"I can hear the passion that you have for your work” is shared with me often enough. When I hear this comment, it’s like the warmest of hugs. To me, it is a reminder of where I was and where I am now.
I am passionate about my work, because I know I am working from a place of purpose. I am one of those people that loves my job. I am fundamentally fulfilled by my work. But, this was not always the case and I paid for it with physical and mental unhappiness.
Make a Shift from Unhappiness to Purpose
As a person that has been in social services since my first real job, it wasn't a career change that helped me make the shift from punching a time clock to having a work life full of purpose. It was a decision to value myself; this one life. It was a decision to not grind, hustle or burn the candle at all ends. This didn't happen overnight but over a course of a few years of unhappiness and overworking.
I hit a breaking point where I thought "I can't do this anymore." That year was 2015. The way that I was approaching my work life was not sustainable. From an outsider's perspective, I was making it. I owned my own business, I set my own hours, I took a few vacations. Yet, I wasn't living from a place of purpose. I was living from fear and distrust. It was a dark place. I was striving to get to an unknown goal. My wellness was contingent. If I hit this number, then I will be happy.
When I reflect about what is different from then and now, the answer is clear. It's me. I've changed.
Working Without Purpose: Five Lessons I Learned
1- I learned to say both "yes" and "no."
I was so driven by fear of failure that I got into the practice of saying yes to anything because I was afraid that if I said no, I’d miss an opportunity. I also said “no” to a lot of things that might have helped me sustain my mental health. I pulled away from friends, social functions, and generally things that took me away from work. I got into the habit of thinking, “If I work like crazy right now, it will be better in 3 months, 6 months, a year.”
Well, it didn’t get better until I put time and care into myself. It only got better when I started telling myself more accurate messages of my own worth.
I am not defined by my paycheck, my business’s success. I am worthy, just as I am. Right now, and back then. Now, “no” doesn’t scare me and “yes” feel like a choice. I can still get frantic and fear driven when under stress, but I am so much more content because I have learned to make decisions with my values in mind. If it doesn’t fit my values of creativity, belonging, and growth, I am willing to say “no.” And when a decision comes my way that fits within my values, I can hear a healthy “yes.”
2- I revised my work-narratives.
Many of the work narratives swirling around in my head were not helpful. I had to be willing to hear a different story rather than the common one of victim or hero I was so used to.
Back then, I used to tell myself that people were taking advantage of me, I was going it alone, I had no one to count on, I was going to fail and it was going to be all my fault. These narratives were not only unhelpful, they are confabulations; a lie told honestly. I had to be clear with myself when I was inventing a narrative that lacked accuracy and then be brave enough to discovery what I didn’t know. I am still working on this on a daily basis.
3- I asked for support.
I’m not sure when being a successful woman meant doing it all by ourselves...effortlessly with ageless skin and a firm stomach! Simultaneously spreading joy at home while updating spreadsheets was proving to be almost impossible until I started recognizing that I can’t do it by myself and no one is really asking me to do it by myself anyway.
I had people that were trustworthy all around me. I had people that were cheering me on, who supported me and empathized with me through the struggle. I just had to let them in. I had to let people show up for me in the way that I needed.
I also stopped keeping secrets about what I needed support to complete. Now that I have put in supports, I’ve found that I can actually show up and be present in the places that I am in, rather than being hurried and distracted.
4- I ended the endless comparisons to others.
I needed to recognize that no amount of recognition from others, number of advanced degrees, no number of offices opened or employees working for me would make me feel worthy. I had to feel worthy without these markers of success. I had to stop the endless comparison with others.
I developed an initial mantra; “Jenny, you are competing against no one.” This helped me through my initial changes. Yet, I had to dig deeper and figure out what was driving this striving.
It wasn’t what I had told myself; that I’m a hard worker. It was something packed with shame. I needed to recognize that the reason that I was constantly comparing, hustling, striving was because I felt “not smart enough.” This is one of my earliest and most sustaining ‘not good enough’ message.
Overworking in my business to obtain more ‘gold stars’ of success was to prove to myself that I am ‘smart enough.’ But, this was just the slippery slope of shame. Each mistake or hurdle, I’d need more successes to feed that shame storm. No achievement was going to make me feel smart enough. This one took me a full two years to really consider differently. When I started to believe that I was actually smart enough, I could do more good in this world. I could put myself in new places and in front of new people that I would never have considered. This one feels really good.
5- I learned to trust myself.
To be honest, prior I didn’t realize that self-trust was an issue in my life. Yet, when I leaned in to what was not working in my work life, I discovered that with each failure, I’d say something to myself like “You should have known better.”
When I examined self-trust and deconstructed its parts within the Rising Strong™ program, I found that I could practice self-trust. It was such a relief to have a strategy to use when I was judging myself for a perceived failure. I can see this is fundamentally leading me to being more vulnerable in other relationships too. As I’ve learned to trust myself more, I can trust others more wholeheartedly.
Was Finding Purpose Worth It?
All these lessons learned continue to take vulnerability and active work. None of these come easily to me. Sometimes, I backslide to that place of fear, shame and inadequacy and I can feel that difference in every part of me.
Dr. Brené Brown contends that once you have lived in the service of being courageous with your life, you can never go back. The first time I read that, I don't think I totally understood it. Perhaps I didn't fully understand how purpose and courage are intertwined. Working from a place of purpose, started with working on me. I can see that my purpose is to be right where I am; loving my work-life.
I am being brave with my life.
If you are struggling to find purpose in your life; whether it be professional or personal, join us for our next Rising Strong group. Call 619-600-0683 to sign up today.