Dreams as Career Development Guides

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultant
Photo via Unsplash

Reprise: I’m dropping down to one new post per week between now and giving birth in March 2017, so enjoy this repost!

As a young Psychology student in college, I was taught that researchers still don’t really understand dreams, but the predominant theory was that they’re just how your brain processes information from the day – tossing out what’s useless and keeping the knowledge you’ll need in order to function tomorrow. No hidden meanings, no prophetic qualities – just an overnight update like the one your computer makes.

I felt sad and conflicted to learn this, and yet, I believed it for a very long time. I’d have dreams and hardly even pay attention to them because I figured that they were just nonsense.

That’s unfortunate, because I think I could have avoided a lot of pain and heartache had I paid attention to this vast resource that we have access to every night. 

I don’t believe that every dream I have holds some major “aha!” moment, but for me, it’s this amazingly easy, simple way to stay aware of what’s going on for me at a level below my consciousness.

Carl Jung, one of the most incredible thinkers (and feelers) of our time, believed that dreams were the process by which you become conscious of unconscious thoughts and feelings. He taught that dreams reveal much more than they conceal, and that their interpretation is highly personal – no one can tell you what your dream does or doesn’t mean for you.

I think this is why we’ve poo-pooed dreams in our modern culture. Since we couldn’t categorize, measure, and standardize their meanings, we tossed them aside as neurological waste.

That’s nonsense, and I believe it’s high time we included dreams in our personal and professional development work.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultant
Photo via Unsplash

Since I’ve reconnected with my own dream life, I’ve been able to understand personal changes I’m going through, have gained insight into my business, and have been able to process old pain that was keeping me stuck, all of which is pretty amazing.

At this point, I should note that for some people, dreams just don’t really resonate with them, or they never remember their dreams when they wake up. That’s totally fine, and those people have other ways to access their subconscious, intuitive sides. Jung taught that even if we don’t remember our dreams, they’re still working their magic and helping us become aware of what’s going on beneath the surface.

If you’re curious about the dreams you have and are wondering how you can start tapping into their wisdom (your wisdom), I’ve got one trick that I’ve found incredibly helpful.  

The technique is attributed to Carl Jung’s dream analysis method, but I wasn’t able to find any hard evidence of that online (fear not: I’ve reserved almost all of his books at the library and will let you know what I find out later). Luckily, papa Jung encouraged people to just figure it out on their own and not overthink this, so here goes:

My version of a “cut to the heart of the symbolism in your dream” analysis technique:

Step one: When you wake up from a dream, it’s helpful to do something that solidifies it in your consciousness since so often we fall back asleep or go about our day and forget the details that were so vivid while we were sleeping. Some people write in a dream journal that they keep by their bed, put a note in their phone, or just try to remember it once they’re awake. Do whatever feels easy and light to you.

Step two: As you remember the dream, take any symbol or character from it (it can be a person, animal, stone – whatever interests you) and pretend you are that symbol.

As you take on that symbol’s persona, pretend that symbol has a message for you, the dreamer. What does this symbol want you to know? What does the symbol say? What is that symbol trying to make you aware of?

That’s it. That’s the trick. And it’s revolutionized the way I understand my dreams.

I’ll give you an example that helped me understand where I was getting stuck in my business:

A few months ago, I had a dream that I was in charge of a downtown revitalization project, and one of the larger art pieces for the downtown square was an iron sculpture of an Orca whale. I watched sadly as workers welded on its rusty fins and tried to make it appear alive and majestic even though it was a sorry representation of the whale’s true beauty in its natural state.

That was basically it – the rest didn’t really feel important to me, so when I woke up, I just focused on that image of the steel Orca and how sad it made me feel (we don’t have to conduct a 5-hour analysis on our dreams, we can just take the snippets that really speak to us).

As I sat remembering the dream, I pretended to be that iron Orca. I pretended it had a message for me, and the message came through clearly: the Orca represented my worklife, and while it wanted to be wild and alive, it was becoming a mechanical, stiff shadow of its real nature.

Message received: it was time to loosen the reins, step aside, and stop trying to force my career into a small, lifeless box. This totally resonated with me at the time, and it was exactly what I needed to be made aware of.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultant
Photo via Unsplash

Now, on another day, maybe the Orca would have meant something different to me. Maybe Orcas represent something else entirely to you. And that’s all fine and well. You can scoff at this entire idea – part of me does sometimes, too – it goes against what we’ve been taught about external, “objective” truths, and it can feel silly to try and bring our dreamlives into the professional arena.

But give it a try – even if it’s just once. Play around with analyzing a part of a dream you had and see what you find.

Learning how to remember and interpret your dreams is a skill, but it’s not one you need to fret over or feel any sense of “not good enough” about.

Your dreamlife is yours, and it’s simply a resource that’s available to you if you want to tap into it. It will always be there, and if you can just be soft and playful with it, you’ll gain the insights your consciousness needs. Trust yourself with this process – whatever feels like the right interpretation is the right interpretation…with one big caveat:

The right interpretation, the one stemming from your intuition, will feel good – it will feel peaceful, clarifying, and calming, even if you get the sense that you need to make some changes, like I did with my Orca dream. Interpretations that make you feel afraid, bad about yourself, or fearful are coming from your ego – the part of you that hates any kind of change.

So trust the sense you’re getting, but try to make sure it’s from your growth-oriented deeper self, not the fearful part of you that wants to stay exactly who and where you are forever.

I hope you’ll give this a try if it fits for you, and I would love, love, LOVE to hear from you if you gain any insights about your career by using this technique!

Transcending Fear: Rabbit Medicine

 

photo-1433769747000-441481877cafIn honor of being authentic and bringing some spiritual wisdom into our worklives, I want to share a story that’s adapted from a book I love: Medicine Cards by David Carson and Jamie Sams.

In their book, they define “medicine” in the traditional Native American way, which “is anything that improves one’s connection to the Great Mystery and to all of life.” It’s a much broader definition and goes beyond just fixing what’s broken in our bodies.

I’m not Native American and don’t lay any claim to the story below, but I want to share it because I think it’s such a helpful reframe for those of us in the working world. This is about Rabbit and how Rabbit became the Fear Caller:

A very long time ago when the Earth was young, Rabbit was a fearless and brave warrior. Eye Walker, who happened to be a witch, was a friend to Rabbit. They spent a lot of time together sharing and talking about all sorts of things. They were very close friends.

One day Eye Walker and Rabbit had walked a long way and decided to sit down for a rest. Rabbit said, “I’m thirsty.” Eye Walker picked up a leaf, blew on it, and handed Rabbit a gourd of water to drink. Rabbit drank but said not a word of thanks. Then Rabbit said “I’m hungry.” Eye Walker picked up a stone, blew on it, and turned it into a turnip for Rabbit to eat. Rabbit ate the turnip with relish and still remained quiet.

The pair started back on their walk and ended up in the mountains. Near the top, Rabbit fell and rolled almost all the way to the bottom. Rabbit was in very sad condition when Eye Walker got to him. She tenderly applied some of her magic salve on his little body to relieve his pain and to mend his broken bones. Rabbit said not a word of thanks to Eye Walker.

