A Vision for the Future of Work

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

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantWe need a new vision for work – a vision that’s more alive and more vibrant than the mechanical environments that most of us are offered in our jobs today.

Many of us still believe in old stories about work, stories that tell us things like: “you need a boss,” “what matters is the bottom line,” or “once you get to the top, you’ll be happy.”

Even if we know those things aren’t true, we still cling to them and strive to fit into stories that don’t serve us. We’re hungry for something else, but we aren’t quite sure what that is.

Our stories are outdated, and that’s causing dissonance for people who want more depth and meaning in their careers.

David Korten, the author of a book called The Great Turning, wrote, “When the stories a society shares are out of tune with its circumstances, they can become self-limiting, even a threat to survival. That is our current situation.”

In case you haven’t heard of the concept of The Great Turning, I’ll share my understanding of it: it’s essentially the idea that humans are at a pivotal crossroads in terms of our consciousness and the actions we take based on what we believe is true in the world. Many people are living and working as though things are fine, the same as always – “There are plenty of natural resources,” “If I just work hard enough I can get ahead,” “Our world is not falling apart,” etc.

But for those of us who are awake to the destruction happening around us – the devastation of our natural environments, the curse of affluenza and consumerism – we have a choice to make. We can either choose to be crippled by fear and continue living like everything’s fine, or we can be a part of the shift: The Great Turning.

We can turn toward community, toward stewardship, toward a new economy based on wholeness instead of emptiness.

The Great Turning absolutely applies to our worklives and the stories we tell ourselves in our careers.

Things like the push for paid parental leave, a new awareness of self-management in the workplace, and a greater desire for work life integration are all signs that people are choosing a new vision of work, which gives me all the feels and makes me so excited.

So what is that vision? What would work look like in a society more interested in caring for ourselves, one another, and our planet than with shareholder profits?

Frederic Laloux, whose work I respect immensely, writes about three components of organizations that are pushing the envelope toward this new vision of work:

  • Self-management
  • Wholeness
  • Evolutionary purpose

These are concepts in his book, Reinventing Organizations.

Here are some ways that self-management might show up in the future of work:

Organizations that have come out of The Great Turning will be living, diverse ecosystems, not the behemoth machines that we have today. These organizations will be made up of peers who have agreed upon a certain mode of functioning and self-enforce the rules and structures that they’ve created. Teams within these organizations will be like fully functional cellular organisms, equipped with what they need to support one another and do high-quality work. Ongoing, in-depth training on group dynamics, vulnerability, and conflict resolution will ensure that these self-managing organizations can focus more on the good work they’re doing than on politics and in-fighting.

What about Laloux’s concept of wholeness? How might that become part of the future of work?

Thanks to the work of Brené Brown and many others, shame and vulnerability have become more acceptable things to talk about, but there’s still not enough room in today’s workplace for us to show up fully human. From where I sit, many of our workplaces are hyper-masculine environments in which you’re expected to have a forceful approach to problems, compete with your peers, and scramble to the top. In any living system, whether it’s our bodies, ecosystems, or the earth itself, we need balance.

Our workplaces need a balanced dose of the feminine. In organizations that move toward and value wholeness, feminine attributes such as intuition, cooperation, and care for the community will be just as important as profit, action, and meeting goals. We need both types of energy, and when in balance, they enable us to be whole ourselves and to create organizations that are spacious enough for integrated adults.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantFinally, I want to talk about Laloux’s concept of evolutionary purpose and add my own twist:

Laloux talks about evolutionary purpose in terms of organizational purpose and the idea that if an organization is a living system, its direction cannot be controlled. In the future of work, perhaps organizations start out with one set of goals, but over time and through the work of their self-managing teams, new goals arise – goals that could even change the entire focus of the company. The idea here is that we will learn to let things arise and move with them instead of sticking to old stories or outdated company mission statements.

I want to add another idea to this concept, though, and that is about interconnectedness. Part of The Great Turning is a change in Western consciousness from individualism to a deeper sense that we are part of something larger. So many people are sick in this culture because they believe that they are separate. They believe that they are alone in this world, disconnected from others, from the earth, from life itself. If you believe that you are separate from everything, it’s much easier to cause harm – to yourself, to others, and to the earth around you.

But we aren’t separate, are we?

I love this quote from the poet Rabindranath Tagore: “The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs through the world.”

In the future of work, I imagine people coming together to create organizations that monitor, act, and celebrate stewardship of their people and their impact on the natural environment. Profits are most definitely a part of that, but in this evolved future, profits are put in their rightful place: alongside – and no more important than – people and the earth.

When we realize that we are connected to everything around us, we can 1) wake up to the pain of what’s going on in ourselves and to the earth, and 2) choose to be a part of The Great Turning.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantIt is possible to have a society full of organizations that contribute to the well-being of the world instead of deplete it.

The future of work can be one that is joyful and colorful and supportive of each of us and the gifts we bring to it. We all have a unique part to play in this pivotal time, and if our bodies and hearts are diminished after each 40-hour workweek, it’s difficult to see what that part is and how to play it.

