Three Ways to Embrace the Unknown

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantMost of us have an aversion to the unknown. We’re uncomfortable with whatever’s unplanned, mysterious, or hidden. A lot of us were raised to believe that things should be known – that if we don’t know something already, we need to learn it, measure it, shed light on it, etc.

There’s an air of desperation behind this belief, and it can drive us to create a false sense of knowing and control through excessive planning and worry. 

But the unknown isn’t inherently bad. It’s not a problem that we don’t know what will happen tomorrow or in five years – it’s simply how things are.

All of us are constantly in a state of change, but some of us – especially in the United States – are experiencing massive upheaval. The unknown future can feel grim and scary, and in response, we might cling to old habits or fears that make us feel safe but that actually keep us stuck.

I can share an example from my own life:

I’m about to become a mother, and sometimes that is really fucking scary. For a while, I resisted the change as much as I could – I sort of pretended like I wasn’t pregnant, I committed to things I knew I was too tired to do, and I tried to control every aspect of my environment. It got to the point where I was in full-on panic mode because I couldn’t pinpoint what life will be like once the little guy or gal is here. Because of my fear of the future, I was clinging to my habits and routine with a white-knuckled death grip.

My brilliant therapist pushed me to consider another way: to actually start doing things that are new.

To try out swimming even though I’ve never swam a lap in my life (at least not on purpose). To take a nap instead of writing another blog post. To try yoga nidra and ditch my regular morning meditation.

My instinctive brain freaked out at first: “I’m nesting and feeling extremely fragile and you want me to start trying to do things that feel unfamiliar?!”

But I trust her, so I did. And you know what? It really helped.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultant
A snapshot from my first day at the pool, via my profile on Instagram (@mleather)

I got a swimsuit that fit my much larger figure and went to the pool for a swim.

I napped.

I did yoga nidra and got lots of insights that my busy mind had been getting in the way of.

I also accepted the fact that motherhood is a great unknown to me and that it’s coming – whether I’m ready or not.

I was watching the livestream of an amazing event called Sister Giant the other night, and the organizer, Marianne Williamson, was fielding questions from the audience. A woman stood up and expressed how angry she was that Donald Trump is President. She asked questions like “How could this be?” and “How can I accept the people who voted for him?” I loved Marianne’s two-fold response:

First, stop judging and being so self-righteous, because it’s getting in the way of your ability to make change in a loving way, and secondly: it’s time for us to be adults and accept that this is what’s happening.

Embracing the unknown is a very adult thing to do.

We have to grow up and accept that we can’t control and plan for everything.

Now, of course this is easier said than done, but it is something we can get better at through practice.

Here are three ways that we can skillfully embrace the unknown:

First, get grounded.

The unknown is much, much scarier when your limbic (instinctive) brain is on hyper-alert for threats in your environment. None of this will work without some sort of meditative or contemplative practice. I’ve sort of tiptoed around this for years, but I’m done: the point is that you just have to meditate daily, in some form, for any of this to work.

Second, let your inner vision guide you.

Embracing the unknown isn’t about not caring what happens in the future. In fact, visualizing outcomes that make you feel the warm and fuzzies is part of what makes the unknown less scary to your brain. Spend time each day imagining things from the end. What do you want out of this job interview? How do you want to feel after getting coffee with that friend? What kind of home do you want to be in next year? For some practice, check out a little recording I did called One Act That Will Transform Your Next Meeting.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantFinally, let go of anything that comes from a place of worry or obligation.

Like I said earlier, I was clinging to old habits out of fear – fear that if I let go too much, my world would come crashing down around me. My resistance to this major shift that’s happening in my body and in my life manifested as a desire to control every minute of my day. But that meant that my old habits, like my regular meditation practice and other routines, had become stale. I was just doing them on autopilot.

Chances are, we could all use some letting go of old habits and routines. By doing so, we train ourselves to embrace newness and change. We can actually practice embracing the unknown in small, manageable ways that show us that the world is a friendly place.

The unknown isn’t our enemy.

It’s okay not to know what you’ll be doing for work in one, three, or five years. It’s okay not to know what the next few months will look like. If you can get yourself grounded, visualize what you want, and then let go of tired old patterns, you’ll be well on your way to embracing the mystery.

I still don’t know what exactly life will look like once this baby is here, but you can subscribe to my email newsletter to stay up to date on me and my work (and see a photo of the sweet babe once they make their appearance 🙂 )!

 

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 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.

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.

 

3 Signs Your Organization is Shackled by Ego

megan leatherman career coach and hr consultantIn my most recent post, Your Lizard Brain Could be Killing Your Organization, I mentioned three signs that could indicate that an organization is driven by ego – the part of us that is fearful, controlling, and determined to survive.

In this quick SlideShare presentation, I talk more about that concept and offer some ideas for how to balance the ego with more soul, which is the part of us that can rise above fear and make meaningful change in our lives and the lives of others.

Link to the SlideShare presentation: http://www.slideshare.net/MeganLeathermanMSPHR/3-signs-your-organization-is-shackled-by-ego-and-what-you-can-do-about-it