don’t last.
We get short term bursts of the “feel good chemicals” of dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin released into our brains initially...then they wear off.
The brain gets easily addicted to these chemicals, so it stimulates cravings to get more.
And as long as we have a program in our brains that “achievements are a way to get feel good chemicals,” this shows up as insatiable cravings for new ways to achieve things: to take more courses, to get a raise, a promotion, or new certification.
Or maybe it shows up as always looking for more creative ways to make money, or get new leadership roles, or volunteer for new things.
In short: when we practice placing the source of happiness, fulfillment and love outside of ourselves, we can spend an entire lifetime chasing it...only to feel short term sensations of joy, and long term sensations of frustration and unfulfillment.
In other words--we have become addicted to achievements.
And remember--this is nothing to be ashamed of. It happens simply due to unconscious programming. From common beliefs we unknowingly signed up for.
We can’t control that we were programmed that way. But we can control making a decision to start receiving our dopamine in other, more meaningful and fulfilling ways.
So how do we do that?
Chances are, when you come to realize that nothing “out there” is truly “making you happy,” it may feel a bit disconcerting or maybe even scary.
It may feel discouraging or frustrating.
Like Adrianna, many clients come to me saying “Ok Julie, I’ve checked all the boxes. And none of it makes me happy. I know I need to do something, but I can’t see where to go or how to grow.”
And they feel so….so….SO afraid. So oftentimes, they just stay stuck in their comfort zones.
Until this point they’ve followed someone else’s “plan” for career and life happiness and fulfillment. They’ve checked the boxes. And that feels safe and secure (even if for the most time, they feel frustrated).
And then, something changes. Maybe they realize one day that enough is enough. They’re tired of the neverending cycle of frustration.
Or maybe they get married or have kids and want to spend more with a partner or their families, but don’t have a perfectly groomed plan laid before them to do that.
Or before they added a family to their lives, it was “easier” to just “be lost,” but now, a partner or kids depend on them and they feel ashamed for “not having it all together.”
The simple truth is, when we chase someone else’s definition of success, or health, or a meaningful life, it means we are leading with our heads, not our hearts.
The real path out of frustration and into fulfillment is to know and practice FIRST what we want for our lives based from our hearts. Then build our careers around that.
It doesn’t work (well, not sustainably at least) the other way around.
Intuitively, we all know this to be true.
Yet, almost everyone is programmed to do this backwards.
And to add insult to injury, amidst all that unconscious programming and “doing things backwards,” we never learned how to stop and listen to our hearts.
Chances are, if you’re like me, there weren’t life coaching classes in middle and high school.
Sure, there may have been some college and career counseling (maybe!), but it’s unlikely anyone sat you down and said, “Hey! What does your heart say you want for your life?”
Sure, you may have been told “You can be anything you want or do anything you want,” but it’s likely nobody told you how to actually do that or be that way.
And, there was likely an unspoken follow up to that statement, which likely went something to the tune of “...as long as you make good grades, work hard, go to college, get married, and make a respectable income to support yourself.”
So you learned that you can certainly follow your heart, as long as you check all these boxes first.
Furthermore, it’s likely that at times you did want to do something from your heart or intuition--like travel the world or make art or music or dance or simply play outside and run through the sprinklers--but it was considered a “hobby” or “unreasonable” or “not something we do all the time.”
So not only were you unconsciously programmed to follow all the rules and externalize your worth, happiness, and love...but it’s likely you were also unconsciously programmed to believe that doing things that were “truly you” were merely rewards for hard work.
In truth, it works the other way around.
As humans, we are wired for play, connection, joy, love, intuition, exploration, and adventure.
But in today’s world, we practice only letting those things show up if and only if there’s time and if all the work is done.
Only once the boxes are checked, then can we be happy.
It’s no wonder our world is so riddled with anxiety, depression, overspending, frustration, and people feeling unfulfilled.
But I have good news for you....
Your heart is screaming at you right now. All that frustration and overwhelm and fear and stuckness you feel?
That is your heart’s way of saying “LISTEN UP! IT’S TIME TO CHANGE COURSE!”
Yes, that is GOOD news.
I’m saying those icky feelings are a good thing.
It’s just up to you to tap in and listen to them.
Because if you don’t, they will just scream louder.
Listening to them may feel scary, sure.
Which is why people like me are here!
We are wired for connection and community. You don’t have to go at it alone.
And because I believe in not leaving you high and dry, I’ll give you three things you can do to kickstart yourself out of the cycle of frustration:
1. Get clear on who you really are.
Who is standalone you, independent of all the hats you wear, roles you play, achievements you’ve accomplished, and things you do every day? Write out a paragraph or so as if you just introduced yourself to me in public--and do so WITHOUT using any description of things you “do.” To really figure out how to unstick yourself, we need to know who “you” really are.
2. Play pretend with your inner 5 year old.
Kids don’t worry about “adult” things when they play house or dress up or pretend to be firemen saving the planet. They don’t care about checking boxes. They know exactly who they are and what they love and they aren’t afraid to show it. You once had it, which means you can find her again inside of you. But here is some framework for you just in case you need “rules.” If time, money, 401(k)s and “performance” metrics weren’t real things we needed to rely upon, how would you spend your time? Go big or go home here--let yourself play pretend and envision what a day in the life would look like. And watch out for when your brain wants to get all “rational” and starts to say things like “Oh that won’t make sense because…” That’s just the voice of fear talking. Tell it to hush. To really find fulfillment in what you do, we really need to know how you would LOVE to spend your days. Just because you write it down doesn’t mean you actually “have” to do it!
3. Focus on what you DO want, not what you DON’T.
What we hold in mind will manifest. It’s called the Law of Attraction. If we hold crappy thoughts in mind, we will have a crappy day. If we focus on what we don’t want, those things will continue to show up for us. You don’t need regret or fear or guilt to motivate you. You can use true passion and love to motivate you. Which means focusing on what you DO want. Make a list of 10 things you WANT in your life and career, without using the words “don’t” or “avoid” or “lessen” or “minimize.” In other words--define these things based on what you DO want, versus what you don’t. When we always define our lives based on what we are running FROM, it can be an endless cycle of frustration and unfulfillment. When we have a clear target, it’s much easier to shift into “drive” and actually navigate ourselves there.
And most importantly--give yourself love and forgiveness for being stuck in this place. You are not alone, and you didn’t wake up at age 6 and say “Hey! I think I want to start programming myself to practice attaching my worth to external things!”
It’s just part and parcel of being a human in this world.
Nobody is to blame, not even yourself. Blame helps nobody.
But, you can take responsibility and start practicing new ways of thinking any time you want.
You can tell yourself the truth, which is that you are inherently loved and worthy, completely independent of the things you do, the achievements you accomplish, and the roles you play.
And that, my dears, is simply enough.
Reach out to me if you’d like support on this, and make sure to check out my free guide, the Be the Boss of Your Career Blueprint, which guides you to create a life and career you love so you can live more and work less.
I can't wait to hear what you come up with!
In love and health,