Dreams as Career Development Guides

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultant
Photo via Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultant
Photo via Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultant
Photo via Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are You Digesting Life Properly?

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultant

Have you ever had something come up in your life that feels eerily similar to an issue you’ve dealt with in the past?

A while ago, I entered into a business partnership that was all wrong, and while my intuition was sending me alarm signals the entire way, I chose to ignore them. Sure enough, the partnership had to end, and it wasn’t a pleasant experience.

Something came up recently within a completely different context, but it had the same icky texture. Since our brains like to find commonalities and make sense of new experiences, my brain immediately declared, “This situation is just like that other one was, which means it’s horrible and you need to get out!”

In some ways, this is really helpful – I was noticing some of the same intuitive signals, and I’ve learned my lesson well enough now to pay more attention to them.

But something else was happening: it became clear to me that I hadn’t fully digested the first partnership, and without doing more emotional work there, it would shadow opportunities to collaborate with others in the future.

I wasn’t able to determine whether this new opportunity that came up was actually right or wrong for me without revisiting and dealing with the old one.

angel Kyodo williams is a Zen priest, writer, and visionary who recently spoke at the Sister Giant conference. While there, she shared an analogy that really stuck with me. She said that people who don’t meditate are going around eating and consuming life, but they’re not digesting any of it.

That is the truth.

Without consciously digesting our experiences, we end up having spiritual diarrhea, constipation, or all sorts of maladies in-between.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantOur bodies are amazing, aren’t they? We consume food throughout the day, our bodies take what they need in order to nourish us, and then they eliminate whatever’s left over and ready to go.

Most of us don’t even have to worry about this process – it just happens automatically, and it gives us the energy we need to enjoy life.

Digesting our experiences is just as important as digesting our food, but many of us have to learn how to do this – it’s not always something we’re taught.

But how do we digest intangible experiences and the thoughts and feelings that come along with them?

When I realized that old pain was informing how I felt about this new opportunity, I got quiet and asked myself some questions: what was the old story I was telling myself, what still hurt, and what was I ready to let go of?

Then I journaled about it so that it got out of my body and onto paper, where I could see it more clearly. This is the digestive process that works for me, but here are some others you could try:

  • Create rituals of processing and releasing. Maybe you write something down on paper and burn it, hike up a mountain and imagine releasing that thing at the top so you’re free on the way back down, or you toss rocks into a lake.
  • You could burn sage or incense after you’ve examined what the experience(s) meant to you, what they taught you, and what about them can be eliminated.
  • You can process things out loud with a loved one or support person.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantWhatever you do, I hope you’ll just start by being more aware of your emotional and spiritual digestion, because it’s so important.

When our bodies don’t digest things slowly enough, we can’t absorb the nutrients we need. When our bodies digest things too slowly, we get stopped up, which causes pain and an inability to take in any more food.

So it is with the things that we experience in life. We need the time to process and draw out lessons from what goes on in our lives, but we also need to release them and move on in time to receive new experiences.

If there were a continuum between “Digests Experiences Too Quickly” and “Digests Experiences Too Slowly,” where would you fall?

Is your spiritual body in balance, able to take in and eliminate regularly?

If not, consider what you might be holding onto that’s ready to go or savor your next experience and see what nutrients can be drawn from it.

Transcending Fear: Rabbit Medicine

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider the power behind what you fear.


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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 Will You Do to Prepare for Spring?

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

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

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

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

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

Amidst all of this, the Earth still turns.

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

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

Where is there potential stirring beneath the frozen ground?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

What 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.

Do You Believe in Ghosts?

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantI think I believe in ghosts. I don’t think they’re scary things that are out to get us, but it makes sense to me that there would be “people” who are a little lost and stuck in a sort of limbo – no longer in their bodies, but nowhere else, either.

It’s almost Halloween (or Samhain) in the United States, and many of our ancestors believed that during this time of year, the “veil” between the human and spiritual realms was the thinnest. Lines get crossed, things get blurry.