After a few days, Eye Walker was looking for her friend but could not find him anywhere. She finally gave up her search and went on with her daily activities. One day, quite by accident, she ran into her little friend. “Rabbit, why are you hiding and avoiding me?”

“Because I am afraid of you! I am afraid of magic,” answered Rabbit, cowering. “Leave me alone!”

“Oh I see,” said Eye Walker. “I have shared my magical powers to help you and now you turn on me and refuse my friendship.”

“I want nothing more to do with you or your powers! They frighten me terribly. I hope we never meet again!”

With tears in her eyes Eye Walker said, “We were once companions and great friends, but no more, Rabbit. I have the power to destroy you but I will not. Instead, I lay a curse on you and all of your tribe. From this day forward you will call your fears and they will come to you! The sweet bonds between us have now been severed.”

photo-1455869434262-b664819692f5Now Rabbit is known as the Fear Caller. He goes out and shouts, “Eagle, I am so afraid of you!” If Eagle doesn’t hear him, Rabbit calls louder, “Eagle, stay away from me!” Eagle, now hearing Rabbit, comes and eats him. Rabbit calls bobcats, wolves, coyotes, and even snakes until they come.

When I first read this, I laughed out loud, because the image of me running around like Rabbit was crystal clear. I pictured myself hysterical in an open field yelling out all of the things I’m afraid of. I could see myself as a magnet for eagles, bobcats, and wolves.

What kinds of predators do we call in with our fear? I can think of a few examples from our worklives: “Rejection, stay away from me!,” “Layoffs, we are so afraid of you!,” “Change, keep out!”

Our days are often guided by fear and urgency, not by what’s actually important. The organizations and professionals who will thrive in our complex, changing world are those who transcend their fear and put their Rabbit tendencies aside while they do the work that is meaningful.

photo-1444465585361-21136b9b6430Rabbit helps us remember to take responsibility for what we call into our lives.

If you feel like you’re constantly surrounded by predators, or fear, you have some things to consider:

First: what are you currently calling in? Are you running around like crazy complaining about how there are no qualified candidates for your open positions? Are you frenetically responding to angry emails from customers who don’t understand you or your product?

Stop. Instead, find a way to focus on building the things that matter: recruiting practices that are human-friendly and sustainable…products that speak to the people you’re actually trying to reach. Choose to transcend your fear and call in something different. Choose to call in the future you want instead of the one you’re afraid of.

Second: Is what you’re afraid of really a predator? Eye Walker scared Rabbit, but she never intended him harm. What things in your life feel scary, and is it right to reject them and their power? Maybe you have a gift you’re ashamed of or not sure how to use. Is stuffing down your ability to draw/design/sell/caregive/etc. helping you, or are you turning your back on a powerful ally? Is your competitor really a competitor, or is there an opportunity for collaboration and mutual benefit? Is going out of business really a failure, or will it allow you to travel and start your life anew?

Consider the power behind what you fear.


Know someone who might enjoy this story? Pass this post along and share the love!

Reclaiming What it Means to Be “Professional”

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultant*Reprise: I’m winding down to one new post per week between now and Baby Integrated’s arrival in March 2017. Enjoy this repost!*

I recently held a webinar with a new software system that I wasn’t totally comfortable with. It was time to start the webinar, and I could see that people were signed in, so I went ahead and switched it to “live” and started talking. I knew the chat function wasn’t working, but I didn’t know how to fix it, and while normally I like to get confirmation that people can see and hear me, I decided to just move ahead since we were recording.

So, I’m talking, sharing my slides, doing my thing…for about twenty minutes. Twenty minutes, so like, almost half of the time I’ve set aside for this thing.

After this chunk of time, I check back into the editor window, and someone was able to submit a message to let me know that no one could see or hear me. I had been talking to myself and presenting my audience with a black screen for almost half an hour.

Panic.

I’m pretty sure I dropped some f-bombs…I was sweating…I couldn’t believe this was happening. Finally, I got it working again, and almost everyone who had signed in originally was still there with me, despite it being a total mess.

Once we were back on, I didn’t even pretend to stay “polished.” I don’t usually have such major technical issues, and this one just threw me flat on my ass. I apologized profusely and, interestingly, I felt this amazing wave of relief – I didn’t have to pretend to have it all together for these people, because clearly, they already knew I didn’t.

They were so gracious, and afterward, I was reflecting on how freeing that felt – despite the whole thing being kind of a disaster.

What does it mean to be “professional”?

In my case, I thought it meant making the technology work seamlessly, appearing put together but friendly, and maintaining an air of distanced expertise.

Instead, I probably came across a little bit frazzled, rushed, and 100% human. And that felt really good.

To me, being “professional” simply means having integrity. Integrity looks different for each person, but it’s essentially an alignment between your inner and outer selves. The formal definition of integrity is all about morals and virtue and whatnot, but that feels too cloudy to me.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantI think my definition of integrity is simpler: does your outer persona reflect who you really are inside?

Even if that inner and outer matching means that you swear a lot, cry easily, express anger, need rest, take time to process, or make crass jokes, if that’s what it means to be in integrity for you, then I think that counts as being “professional.”

I’m on LinkedIn a lot (p.s., let’s connect)and lately I’ve been seeing comments from people who seem to have taken on the role of “LinkedIn Professionalism Monitor.” They’ll comment on more personal-ish posts that people share and say stuff like “Please leave this kind of post for Facebook” or “This is unprofessional clutter – doesn’t belong here” as if it’s up to them to determine what’s professional enough to post on there.

You know what happens when we enforce silly rules about what it means to be professional and shame others who don’t fit into that mold? We all end up looking/acting/talking/behaving in the same way, which is exceptionally boring and dangerously intolerant.

I would much rather encounter people who are genuine, honest, and authentic across their lives than work with people who are trying to fit into – and force others to fit into – some stuffy, bullshit way of being at work.

And what about you, dear one?

Are you essentially the same person at work, home, and in-between? Are you feeling pressure to act a certain way or fit into a suit that doesn’t work for you?

If so, what can you slough off that isn’t yours? What’s not you? Get rid of it.

Add in the messiness, the color, the complexity that’s missing. You’ll feel better, and you’ll give others the permission to reclaim “professional” for themselves, too.


Feel like debriefing this or discussing other creative ways to be more you at work? Join our Facebook group, A Wild New Work!

 

What Will You Do to Prepare for Spring?

megan leatherman career coach human resources consultant work imbolc springTomorrow is officially the Celtic holiday of Imbolc, an ancient celebration marking the shift from Winter to Spring. It was a time when herding animals like sheep were beginning to give birth, little wildflowers were popping up, and the sun was lingering in the sky for a little longer each day.

Even if there’s snow on the ground, frost on our windows, or if the darkness still feels oppressive, something in us is stirring. We know deep down that Spring will inevitably come again, and soon.

Spring surprises me every year. One day I’ll wake up and be astonished at all of the blossoms on the trees, or by the daffodils popping up along the sidewalk. It’s a gift, really – that capacity to continue to be surprised by the Earth’s natural rhythms and change.

For many of us, January has been a tough month. 

