Job, Career, Calling

Follow the breadcrumbs

Follow the breadcrumbs

Amy Wrezesniewski, professor at Yale School of Management, says that we approach our work in one of three ways: job, career or calling. A job is a way to make money whereas a career is one that provides advancement opportunity and a moderate level of satisfaction. A calling, on the other hand, provides a deep sense of meaning, motivation and satisfaction.

I never gave it a single thought until about three years ago when I had an Aha! moment about what I loved to do, what I was good at, and what provided deep meaning and satisfaction for me. After all, I had a great job that was rewarding, interesting and challenging, and I felt I was making a difference in the world. But despite those qualities, I was also planning on retiring as soon as I could. After all, though my job was satisfying, there were things I’d rather be doing. What those things were, I’m not quite sure.

My Aha! moment put me on a different trajectory, professionally and personally. Now, I can’t imagine ever retiring, and I think about my passion all the time. My passion led me back to school and coach training, and gets me up to volunteer my time or blog into the wee hours. I constantly feel energized, and am gratified when others are energized by our collaboration as well.   Recently, I saw a group of students get together to discuss volunteering to extend the work in this area, and I was just excited beyond belief!

My main advice to people who are searching for their calling is to relax, and to be open to whatever the calling might be.   After all, if it were obvious to you, you would’ve figured it out already.   It may not surprise you that your calling is probably obvious to those around you. They tell you by saying things like: you should do this for a living. Or: how did you do that?!?! My own expectations about the role I should play was my main barrier, but my receptivity and awareness of the calling breadcrumbs (things that I’m good at, do with ease and excellence, and that give me great satisfaction) were huge clues to where my calling lies.

Another should obstacle is the belief that the calling should be specific. I strongly sense my calling, but the final destination  is still pretty vague. I don’t really know where it’s leading me, but I’m just following my bliss into this unknown territory, as advised by Joseph Campbell, comparative mythologist extraordinaire. So far it has not led me wrong and is a better guide for me than my shoulds and musts.

What shoulds and musts are distracting you from what you should really be doing? Set those aside and follow those breadcrumbs to your passion. You may surprise yourself.

Them Old Walls

The crack in my walls

The crack in my walls

I liked having my walls up. It was a safe, predictable and comfortable place to be.   Very little bothered me, including my own and others’ behavior. I didn’t tend to feel too much at either end of the emotional spectrum. At the time I thought I had above average self-awareness, but in retrospect, my blind spots would swamp the side of a barn (thus, the nature of blind spots). In fairness, I imagine there’s probably always room for improvement in the self-awareness department.

I’m in a different space now, thankfully. I’ve been breaking down the walls that separated my consciousness from the emotions from both self and others. As a result, I believe this Neanderthal is much more sensitive to the emotional nuances emanating from others and from within. I’m picking up on feelings and nuances that I never noticed in the past. As a result, my desire to spend time with people has shifted in interesting and not so comfortable ways.

The good news is I can now tell that there is much more kindness, generosity, and love than I’ve ever noticed before. It’s not unusual for me to cry these days, not because of sadness, but because I’ve been touched or inspired by an almost commonplace act of love or kindness. And to think that I used to pride myself on never being one of ‘those crying women’. Not only do I love those crying women, I’m proud to join the ranks.

The bad news is that I’m also much more aware of pettiness, ego, put-downs, and self-delusion than I ever used to. I am seeing those around me in a new light, and I’m sort of amazed by how oblivious I was in the past.   Though I notice these all-too-human shortcomings more easily, I don’t react to them the way I used to. Perhaps in the past for them to rise above my wall and into my awareness, they had to have been pretty egregious.  I’m more reluctant now to spend time with those that are on the constant emotional offense, since I feel my walls going back up and defensive a la the old Susanna.

I believe my growth (growing up?) has given me a new and broader vantage point that includes a higher self-awareness, and thus, awareness of those around me. I am grateful to feel more alive to all of my feelings. Though I am more aware of my negative emotions, I more acutely feel the positive as well. Joy and gratitude on steroids. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

Setting and Accomplishing Career Goals

Some say that the best way to achieve a goal is to define it and create a step-by-step plan to achieve it. I completely agree with that approach, especially when the plan is broken down into manageable pieces.

The problem with this approach is that we sometimes have no idea what our goals should be, especially as they pertain to our careers.   Speaking as someone who has spent most of my life knowing my goals with some certainty, this strategy worked quite well until I realized that I was focusing on the wrong things. The bigger the goal, such as a career goal, the more likely I was aiming for something that I thought I should pursue, rather than outcomes that were a good fit for me. I also have fallen for the trap of focusing on the wrong priorities, like salary or status instead of pursuing deep meaning and satisfaction from my work. I knew that those goals were wrong for me because when I achieved them, eventually they felt like hollow victories.