If ghosts are humans who are now lost and lack the substance of being in a real body, then I have some scary news:

Ghosts are haunting your workplace.

They’re everywhere.

In his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey tells us about what’s called the “Character Ethic,” which was how people in the U.S. thought of personal success up until the World War I era.

In the Character Ethic model, personal success and prestige was linked to the quality of your character and whether or not you possessed traits like integrity, humility, honesty, etc.

After World War I, something shifted, and what became popular and valued instead was what he calls the “Personality Ethic,” which is about your social image, your attitude, and your ability to influence others.

Susan Cain also details this shift in her book Quiet, and it’s fascinating. Instead of focusing on who people were inside, we began to value the image that those people projected.

We created a cult of personality, where it doesn’t matter as much if you have integrity – what matters is whether or not you can you work a room.

Are you projecting the right image?

Are you doing all the right things?

Do you have a lot of friends?

Are you popular?

This is an over-simplification of these concepts that doesn’t take into account the overtones of classism, racism, and other “isms” that have always been present in our society, but for the sake of this post, that’s how I’ll boil down these two paradigms.

Can you see the Personality Ethic playing out in our society today?

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantGenerations of kids were shown that what mattered most was how they fit in socially, how well they could influence other kids, and how well they fit into the mold that was cast for them.

Sure, lip service was paid to character – we all remember those posters that said stuff like “There’s no I in TEAM” and “Character is what you do when no one’s watching,” but being a good team player wasn’t what we were really rewarded for. The social capital was in being the star, the success story, the popular kid.

Now those kids are grown up, and they’re running our organizations and showing up to work each day. After years and years of being told that their personality mattered more than who they were inside, they float around like ghosts: vapid, stuck, and immaterial.

When we compromise our values over and over again, we lose the substance of who we are.

When we allow ourselves to participate in practices and cultures that erode what’s good inside of us, we get lost.

I almost became a ghost, but luckily, in this metaphor, ghosts can always return to their humanity, so don’t worry too much if you’re feeling a little like Casper these days.

I became ghost-like after buying into the belief that it was better to be charming and likable at work than it was to act in a way that was in alignment with my values. I compromised, I looked away from things I knew were wrong, and I desperately tried to fit into the mold of “rising star.”

Instead of telling managers that I thought they were pitting employees against one another, I smiled and asked them how their weekend was. Instead of telling the toxic employee in my office that their attitude was literally bringing down an entire team, I tip-toed and did what I could to get them on “my side.”

This shit happened day in, and day out. And I was losing myself.

Now, of course, nothing is “black and white,” and personality is an important component of working well with other people. Humans are social beings, and the ability to navigate interpersonal interactions is really helpful and important.

But you can only fake it for so long.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantUnless you have a deep, grounded sense of who you are and act in alignment with your values, your charm and image will fade over time into a shadow vaguely resembling who you used to be.

If you see something at work – or in the rest of life – that hits you as “off” or wrong, don’t ignore it. See if you can make small tweaks that get you closer to living a life of integrity and depth.

Ghosts are real, and they haunt our workplaces, but you don’t have to be one of them.


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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?

 

Are Healthy Organizations the Unicorns of Modern Work?

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantA couple of people have asked me lately if it’s possible to find work in an organization that values people. Like, really values people – a place that encourages them to show up whole, makes space for bottom-up change, and does work based on connectedness, not fear.

Someone asked specifically if I thought organizations like that were unicorns – legendary, fleeting creatures that may or may not have ever existed.

My immediate answer was “no,” because there are organizations like that in today’s workforce – organizations like Sounds True, Buurtzorg, and Morning Star. These are real-life places where employees are managing themselves, their work, and they’re kicking ass in their industries.

But I want to take this analogy a little further and flesh out my response. Warning: you might think I’m crazy once I start talking about unicorn people at work, but try to just roll with the metaphor.

Many people believe that unicorn legends are based in reality – that in China and the Middle East, horned animals like rhinoceros and certain types of oxen were woven into various stories that eventually grew more and more magical.