The holiday season was full, the pace of New Year’s was rapid, and the return to “normal” could feel like a total slog. In the United States, we also inaugurated Donald Trump as our 45th President, which has felt disorienting and heavy to me and many of the people I work with.

Amidst all of this, the Earth still turns.

Spring still marches toward us, and if we choose to do so, we can celebrate her return this week.

If you imagine Spring as a season in your career, what comes to mind? How might your worklife blossom and be renewed with this sweet, courageous energy?

Where is there potential stirring beneath the frozen ground?

No matter how you feel about your career these days, there is always potential. There is always room for growth, leverage, and blooming. Something that looks dead to us could very well be germinating and gathering strength for an amazing showcase of color and beauty when the time comes this Spring.

We have to honor this potential by giving it space to come forth. 

megan leatherman career coach human resources consultant work imbolc springThings like toxic thoughts, the mistreatment of our bodies, or an overwhelming schedule can be like Round-Up sprayed directly onto a bed of tulip bulbs. Despite their potential, the tulips die off because of the hostile environment created around them.

This is such a rich and exciting time if we look closely. Spring is coming, and that can absolutely be true for your career as well – it can mean more growth, exciting change, or healthier beginnings.

Where is there room to make more space for Spring’s potential today? 

What feels toxic or heavy to you at work? What can you do to either manage it differently or move it out of your environment?

Where do you feel overwhelmed? Can you cancel, reschedule, or renegotiate to create more time and space for yourself?

Pretend it’s time for Spring cleaning in your career. What needs to go, what can stay, and how can you create more space for what’s to come?

Like I said, I’m always surprised by Spring, but that doesn’t mean I have to wait until it’s here to prepare for what could show up.

We don’t have to know what’s brewing beneath the surface in our worklives.

All we have to do is trust that something is there, warming and growing, and then make room for its beautiful, inevitable bloom.


Know someone who could use a reminder that Spring is coming? Pass this post along and share the love!

What to Do in a Job Where You’re Not Valued

megan leatherman career coach human resources consultantI’ve been hearing from a lot of people lately who feel completely undervalued in their jobs. They use words like “under-appreciated,” “replaceable,” “a cog in the machine,” and their hearts are heavy.

It’s a pretty depressing state to be in. You know you’ve got good ideas, you know you can contribute more, but you feel stifled. Overlooked. Dismissed.

The creative energy you had when you started the job dwindles over time, and soon enough, you notice that you’re complicit in all sorts of silly practices and policies that you scoffed at when you first came on. You stop trying. You figure no one will listen anyway.

It breaks my heart to hear from people who are in this situation, because I can see how disempowering it is. It makes them forget that they’re gifted, that they have agency over their lives, and that things can change.

When I think about this issue, two questions pop into my mind:

Is it true that you’re not valued? and…

What beliefs and behaviors have gotten you to this point?

These are the questions I want to answer today in this post, and I offer up these thoughts from a place of wanting to leave you, dear reader, empowered.

I want to remind you that you are inherently valuable, no matter what, and that you are a badass grown-up who gets to decide where, how, and why you contribute your gifts.

So, question number one: Is it true that you’re not valued?

It might be.

There are a lot of organizations looking for modern-day factory workers who will simply put their heads down and do the work. In his book Linchpin, Seth Godin writes:

“Most white-collar workers wear white collars, but they’re still working in the factory. They push a pencil or process an application or type on a keyboard instead of operating a drill press…But it’s factory work.

It’s factory work because it’s planned, controlled, and measured. It’s factory work because you can optimize for productivity. These workers know what they’re going to do all day – and it’s still morning.”

It could also be true, however, that you’re looking for appreciation when it hasn’t been earned. If you’re like me, then you grew up in a generation that was praised constantly. If we took a shit, we got a gold star.

megan leatherman career coach human resources consultantThat messes with our heads over time – we start looking for validation and accolades instead of focusing on the work and just enjoying it for what it is.

It may be that you’re very much valued in your organization, but that you have different expectations for how an employer should demonstrate their care. If you’re feeling that desperate urge to get the gold star, hold your heart for a second and take a deep breath.

Instead of focusing on what you’re not getting from your employer, consider what about the work you enjoy and spend your energy there.

All that said, if it’s clear to you that you are considered by the organization to be a factory worker and you want more, then it’s time to go somewhere with people who can see and celebrate your strengths.

Question number two: What beliefs and behaviors have gotten you to this point?

A lot of people, myself included, believe that our outer lives are reflections of our inner lives.

If you believe you’re not valued by the organization you’re a part of, then I would challenge you to ask yourself if you value yourself.

Do you take your dreams seriously?

Do you trust your intuition?

Do you honor your strengths?

What are your answers to those questions, without any bullshit?

On the other hand, do you value the organization you’re part of? Do you value the people around you and see them in their giftedness?

I’m not trying to spread guilt or admonish anyone for feeling undervalued, but I also don’t buy into murky limiting beliefs that are more about us than they are about how we’re treated by others.

The truth is that what we’re looking for is usually something that we’re withholding from ourselves or others. 

It’s actually not your organization’s responsibility to make you feel valued. You’re the only one that can accept and foster that inherent sense of self-worth. If it’s not already anchored within you, you’ll grasp for it from external sources that can’t ever truly fulfill you.

If you’ve been feeling really overlooked or under-utilized at work, the steps forward are relatively simple:

  1. Make sure you’re demonstrating your belief that you and those around you are inherently valuable. Appreciate and show kindness to yourself, your co-workers, and anyone you encounter;
  2. Give the work your all and then let go of what you can’t control;
  3. If it’s clear to you that your gifts simply aren’t welcome in the organization you’re in, don’t stay stuck in a cycle of complaining. Go out and find a community that’s happy to pay you in exchange for the sharing of your strengths.

megan leatherman career coach human resources consultantWe have to become what we’re seeking.

We have to become people who reject the industrialized model of working and who contribute work from our hearts – that’s what’s valuable.

You are so capable, friend. It may just be that you’re buying into beliefs that are keeping you stuck. Or it may be that it’s time to up-level your career and move on to a community where you can really blossom.

Either way, you are already valuable – absolutely, inherently, simply by being born onto this Earth.

What to Do When Desperation is Driving Your Career

Last summer, my mom, sisters and I took a weekend trip up to the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington. If you haven’t been there before, go. It’s a magical place that helps you feel connected to the Earth again, in all of its green and watery splendor.

megan leatherman career coach human resources consultant work
One of my sisters and I on our quest to find the whales!

While we were up there, we went on a whale watching tour to see some of the Orcas that hang out around the islands. Did you know that there are actually separate kinds of killer whales? Some are solitary, most live in pods, and they’re separated according to their food source (marine mammals v. salmon).

The resident Orcas off the coast of Washington have always eaten salmon – that rich and fatty food source that was in abundance for millennia until we, you know, ruined their habitat.

Our guide Natalie let us know that in the past few years, the salmon supply has been too low to sustain the Orcas, leaving the hungry creatures with only two options:

Find a new food source in their existing habitat or swim farther and farther to find more salmon.

This got me thinking about what us modern-day humans do when our food source (read: purchasing power) is in short supply.

