The Benefits of a Heart Based Career Decision
What is the value to listening to your less rational self to make a heart based career decision?
“It was the craziest thing I’d ever done, it made no sense. Except I can’t imagine what life would be like if I hadn’t done it.”
In coaching accomplished, ambitious individuals I often run up against a familiar “doing the right thing” pattern. [Tweet “Just like the playing it safe pattern, it’s the hallmark of a risk-averse career choice.”] Fairer to say: it’s the default career choice of choice. After a decade of coaching a range of executives across thirty countries, I am convinced that “daring to do the crazy thing” and making a heart based career decision, can actually yield greater career returns, and fulfilment, than “doing the right thing.”
One heart based career decision
Take Amanda. Successful, bright, beautiful, Scandinavian, fluent in 5 languages, and partner-track competition lawyer in the Brussels office of a major American law firm. Having ticked all the right boxes her whole life—starting with right schools, ideal first job, savvy choice of specialization, top law firms—Amanda was, by all counts, leading an error-free existence that culminated in a stellar legal career boasting impressive salary and some measure of prestige. Leaving aside the issue of the 75-hour workweek thing, the absence of extra-curricular pursuits and tensions with her fiancé, Amanda was starting to realize that her visibility within the firm, and vis-à-vis clients, was dwindling. She was working so hard at doing the right thing, but was chronically perplexed at the low returns on all the sweat and hours invested.
So what happened? What was getting in the way of her success?
This was roughly when she contacted me. In our earliest sessions, we established that Amanda’s old pattern of excelling, taking no risks, hitting the right pitch and ticking every rationally and “objectively” correct box in all decisions ever was maybe reaching its limit. At best, this lifetime default setting of hers was causing her to plateau (not only professionally), at worse it was hijacking her soul.
Amanda soon came to the painful realization that, in her swift career ascension and impeccable trajectory, she’d somehow shut down entire sides of herself, to the point of forgetting what she was like or even what she liked. “I’m not sure I recognize who I am anymore,” she sighed, in our very first conversation.
Shutdown of Self
This shutdown of Self included not only passions abandoned for law school nearly two decades ago, but also her innate creativity, uncanny intuition, sharp wit, and a host of other natural talents that were literally suspended. Through our work, it transpired—poignantly enough—that these were the very things Amanda would need to summon, within herself, to take her to the next level, should she want to stick with her law firm.
I asked her if she’d ever done anything crazy, on a whim. She wrinkled her brow and her gaze suddenly hit upon her dog. “Yes, I have! That dog! That dog is the result of the least rational impulse I’ve ever had!”
A few months prior, while vacationing in Greece, this affection-seeking stray (not a puppy, and not a looker either) had attached itself to Amanda, following her everywhere. When her vacation ended, Amanda asked around and discovered that no one owned, claimed, or even cared about this dog. Suddenly it hit her: the dog had chosen her! She had to take it home. “It made no sense, it involved ridiculous and tedious paperwork, Greek dog, Swedish adopter, living in Belgium… I couldn’t even rationalise this to myself, let alone to my fiancé, but… it had to happen. I could not NOT adopt her. Today, this dog is an invaluable source of love and balance in my life, I don’t even know how I lived without her.”
Amanda drew huge solace in realising she still had a capacity to make impulsive, heart-driven choices. She also saw that the consistent lack of such choices in her career had contributed to her current predicament, one in which she was living her life in a very narrow place indeed, with less range or colour than she’d ever thought possible. Read: A Portable Career: A backpack for a briefcase
It became clear that re-integrating the “crazy,” less risk-averse part of herself, could lead to more significant changes. Before long, she was commanding more respect, holding her ground, asserting her views unequivocally with colleagues, and drawing newfound recognition from partners, instead of toiling invisibly, after-hours and on week-ends. She also jettisoned all guilt previously associated with not working on weekends. Read: Have Confidence in You to Create the Career You Want
Rational or heart based career decision
Amanda’s story illustrates the benefits of switching off our rational brain (even just temporarily) in favour of letting our gut—call it our intuitive wisdom—take the wheel. Tragically, we are so conditioned, from primary school onwards, to avoid failing, that striving for zero-error existence (especially in a legal career) becomes our modus operandi.
And yet, when we dare risk it, wing it, or simply dare to do the unpopular thing, we might just be surprised at what we set in motion. A big part of my work is helping my clients re-learn to listen to themselves—to all parts of themselves. And since some of those parts (the playful side or the creative spirit, or the devil-may-care adventurer…) may have been shut down for years, it takes some work recall them, and to then re-integrate them into how we engage with people and events, how we prioritize, make choices, and take actions. Not only on the career front, but in Life in general. Read: Jumping Ship: Unchartered Waters of a New Career
Fear of failure
Fear of getting it wrong can be a killer, a thwarter of initiative, a formidably paralyzing force. I’ve seen what a stranglehold this fear can have on even the brightest people’s growth. It is only when we shed (even partially, even temporarily) the old fear of making a mistake, or the desire to achieve a perfect score card on all fronts, that we can bring more aliveness to our careers, and indeed, our lives! Next time you can, dare to throw a bit of that well-distilled caution to the winds, listen to what your gut is whispering, and see what happens. Don’t be afraid to make a heart based career decision.
You might not adopt a stray Greek dog, but you might just grab the odd trapeze that swings your way, and transport yourself gracefully into a more exciting job. And a future bubbling with aliveness.
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