Unicorns appear in art and stories across cultures, and some of their basic traits are that their horns could be used to heal sickness, aid in protection, and that they were wild, fleeting creatures that could only be caught by a virgin girl who sat quietly waiting in the woods.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantInterestingly, one scholar pointed out that unicorns are the only mythological creature that doesn’t seem to have originated from human fears. They’ve been stripped of some of their darker traits as the years have gone on, but generally, it was believed that unicorns could only help and heal, and they could only be drawn in by someone “pure of heart” (let’s assume that has nothing to do with whether someone is a virgin).

So if we’re looking for unicorn-like organizations, then we’re looking for places that are healing, helpful, a little hard to pin down, and drawn to people with a good heart.

Honestly, I think there are still only a few unicorn organizations in our modern world of work. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist, they’re just harder to find.

There may only be a few unicorn organizations, but I know that there are a lot of unicorn people within organizations. Sweet, sensitive people with integrity who are trying to keep their unicorn-ness even though it’s hard.

We can all be unicorns.

We are all wild, capable of healing, and drawn to others whose hearts are pure. We are those things already, we just get stuck in old belief systems and environments that can suffocate us.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantThere’s a whole community of unicorns out there, and as long as you choose to believe they exist, you can surround yourself with their hopefulness and innovation. You can find the unicorns of the working world in places like Enlivening Edge, the Reinventing Organizations Wiki page, and in our Facebook group.

To amp up your unicorn powers, all you have to do are the things that feel healing and that make you want to help others. To go even further, you can surround yourself with people who believe that unicorns exist, individually and as organizations.

For those of you who feel cynical and like these organizations just aren’t real, or that change isn’t possible, I’d leave you with this question:

Isn’t life just a little brighter and more fun when you believe unicorns are real?

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.

Violence, Grief, and Photosynthesis

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantA few years ago, I was living and working in Boston, not far from downtown. One usual Monday afternoon, the mood in the office began to shift – people were getting uneasy, looking at their phones, whispering concern…and then I found out about the tragic Boston Marathon bombing that had just occurred.

I rushed home, picked my husband Chris up on the way, and we sat glued to the news, and each other, for the rest of the evening. The bombers were still at large the next morning, but the East Coast being the East Coast, everyone was expected to go to work anyway.

Maybe it’s my West Coast demeanor, but I just couldn’t get myself up and out to the office that morning. I woke up and couldn’t stop crying. I felt confused, and so, so sad for the victims, for the people whose hearts were so dark they could do something like that, for all of us and our suffering. I didn’t understand how companies could open their doors the next day without even talking about what just happened less than a mile down the road.

I know the pain was felt in everyone’s hearts, but no one really knew what to do with it – it was too big and too heavy. 

I was fortunate to have an understanding boss who agreed to let me work from home that day, but there were many employees who I’m sure felt the same things I did but didn’t feel comfortable asking for what they needed. I’m sure there were leaders in the organization who woke up and couldn’t stop the sobs but felt like they had to put on a brave face and get back to work.

The tragedy this past weekend in Orlando, Florida affects all of us, even if we live on the other side of the country.

Tragedy anywhere affects us, whether it’s systemic violence against people of color, the raping of women, or the destruction of our planet. We are social, connected creatures sensitive to the harm of other living beings – that’s an irrefutable fact.

But these painful, heart-wrenching events get even more destructive to our collective well-being when we pretend that they are not, in fact, painful and heart-wrenching. When we resist the pain, rage, or hopelessness that is within us for fear that it could suffocate us, it stays in our bodies. We have to give these big, terrifying feelings space to be expressed if we’re going to be able to meet the challenges of our times with love and grace. This reminds me of a quote I love from Lao Tzu:

“Be like the forces of nature: when it blows, there is only wind; when it rains, there is only rain; when the clouds pass, the sun shines through.”

If you woke up this morning feeling weepy, afraid, or angry, take note. Honor your own humanity and let the force of your grief pass through you, even though it’s scary.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantThat brings me to photosynthesis.

