|#42 - When the obvious....becomes the obvious
Sometimes, I get an aha moment that astonishes me. The cloud I didn’t even know was there starts to lift, and bright rays of light illuminate a previously nebulous situation. In one moment, the journey starts to make sense, just like that!
One such moment occurred when an accomplished leader was talking with me about the annoyingly persistent obstacles preventing her advancement in her chosen field. Despite her extensive experience, her unparalleled smarts, her political savvy, her strong work ethic and great management skills, there was no career advancement in several years. Having followed her progress over the course of a few assignments, I thought her assessment was pretty accurate. She had everything going for her. So what was really going on?
I started by casually asking her a few open-ended questions: “What do you value in your work?”, “Why is it important to you?”, “How do you experience fulfillment in the other areas of your life?” “What brings you joy?” As she meandered, she and I both started noticing the deep dissonance between what she was saying, and her demeanour. She spoke all the correct words, the ones she was supposed to say, but her body told another story: Her lack of facial expression and the slumping of her shoulders spoke volumes. The decisive, strong voice that was her trademark started to falter. We continued for a while, in silence, letting that realization take root.
What left me astonished was the realization that this familiar human story is repeated time and time again: No matter how hard we try, success will inevitably elude us when we unconsciously follow someone else’s recipe. Obvious, and yet…
Now, I admit I can be as stubborn as the next person, trying as hard as I can to fit the proverbial square peg in the round hole. But over the course of my journey, when faced with the pesky dissonance between the ‘correct’ words and how I truly feel, I’ve learned to ask myself one ridiculously blunt question: “Are you happy?” Ouch! The answer is either yes or no, and therefore obvious, right? The best policy is to answer honestly. It takes guts to say no, if that’s the truth. A less than truthful answer leads to misery in the status quo. A truthful answer leads not only to a much needed sigh of relief, but a pressing need to frankly assess where I am in my trajectory, and what needs changing.
If you find yourself in a holding pattern with your career in spite of your best effort, I invite you to gently ask yourself one, two, or all of the above questions (I’ll list them here):
These are tough questions. Why? Because they’re simple. They require you to answer from your heart, rather than from your head. A supportive coach or mentor may be a great sounding board.
- “What do you value in your work?”
- “Why is it important to you?
- “How do you experience fulfillment in other areas of your life?”
- “What brings you joy?
Bringing much needed light to what is difficult to acknowledge is a vital first step before making any decision about subsequent steps. Remember, you’re not asking: “What I am supposed to do?” In fact, avoid that question at all cost! For now, just articulate the truth, make it obvious to yourself, and sit with it for a time. You’ll be relieved you did.