No matter where you are in the world or what you do for work, I encourage you to believe in this vision if it resonates with you. Shed that old story that tells you that work is about taking and keeping up and defeating others.

Choose to believe in a story that invites you to be bigger and dive deeper.

We need this vision to become real, and I believe that process is already underway. If caring, brave individuals like you can come together and support one another as they make real change in their own worklives and in the lives of others, then this vision will become real much more quickly.

One such community of these kinds of people is the Facebook group I facilitate called A Wild New Work. Click to join us and choose a different path.

What Nature Can Teach Us About New Year’s Resolutions

On December 21st, we passed through Winter Solstice – that gate that comes once a year to remind us that we’re returning to longer days and more light. Between now and the Summer Solstice in June, the light will slowly, almost imperceptibly, return.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultant winter solstice new year's resolutions
Photo via Unsplash

I love two things about the Solstice:

  1. It always comes, twice a year, without any interference from humans. It’s a sure thing, and a good reminder that we don’t have to force change – the Earth shifts and moves in its own perfect time.
  2. It’s a slow change. Instead of everything changing in a jarring instant, it happens in increments that add up over time, until before we know it, we’re out playing in the daylight until 9:00 at night. It’s smooth and artful.

 

Contrast this with the pushy, neon energy of New Year’s Eve.

I think it’s sweet that people want to celebrate bringing in the New Year, but the whole champagne-popping, bright lights-flashing, party-hat scene has never jived with me.

Not only does the celebration itself feel empty, but the amount of “New Year, New You” marketing emails and advertisements that come at us this time of year feels pretty overwhelming.

The intent behind all of these emails and programs isn’t negative – there really is something to the idea of starting a new year that’s invigorating. But the urgency associated with them is so unnatural.

It’s healthy to seek change and create goals that come from our depths and really support our dreams. That said, too often we’re pushed into creating rigid programs for ourselves that rarely end up producing the benefits we were seeking.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultant winter solstice new year's resolutions
Photo via Unsplash

We enroll ourselves in “Boot Camp” or commit to “Whipping ourselves into shape,” believing that the new year is a time to fit into stuffy boxes of personal change.

If there’s something your heart really wants to be different in 2017, I think that’s beautiful.

But instead of creating an Excel spreadsheet outlining the steps toward change or signing up for a program that treats you like something bad that needs to be “fixed,” I’d encourage you to take a different approach.

Keep it simple and give it space to grow.

The Solstice comes twice a year without our having to will it. The light waxes and wanes, the waves ebb and flow, and the flora and fauna thrive when it’s time.

We can take notes from the natural world around us and follow a similar arc in the journey of our souls.

I’ll give you an example that I think illustrates the benefits of this approach.

I was working with a client we’ll call “Jo,” who was feeling really desperate to have a new career in 2017. She created to-do lists, she set ambitious goals, and she gave herself a firm deadline to go by.

And yet, every week, making time to focus on her career changes would get pushed aside. I’d check in with her about her progress, and she’d feel down and frustrated that she couldn’t get to the things she wanted to, but she remained committed to her deadline.

So there was tension: not much was happening in the present moment, which made her feel bad, but she didn’t want to abandon the rigid structures and timelines she had set up for herself.

It was a recipe for failure, and she was feeling like shit along the way.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultant winter solstice new year's resolutions
Photo via Unsplash

So, through some honest reflection and re-configuring, we came up with a new approach: ditch the lists and the deadline, and put that energy toward one hour of career nurturing per week.

One hour in which she was giving her dream of a new career the space to grow, without the pressure to check everything off or figure it out by a certain date.

When we break out of rigid systems that aren’t working for us, there’s tremendous freedom and creativity released.

And that happened for Jo.

Sure enough, she actually started creating the dream she’d envisioned. She looked forward to that hour every week. She was playful with it and found that it created the momentum she needed in order to do the hard work of transitioning into something new.

Making the changes we want in the new year can be a natural, fun, and enlivening process.

We may feel the pressure to set deadlines and whip ourselves into action, but oftentimes that just paralyzes us in a space of inaction and shame because we’re “not doing enough.”

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultant winter solstice new year's resolutionsI want to support thoughtful professionals make the changes they seek in healthier, more sustainable ways.

On January 11th, I’m offering a free webinar called How to Work in a Wild New Way, and it has nothing to do with pushing you to make resolutions or commitments that don’t align with who you really are. It has everything to do with making work fit for you naturally, in your own perfect time, and I’d love to have you join us.

Click here to learn more and sign up.

25 Things I Love About Work

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantThis morning before I sat down to write, I was feeling stressed out because I got off to a late start and don’t have as much time to write as I normally do.

“What will I write about in such little time?!,” I wondered. “I have to get this done ASAP so I can make those website updates today!,” I thought.

Then, a sweet little ping of inspiration hit me: I can have fun with this.

I can have fun with this constraint, this lack of time.

It doesn’t have to be hard and anxiety-ridden, which is something I’m trying to remember more and more in every part of my life.