Ideally, we’d all have a year’s salary in savings and live well within our means so that if we did lose our jobs or income source, we could float to the next thing without any desperation.

For most of us, that’s just not where we are. If our income source runs dry, it can leave us feeling desperate and crazed as we search for the next thing that will pay the bills.

What do we do when we’re in this place? It can be easy to make decisions that we might regret when we’re in this state, and my goal in this post is to offer two strategies that keep you buoyed amidst the storm.

The first thing to focus on when the food source has run out is to secure a new source of nourishment. Do as the Orca do: stay where you are and switch things up, or get out of your comfort zone and reach for more of what you had.

Finding the food is non-negotiable. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is real, and even if it means you don’t step into your forever job right away, you’ll feel so much better knowing you can support yourself financially through this time.

In today’s economy, there are more ways than ever to find side hustles and gigs that can bring in some extra income. You’ve got ride sharing sites like Uber and Lyft, services like Instacart and Task Rabbit, and lots of contracting sites like Fiverr and Upwork.

There are also temp agencies and, if you’ve got more experience, plenty of opportunities to start consulting or work with agencies as an independent contractor.

megan leatherman career coach human resources consultant workNo matter what, secure the food source first.

Once you’ve done that, if you know the food source you’ve found is only temporary, you’ll want to work on finding one that feels better to you.

This is the part where I see a lot of people in career transitions struggle: they get some kind of income stream secured but then still operate from a place of scarcity and desperation.

I totally get this – I’ve been there. You find the temp job, the contract gig, or whatever, but since it’s not your top choice, you hustle and beg like crazy for something better.

Unfortunately, this usually means that our ego-driven, fear-based brains have taken over, which can be a recipe for disaster. The people we network with or interview in front of can smell the desperation all over us, which isn’t very alluring.

So we have to commit, maybe more than ever, to the practices that ground us.

We have to exercise, meditate, play music, or do whatever it is that reminds us that we are going to be okay. We have to connect with our intuition every day and let that guide us instead of the parts of our brain that say “you’re not good enough.”

Having grounding practices and really focusing on the mental discipline it takes to stay positive are what’s required in order to draw in and then recognize which opportunity is the right one for you.

I’ve seen this play out over and over again in my own life: if I’m feeling desperate or needy or making career decisions out of fear, I end up in situations that are not in my best interest. I compromise. I talk myself out of what I know I need.

megan leatherman career coach human resources consultant workIf you, like the Orcas in the San Juans, are facing a major shift in your ecosystem, do whatever it takes to meet your basic survival needs.

After that, though, it’s all about balancing the hustle and job searching with intuitive, centering work that reminds you of who you really are, which is someone capable of creating a worklife you really love.

If you’ve been in this space of desperation before, I’d love to know how you managed! If you’re there now, take heart: it’s only temporary. You can hop on over to my Facebook community to share your story and hear from others.

 

What Does it Mean to be Wild at Work?

I use the word “wild” a lot in my worklife. I use the word in many of my offerings to folks, and it’s one way that I want to feel on a daily basis, no matter what I’m doing.

The word “wild” can conjure up all sorts of images, from unruly teenagers to rock stars, which isn’t exactly the point I’m trying to make by using it. To me, “wild” resonates because it’s about something much deeper within us.

Something we may have forgotten about consciously but that never went away.

To be wild is to live in harmony with our true nature.

megan leatherman career coaching human resources consultant wild new work

It’s about instinct, and intuition, and a sense of connectedness that most of us don’t experience on a regular basis.

I often wonder if there’s room for our wild selves at work. In most organizations – and this is even true for entrepreneurs like me – there are layers and layers of unspoken rules about what’s acceptable and what’s not.

From where I sit, I see a bourgeoning desire among professionals to reconnect with the natural world, which of course includes their own internal wildernesses. This is a beautiful thing. It means that more freedom, authenticity, and truth are at hand.

So, what does it mean to be wild at work?

If being wild is about being our true selves, then I see it showing up in four major ways:

First, as a deeper connectedness to our bodies.

Up until two or three years ago, I couldn’t have told you what my body might think about the stress I was in at work. I assumed bodies were for using – my body got me to work, it typed things, and it was a real annoyance every time it needed to eat or sleep. I was separated from my body, which is a real shame given the fact that it was sending me blaring alarm signals that I could have listened to.

Other animals can’t separate from their bodies like we do. Our minds give us the ability, for better or worse, to override what our bodies are telling us about a situation.

To be wild at work means that we partner with our bodies instead of hating them for placing limitations on us. We express gratitude for the fact that we’re here on this earth in this way and honor that by taking good care of the skin we’re in. To be wild at work might mean sleeping more, taking regular breaks every 90 minutes at work, or choosing foods that support the body.

Second, to be wild at work is to be connected to the Earth. 

megan leatherman career coaching human resources consultant wild new workCan you imagine putting a bunch of bears in a climate-controlled office environment with fluorescent lighting on them all day? Let’s say they’re there for months, and even years, day in and day out. How would that change them?

I don’t think anyone would argue that bears should be in that kind of environment all day for years at a time, but a lot of us assume that it’s fine for humans.

The truth is, being in an environment where we’re shut off from Nature is detrimental to us, too.

To be wild at work is to cultivate a connection to the Earth in some way, even if you do have to sit in a poorly lit cubicle 40+ hours/week. Maybe your instinctual nature will be nourished enough by going on hikes over the weekends, or tending to a plant on your desk, or looking at cute animal pictures on your lunch break.

Third, it’s about reconnecting to our intuition.

When I think about having to survive in the wild on my own, I just shrug my shoulders and assume I’d be dead in a matter of days. Martha Beck talks a lot in her book Finding Your Way in a Wild New World about the amazing abilities of modern-day trackers. These are people who track wild animals using skills that most of us in the “real world” have totally lost touch with.

There is so much mystery and truth right underneath our rationale-loving noses, and if we can reconnect with our intuition, it will guide us. We can learn to track our own desires again.

To be wild at work is to know and trust your own internal GPS even though there’s external pressure to be logical and justify your actions. You’ll know when it’s your intuition because it will feel clear and free, as if you just know where to find the water and food you need.

megan leatherman career coaching human resources consultant wild new workFinally, to be wild at work is to be connected to one another.

Before we could all go to the grocery store, rent apartments of our own, and be entertained by little screens, we existed in tribes of around 100 people. We were embedded. The concept of “loneliness” may not have even existed.

Some wild animals are solitary beings, but not us. To be disconnected – at work or in any area of our lives – is physically painful to us. More and more research is demonstrating the harmful health outcomes that come along with living in isolation, and work is one of the most common places where people feel alone.

If we really let our natural, true selves out of the “civilized” prison we’ve constructed around us, we can connect more deeply with one another. At work, this requires us to be authentic and loving – to assume the best in our colleagues even when we feel like they’re getting in our way somehow.

You know what’s the most beautiful part about this concept of being “wild”?

It’s that we’re already there.

We are in bodies, on the earth, with intuition and the ability to connect with each other.

We are wild, despite our civilization and occasional disconnection from ourselves.

