I went for my usual Sunday morning run with my friend, Mary, and we had a beautiful morning: the sun was out, it was over 40 degrees and for the first time in months we weren’t in thick ice or snow. We catch up while we run, so Mary mentioned her maddening run the day before: one of those where “the voice” inside your head (aka “the gremlin” sitting on your shoulder) is whispering and whining loud and long in a tone that just won’t stop.
In Mary’s case, the voice was a stream of “you can’t do this,” “who do you think you are trying to run 7 miles?” “you can’t even run 2 minutes without stopping,” “your legs are miserable…give it up!” and, of course, “this hurts…your back, knees, hips: stop you’re killing us!” The beauty of Mary’s story is that she ran through the voice and did the very thing she had set out to do. It’s so easy to listen to the voice and go to the place of comfort–to give in, to stay safe–wherever that is.
Do you know the voice I’m talking about? It’s the one that keeps you from moving forward with challenging or new things–telling you that the comfortable place you’re in is the right one, the safe one, the smart one. It says that change–any change–is going to be scary, hard, will make you look foolish, and you’ll fail.
A former client, Susan knows the gremlin well. We met for lunch last week several days after she finished the last exam in her paralegal program. Susan was a client 18 months ago, at a time when she didn’t like the work she was doing or the industry in which she’d spent 12 years. After introspection and research, Susan determined a direction that would use her strengths and provide real satisfaction. Her internet search found a premier program at a local university–it was convenient, affordable and it fit her schedule.
Once she discovered that option, Susan’s gremlin plopped itself on her shoulder and held on for dear life.
“You haven’t been to school for 25 years.” “You haven’t done any kind of studying for almost that long.” “How will you keep up with the younger students? “You probably won’t make it.” “Studying will take up all of your time–you won’t have a life.” “They won’t accept you…how embarrassing will that be?”
After wrestling with her gremlin, Susan took a baby step: she made a call to get some initial information. The information intrigued her and made it easier to push the voice aside, so she decided to talk to an advisor, someone who knew returning students. She took one small step at a time: application, interview, wait for acceptance.
Susan was thrilled when accepted, yet the voice came back feisty and persistent, creating nerves and angst and fear as the program started. But Susan had a goal, and she trusted herself enough to pursue the satisfaction she wanted and the change she desired.
What Mary and Susan both figured out is that the voice inside your head is yours: you create the thoughts, so you can change them! You’re in charge. The thoughts are strong since they’ve become habits. While it takes persistence and focus, you too can change those habits.
Well, this is a blog about careers, so what is your voice saying about yours? That you have to stay where you are with the economy and all? That the only smart thing is to suck it up and be happy you have a job? That you don’t have the skills to do anything else? That you’re too old (or, too experienced or too invested or too whatever) to make a change? That finding work you love is for other people, not people like you?
If that’s what your voice is saying, then listen up: Bunk! This kind of thinking lets you keep yourself small and under the spell of fear.
And this spell is one that doesn’t make you excited about your work; it doesn’t allow you to use your strengths every day; and it doesn’t move you toward making contributions that matter. If you’re stuck in this thinking, you’re defaulting down the easiest path, following your gremlin voice.
You don’t have to default, you know. When you own your career and take responsibility for your direction, you don’t have to “settle” any more. A different take on your career path, yes, but a realistic one for the 21st century work place.
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