So, instead of trying to plan out a dense, wordy post for you, I decided I’d give myself five minutes to celebrate what I love about work. I set a timer and wrote down as many of my favorite aspects of work as I could.

I focused on what brings me joy and tried to have fun with this instead, and it turned out to be an illuminating exercise! I’ll tell you what I learned after I share the list.

25 things I love about work:

  1. Collaborations with cool people
  2. Shaping ideas
  3. Getting paid
  4. Connecting with other humans through the work
  5. Coffee dates
  6. Opening up shop (meaning: starting early)
  7. Starting late when I want to
  8. Learning new things about my clients’ lives
  9. Breakfast meetings
  10. The first email check of the day
  11. Stretch assignments
  12. Building presentations and curriculum
  13. Learning about different company cultures and wondering what makes organizations tick
  14. Having rhythm throughout the day: work, break, work, break, stretch, work…
  15. Opportunities to express gratitude, which are everywhere
  16. Sharing that knowing look with a colleague in the hallway, like “We got this.”
  17. Getting in the zone
  18. Dreaming about what could be…
  19. Dry erase boards
  20. Power Hour
  21. Having a workspace that’s mine and full of inspiration
  22. Color-coded calendars
  23. Looking out the window until my next best thought arrives
  24. Excel formula magic (up to a point)
  25. The fact that we always get to choose how we show up in our work

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantWhen I looked back over my list, I realized that I really want more of two things:

A dry erase board, and…

More connections/collaborations/partnerships with other people doing soulful work in the world.

I knew my desire to collaborate has been getting mulled over in the back of my mind, but it came out so clearly on my list that it surprised me a little.

Isn’t that what it’s all about for most of us, anyway? Finding connection and meaning in our work? Partnering with others to build something we care about and that serves others?

Work gets a bad rap a lot of the time because, well, it’s complicated. But we can celebrate work – it can be fun and life-giving and meaningful.

What do you love about “work”?

If you’re interested, time yourself for 5 minutes or less and jot down as many things you love about work as you can. What does your list say? And how can you get more of what’s on there into your day to day life?

I’d love to hear about your list or thoughts about this post in our Facebook group, A Wild New Work! Click here to join the discussion.

One Powerful Thing You Can Do to Feel Less Overwhelmed

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantI’m due to have a baby in March of 2017, and I never knew (until being pregnant myself) how much pressure there is on new and expectant moms. There are about 1,000,000 things you’re “supposed” to be doing before the baby arrives: take lots of supplements, eat more protein, stop drinking so much coffee, kegels, sleep more, buy things, choose a name…the list goes on and on.

Oh, and on top of all that: relax! Stress hurts the baby, and you need to keep your blood pressure down.

It’s a horrible, annoying spiral of “not enough” that’s so easy to get sucked into.

On top of trying to be a good baby-grower, I’m running a business, which has had to shift and accommodate as I grow and approach giving birth.

I know 2016 has been a year of next-level stress and change for many of us, and we’ve seen that played out on a larger scale through global events.

It’s not difficult these days to feel overwhelmed and like we’re not doing enough. In fact, I think that’s kind of the baseline for a lot of people, especially those of us who want to grow and develop into more awakened, loving professionals.

A not-so-helpful thing can happen when we’re experiencing life stress: we add on the pressure to deal with that stress in a “better” way.

For example, not only did I feel the pressure to be a good pregnant woman, I found myself feeling bad about not managing that pressure in a more “enlightened” way. In an attempt to grow and develop, I’d listen to podcasts about how we need to separate from our egos more, or about how we need to manage our time more intentionally. I didn’t listen to these podcasts because I really wanted to, I listened to them because I believed I wasn’t handling things in “the right way.”

I totally believe the things I heard on those podcasts, but berating myself for still having thoughts that made me feel anxious only compounded my sense of feeling overwhelmed.

If you’re feeling the weight of a shifting world, a heavy load of responsibilities, and the pressure to constantly improve yourself, I want to share one thing you can do today to give yourself some breathing room:

Stop trying to be better.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantDon’t read another article about how you can change until it’s because you want to. Don’t get any more advice from anyone until you’ve taken some deep breaths and centered yourself again.

Let go of the pressure to be and do more.

Chances are, you’re being and doing enough already.

I’m all for self-improvement and development, but sometimes I find myself turning the desire to grow into an obligation and another thing I’m not doing “correctly.” But the thing is, we are all already growing. In the natural world, everything that is alive can’t help but grow – even when it’s on the path to death.

If we are part of the natural world, then we can’t help but grow, either. Even in the midst of what feels like a burden we can’t possibly carry or get through, we are growing. We’re progressing in small ways every moment without even trying.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and like you’re not handling it the way you should, please give yourself some grace and let go of the need to be better.

I know this is a hard lesson to learn – I’m learning it, too – but we have to stop hating ourselves and trust that we’re evolving even when we don’t feel very good.

So just be who you are today.

Do the best you can, and accept that it’s enough.

When you’re ready, you’ll make the tweaks you need to in order to feel more grounded and less overwhelmed. Magically, those changes will be much easier to make when they come from you, not from external pressure to be better.

