This week, I had a career consultation with a client that hit me right between the eyes. While I’ve delivered hundreds of laser-focused consulting sessions in the past, in this one, it was clear in literally 10 minutes why this individual had struggled for 20 years in her work as an attorney, and what she needed to do to change that. A powerful realization emerged for both of us – that how she internally conceived of, and viewed her work with divorce had been triggering significant pain and emotional trauma from her childhood.
I’m seeing more clearly than ever that the way people speak and write about their work, the way they frame it and emotionally relate to it reveals exactly what’s in the way of their moving forward to a happier life. And from their responses to my Career Path Self-Assessment survey (a specially-designed set of questions I wish someone had asked me when I was just starting out and that all professionals need to answer), they reveal striking clues about the pain, negative internal messaging and emotional struggles from the past that are now hampering their ability to move forward to craft a joyful livelihood.
Literally every single client of mine in the past 10 years who is stuck in an unhappy career is struggling with at least one of the six common blocks to progress. On the flip side, the highly successful and happy professionals I work with who find joy, reward, and passion in their work have overcome these blocks, either intentionally or organically.
I believe that it’s an inevitable aspect of our human condition to have developed subconscious mindsets, beliefs and blocks that will somehow, at some point, thwart and undermine our happiness and success unless we work to uncover and resolve them. I’ve faced all six of these blocks myself in my 30 years of professional life, and can attest to how damaging they are.
Below are the six core blocks that successful professionals have overcome to be happy and well-rewarded in their work. And these six blocks keep others stuck in career misery, confusion and paralysis.
Block 1: The outcomes you are striving for are, in some core way, conflicting with what you believe is good, right and true.
You simply can’t succeed if you’re in a tangle about the outcomes you’re focused on achieving in your work.
Years ago in my corporate life, I found that the marketing work I was doing felt very wrong to me. I was promoting products that I felt had no real meaning or benefit to customers, and our sweepstakes promotions were attracting people desperate to win big money because they couldn’t pay their bills. They didn’t want our products; they wanted to win money (I’d listen in to our telemarketing calls for the sweepstakes promotions and my heart would break). In the end, I hated the outcomes I was paid to achieve.
You will not achieve success (emotional, financial, professional or otherwise) if you can’t get behind the outcomes you’re bringing about in your work. Shift your work focus so that you’re proud of and fully behind the outcomes you’re striving for, advertising and promoting.
Ask yourself: What are the critical outcomes my work currently focuses on? Now…how excited and supportive am I, really, about these outcomes?
Block 2: Your shaken confidence and faltering self-esteem have impaired your ability to see that you’re worth great money and respect in the workplace.
How well you’re doing professionally is inextricably linked to your relationship with and feelings about money and self-worth. If you feel, for instance, that you need to keep your service prices down to the bare minimum (where you’re not earning anything) because you aren’t sure what you’re worth (or you think that charging a lot is “bad”), you’ll most likely fail in your business. There are ways to be of service to every budget, certainly, but you need to build a smart, flexible, multi-tiered business model that allows you to serve both those with and without access to money. You can do that many different ways including offering high-quality free materials and low-cost products as well as higher-cost services and programs. But in the end, you’ll go broke if you think that charging good money is a bad thing or that you’re not worthy anything to anyone.
In another example, as you’re going out in the world interviewing and applying for jobs, if you subconsciously doubt that you are worthy of being well-paid, you never will get the offers and recognition you deserve.
There are many ways to earn great money doing soulful, mission-driven work, but again, you need to be clear about your beliefs around what you “should” be earning and charging and how you feel about being wealthy or well-paid. If you have any shame about charging well, then you’ll need to heal to issues around self-confidence and self-esteem, and gain more clarity about the great skills and talents you have to offer.
Ask yourself: What do I feel I truly deserve in terms of compensation for my work? How do I feel about being well-compensated, even wealthy, doing this work? What holds me back from earning more?
Block 3: You persistently doubt that you are smart, talented or experienced enough to succeed at what you want.