As a result, now I’m more circumspect about putting my head down and myopically working towards career goals. In addition, futurists say that 60% of the jobs 10 years from now have not yet been created and many of the current jobs will disappear. Therefore, it seems foolish to blindly work toward objectives when a terrific opportunity may become available while focusing on a career objective that may become obsolete.

In other words, we must be adaptable to be successful in the uncertain, future economy.   As luck may have it, adaptability is among my lowest strengths. However, I am managing the discomfort of uncertainty by trying to be present and open instead of worrying about controlling the future.   I am more successful at this on some days more than others; I’m just proud to be making progress in this arena.

Breathe deeply with me, folks. We’re more likely to be happy and successful by positively channeling our energy instead of over planning and trying to control what we cannot control. After all, we might as well enjoy the crazy, uncertain ride!

The Amazing, Wonderful You

I’ve always had the gift of being able to see the best in others. Call me too trusting, naïve, whatever. I don’t care. I love this talent of mine.

Since becoming a StrengthsFinders coach, I realize now that this talent is developed in me even more. Now, instead of just noticing, I can actually use my training to help people develop those assets.

Sure, that’s fun and gratifying. More importantly, this ability to see the best of others really, truly inspires awe in me.

  • I see so much kindness and compassion. Not just from loved ones, but from stranger to stranger.   A kind word. A helping hand. A joke to break up a tense moment.
  • I see so much talent and excellence. People who naturally do the impossible with ease, and oftentimes unknowingly. The results can range from a perfect serve to the tiny wonders of technology like our cell phones.
  • I see so much love. Not only the sacrifices we make for those we love, but the deep connections we can form with each other, even if we don’t know each other.
  • I see so much faith. Faith in the goodness of others, in the connection we share, and our ability to make positive change in the world.
  • I see so much generosity. Those who give their money, yes, but also those who give of their time, their wisdom, their talent, their spirit.

I know that every single one of us has one or more of these awe-inspiring qualities. It’s our challenge, and thus our opportunity, to discover these qualities in ourselves and each other regardless of our pre-existing beliefs, biases and stereotypes.   It’s worth the effort: imagine walking through the world literally surrounded by one phenomenal person after another. Imagine.

The Truest Honor

Big money. Awards. Accolades. Perfect grades. Compliments. An amazing career.   Yes, these are all true honors for those who are lucky to receive them. For some, these are daily occurrences. For others, they happen intermittently at best, but the euphoria may quickly wear off and then we’re thinking about the next honor.

I’m as guilty of this as the next gal.   When I let my deprivation mindset take over, I’m only looking for where I’m not measuring up or not as successful as the most successful person in the room. But when I allow my abundance mindset to prevail, I see affirmation everywhere.

Affirmation need not come in the form of an award or even a compliment. Recall the concept of positivity resonance. It’s a moment or even a micro-moment of connection between two people. Barbara Frederickson, author of Love 2.0, calls this love. That micro- or even macro-moment of connection is even more meaningful when it happens with someone you care about – whether a loved one or a friendly acquaintance. They’re even more amazing when they occur following an interaction where there is mutual respect, trust and companionship. If I can have that type of interaction when using my strengths and following my passions, then there is no better feeling on earth. None.

Connection. Passion. Trust. Impact. Positivity resonance/love. Really. That is the truest honor.

Transactional Relationships



You scratch my back; I’ll scratch yours.

Frankly, I’m not a fan of this type of relationship. You scratch my back; I’ll scratch yours feels somewhat conditional. The statement implies that I will only help you if you help me.

Perhaps a more mutually beneficial relationship is Give/Take.   I think Give/Take may more accurately describe a relationship where both parties benefit but perhaps in different ways and/or at different times.   Imbalance may occur over short time periods but balance tends to occur over the long run.

These reciprocal relationships differ from the unidirectional relationship which may be either You help me/you help me some more or I help you/I help you some more. These relationships are not likely to last or may not even get started, though more limited versions of unidirectional relationships are inevitable and in many cases, desirable.

I think I’m fairly sensitive to relationship imbalance. The exception is when I enter a relationship with a subconscious expectation that the relationship is supposed to be imbalanced. For example, certain relationships at work (employer/employee) or home (parent/child) are by imbalanced by nature. Right?

I’m not so sure.

