By Nancy Anderson; career consultant and author of Work with Passion in Midlife and Beyond
“Is it realistic to think I can make money doing what I love, especially in a down economy?” Carol asked, when she called to talk about her career goals.
“It is realistic,” I replied. “But employers, customers or clients have to see the value in what you do, and the work has to be what you do naturally and well, otherwise you won’t survive.”
Carol had tried several career options before we met, but none had lived up to her expectations. Her personal life was just as frustrating. She was involved with a younger man who wanted her to be like him, an extrovert who enjoyed socializing all the time. Carol did her best to keep up with his hectic pace and then felt drained and exhausted.
Carol’s autobiography (my client’s first assignment) revealed why she was out of sync with her natural rhythms. Her mother was a pretty, outgoing woman who had dreamed of being a model, but fear of rejection caused her to marry young and have children. Carol was the oldest of the three children and the only girl, so she was first in line to absorb the mother’s disappointment and thwarted ambition.
In addition to being attractive Carol was intelligent, but she downplayed this strength because she thought men would reject her. She made this illogical decision while growing up with an insecure father who made fun of smart women. Not surprisingly, Carol attracted men who admired her and at the same time felt competitive with her.
As she worked on her life story, Carol realized when and why she decided that she was doomed to repeat her mother’s unhappy life. Looking at the past from an adult’s point of view set Carol free to create a different ending to her story, although this did not happen overnight.
As Carol learned, pretense is a hard habit to break. Again and again she found herself trying to be who she thought she was supposed to be, and then being too exhausted to figure out what she wanted to do. When she finally accepted she was a quiet, contemplative person who needed solitude to be productive, Carol ended her relationship and went back to school to get a graduate degree in psychology. Today she uses her insight to help women overcome the internal barriers that hold them back from success.
“I could not have gotten where I am without the struggle I went through,” Carol said when she called to let me know how life and work were going. “Nor could I bear with clients when they get frustrated with the slowness of change. I know eventually they’ll see that today is not yesterday, and that opportunities abound. Then just as I did, they’ll feel as though they woke up from a bad dream.”
An added bonus to Carol’s career success is the man she met at a psychology conference. “We have the same values and temperament, we like time alone, and time together. Most importantly, we both like our work.”
Carol’s experience with money, work and relationships improved when she realized she had rejected herself to fit in with the group, the first group being her family. Now she is in the work that capitalizes on her talents and strengths, which gives her a distinct advantage in the marketplace. While other counselors are trying to survive, her practice is thriving.
“It took a long time for me to listen to my inner voice, and to stop paying attention to what highly extroverted people do and say. That was because I felt guilty about not doing enough, when in reality I was doing too much, and none of it as well as when I focus.”
Like Carol, you can rewrite your life story so that it reflects the desires of your authentic self, the person you are apart from family and cultural conditioning.
Next: Tips to rewrite your story with successStart by writing about your grandparents and parents’ experiences with money, work and relationships. As you write, refer to them by their first names. This helps you to see them as people, not authority figures you dislike, fear or worship. Objectivity also helps you to see yourself clearly.
Notice the choices family members made (and still make) that always ended in failure, some of which you may repeat, since they are so familiar.
Notice the choices family members made (and still make) that always turned out well, including your good choices. This is when you were being true to yourself in spite of the emotional and financial risks.
Be assured, if you stop making the choices that never worked for anyone in your family, and you repeat the choices that always turned out well for you, being patient with the slowness of change for the better, the rest of your life will be a dream come true.
Nancy Anderson is a career and life consultant based in the San Francisco Bay Area and the author of the best-selling career guide, Work with Passion, How To Do What You Love For a Living. Her new book, Work with Passion in Midlife and Beyond is available in online and retail bookstores. Her website is workwithpassion.com. Nancy invites you to send questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.