 

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 Talk About Your Career When You Have No Idea What You’re Doing

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantThe holidays are coming.

This means that there could be a lot of unstructured family time in your future, which you might be dreading.

Getting together for meals and merriment with well-meaning loved ones can be a real challenge when you’re not feeling awesome about where you are in life. The same feelings can come up when you’re trying to network with peers in the midst of a personal or professional transition.

It can be really difficult to talk about your career confidently and enthusiastically when you’re just not sure what it is you’re aiming to do.

But here’s the thing:

It’s okay to not know what you’re doing.

It’s okay not to know what kind of work you’re interested in, or how you’ll make a living, or what you’re good at. A lot of people actually don’t know this for themselves, they’re just pretending like they do because it feels safer.

I commend you for not knowing, and while I know that’s not a comfortable place to be in for very long, it means you’ve started the process of finding an authentic path, which is one of the bravest acts anyone can do.

So, now that you know it’s okay not to have it all figured out, let’s talk about how you’re going to interface with Aunt Gertrude at Christmas Dinner.

I want to make the ideas below digestible so that you can easily recall them at your next networking event or family gathering. I’ll give you a little acronym in case it’s helpful: IFCBS.

I: Intend

Before you engage with anyone you’re a bit nervous about talking to, get really clear on your intentions for the interaction. A lot of people (and I’ve done this myself) go into these conversations without having thought about it ahead of time and then end up feeling totally deflated and confused afterward.

So what do you intend to happen with your family or your network when you give them an update on your career? Are you intending to solicit advice? Are you intending to share without getting advice? Are you intending to be a little more open this time around, or maybe a little more reserved?

All intentions are good as long as they fit for you and are really clear in your mind’s eye before you engage.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantF: Frame

How we frame our experience – to ourselves and to others – is incredibly important. Just the other day, I was working with a client who was feeling really nervous about seeing her family and having to explain that she “still” wasn’t working. When she described what she’d have to tell them, she used a phrase like “Well, I still don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m working with a coach, so I hope I’ll figure it out…”

I noticed that and offered a different approach instead – something like “I’m being really intentional about my next step and I’m not ready to talk about it yet, but I’m feeling more energized than I ever have about the work I’m going to do.”

Both of those sentences could technically be true, but can you see how they elicit different responses from others?

When I offered her that re-frame, her whole energy shifted. She sat up straight, took a deep breath, and took up more space in the chair. She came across as grounded and sure of herself, which was wonderful to see and will impact her family in a more positive way.

See if you can take what you normally tell people make it more powerful and positive. It might feel like you’re faking it, but you’re not – you get to decide how you frame your experience.

The more you hear yourself reframe your experience into one that’s intentional and positive, the better you’ll feel, which really impacts how you’ll come across to others.

C: Curiosity

Family and friends can be really weird when we’re in the midst of a big life transition like a career change. They often mean well but ask questions that make us feel small and defensive, like “What will you do with that degree?” or “But you can’t make any money that way – how will you live?”

Curiosity is your friend. It’s always your friend, but it’s your bestie during family gatherings. Instead of getting hot and bothered because your dad is grilling you again about “when you’re going to grow up,” see if you can take a curious orientation instead. Ask yourself why your actions bother him so much. What is it about how you’re living that causes him to act this way? What about his past is coming out at you?

The reactions others have about our lives is always about them. It is not about you. When you start stretching and making changes, it makes a lot of people around you uncomfortable because it can make them feel insecure about what they’re doing with their lives.

Instead of getting defensive and allowing their insecurity to cause you pain, see if you can be like a scientist looking at the interaction objectively and curiously.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantB: Boundaries

Being in the midst of a career change is a precious, vulnerable, and scary time. You’re working things out, and oftentimes, getting lots of input from people who want you to stay the same is a recipe for disaster.

You get to decide what you will and won’t share with family members, friends, and people in your professional network. If you don’t feel like explaining yourself to anyone, you can say “I’m really excited about where I’m heading, but I still want some time to figure it out on my own before talking about it with others.”

Or you could say, “I really appreciate you asking, that means a lot, but I read on a blog that it can be helpful to keep the process private until I’m really sure of what direction I’m going in.”

You can also be totally open with the fact that you’re in the muck and mire of a transition – it’s up to you. The point is that it’s important to know what our lines are and, when those get crossed, assert our needs and confidently redirect the conversation.

There’s no reason you have to be interrogated this holiday season. You call the shots, and you get to decide what you do and don’t want to talk about.

S: Self-care

Taking care of yourself is always important, but it’s 1,000,000 times more important when you’re going through a major transition. This holiday season (and anytime you’re doing work on yourself), make sure self-care is a priority. That could look like splurging for a massage while the rest of your family goes shopping, taking a lot of space in your room, going on walks alone, using mantras, or having a friend on speed dial.

The holidays can be a hard time for many of us, for lots of different reasons, but by taking extra good care of our spirits and bodies, it’s possible to enjoy them and the fullness they bring.