Plants, the miracles that they are, absorb things from the environment that animals are unable to process (like sunlight and carbon dioxide) and convert them into oxygen, which is critical for our survival.

Without this specific process of inhalation and exhalation from the plant kingdom, animal life on this planet would cease to exist.

Today, and every day, really, there is a lot of pain to inhale. It is all around us, and some days it can feel completely overwhelming. But we can photosynthesize, too – we can transform this immense pain into something else that supports life.

In high concentrations, carbon dioxide is poisonous to humans, but our plant friends can take it in for us and breathe out the very thing we need to survive – oxygen.

In a very real way, the pain we experience from violent acts around us is also toxic – it lives in our bodies and can cause us to do horrific things to ourselves and others. Those of us who are brave enough to face the pain can transform it into oxygen for others who aren’t yet able to do it themselves.

Can you breathe deep into the pain that is within you and exhale peace and joy?

Can you take in what may be toxic and, in your own beautiful way, breathe out more of what this world needs?

Tragedies like the one this weekend affect each of us in different ways, and whatever you are feeling today – or on any day when you witness the pain of suffering – is real. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t know anyone personally or if you’re a million miles away – if you feel pain, then you feel pain, and I hope you’ll do whatever you need to do today to let it move through you so that it can be transformed.

If you’re in Human Resources or management, then you have an extra responsibility to model responsible grieving and take good care of yourself first. Be open with your team about the fact that we are all impacted by mass shootings, systematic oppression, or any form of violence in our lives. If someone expresses a need to be alone and cry for a while, honor that need. If someone’s lashing out in anger, calmly check in about what’s going on below the surface. If you’re in a leadership position of any kind and you’re reading this blog, I have no doubt that you have what it takes to model emotional intelligence and healthy grieving.

No matter who or where you are, you have to exhale today. The question is, can you exhale more joy, peace, and beauty than you did in the last breath?

labyrinthCan you photosynthesize the pain within and around you so that there is less of it now than there was a minute ago?

If you need some help, below I’ve shared a photosynthesizing-esque meditation practice called Tonglen, which is Tibetan for “giving and taking.” It’s a practice for breathing in suffering and breathing out compassion, and you can do it for yourself, for a loved one, for the plants and animals, or for any group of people that calls to you. Below is a written guide, adapted from Pema Chodron, and below that is a guided meditation from Tara Brach as well as a video of Pema walking you through this practice. I hope you’ll try some of these techniques out or photosynthesize in your own perfect way today.

I’m holding space in my heart for each of you today, near and far, and I am so grateful for this community of workplace photosynthesizers.


Tonglen practice, adapted from Pema Chodron:

First, rest your mind briefly, for a second or two, in a state of openness or stillness.

Second, work with texture. Breathe in a feeling of hot, dark, and heavy-a sense of claustrophobia-and breathe out a feeling of cool, bright, and light-a sense of freshness. Breathe in completely, through all the pores of your body, and breathe out, radiate out, completely, through all the pores of your body. Do this until it feels synchronized with your in and out-breaths.

Third, work with a personal situation-any painful situation that’s real to you. Traditionally you begin by doing tonglen for someone you care about and wish to help. However, as I described, if you are stuck, you can do the practice for the pain you are feeling and simultaneously for all those just like you who feel that kind of suffering. For instance, if you are feeling inadequate, you breathe that in for yourself and all the others in the same boat, and you send out confidence and adequacy or relief in any form you wish.

Finally, make the taking in and sending out bigger. If you are doing tonglen for someone you love, extend it out to those who are in the same situation as your friend. If you are doing tonglen for someone you see on television or on the street, do it for all the others in the same boat. Make it bigger than just that one person. If you are doing tonglen for all those who are feeling the anger or fear or whatever that you are trapped in, maybe that’s big enough. But you could go further in all these cases. You could do tonglen for people you consider to be your enemies-those who hurt you or hurt others. Do tonglen for them, thinking of them as having the same confusion and stuckness as your friend or yourself. Breathe in their pain and send them relief.