All we have to do is reclaim what feels natural to us.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultant winter solstice new year's resolutionsIf this topic feels wild or natural or energizing to you, then you might be interested in a free webinar I’m doing next Wednesday, 1/11/17, at 10am PST.

It’s called How to Work in a Wild New Way, and we’ll be digging deeper into this topic.

Let the Pain of Not Knowing Lead You

A few nights ago, Chris and I watched a documentary called Prescription Thugs, which is essentially about the prescription opioid epidemic in the United States. I can’t say I’d really recommend the film, but it got me thinking about a dark side of our boot strappin’, problem-solving culture:

careers work pain coaching megan leatherman
Photo by Christopher Campbell

Many of us believe that pain is always bad.

Sometimes pain is a bad sign – it can be your body’s indication that something is wrong and needs to be fixed.

Other times, however, pain is a good thing. Pain protects us by making sure we don’t touch hot surfaces, run into sharp objects, or hurt ourselves in other ways.

Pain can also be a necessary gateway we have to pass through in order to get to the other side of something.

This has been on my mind a lot as I approach giving birth in just a couple of months. Well-meaning moms and doctors have often shared horror stories about the pain of childbirth, and there’s a whole narrative swirling around that says “pain in childbirth is bad, so get rid of it.”

The epidural and other pain-relieving medications have been lifesavers for many moms, and I believe every woman should be given the opportunity to give birth in whatever way she wants to – painlessly, painfully, or otherwise.

But the idea that pain is automatically bad is wrong – in childbirth and in personal growth, the pain is necessary in order to complete the cycle of bringing new life into the world.

Not knowing what to do with our gifts can be incredibly painful.

Sometimes the question feels so big that we just want to avoid it, hopping from misfit job to misfit job. But the denial that something is painful or the belief that it shouldn’t be painful can actually make things worse. As the Zen master Alan Watts says:

“There will always be suffering. But we must not suffer over the suffering.”

Finding your way and giving birth to your gifts is excruciating sometimes, and that doesn’t mean that you’re doing anything wrong.

The pain of not knowing can actually help us get to the knowing if we’ll sit with it, stop pretending that it’s not happening, and maybe even befriend it.

careers work pain coaching megan leatherman
Photo by Jens Lelie

If there’s a part of you that hurts because you feel like you’ve lost your way in life or your career, I’d encourage you to try something a little “out there” but incredibly effective:

Ask the pain what it needs.

Imagine the pain as a color or a shape inside of you – give it some texture and dimension. Approach it lovingly. Then ask: what do you need right now?

Maybe it just needs time to work itself out. Maybe it needs you to do that thing you’re afraid to do. Maybe you won’t get a straight answer right away, but keep paying attention to how it feels in your body. Notice it and try not to be afraid of its presence.

The pain you feel can be a gift – it indicates that there’s something more for you out there.

If you can lovingly accept the pain of not knowing, you give yourself the space and self-compassion you need in order to find what you seek.

Not knowing what you want to do in your worklife can feel incredibly isolating, which is why it’s so important to surround yourself with others who are positive and encouraging. The Facebook group I facilitate is one such community, and I invite you to join us.

How to Know If You Need a Professional Tune-Up

In just a couple of weeks, my friend Claire and I are starting a series of “professional support groups” called Realigning Your Professional Self. We wanted to put this together for a couple of key reasons:

First, there are not enough spaces where professionals can vent, gain perspective, or just be seen and heard. Work is hard, y’all, and without a safe place to process what goes on there, we can get burnt out, resentful, and lost.

career work personal development
Photo via Pexels

Second, not everyone needs a major career overhaul. Sometimes we just need small tune-ups along the way, as if we’re getting a regular “Career Oil Change.”

It can be tough to know if we really need something to be different in our career or if something else is at play in another area of our lives. If you’re feeling relatively healthy and stable in your body, your relationships, and your finances, it’s much easier to pinpoint a work-related issue.

Even if you’re not feeling stable in those areas, however, there are still a few sure signs that a tune-up would be useful:

  • You constantly feel overwhelmed and mentally “flooded” at work
  • You get a pit in your stomach when you walk through the office door or even think about going to work
  • You find yourself getting anxious, angry, or sad at the end of your weekends
  • You’re exhibiting physical symptoms that weren’t there previously, like a racing heart, excessive sweating, headaches, etc.

Other less urgent signals might be things like boredom, feeling drained at the end of each day, or just sensing a tug toward something new.

None of these signs mean you’re bad or that you’ve done something wrong, they’re simply your intuition trying to send you a message.

You probably need a little professional realignment, and knowing what kind of tune-up you need is immensely helpful.

When we’re in that space of sensing that something’s not quite right, we can ask two powerful questions that are posited by Chris Guillebeau in his fun and accessible book, Born For This: How to Find the Work You Were Meant to Do.

The first question to ask ourselves is: Is it working?

Is the work you’re doing actually working, as in: Is it bringing in enough money for you? Are you able to produce quality work? Is what you’re creating resonating with the people it’s meant to resonate with? Basically, is your career functional?

career work personal development
Photo via Mystic Mamma

The second question is: Do you still enjoy it?

You might be getting promotions left and right, but do you hate the work? That’s a red flag. In order to create a career that’s energizing, meaningful, and a reflection of your unique giftedness, it’s critical that you actually enjoy the day to day work.

Try to determine whether you enjoy the work itself or the fruit of the work, like praise from others, the “status” it gives you, industry accolades, etc. While all of those things might be fun results, if you don’t feel a connection to the work itself, you may not be operating in alignment with your strengths, which can eventually feel really draining.

If your answer to both of those questions is “yes,” then you’re probably in the right spot professionally, which is great!

If you answered “no” to one of them, then maybe it’s time to make a career pivot or switch some things up in your current environment. This might mean that you need to take on more responsibility at work, foster more connection with your peers, or commit to doing less each day. Your first step if you answered “no” to just one of them will be to try and optimize the aspects of where you are right now.

If you answered “no” to both of them, then something bigger needs to shift so that you can be expressing your gifts in a way that’s more fulfilling and in a way that actually works. If you’re in this bucket, there are a lot of amazing resources available to you, whether it’s a book like Born for This, a career coach you connect with, or (the most amazing resource) your own intuition.

A very important point: going through this exercise will only be helpful if we can be completely honest with ourselves as we answer those two questions.

If there’s any part of you that hesitates to admit that things aren’t working, or that tries to convince yourself that you do still enjoy it when deep down you know you don’t, notice it.

It can be really hard to admit to ourselves that something we’ve worked at for so long just isn’t fitting for us anymore. I’ve been in that place, and I can tell you how uncomfortable it is.

This summer, I reached a breaking point in my own worklife where I knew that the answer to that first question, “Is it working?” was a “No.” My work didn’t seem to be resonating with my community, the money wasn’t flowing like I needed it to, and things were just totally stagnant.

career work personal development
Photo via Pexels

It took a while to accept this reality, but finally I broke down to a mentor and, in-between tears, I admitted that things were broken.

Just saying those words was incredibly freeing. It didn’t mean I knew how to fix things, but I was putting so much effort toward strategies that were getting me nowhere, and in that moment, I got to reclaim all of that misguided energy.