Certainly, an infant or toddler will be on the Take side of the equation, but as that child grows, they should be more able to Give. If they don’t, they become self-centered and demanding adults. Some parents of my generation have operated on the assumption that we’re supposed to be selfless parents. I completely disagree with that philosophy.  IMHO, children should become increasingly participatory in both family responsibilities and privileges, or forever stay physically, financially and emotionally dependent. Instead of empowering our kids, we actually cripple their ability to be independent and equals in the long run.

I also argue that work relationships should be Give/Take. I Give in exchange for Pay. But Pay is not enough; I need respect, affirmation, fairness, a safe environment, and an opportunity to grow and contribute.   I don’t want a unidirectional relationship with my boss, my colleagues or students. Yes, I’m there to teach, but the students’ should offer their respectful engagement and a reasonable effort in return. Yes, I’m there to mentor, but a good mentoring relationship is based on mutual respect, shared interests, trust and a mutual desire to see and help the other succeed.  I think a good employer/employee relationship has the same features. In other words, even if a student or employee has less authority, a lasting relationship is always reciprocal. After all, we form relationships with people, not just a Means To An End.

Are you taking a unidirectional relationship for granted? Change it. Improve it. Save it.

Need To Be Seen As

The power of subconscious beliefs is that they drive our behavior, perspective and feelings without our knowledge. Neuroscience and psychology research demonstrate that our gut has a lightening-quick reaction in response to our subconscious beliefs, and then our head justifies and rationalizes our gut beliefs.

Your first thought may be, “well, I don’t do that.” If you believe that you’re above all that, please keep reading.

Arbinger Institute suggests that self-justification falls into four main types: Better Than, Worse Than, I Deserve, and Need to Be Seen As. You may have a Need To Be Seen As _________, or perhaps feel Better Than if you believe that others, but not you, are driven by unconscious beliefs. This need may be to appear to yourself or others as perfect, knowledgeable, right, better than, smarter than, more talented than, and so forth.

I can go to any of those four types of self-justification, but I have my favorites. I like to feel smart and competent, even when I’m not, so I tend to go to Better Than when working in my areas of comfort. It comes pretty naturally to me, and it feels pretty good until I realize that I’m probably acting smug and arrogant. Then I feel rotten.

When it comes to the family, I definitely tend to go to the Need To Be Seen As. I Need To Be Seen As a good wife and good mom. Any suggestion to the contrary can be met with Mama Bear; as you can imagine, she’s neither pretty nor a good wife/mom.

I think that perhaps some (but not all) who spend themselves into an unsustainable debt do so to provide the outward appearance of success. Their Need To Be Seen As Successful will put them right into bankruptcy.

In each case, we are neither Better Than nor Seen As A Good Mom/Wife/Successful. Quite the opposite. So in this manner, our fears once again become our self-fulfilling prophecies.

Our subconscious beliefs or icebergs are so powerful when undetected, but they lose their power and potency when brought to light. Awareness of the impact of our icebergs can also allow growth as we start to make decisions and view the world without the bias of that iceberg. We really become powerful as we live our life based on love, kindness, forgiveness, generosity, inspiration and wisdom instead of fear, entitlement, and self-justification.

What kind of self-fulfilling prophecy will result from that?

Feeling angry, anxious or smug as signs of self-justifying with Better Than or Need To Be Seen As Right/Perfect. I have found from my experience of living this way for many years, it is a relief to take ownership of these icebergs and try to manage my human nature more effectively.

If you are deciding that you have been self-justifying too, know that you’re in good company and one step closer to becoming better company.

Impatience and the Future

No one is a bigger fan of being present than I, but just like most everyone else, being present can be a struggle for me. The main enemy of being present for me is my impatience. From the strengths perspective, the culprit is my activator theme. It has me eager to get going. I’m that person jabbing the button on the elevator. Combine activator with my zest strength, and you’d think that my life depended on getting that elevator door closed in the next 0.85 seconds.

The combination is great in the sense that it makes me a very productive person. I work hard. I enjoy staying busy almost 24/7. Chris calls me the Energizer Bunny.

And not always in a good way. If I were to be completely honest with myself (uh oh; beware the person claiming to be honest) then I would guess that most of my mistakes and regrets emerge from my impatience.

  • I make mistakes when I hurry.   I have to work at following my own advice of slowing down.
  • Not giving others sufficient time to make their own choices.
  • Focusing too much on the future: what will happen, where will I be?

For example, my biggest regret from college was rushing through straight to degree rather than taking time to explore other interests and pathways. Focus is a strength too but it’s the opposite of well-rounded. With relationships, focusing too much on the future can be disastrous and/or a huge lost opportunity to form a deep connection with a loved one.

