In the early stages of my adult life, I thought I knew what I wanted and how I was going to get there. I had a plan. Ironically, my plan only held out for about the first decade post-college. Then something called ‘life’ happened.
I got married; I had a child (and then another); I lost my mother; I left jobs as my husband’s career relocated us four times in seven years. During all this change, something happened that I never anticipated. I got lost. Not just the kind of lost that happens when you get off an interstate exit and you miss a turn. The kind of lost that happens when you are on a hike and go off trail and lose sight of north, south, east, and west – you are surrounded by a sea of trees that all look alike and you have no clue which way to turn or which direction to go in.
When we take on careers and roles that drain us, it is easy to get lost. To exist on autopilot. To stop dreaming. To feel stuck.
Lost and Stuck
It is not uncommon to hear people say that they feel lost. Life sidetracks many of us in many ways. I knew I felt lost. I knew I wanted something different, but I didn’t know what it was.
The first step to getting what you want is letting go of what you don’t
So How do You Start to Break Free?
Start Saying No to Things that Don’t Excite You
(and that you can afford to give up)
To start to get unstuck, you must come to the realization that just because you can do something does not mean you should. Once I started relinquishing roles that I did not want and started saying ‘No’ to work opportunities that didn’t mesh with my goals, I started finding the time to think and reconnect with myself.
Start Reconnecting with What Really Matters to You
You must start reconnecting with who you really are and what you are meant to be doing. At first, I had no idea, but my gut did. I started paying attention to how I felt when I did different things. I started paying attention to the gut feelings that spoke to me when I talked about what I was doing to other people. Our positive and negative feelings creep out in the words we use and in the tone of our voices – listen.
Stop Listening to the Voices in Your Head
This is the tricky part. So much of what we do daily is influenced by what we think we should be doing. We are influenced by social norms, by role expectations, by family, by social standards, by societal level influences – like how we define success.
I really struggled with that last one, and to be perfectly honest, I still do. Our society tends to view success in terms of status and money. But I knew that I wasn’t going to find myself in some socially defined position or with money.
Our culture places a high value on the roles that we take on at work. This valuation causes many of us to tie our identities to the careers we choose. But what happens when the career pathway or the roles we occupy, no longer mesh with who we are?
It can cause a great deal of role conflict and role strain that permeate other areas of our lives. I struggled with multiple roles and it left me feeling burned out, depressed, and alone.
I had to let go of how I thought success was defined and redefine it for myself. I had to quiet the voices of outside influence. No one else was going to be able to uncover what was keeping me stuck or define what I needed to move forward but me.
The Voices that Saved Me
Even though my Mom had died almost ten years prior, I still heard her voice in my head – “Do something you love.” She didn’t tell me this about work, but she did tell me this when she and my father dropped me off at college my freshman year. She told me to major in something that I loved. Those were profound words for me then and they still are now.
When I reconnected with this memory twenty years later, it struck a chord. It became clear that so much of what I enjoyed in life, and in every job that I ever had, centered around sociological thinking, learning, growing, and building social awareness.
I started acknowledging to myself and others that I didn’t want to be a stay-at-home-mom and that I wasn’t meant to run a corporation 250 miles from my home. I started listening to myself, and I began to hear the whispers that led me to the path that I am on today.
Start listening to yourself.
- What voices are whispering in your ear that are preventing you from saying no to things that you don’t want to do?
- What roles feel more like an obligation than an opportunity? (Which ones can you reduce (share) or eliminate?)
- What things make your heart sing and make you excited to get up in the morning?
- What is your gut trying to tell you? Are you listening?
Stop listening to the negative voices and start listening to you. Your voice matters and it is the one that will get you unstuck!
P.S. This isn’t an overnight fix for most people. It took me almost nine years of taking on a series of roles and opportunities, hoping that something would stick, before I finally started really listening to me and redefining my life to create a career and a life I love. I hope that you don’t have to wait as long as I did, but even if you do, I guarantee it is worth it. We only get to live one life, so embrace who you are today and seize it!