It felt terrifying to face the shame I felt. I had been subconsciously hiding this secret, that things weren’t working, because I thought that if I admitted it, it meant that I was a failure – that I couldn’t be an entrepreneur, or a coach, or a help to anyone. But that wasn’t true.

It was my own fear of facing what was really going on that was hindering my ability to support myself and others.

As with every other time I’ve spoken the truth to myself, I felt free.

I could rest. I could cry and admit that things really sucked. I let myself feel some self-pity, I declared that I wanted things to be different, and then something really lovely happened: the clarity I needed came to me and I’ve had the best three months I’ve ever had in my business.

I say all this because while Guillebeau’s questions are elegantly simple, our egos can over-complicate things in order to try to protect us from the truth.

The truth will feel clear and expansive to you. Even though I didn’t like the fact that I had to answer “No” to that first question, it was so lucid that it felt like an immense relief to accept it.

We have to be honest with ourselves if we’re going to find our way.

If you’re seeing the signs that something isn’t working for you anymore, it can be an amazing opportunity to practice authenticity. You can choose freedom and answer those questions in a way that resonates deeply with you – the way that only the truth can.

Be Where You Are

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantGenerally, the people who come to me for coaching or who venture into A Wild New Work are looking for help with the future.

They wonder what they’ll do for work, how they’ll make a living doing what they enjoy, or how they’ll get unstuck from office politics.

They wonder what will happen, which is a fair question when you’re not comfortable with what is happening.

I love the future. I could live my entire life there, imagining possibilities, wishing for this that and the other, creating plans and spreadsheets, on and on.

The tricky thing is, fixating on the future makes it that much more elusive because it robs us of the energy to do something to create that future. We imagine and pine for the life we want and in the meantime, neglect the steps that could actually take us there.

The other week in one of my daily meditations, I tried an exercise I heard about on a podcast with Jess Lively. You write a question down and then wait for your intuition to answer, which you also write down. It’s like you’re taking notes for a conversation between your mind and your intuition.

This particular morning, I woke up feeling anxious about work, which I know is a total waste of time, but I’m human, and it happens. In my meditation, my mind kept going to the future, worrying about how I’d do this, how I’d make that happen, etc.

So I asked my intuition:

What can I do today to help make my business thrive?

Here’s the answer I got:

Be present with every client today. Love them. Let go of the need to fix things.

Be where you are.

You see, I was freaking out about the future despite the fact that I had a full day of client work to look forward to, in a new office that I loved, with women who are brave and a lot of fun to be around.

My business was thriving, but my ego and my lizard brain were going berserk. My intuition showed up to help me re-align with the kind of person I want to be in the world.

You know what could really cause my business to un-thrive? Worrying about how to get more clients in the future and being blind to the people who were already showing up, doing the work, and giving me the opportunity to support them – right now.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantWhat I keep learning, and what I share with the people on this path with me, is that the magic is right here. 

All we can really do to create a future that we’ll love is to love this present moment – to be here now, to accept what’s happening, and to take the next, most open-hearted step forward.

Imagining the future you want to create is a lot of fun, and a worthwhile exercise for sure – it’s something I do with everyone I see for coaching. But it has to be balanced by presence.

We can’t neglect the gifts right in front of us and think more of them will just show up on command. We build a life – and a career – we love by honoring the gifts that are here now, by being present with the people in our lives, and by letting go of the need to figure it all out.

This is much easier said than done, of course, but I know we can all exercise this muscle.

Let’s say you work with someone who drives you absolutely nuts – someone who gets under your skin every day. Your modus operandi thus far has been to resist them: to avoid interactions, to push back, and to complain about them to anyone who will listen. You think, “If they would just leave the company, my life would be so much better.”

Can you be where you are with this person? Can you accept that no matter what the future holds, you’re tasked to work with them right now?  Can you let go of the need to fix things with them and just allow yourself a deep breath?

Can you ask yourself, “What is the next most loving step – loving to myself and to this other person – that I can take in this moment?”

How does that change things?

Is it possible that by staying present and focused on the next best step, you’re actually already transforming your relationship with this person into something more positive?

This practice could be applied to any situation at work – a desire to leave, an urge to figure out what your career will look like in five years, or anxiety about an upcoming performance review.

We’re simply being asked to be where we are; then, when we’re present, to take the most loving step forward.

It can be that simple if we’ll let it be.

How to Re-engage with a Stagnant Job

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantIt can be really hard to know whether it’s time to leave a stagnant job or just make some tweaks to improve the situation. If you’re like me, then your first assumption when something really isn’t working is to leave. Change. Move on.

Most of the time, I appreciate my inclination to cut out what’s not working and move on quickly, but that’s not always a helpful impulse.

Sometimes when we’re feeling the urge to leave a job, it’s not because we really should – it’s because our orientation to the job needs to change.

All of us get stagnant in our work from time to time, and we start to wonder how to shake things up again: do we leave? Do we stay? Do we stay but make changes?

Stagnation in a job can show up as fatigue, procrastination, or a general “numbness” to the work. There’s a sense of agitation, like we just know that something’s not right.

If you’re feeling this way, I’d encourage you to slow down and carve out at least 10-20 minutes per day to get quiet and connect with your intuition. These periods of feeling stalled are so ripe for a deeper connection with our inner voice, which is there to help us figure these things out.

Assuming you’re setting aside quiet time to still your mind, get outdoors, journal – whatever it is for you – then I have some ideas for how you can make the most of the situation while you’re waiting for the answer to “what’s next”?

Here are three things I suggest for folks who are feeling like their career is entering a transition period:

First, let go of the pressure to figure this out.

Your soul is on its own timeline, and it does not respond to our frantic rushing (trust me, I’ve tried). This transition will go much more smoothly if you can settle in and assume that the path will open up when it’s time. Your life isn’t a sudoku puzzle that you can solve with your mind. There are other things at play, and when we can stay calm and trust the process, we’ll get the results that we need.

So, the mantra for this period is: “I’ll know what to do when it’s time.”

Second, amp up the emotional labor you’re putting into the work.

“Emotional labor” is a term I first heard from Seth Godin, and it’s essentially the effort we put into cultivating meaningful connection through our work. It’s the amount of effort we put into building strong, authentic relationships or expressing who we really are in what we do.

It’s easier for many of us not to expend emotional labor at work. We like to hide behind our professional “personas.” But if we’re going to create careers that are meaningful, we have to expend emotional labor.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantWe need your heart in the work you do, and you need it, too. When we shield ourselves from the work and don’t make the effort to show up human, doing work we’re proud of, we stagnate – no matter how awesome the job was at first.

You can amp up emotional labor instantly. You can genuinely ask your coworker about his weekend. You can check in with your gut as you start on your next task and see if there’s more “you” that you can put into it. You can be honest when your boss asks you how you feel about something.

The more you can show up in this way, the more energy you’ll cultivate at this job, which will multiply and create momentum for whatever’s next.

Finally, toss your job description in the trash.

It doesn’t matter what you’re “supposed” to do at work. Forget about that for a minute. Here’s my question to you instead: what needs to get done?

Where are there holes? Who’s in pain? In your sphere of influence (which is larger than you might think), who needs help? How can you help them?