I’m getting better at learning to manage my impatience. I’m trying to slow down during the day and be very intentional about how I go through my task list. When deciding deadlines for self and others, I deliberately add 50-100% more time than my initial inclination. When getting into elevators or lines, I make a point of becoming a student of my surroundings, using an appreciative eye to study all that I see. A recent hour wait in line flew right by! Though there’s still much room for improvement, it’s slowly getting better.

I’ve also learned that when I’m overly focusing on the future, that it’s a good time for me to go inward and be more reflective about what is in the now. I believe I have fairly high introspective intelligence, so it is a natural counterbalance to when I’m being too outwardly focused.   Using a strength to manage another strength that is over-the-top is a great strategy – not just for me.

So now you know why I have typos and grammatical errors in my blogs, at least in part (do I look like I was an English major?).   For me to partner with someone who is deliberate and detail-oriented would be a great match! In the past, that person would just frustrate me when, in fact, they’re my perfect collaborator.

Now, excuse me. I’m running out the door for yoga.

The Value of Introspection

I know some of you out there just hate to be introspective. You don’t want to look inside: there’s no need. You’re fine as you are.

You are fine as you are. You’re better than fine as you are. You’re spectacular.

However, I’m going to make the case that it’s still worth being introspective on occasion, fabulous self not withstanding. Introspection is like exploring the proverbial deep, messy closet. Perhaps some of us do not wish to go digging in there because we might find… old sandwiches? Smelly shoes? The bill you claimed you never got? Terrible man-eating, tentacled creatures?   Your other sock?

Or you might find a can-opener you never knew you had? Your lost ring? The fallen button? Some cash? Old photos?

I know, right? Pretty awful stuff. Not worth digging at all, or too risky even.   After all that Bogey man might really do some damage.


You’re not going to find anything in there you can’t handle. Any demons are really just like the Bogey man – not real. A fantasy of our own construction. A story that we’ve been telling ourselves for years.

Even better, you might find some treasure. You know, those blind spots go both ways into both the good and bad spectra. The whole point of StrengthsFinders and other self-assessments are to uncover your blind spots, but in a good way. Learning about a strength you weren’t even aware of can help you turn that talent into something useful and productive. It’s the equivalent of finding the Cuisinart that you thought Aunt Mabel never returned and a $100 bill in your closet. Now you’re cookin’!

I know you don’t want any of that stuff, so don’t worry about it. Ignorance is bliss, right?

The Hidden Costs of Worrying or Ruminating

I’m not talking about the health issues. I don’t need to lecture anyone about that and turn myself into an ever bigger hypocrite. God knows, I’ve spent enough time taking years off my longevity and turning myself into a physical wreck as a result of worrying.

And I’m not even talking about giving up such a beloved habit. After all, that worry or rumination often leads to action and to positive change. I’m talking about when that worrying goes beyond productive. I can’t let go. I can’t let it go. I can’t stop fretting or beating myself or someone else up (in my mind, not literally).

We know it’s not healthy. But worrying also takes a psychological toll on your perception of well-being and life satisfaction. For example, if I’m focused on the future or the past I can’t be present in the moment, enjoying the company of my family or friends, savoring the beautiful day or scenery, or tapping into my inspiration and creativity. My whole life will pass me by and I’ll have been mentally elsewhere.

It’s the equivalent of being on PlayStation or Facebook your entire vacation. You might as well stay on the couch at home. The same is true for our lives. If we desire, we can view our daily lives as the vacation we’ve always longed to take.   Every day can be filled with spectacular sunsets, romantic walks, deep and interesting conversations with loved ones or a talented acquaintance, and discovering new ideas, experiences, people. But whether at Disneyland, our desk or our couch, we need only to choose whether to view our daily life as vacation or drudgery.

I also find that my life simply goes better when I’m present. I get more out of what I do, not only in terms of enjoyment, but also out of engagement, productivity, and creativity.   People like me better when I give them my undivided attention and, accordingly are also more likely to give me their full attention. I make fewer mistakes and just feel happier and more satisfied in general.

I’ve gotten better about getting myself out of the ruminating cycle too. Sometimes it feels impossible to stop worrying, but taking intentional action to be present helps to break the cycle: taking a walk, meditating, working out, taking a hot bath, listening to inspiring music, pausing to feel my heart energy, smiling at a child, writing a blog, or expressing appreciation or gratitude. Then I do it some more, for good measure. When my life seems to get back on track as result, it’s all the more reinforcing.

My old left-brained-dominated self wouldn’t have believed this, but my wiser, more balanced self believes that being present is essential to my emotional, physical, and professional well-being. And I’m just easier to live with, and in doing so, decrease the stress for those who love me.

Now, please excuse me. It’s time for me to get back to Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. I’m going to enjoy every minute of it.