Guided meditation from Tara Brach:

This guided meditation is about 28 minutes long: https://www.tarabrach.com/guided-meditation-compassion-practice-tonglen/

Video on tonglen from Pema Chodron:

This video is only about five minutes long: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QwqlurCvXuM

How to Be Open About Your Intuition at Work

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultant
Photo via Mystic Mamma

This week I had the honor of getting a group of women together to talk about intuitive communication (which I’ll be doing again online soon if you’re into it).

Toward the end of the class, after lots of information sharing and discussion, one woman spoke up and said something to the effect of “Yea, okay, but how do I tell my old-school boss who wants hard data all the time that I’m making a decision based on my intuition?”

Mmm, yes.

In this class, we’d created a sort of cocoon where everyone was in agreement about how clarifying and helpful our intuition is in the workplace. We were sharing our experiences, affirming our intuitive knowing, it was all happening, and then…we remembered that this stuff still isn’t mainstream.

The old paradigm that worships hard data and efficiency above intuitive knowing and human connection is on its way out, but it’s not going down without a fight.

As more and more people demand “high touch” experiences with organizations, we will have to reconnect with our own humanity, which includes our intuition. Unfortunately, many leaders in organizations are unable to access this for themselves, and so they continue ravenously hunting for external data that shows them what they already know in their hearts, and they put the same diseased pressure on their employees.

It doesn’t have to stay like this, though. The tide is shifting, and intuition will become more and more acknowledged and accepted in our workplaces, but it’s still at the edges for now.

So how do we, as intuitive people, be more open about accessing that part of us in the workplace?

How do we explain that we don’t need to spend another hour looking at reports – that we already know what we need to do? How do we explain that we can’t explain – we just feel something deep in our core that’s leading us in another direction?

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantThe answer isn’t easy, but it is very simple: We just do it.

I don’t know any other way. We just have to be more open about it. We have to do it for ourselves and for the people in our organizations who are starving for their own inner wisdom.

Now, of course, you get to decide how you do it, and with whom. And you can be choosy – maybe you drop “feeling” into a conversation with a colleague you think might be open to it. Maybe you tell your boss that you “just sense” something and watch their reaction. Or hell, maybe you’re ready to open your next staff meeting with “This is what’s in my heart, and I want to be more open about where my intuition is leading me because that’s how I make the best decisions for our team.”

You can also choose not to use the word “intuition” if it’s still a dirty one in your organization. You can simply say things like “I feel…” or “I’m sensing…” or “Something that comes up for me is…”

If the tide is going to shift, we have to be more open about how our deeper, mystical, seemingly “less rational” selves inform our work. We have to do that and then hope that the person across from us is open to accessing their intuitive side and can meet us in that place.

In the last few weeks, I’ve been struck by how open-minded so many professional people are – people you may not expect to be on board with the more squishy, intuitive skills that I’m talking about here.

Last night at an HR Association event I was facilitating, I told about 20 HR professionals that next month we’d be talking about office auras, and no one yelled or threw food at me! Okay, sure, I live in Portland, and this was an innovative group of people, but it still gives me hope – I think people in the professional sphere are ready to talk about things we can’t always name, or see, or measure.

We have to show up as our intuitive, authentic selves in our worklives and trust that the right people – the ones we want around us – are going to be able to meet us there.

Start wherever you are today, even if it’s just imagining dropping “the I word” into a conversation with a colleague.

Honor yourself by making space for your intuition in your work – I can guarantee you’ll reap rewards, even if it’s just feeling completely aligned and genuine for one amazing moment.

Is There Beauty in Your Career?

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantLately I’ve been wondering how our worklives would change if we measured success by how much beauty we create in the world.

What if, instead of trying to improve employee productivity, you just sought to create a process that was elegant, simple, and easy to use?

What if, instead of seeing yourself as an office manager, you took on the role of “office beautifier”?

What if, instead of managing people, you focused almost solely on nurturing your team so much that their own beauty shone bright?