Stagnation comes up when we’ve mastered our day to day work enough to feel like we could be doing more. We’re going through the motions, starting to feel bored, but then we wait for someone else to give us the freshness we’re seeking. We think we have to stay in these boxes because anything else just “isn’t our job.”

Choose instead to look around you. What can you help with? How can you expand your influence in a way that feels generous and interesting to you?

Now, if you’re feeling stagnant, you might believe that there’s no point in exerting extra effort where you are. But now is exactly the time for you to see your organization and the work with fresh eyes. Try pretending it’s your first day again. What do you see? Where can you connect? Where can you show up more fully?

If you try these things, you’ll start to create movement that will nourish you, and that movement will help clarify what it is you’re meant to do next.

If you do these and get stalled at every turn by systems or peers who want to keep you in one particular box, then it may be time to leave.

But give them a chance. Do the work. Bring a little more of yourself to work each day. 

No matter where your path ends up leading you, you will have done your part to be present with wherever you are, which is such a gift to the rest of us.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantIf you want help figuring out what kind of transition or change your soul is asking you to make, I’d love to partner with you on the journey. My most impactful coaching program is 12 weeks long, and it closes in December.

I only have three slots available, and the first step to take is scheduling a free 20-minute consultation so that we can learn more about one another. I’d love to connect with you, and you can schedule your free consultation by clicking here.

 

What Happens at Work…Stays at Work?

I recently got to speak to a group of Human Resources students at Portland State University, and I went in to talk to them about integrity.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultant
A little photo I snapped while at PSU.

My intention was to share with them how powerful integrity can be in our careers, and how it not only sets us apart from others, but it keeps us healthy and full.

One definition of integrity is “the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished,” meaning that when we’re living in alignment with our values, we’re complete.

The truth is, there are a lot of working people who have lost integrity. They’ve been shaped and rewarded over time to cut corners. They choose to hide their mistakes, or blame them on others. They’re so afraid of not fitting in that they never challenge the status quo.

A funny thing can happen when we’re part of an organization led by people without integrity: we become like them.

We excuse behavior that we’d never excuse in our personal lives. We look away from problems that we don’t want to deal with. We stay silent even when the question that needs to be asked is burning inside of us.

We justify all this because, “that’s business.” Or “that’s just what happens at work.” We compartmentalize it even though the fact is that living out of alignment with our values erodes us over time.

Let’s pretend that each of us is a stone, and every time we choose not to say how we really feel, act in a way that we don’t admire, or go along with something we know is wrong, a drop of water hits us in the same spot.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantAfter years and years of this, our surface erodes. We have an indent. Or a hole forms and the air can flow through us.

This doesn’t mean that we’re bad or that there’s anything to be ashamed of – as social creatures looking for connection, it’s natural for us to seek the path that most helps us fit in.

But we’re fooling ourselves if we think that we can live without integrity at work and stay whole.

What happens at work definitely doesn’t stay at work. 

You carry it in your body, even if you feel like you can mentally or emotionally shut off. Those drips of water still hit your rocky surface, and while you can withstand changing for a while, eventually the water will win (it always does).

Fortunately, everything can change. You can regenerate. You can decide to notice the things at work that aren’t in alignment with your values or who you want to be in the world.

You can notice how it feels to carry out policies that diminish people.

You can notice how it feels to enforce rules that you know are stupid.

You can notice how it feels to chase money that will go to pay for your company’s destruction of the planet.

You always have a choice, and if you can get a little quiet and reflective, your insides will tell you when something is out of integrity for you.

You’ll feel it. It might show up as stress, discomfort, a flushed feeling, fatigue, or back pain. Getting dripped on all day is uncomfortable, but luckily, it’s not inevitable.

The question is always, “Who do I want to be?”

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantIf you want to be yourself, which I know is someone with a lot of integrity who deeply cares for others, then you have to be aware of what’s eroding you.

Then, you have to decide whether or not you want to be someone who is eroded over time.

This conundrum is less about your work environment and more about your personal choice to live in alignment with your values.

Every work environment, no matter how “evolved” will create opportunities for erosion – pressures or actions that don’t line up with us. Some work environments are much more corrosive, however, and if you’re doing work all day every day that you know is hurting yourself, others, or the earth, I’d encourage you to revamp your resume and get out of there as fast as you can.

For most of us, however, this is a matter of simply choosing to speak up, to offer a new way of doing things, and to be an example of integrated living.

The next time you’re given a choice between doing what feels true to you and keeping up with “business as usual,” choose you.

What happens at work can either erode you over time, or it can nurture and expand you, but it will always stay with you either way.

What the U.S. Election Has to Do With Your Career

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantLast week in the U.S., we elected Donald Trump to be our next president. Some of us were appalled, and others of us were relieved.

Since election day, there’s been an outpouring of emotion, shaming, fear, and blaming of the “other” for where we are today. This election has exposed the shadow side of the U.S. that so many of us were happy to ignore as long as we could.

In some ways, this is a gift: we can see the darkness, and now we get to decide how we want to dance with it.

This has nothing to do with how (or if) you voted last week. The fact is that we’re all part of a political and cultural system that feeds off of deceit, oppression, and silence, and each of us is in some way responsible for how we got here.

We’re responsible because we’ve all tolerated deceit, oppression, and silence when it has served us.

We don’t mind supporting policies – governmental or organizational – that limit others’ rights as long as it doesn’t get in our way. We excuse the fact that our boss silences us in meetings because we prefer the steady paycheck. Or we tolerate the mistreatment of entry-level workers in our company because we don’t think there’s anything we can do to change it.

I know it might seem extreme to argue that this election is related to your career, but it’s not if you believe that everything – and everyone – is connected in some way.

The mechanism that keeps us silent when we’re asked to do something at work that doesn’t align with our values is the same mechanism that tells us not to expect more from our government.

Whatever it is that’s telling us we don’t have any talent is the same force that says we can’t do anything to change the world.

And the part of us that seeks a scapegoat when we make a mistake at work is the very same thing that’s causing us to point the finger and blame “the other party” for where we are as a country.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantOur lives are a reflection of who we are inside, and the election simply reflected that back to us on a larger scale.

Notice if your immediate reaction to that sentence is to take offense and separate yourself as “better than.”

This is where we are, folks. It’s uncomfortable, and the world feels like a scary, divided place, but we still have power – every one of us.

And it’s time that we step up and be our most loving, magnanimous selves.

It’s time we live out our giftedness, because when we don’t, we give systems permission to keep us trapped.

It’s time to be generous: with our assumptions, with our time, our money, with everything we have to give.

We get to choose what posture we want to take during this time. We get to choose how we treat “the other” and how we treat ourselves.

Your career isn’t your entire life, but it is a place where you spend a considerable amount of time and energy. If you’re showing up to work as someone you’re not, suffocating your creativity and joy along the way, then you won’t have enough in your spiritual bank account to contribute what I know you want to in this lifetime.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantMany of us feel a sense of urgency right now, no matter what our political perspective is. The ground beneath us is shifting, and we can either scream and burn bridges along the way, or we can choose to be better. We can choose to live out our values and our gifts instead of spiraling into blame and hatred.