Remember IFCBS this season and anytime you’re in the midst of making a change that you’re a little unsure about.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantIf you’re in the midst of a holiday gathering or professional event and are just feeling exasperated and like you really do want to make a change but aren’t sure how, I’m around. You can always drop me a note here, join my Facebook group, or work with me in a more formal way.

I’ve been where you are and have felt that sense of dread knowing I’d have to update others on my career. I hope that maybe with this information, it will be a little less painful for you. Take good care of yourself this season, and please reach out if you need to.

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.

You’re Making This Harder Than it Needs to Be

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantI’ve always made decisions relatively quickly. Part of it is pure laziness – I get bored doing research or hearing myself talk for too long about the pros and cons of something.

The other part of it is just a relatively high level of comfort with not knowing if something is “the” perfect decision, because I don’t believe there are perfect ways to do anything in life.

The way I figure, the road will lead somewhere, and I’ll learn from it, and most things aren’t as dramatic as we make them out to be, anyway.

Sometimes, though, a decision will throw me off my game and I’ll toil over it for weeks, which is total misery to me.

Usually when this happens, I realize that I’m making the decision a lot harder than it needs to be. When I feel like I have to really wrestle with something and lack clarity, it’s for one reason:

I’m not telling myself the truth.

I’m not letting myself really feel what I want, or say what I think. I’m pandering to others, or to the part of me that doesn’t want to change.

Steven Pressfield calls that part of us “the Resistance.” It’s the energy that rises up against us whenever we want to improve our lives, or change course, or do anything that’s unpopular. He tells us that the Resistance is conniving, persistent, and it’s out for blood.

Its best friend is Rationalization.

When a decision is ahead of us, most of us know what we want to do relatively quickly. But then Resistance and Rationalization show up, and they muddy the waters.

They tell us, “You can’t do that – you’ll hurt his feelings” or “That’s a great idea, but you should start tomorrow.” We make ourselves busy with distractions and bullshit and then we wonder why we’re paralyzed with indecision.

It’s because we’re letting our Resistance run the show.

My Resistance is very smart and subtle, and it shows up often in my work. Lately, it’s distracted me from a goal I set a long time ago, which was to write more guest posts on other blogs and websites that I respect.

For many reasons, I don’t want to do this, and the primary one is Fear: fear of rejection.

Resistance loves Fear, because it feeds off of it.

So since I’m afraid of pitching guest posts, Resistance shows up with all these seemingly true reasons for why I shouldn’t put myself out there:

  • I don’t have time – I’m already writing two posts a week for my own blog
  • I’m not sure there are even websites out there that would be a good fit for me
  • It probably wouldn’t even grow my audience anyway, and I’d just waste a lot of time

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantDo you see how crippling this bullshit can be?

Even though I (big I, my Self) know that guest posting is a valuable way to spread your voice and serve more people, the Resistance makes it so much more complicated and difficult than it really is.

All it would take for me to submit a guest post is to find a blog I like, write a post like I would any other day, and email it to them. It’s really very simple, like most things in our lives are.

We can generally make things easier for ourselves by recognizing the Resistance and telling the truth.

We can ask ourselves questions like:

Why am I really avoiding making that decision?

Why am I really distracting myself with all this busywork?

Why do I really want to stay? Or leave? Or scream? Or jump for joy?

What’s really going on here?

Even though it can stop us dead in our tracks, Resistance is also a gift, because it’s a sign that you’re on a path toward making positive changes in your life.

As Pressfield wrote in his book The War of Art, “The more important a call or action to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.”

So if something is difficult, try not to worry – it means you’re working through some really important, soul-level stuff. Simply do your best to notice the Resistance and its lies so that you can break free and move forward.

Does the Buck Stop Here?

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantOne of my first jobs out of college was in a small company where I essentially owned a customer service process. I worked with customers who’d been in a crisis of some kind, so I had to quickly and effectively send word to other stakeholders and kick off a series of events in order to make sure that the customer was cared for.

If I didn’t do my job well, or if someone else dropped a piece of the puzzle, it could come back to bite the company – hard. Like, lawsuit hard.

Since I was one of the only people who knew the process in and out and could manage the database we used to keep track, I interfaced a lot with organizational leaders.

One of them, who we’ll call Gary, was responsible for working with the client much later down the road, when the stakes could be a lot higher. Sometimes Gary would get wind of urgent information that he’d need to pass along to me so that I could kick off the customer’s process from the beginning.

From time to time with more minor issues, Gary would forget to pass that information along until it was a couple of days or even weeks after the incident had occurred. With little issues, this wasn’t a big deal, and since he was about 40 years older than me and earned about 40x as much as I did, I trusted that he knew what he was doing.

I’d watch him talking to the other leaders in the organization and lie about having done something that he hadn’t. Right after talking to them, he’d run over to me and give me the information he’d just claimed was already in process.

It was kind of astounding to see someone in a position of power and prestige so afraid to just say “No, I didn’t get that done yet, but I will.”

But what did I know? I was just a little customer service pawn, right?