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantThe natural world around us is full of beauty – full of colors, scents, shapes, and sounds that call out to our senses and make us feel at home again.

In nature, beauty is often (but not always) a reflection of health, strength, and good design. A beautiful flower has only bloomed because it has accessed the nutrients that it needs in order to grow strong. Creating beauty in the world blesses us, and it blesses others.

When was the last time you did something work-related that was just for the sake of creating or experiencing beauty? Beauty, whatever that means to you, softens us – it helps us stay present, feel comforted, and gives us the space to do our best work.

Whether or not there is beauty in your career (and that can look like innovation, eloquence, joy – whatever delights your senses) can be a good indication of how close you are to walking your right path. The Sufi poet Rumi wrote:

The only way to measure a lover

is by the grandeur of the beloved.

Judge a moth by the beauty of its candle.

What kind of candle are you drawn to and consumed by in your career? Is it one full of beauty and vibrancy? Is it a candle blighted by worry, negative thinking, or fear?

How would your worklife change if you sought to create one beautiful thing, conversation, process, or experience each day?

May Day: Our Worklives and Sacred Passions

subject12_mayday_42
In most May Day celebrations, people would dance and weave colored cloths around a Maypole.

In many Celtic traditions, May 1st was known as “Beltane,” a holiday to mark the return of the sun and the beginning of summer. Today, many of us know it as “May Day,” and while it’s not widely celebrated in the United States, I think it has important lessons for those of us seeking a more energized and natural way of working.

On May Day, we celebrate the abundance of Spring and the tide of life rising up within us again.

If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, you may have experienced a long, wet, and dark winter – literally, and maybe figuratively, too.

As we transition into a new season, the whole world is coming back to life around us. If you have felt giddy as you see trees blossom, enjoy having a couple of hours of daylight after work, or are already imagining the camping you’ll do this summer, then you’re right in line with the energy of the season. On May Day, we’re reminded that growth, creativity, and beauty are all possible when we honor what makes us feel alive.

The return to life that’s happening all around us doesn’t stop outside our office doors – if we let it, it will permeate our organizations and infuse them with some much-needed growth and energy.

The best way to allow this May Day joy to bubble up in your worklife or your organization is to simply honor your passions as sacred.

Passion, defined as a “powerful or compelling feeling,” can be a scary thing. Many of us were taught that passions and desires were dangerous, probably because they can compel us to violate social norms that tell us to stay in jobs we hate, relationships that are dying, or follow the rules that tell us to stay small and quiet.

In many organizations today, passion is sterilized into “employee engagement,” “culture,” or “career development.” When someone shows up passionate about a new initiative, project, or solution to a problem, we often say “thanks, but here are all of the reasons why that won’t work.”

When we – as individuals and organizations – deny what’s coming to life within and around us, we dishonor what makes us human. It’s as if we stomp on the flowers that are blooming in our yards or cut off all of the buds growing on trees that line our streets just because they scare us. When we do that, we end up living in a barren, colorless world in which nothing vibrant blooms.

pexels-photo-72473

If you feel the joyful, abundant energy of Spring around you and are tired of existing in a professional wasteland, then I’ve got some ideas for you.

They’re all about honoring what it is that makes you feel alive, just as a flower accepts the sunlight, water, and soil that it needs in order to bloom.

Here are four ways that you can start stoking the May Day flame in your worklife and organization:

First, respond to small desires. Do you feel like getting a popsicle with that cute colleague? Do it. Wanna stare out the window for five minutes? Let yourself. Need an afternoon off to go kayaking? Leave. Now.

Your desires are sacred, and too often, we shut them up and push on toward a life that is lifeless. You don’t have to quit your job or cash out your 401(k) yet unless you’re ready to – you can simply begin to honor your small desires and the flame within you will grow. It’s there, I promise, even if you can’t feel any passion at all right now. Let your senses lead you back to what you love and simply honor the small things that make you feel good.