Choose to be light and peace and all those complex, life-giving things that you are.

Like, seriously – I mean it.

Do something today that is a reflection of your best self. Be more generous than you’ve ever been before. Stretch yourself to speak up against a system that’s keeping so many people small and in despair.

Expand and love more openly than you did yesterday. And keep expanding.

How to Ignite Change in Others

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantWe all need an extra dose of support at various stages in our lives, and in a society without strong social connections or elder-apprentice relationships in place, we often have to “outsource” that supporting role to therapists, psychologists, and coaches.

I’m a coach, and while I don’t love labeling what I do in such structured terms, you have to start somewhere. I use the term “Career Coach” to describe my focus on supporting people who want to thrive in their worklives.

It’s easy to recognize a good coach when you see one, but not always easy to describe what makes those coaches different from others who use the same label but just don’t ignite the same thing inside of us.

So, I’ve been doing some research at HR Think Tank, a program I co-lead, and also in my Facebook community. I asked people to describe the attributes of their favorite mentors or coaches, and some themes appeared. Getting this feedback has been so helpful to me in my work, and I wanted to share it with you today so that you can use it either as you coach others, or as you look for someone worthy of coaching you.

The three categories below are the primary ways that good coaches ignite change within people – change that already wants to take place but needs space to come alive.

Three Powerful Ways You Can Ignite Change:

1. They have personal integrity and model authenticity.

Good coaches and mentors walk the walk, and it’s not always pretty. These people will be the ones to speak the truth in a room full of liars, they’ll be working on their own development and well-being, and when you meet them, you’ll know that what you see is what you get.

They make you feel at ease because you know this person will do the right thing, be open with you, and give you the space to show up completely and fully as yourself.

2. They’re appropriately vulnerable. 

Being vulnerable is part of being authentic, but it’s so important that I’m pulling it out to stand on its own. A good coach gives you the freedom to try things, make mistakes, and ask “stupid” questions. They do this because they’re open with you about the mistakes they’ve made in the past and even about the things they struggle with currently.

They know the line between showing vulnerability to support your growth and vulnerability to receive inappropriate validation or affirmation. A good coach ignites change in us because they show us where they’ve been stuck in the past and how they got through it. That requires having enough courage to be vulnerable and shed the need to be “the expert” in the room.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultant3. They’re genuinely curious about you. 

I met with a coach a while ago who is pretty well-known in my community and who I believe really cares about the work she does. That said, I felt like shit after meeting with her, and you know why? It was because she launched into coaching me before she even really knew anything about me.

It doesn’t feel good to get advice from someone who doesn’t take the time to understand us first, and a good coach takes the time. A good coach uses whatever tools she has to draw you out, learn how you see the world, and figure out what you – soulful you – wants to be and do in the world.

Here are a few things missing from the list of feedback I received: credentials, the number of hours a coach has practiced, the degrees they hold, the rate that they charge, their age, their job title…I could go on.

What matters to the people who gave me this feedback, and what matters to me, is the connection that a coach can create. That connection, when it includes the three big attributes above, is what sparks change in us.

Hearing from folks as part of this mini research project has made me even more motivated to be this kind of coach.

If you coach others as part of your work as a manager, mentor, or even as their peer, I hope you’ll focus on these attributes as well and release those stories that tell us we’re not “good enough” to help others.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantIf you need some support in your career right now and something in this post resonated with you, I’d love to talk more.

After November, I won’t be taking on any additional 12-week coaching clients until May 2017, so this is the right time to reach out if you think you could use some help getting to the next stage in your worklife.

Click here to learn more about how to work with me.

How Connection Can Transform Your Work

If I could do my last corporate job over again, I would focus so much more on building human connection with the people I worked with.

For lots of reasons, at that point in my life I just couldn’t connect with folks at a very authentic level – mostly because I didn’t know myself anymore.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantBut if I could go back in time as who I am now, that’s what I would do: ditch the pressure to be “professional,” show up as my real self, and see people for who they really were. I would be honest with them about how I was doing, I would laugh a lot more, and I would ask the deeper questions that I wanted to speak but kept inside because it felt safer.

Every human being is desperate for connection with other human beings.

In today’s disconnected (or “misconnected”) world, many of us feel unseen, unheard, and unknown. Without being seen, heard, or known, we feel empty and lost, grasping for a sense of context in which to put ourselves.

For many of us in the United States, we’re especially disconnected, because unless we’re part of the Native American heritage, this land isn’t even where we come from. Sure, you might have been born here, but it wasn’t that long ago that your lineage was deeply rooted in another land, a place where your people may have been for centuries, cultivating knowing and community with the Earth and each other.

So here we are, today, on land we don’t know, surrounded by strangers, each trying to find our own small tribe in which to make sense of things.

This sense of disconnection follows us and pervades our workplaces, and people are growing weary of it.

Without community elsewhere, many people are looking to their organizations or teams for that sense of camaraderie, understanding, and being seen. It’s why things like “culture,””the coaching mindset,” and “employee engagement” have become such popular topics.

These days, my work is focused almost entirely on connection, because without it, the people I serve won’t feel supported enough to look at the deep, dark questions that brought them to me in the first place.

They won’t feel comfortable crying, or yelling, or wrestling with the fact that birthing their gifts and creating a worklife they love is hard fucking work.

So we have to connect.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantThey have to feel seen, and heard, and understood. They have to see me as human, not as an automaton who just takes notes and repeats their words.

Developing deeper connection was pretty uncomfortable for me in the first few months of my coaching practice. That “be professional” mindset was deeply entrenched within me, and in many ways, it still shows up – but only when I need it to.

As I’ve relaxed my need to feel like I’m “doing it right” or being “the expert,” I’ve been able to really see my clients in their fullness as complex human beings, and that allows for such deeper work to happen.

Before I start the 12-week process with a client and for each of the women in A Wild New Work, I do something that always feels pretty scary:

I prepare a gift for them.

I’m not sure why I do this, I just really like it, and I think it builds that connection right from the beginning. And it’s an intimate gift – I choose aromatherapies and stones that I believe support what they really need at a deep level. I meditate and pull a card for them that has a message on it that is very personal. And I tell them all of this, even though I haven’t necessarily met them in person before.

But I do it because I want them to know how strongly I support what they’re about to create, even though it makes me feel really vulnerable.

How would things change if instead of getting a company notebook or ID badge when you started a job, you got a gift from your hiring manager that was about you, as a human, and was designed to support you succeeding in the next phase of your journey?

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantWhat if you got a long handwritten card with it that explained how grateful they are for your presence there, and how excited they are to see you grow and contribute your unique strengths to their team?

When we connect in a “high touch, low tech” way, which is more and more what people are demanding in today’s economy, we transform ourselves and the other person that we’re reaching out to.

It shifts things.

It makes them more real, and colorful, and it enables us to do the hard work that we’ve set out to do.

There are always opportunities for connection, no matter what you do for work. You can get someone a coffee, be honest about how your weekend really was, or be fully present with your co-worker as she tells you her father passed away.

Connecting requires us to be brave, but without it, we’re doomed to numbness, loneliness, and a life without much beauty in it.

Choose connection, always.