So I didn’t mention anything to anyone, even though I knew Gary’s track record was dicey.

Well, one day some other higher-ups in the company came to me panicked because one of their biggest clients, whom Gary managed, had claimed that we didn’t do our job correctly, which could have meant that I didn’t do my job correctly.

Crisis ensued.

Everyone was shuffling through papers, emails, and two blaring questions kept running through my mind: did Gary tell me about this issue, and did I drop the ball?

If I was responsible for such a big kerfuffle, I could have justifiably been fired. It was one of those times when all of your senses are heightened, like you’re a prey animal who knows it’s about to get shot.

I looked and looked through all of my emails, files, the database I managed – everything. I couldn’t find any evidence that Gary ever told me about this issue, which meant there would have been no reason for me to kick off the customer’s process.

As I was going through everything and finding no evidence that I had dropped the ball, I felt wave after wave of relief: it wasn’t me. Something else happened. I was safe.

Of course, Gary was nowhere to be found in all of this. Late that afternoon, he finally showed up in the office, and I saw him talking to those higher-ups that came to me earlier. The dust seemed to settle, and a colleague told me that everything turned out fine – the client would be taken care of, and they weren’t leaving the business.

Phew!

I left that day totally drained after riding the emotional roller coaster and came in the next morning a little battle weary, but feeling like I trusted myself and my process more than ever.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantThen I got called into the CEO’s office.

Mr. CEO proceeded to firmly let me know how important it is that I keep track of and process the information that Gary gives to me, especially for large clients like the one in crisis yesterday.

Gary. He passed that big, bloody, fucked up buck right into my lap. He blamed me for the mess that I knew he’d caused.

I had no idea what to say, so I didn’t resist or tell the CEO that Gary had never given me a shred of information about this and that it wasn’t my fault. I just nodded my head and apologized. Luckily, I wasn’t fired, but by then, my trust in Gary was completely eroded.

He went on as if nothing had happened – no mention of the crisis, no “hey, sorry I threw your ass under the bus.”

I played along but kept my distance from him, always keeping extra good notes and covering my bases.

While Gary and I shared interactions over the next several years, this is what I will always remember about him: instead of taking accountability like a good leader would, he let someone much more junior than him take the fault and be blamed for a mistake that he made.

Watching him taught me that good leadership isn’t a quality that you automatically have once you’re older and in a position of power.

Each of us leaves a wake in our presence – impressions, energy, a sense of who we are that’s felt by those who have been around us.

I don’t want to leave behind a wake like the one that Gary left behind him. I don’t want to be in my sixties blaming my assistants or employees so that I can shirk away from the shame of having made a mistake.

And I bet you don’t, either.

It’s easy to pass the buck in an organization – responsibility gets tossed around like a hot potato, no one really wanting to hold onto it and claim that it’s theirs.

The leaders who have left a positive wake behind them are the people who aren’t afraid to be held accountable and who are secure enough to share their humanity with us.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantWe can all be that leader – that person who leaves a positive wake behind them. All we have to do is start taking responsibility for ourselves.

We have to stop blaming everything and everyone else for the lives we live, the choices we make, and for the mistakes we’ve made.

When will you stop passing the buck? When will you hold it and make it yours?

The more you do, the more integrity you’ll have, and having integrity gives you the freedom and fullness to live a life that is totally yours and is a blessing to those who will feel your wake after you’ve gone.

 

What is True?

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantI was driving home from the grocery store yesterday, and I was stopped a few cars down from a red light. On the righthand corner ahead of me, there was a man who looked to be in his 30s with a cardboard sign that read “We are people too.”

I liked that, and wholeheartedly agreed with the sentiment. And while he wasn’t openly asking for money, his sign and where he was standing implied that that’s what he was requesting from those of us driving by.

A few seconds later, the light changed to green, and everyone started rolling forward. As I drove by, I noticed he had folded the sign in half so that it read something else:

“Go fuck yourself.”

When I read that, the first thing I felt was surprise.

And then relief.

It was striking. While I’m sure that’s what a lot of people asking for money on the streets want to say after they’ve been ignored, yelled at, or demeaned, I’ve never actually seen a sign with that written on it.

It was refreshing to see someone in real life – someone who was socially and physically vulnerable, no less – say exactly how he felt. “Go fuck yourself.”

How often do you hear or speak the truth at work? How often does a message come in loud and clear from someone’s mouth? Coming from the world of Human Resources, I’ve seen my fair share of spin in the workplace.

“We don’t want to justify paying you more” becomes “Our research shows that this is the appropriate salary range for someone in your position.”

“We have no intention of continuing your contract after three months” becomes “We’d like to see how you do in the role and then talk about the possibility of having you come on permanently.”

“We have no idea where we’re headed and everyone on the leadership team hates each other” becomes “We’re excited about the future and are working hard to find strategic paths forward.”

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantImagine a workplace that’s been taken over by huge spiders weaving webs of total befuddlement and confusion. Everyone’s walking around with sticky webs all over their bodies, leaving them tangled, heavy, and nearly blind.