Second, envision yourself living passionately. Passion doesn’t have to be this big, grandiose thing that consumes you. Most of the time, it’s a still, small spark that just compels you to create, connect, and expand. If you feel passionately about something but don’t feel ready to acknowledge, talk about, or make it a reality in your life, that’s totally okay. You can simply honor that passion by taking time each day to imagine yourself living a life that you love. Give yourself permission to create a little opening for those passions each day, even if you have no idea how they’ll come into reality. You can include your organization in this exercise as well and imagine the entire place alive with creative passion, energy, and connection.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantThird, plan for joy this summer. I don’t know about you, but at the end of almost every summer, I find myself regretting the fact that I didn’t go camping more. Even though life transforms in the summer months without trying, if I don’t somewhat plan for what I want to experience, I miss out on experiences that I know would make me feel joyful.

So this May Day, plan a couple of things that make you (and maybe your coworkers, too) feel joyful in the height of summer. Maybe it’s planning a barbecue for friends, a trip to the beach, or a day off to go float on the river. Simply set aside time to do what makes you feel good and connected to the world around you. If you’re a leader in an organization, plan some fun for everyone else, too, or better yet, adopt the New England tradition of closing early on Fridays between Memorial Day and Labor Day!

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantFinally, play more. May Day is a celebration of play, fun, and letting go of the things that make us feel inhibited. Anytime we dance, sing, play a sport, or engage in a creative activity, we’re playing, and it lights up all sorts of goodness in our brains. Humans play in order to learn, connect to others, and be renewed, and we need more of it in our organizations. For your next team meeting, try doing something playful just for the sake of having fun. If your team isn’t used to letting loose in the office, start small and simply include more play in your worklife to model it for others.

I hope you’ll let the joy and energy of May Day enrich your worklife and your organization today. Your passions and desires are sacred, and if you let them, they will guide you to live a bigger, more bountiful life that transforms your career and your organization.

In closing, I want to share a quote from Danielle LaPorte’s The Desire Map:

Through our wanting, we come to know more of ourselves, each other, and life.

Desire is at the root of our divine impulse to evolve.

Desire leads the way home.


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5 Ways to Discover Your Strengths

megan leatherman career coachIn my practice as a career coach, I talk to a lot of people who don’t know what they’re naturally good at. When someone isn’t sure what their strengths are, they aren’t able to work in alignment with them, which usually results in a really empty, drag-yourself-to-work kind of career.

Most people have a sense of what their skills are, which is great, but it’s only one part of the picture – and, to be honest, not a very important one. In his book, Now, Discover Your Strengths, Marcus Buckingham breaks a strength out into three parts: talents, knowledge, and skills.

Most people on a search for a new career stay stuck in the knowledge and skills categories. They mistakenly believe that if they just get one more training, or degree, or that certification, that then they’ll be able to find the career they love.

But that’s not how it works.

Your knowledge and skills need to support your talents – they are a means to an end, and that end is to live out your strengths. Until you’ve tapped into what your innate, natural talents are, you’ll pour money into trainings, graduate degrees, or certifications that may not actually serve you (note: if you’ve already spent all your money on any of those things, don’t worry – no matter what knowledge and skills you’ve acquired, they can always be reconfigured to support your talents).

For the purposes of this post, when I say “strengths,” I mean the talents that you were born with. I mean the way you are without trying to be.

Strengths feel good when we’re using them, and they also bless those around us. People who are stuck in jobs or organizations that don’t encourage them to use their strengths (and research shows that’s 80% of the workforce) burn out quickly, they disengage, and they aren’t able to share the gifts that are inside of them. We all lose when our strengths are unknown, stifled, or snuffed.

megan leatherman career coachDiscovering and manifesting your strengths in the world is very important, and I want to help you start doing both of those things in this post.

Here are five ways to discover what your innate talents are so that you can share them with the world:

First, you can do work that you absolutely despise.

A lot of my clients underestimate how valuable it can be to do work that feels totally soul-sucking, which is understandable – when you’re knee deep in shit, it’s hard to view the experience as a “learning opportunity.” But doing work that feels like the wrong fit is a great way to find out what doesn’t work for you and, inversely, what would.