My goodness, I’d be a millionaire if I had a dime for every person I’ve worked with who doubts the power and usefulness of her smarts, experience and abilities. Thousands of people I’ve worked with have suffered from some degree of “unworthiness” (and I have too). If you’re feeling that you really don’t have the talent, brains, expertise or experience to be valuable in the direction you long to, you’ll have to address this block proactively. You need to look first at where you got the idea you’re “nothing” or not enough, and secondly, you need a realistic assessment of what’s required to succeed in the field or direction you wish to pursue.
If you need additional experience or training, then go out and get it. Find a way. If you’re solid right where you are (with no need for more training or experience), stop yourself from your chronic put downs and from thinking you don’t have what it takes. Fake it until you become it (see Amy Cuddy’s powerful Ted talk for more on this). If you don’t know if you need more training or experience, do some exploratory online and in-person research with people, recruiters and hiring managers in the field and figure it out once and for all.
Ask yourself: Do I believe I have the talent and expertise (and worthiness) to be a tremendous success at what I long to do? If not, what step can I take today?
Block 4: You were culturally trained and taught that it’s not right or good to shine too brightly or stand out.
No matter what field or function you’re in today, you have to be able to broadcast in powerful, engaging ways what you’re great at (your “superpower”), and you have to do it both online and in person. You need other people to help you succeed and thrive, and to engage others, you need to talk about what you do incredibly well (and everyone has something that they’re amazing at). Become more comfortable sharing what excites and enthralls you, and stimulating others by your passion and your mission. If that’s too challenging, get some support to overcome this resistance.
Start by reading my book Breakdown, Breakthrough and Peggy Klaus’s book Brag!: The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It, and take steps to begin speaking and sharing about yourself and your work in engaging and compelling ways.
Ask yourself: Was I raised or conditioned to think that shining my light too brightly was garish, arrogant, unseemly or not humble enough? Was I shamed by my family when I shone too brightly? Was there someone else in my family I was told not to outshine?
Block 5: You have been taught that following your passion is a huge mistake – you believe it will hurt you or you’ll end up broke or miserable if you do.
The people who are the most successful and joyful (and empowered) in life have followed their passions, values, integrity and interests to a very high degree. They know what they’re made of, and they aren’t afraid to pursue an “unsure” path because they understand that the happiest lives are about being of use and making a difference in ways that matter. They know how they uniquely contribute and they won’t be stopped in delivering those contributions. Because of their indifference to the “sure” path, they are risk tolerant and have found great joy and security within themselves.
On the other hand, there are thousands of people who were taught and trained by their parents that following their passions for work would be a disaster – crazy, irresponsible and stupid. Many of these folks were potentially well-meaning authority figures who wanted security for their children. Sadly, their dogged insistence that “following your passion will lead to failure” generated a very negative result. These parents stripped their adult children of the ability to think for themselves, and live by their own beliefs, values, and standards, independently and confidently.
What to do? Complete my Career Path Self-Assessment and brainstorm every day for a full week about what you would pursue if money, time, support, etc. were no object. What would you research, explore and try on, and what new directions would you identify as desirable? Identify the visions you could, in actuality, commit to bringing into reality. And determine the activities that you’re passionate about that should remain as hobbies vs. endeavors you wish to explore making at a living in. If you don’t know, start talking to people doing work you’re interested in, and shadow folks engaged in what you think you want to do. Try on the professional identity. When you do, you’ll learn quickly if it’s for you.
Ask yourself: Do you believe that following your passion for your work will end badly? Who taught you that and what was their motivation and (hidden) agenda?
Block 6: You think you must chuck everything and leave your old career totally behind to be happy.
This is the most misguided belief of all. You don’t necessarily have to leave your old identity and your old work completely behind to have a happier life. More often, it’s a pivot or a tweak – in direction, focus, outcomes, those you’re helping, and how you’re operating in the world – that will bring the most fulfillment, not chucking everything and completely starting over. In fact, the pain you’re feeling won’t go away if you just run – it will follow you wherever you go unless you learn how to BE different – and see things differently — in the world.
Take the time this month to explore ways you can draw on what you’ve already learned, done and achieved. Identify 3 new directions that could potentially marry up and make great use of everything you are already, and everything you’ve learned and done. Understand who you are and the great skills, talents and abilities you already possess, and find new ways to leverage those.
If any of these blocks resonate with you, there’s work to be done. Don’t waste another minute remaining paralyzed in unhappy, unrewarding work.