Some people have been around the spinning of the webs for so long that they can hardly recognize the truth anymore – in themselves or in others.

Many of us have our polite, outward-facing selves – the parts of us that hold the sign that gently says “We are people too.” While it’s appropriate to keep good boundaries at work and keep some part of ourselves private, too many of us are walking around as victims and accomplices of the befuddlement spiders.

Have you ever shown someone the side of your sign that says “Go fuck yourself”? What keeps you from turning it over?

And the truth doesn’t have to be angry like that – what keeps you from speaking other truths, like “I love you” or “I’m afraid” or “I don’t believe that’s fair”?

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultant
Image courtesy of Mystic Mamma

For most of us, it’s fear and shame. But your truth can cut right through all of that, and it can also cut through the webs of confusion and mistrust that are so prevalent in many organizations today.

The day before I saw the man on the street with that sign, I used a tea bag that had a little message on it. It said “Truth is everlasting.”

The truth isn’t going anywhere, and it will come up again and again until we can’t ignore it. Better to let it in with open arms than to continue being wrapped up in the webs that keep us trapped and confused.

What is true? What do you say to yourself before you make it nice and palatable for others?

What’s on the back of your sign, and will you ever show it to us?

 

Art Can Save Our Workplaces

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantLately, I’ve encountered a lot of working people who see the world in very rigid terms.

Things are/aren’t this way. We have/don’t have. It just is/isn’t right.

Seeing the world around us in dualistic, opposites-only terms may feel safe at first, but it can eventually lead to an extremely limited – and dull – life. If you believe that everything is all or nothing, or that if you’re not exactly right, you’re wrong, or that there are just simply good people and bad people, no one in-between, you starve yourself of possibility and wonder.

In the workplace, decades of industrialization and rigid, bureaucratic systems (many of which we first encounter in school) have stifled our holistic, colorful, and fluid understanding of the world around us. Many of us were taught that there is one right way to do things, and that wondering “what could be” was, for everyone except brilliant scientists or inventors, a total waste of time.

Creativity was often the realm of a few “gifted” kids, and the rest of us were there to put our heads down and just do the damn work.

And that is so unfortunate, because we are all creative beings, no matter what kind of work we do or hobbies we enjoy. We are all capable of creating something new, whether it’s a different perspective, a more elegant process, or a beautiful handmade thing. We are all capable of creating art.

Art, in my opinion, is really just anything intentionally configured or arranged in a new way that makes us pause and take notice.

A fluffier definition, from Merriam-Webster, is “something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings.”

Art can be anything beautiful that you see, hear, touch, taste, smell, or sense in your being.

Art expands our understanding of the world and of ourselves, and it will save our workplaces and our worklives if we let it. I see its potential to save us in two ways:

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantFirst, art sparks “wordlessness,” a term I’ll borrow from Martha Beck. Wordlessness is the state in which you can transcend all of that either/or nonsense in your brain and actually know what it feels like to simply sit with possibility and paradox. It’s when you can watch a massive predator hunt its prey in nature and see the experience as both beautiful and terrifying. It’s when you witness death and let yourself be with the horror and peace of it.

Our workplaces are, for the most part, built on words. Almost everything you do every day probably involves words, whether it’s speaking with peers, writing reports, or explaining something to an audience. Words are very concrete – they can be known, pointed to, shared, or taken away. They’re beautiful things, and I’m grateful every day for the ability to use them, but a landscape full of concrete doesn’t leave much room for growth or beauty, which is why so many of our workplaces feel totally stale and lifeless.

We need more wordlessness in our worklives. We need more exposure to things that make us fall silent and experience a deeper connection to ourselves – which, paradoxically, allows us to think more clearly. As Thomas Merton so beautifully wrote, “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” This is the beauty of wordlessness.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantSecond, art can save our workplaces because it cultivates meaning. It cultivates embodiment, that sense of being a spirit alive within a body, which is what reminds us that our lives have meaning. I think art does this simply when we expose ourselves to it, but it creates meaning most impactfully when we ourselves are motivated to create art and share it with others.

Seth Godin‘s definition of art, from his book The Icarus Deception, is lovely: “Art is the act of a human being doing generous work, creating something for the first time, touching another person.” 

What can you do more generously today that would touch the heart of someone else? What can you create in your own life that feels meaningful?

We are all artists. We are all capable of creating beauty and embracing paradox, even when we’re part of a culture built on sound bytes and the either/or vitriol of rigid thinking.

The only way we’re going to save our workplaces, and ourselves, is if we embrace art – that nascent possibility within us, a fresh way of seeing the world, and the generosity of our spirits. The concrete, Soviet landscapes we’ve built up around us (literally and figuratively) are crumbling, and the rigid thinking that served you as a young person growing up in the workforce is no longer your friend.

In today’s world of work, we need your creativity. We need your depth. We need the complexity that is inherent in every person’s lived experience, and we need you to share it with us.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantIf you’re not sure how to access your creativity, depth, or complexity, then I encourage you to start by surrounding yourself with as much art as you possibly can. Look at it. Listen to it. Feel it.