A job you don’t enjoy is a great window into what your natural talents might be. Usually when something feels like a total slog, it’s because we’re trying to force the talent to come when it’s just not there. We might have a lot of knowledge and skills in a particular area, but if the natural ability isn’t present, it’s going to feel forced.

If you’re in a job that’s totally draining you, take a minute to acknowledge to yourself that this is another great learning experience that life’s offering you. Remember that nothing is permanent. Start paying attention to what works for you and what doesn’t work, and in regards to the stuff that doesn’t work: imagine its opposite and how that would feel to you instead.

megan leatherman career coach
What did you enjoy as a child?

Second, think back to what you enjoyed in childhood.

I would come across this idea when I was looking for my next career move and always rolled my eyes. What I did as a kid? What does that have to do with anything? I get that this may seem kind of silly. That said, I also think it can be really illuminating for people who aren’t sure what their strengths are.

What kind of kid were you? What did you enjoy doing? My childhood memories consist of a lot of slumber parties, passing notes in class, and crossing clique divides in middle and high school. Sure enough, some of my strengths are empathy and relating to others. Look for themes in your childhood – I bet they could teach you something about what your raw talents are.

Third, you could try out some formal assessments.

I have a complicated relationship with career assessments. On one hand, they’re great: they give some good information and can help you see what you’re naturally good at. On the other hand, I think a lot of people look at assessments like they would look into a crystal ball, and it doesn’t work that way. Assessments are just tools, not the final word on who you are and what you can become in your career.

megan leatherman career coachA good assessment will be high-level enough to simply point you in a certain direction, and you should always remember that no test knows more about you than you know about yourself. All of those caveats aside, some of the ones that I like and that you might want to check out are: StrengthsFinder, the Holland Code, and the Myers-Briggs. They’re each very different, but they can help you paint a picture of what your natural affinities might be.

Fourth, get counsel from a spiritual guide.

I know, kind of a 180 degree turn going from StrengthsFinder to Shaman, but for many career-seekers, the spiritual component is what’s missing in their search. In the West, most of us lack any sort of initiation into or guidance during our search to bring our gifts into the world, and that’s really unfortunate.

Getting a different, less rational perspective on what your talents are is imperative in this process. I include spiritual guides in my life, I get help clearing energy on the regular, and I’m meeting other career coaches who see the value in referring clients to healers of all kinds. Whether it’s the priest at your local parish, a Reiki practitioner, or just a spiritually attuned friend, reach out and ask for a different perspective. For some insights into what kind of healer might be a good fit for you, check out this post by Danielle LaPorte.

Finally, just find what feels good. 

We don’t have to overthink this. When you’re using a strength, you feel good.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo what kind of activity felt good to your soul last week? Did you lose track of time in that Excel spreadsheet? Maybe you skipped brunch because you wanted to knit that sweater for your nephew. The point of this isn’t to over-analyze what your strengths are, the point is to live in concert with them.

If there’s any part of your work today that feels good to you, try to do more of it. If there’s something in your life outside of work that feels good to you, do more of that. Amp up the goodness and soon you’ll start seeing opportunities for serious growth in your career.

Sometimes it feels confusing to parse out which activities feel good and which are simply things you’re competent in, so I’m including a free exercise here in case you’d like to download and use it! Click this link to receive a copy of The Strengths Quadrant.

In closing…

The real issue here, at a subconscious level, isn’t that you have no idea what you’re good at. If you’re like almost everyone else I’ve talked to, the issue is that you’re afraid of your strengths. If you start to discover what your strengths are, that means that you might have to make some serious changes in your career, and that can feel terrifying.

If it’s any consolation, fear and resistance are great guides – they usually indicate that we’re on the right track. In his book Do the Work, Steven Pressfield writes, “The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.” I hope you’ll answer the call to discover and nurture your strengths, even if it feels overwhelming or scary.


I would be honored to support you in your journey to discover and live out your strengths. If you think that would be helpful, you can set up a free consultation on my website.