It will help you remember who you are.

I’ll close with a quote I love from Maria Popova of Brain Pickings:

This is the power of art: The power to transcend our own self-interest, our solipsistic zoom-lens on life, and relate to the world and each other with more integrity, more curiosity, more wholeheartedness.

It’s “Pay What You Can” Day!

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantToday is a special day, y’all: it’s a full moon, the summer solstice, and it also happens to be the week when, two years ago, I started working for myself – totally unsure of where that path would lead me.

There’s a lot to celebrate, and in the spirit of abundance that these long summer days bring, I’m sharing some of the wealth with anyone who’s in need of some extra career support!

All day today (and just today), you can schedule a 45-minute career coaching session over the phone or Skype for $1, $10, $100 – whatever amount feels right to you! 

The more that your gifts get shared with the world, the better, and on this celebratory day, I want to do what I can to help make that happen.

If this idea tugs at your heartstrings, head on over to this link and let’s put something on the calendar!

xo,

Megan

A Case Against Strategic Career Development

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You could be over-thinking this.

Back when I first moved to Portland, I met with someone for an informational interview to try and learn more about the possibility of transitioning from Human Resources to Organizational Development (OD). It was truly an informational interview – I was gathering insights and trying to determine what I wanted to aim for next in my career. I simply wanted to learn more about the field of OD and meet folks who were doing the work everyday to see how they liked it.

The woman I met with had very little tolerance for my “indecision” after I told her that I wasn’t really sure what I was looking for yet. She told me that I needed to be more “strategic” in my search – that I needed to develop a plan, a networking strategy, and focus in on how I could muscle my way into an organization that was positioned for growth.

I left our time together in a panic – “I’m not thinking strategically enough about this!,” “I’m so juvenile – how could I have asked her to meet with me without having a five-year plan?!”

Strategy. I won’t argue that strategy has no value – strategy can be very helpful sometimes, especially in the areas of our work that require rational, linear thinking.

That said, sometimes strategy needs to be put in its place.

I’ve met with a handful of people over the past couple of weeks who are all saying the same thing: they’re going around and around in their heads with career options and can’t land on a direction because they’re spending their energy worrying about a) whether they’re thinking strategically enough about their careers, and b) how they’ll justify their strategy to others.

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Our journeys are rarely linear and rigid.

They feel like they have to choose a direction rationally, immediately, and efficiently. They’re trying to apply the rules of production to the matters of their soul, and it doesn’t work. Trust me – I tried that for years.

If you’re spinning your wheels and feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of taking a new step in your career, try to remember that this is a sacred process that moves in its own way and on its own timeline. 

Career development, at its core, is about finding ways to share the gifts of our souls with the world. Sure, everyone has – and can develop – skills and knowledge, but what is it within you that wants to be shared? What do you want to create? We can’t answer those questions using the same methods we use to forecast turnover or annual revenue.

I love this quote from John O’Donohue: “You cannot dredge the depths of the soul with the meagre light of self-analysis. The inner world never reveals itself cheaply.”

Give yourself permission to not know what’s next for you. Simply by intending to create a worklife that allows you to share your gifts, you have already set the wheels into motion.

You have already planted a seed, and seeds need time in the darkness to take root. You don’t have to know what will grow from that seed, and in fact, you cannot know.

If you’re on the path of creating a career that resonates with the depths of your soul, then I’d like to offer a few suggestions:

First, don’t try to analyze every decision you make on this journey. If you feel interested in being a mechanic, great – let yourself simply be interested before you start thinking about how you’d have to take a pay cut, or wouldn’t have that cushy office anymore. If you feel interested in being a ballerina, let yourself dream about starring in the Nutcracker. As Mary Oliver reminds us, “You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

megan leatherman career coach
“…let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

Second, stop sharing your ideas with people who don’t understand why you haven’t written a five-year strategic plan. You do not have to justify your ideas or decisions to people whose lives are unaffected by them. If it’s important to you to keep setting up informational interviews, remember that you can simply be interested. You don’t have to give a Powerpoint presentation detailing how you came to this career idea, your current qualifications, aptitudes, etc. Let your ideas be secret as long as they need to be in order to take root inside of you.

Third, don’t rush it. O’Donohue writes, “Where things are moving too quickly, nothing can stabilize, gather, or grow.”If you’re feeling the pinch of being in a job you hate but aren’t quite sure what to do next, maybe it’s time to find a stepping stone job to take some of the pressure off. You could do a short-term stint at a job outdoors or abroad, or you could sign on with a temp agency and just bop around for a while until you know what fits for you. What can you do today to take some of the pressure off?

I invite you to leave strategy out of your journey for now. Try to ease up on all the planning and the pressure that it brings. Simply let yourself love what you love, keep it a secret as long as it feels right, and give your soul the time it needs to reveal itself to you.

The clarity will come, I promise.

You will begin to know exactly which steps to take and when, the right opportunities will cross your path, and the teachers you need will appear when you’re ready.


Know someone who’s feeling burnt out on strategic career development? Consider passing this along!