The biggest question each individual faces is what to do with the gift of life they have been given – in other words: “How can I make the most of that gift so I can live to my fullest potential?” Yet it’s a question which we frequently steer away from or respond to by following the perceived safety of the norm.
How do I know that people do this?
Well, for a start I did it myself. For the first 17 years of my career, I followed the misguided but well-intentioned perceived wisdom handed down to me by parents who came from a generation that craved safety and security in a post-war Britain.
Following their unspoken nudges, overt advice and outright direction, I unintentionally created a working life which reflected their values and beliefs rather than my own. At no time can I recall family discussions about individual values taking place other than the occasional fiery rebuttal whenever I unintentionally challenged theirs. There was one clear but unspoken message to keep up with the programme – and there was only one programme.
Falling into the conformity trap
Unconsciously living someone else’s life has unintended and unforeseen consequences apart from the illusion of being chained by the golden handcuffs of salary. I ended up becoming caught in the hamster wheel of business publishing as a high achieving but ultimately unfulfilled sales and marketing director/publisher.
Looking back, I realised that I had become totally distanced from my natural and authentic self and become worn out mentally and physically from years of unconsciously wearing what Jung would call the persona of conformity, striving like many of us to be someone I wasn’t but felt I was supposed to be.
As Jean-Paul Sartre identified, the existential cry which comes from our true self can’t be stifled – whether that’s to do with our professional or personal identity if we are truly to be. Nor should it be stifled. When we resist being who we really are, we cause ourselves the most pain, often ending up ill both mentally and physically and burnt out from the effort of fighting our own authentic self and living meaningless lives of quiet desperation caught in the hamster wheel with no clear escape route.
Answering the call
As Jung said, many of the problems of modern-day life are caused by an individual’s “progressive alienation from his [or her] instinctual foundation.” It is little wonder therefore that we have such high levels of mental health-related issues across the generations and in particular, why our young people feel lost and end up depressed. We keep them focussed on the need to do well in exams without helping them anchor this clearly in a clear and meaningful purposeful context beyond the results themselves.
In my case, a few years of soul searching and self-inquiry through life coaching and other therapy training courses, combined with voracious reading of self-help books and multiple conversations with experts, friends and carefully chosen family members followed. It led to relocation back in the land of my fathers and the move enabled me to develop a new career direction. The process of change was muddled and challenging with many hours spent in the Rodin pose of reflection, but ultimately worth it as it brought me back to and reflected, my true sense of self.
In the course of my work during the best part of the last twenty years as a career development professional, I have seen and heard the same angst in my clients, again and again, no matter which generation they are from. I have heard that same voice of anguish and torment which I had identified in myself and recognised its roots. It is the angst which stems from the human condition, reflecting a sense of being purposeless and a lack of meaning, ultimately leading to a Kafkaesque sense of isolation.
Old norms have rapidly been replaced by new norms of disruption, uncertainty, and change, yet many of us still persist in following the old norms handed down the generations. We cling to them almost with a sense of desperation because we crave to belong until the quiet whisper of our inner voice becomes an undeniable roar which we can no longer suppress. A roar which we have to deal with in the space created through ill health, redundancy or other circumstances.
Done well, coaching provides a sacred space where an individual can bare their soul safely, free from judgement and in a way which enables an individual’s desperate struggle to be who they really are to be expressed, heard and acknowledged clearly. The bond between coach and client in that space serves to support and encourage individuals to find their own truth, to understand where their heart is, to respect their essence and trust their instincts.
If we can help individuals to be comfortable in their own skin, often for the first time, we can help them find their true north and create wholesome and fulfilling lives full of joy and meaning where their true potential is encouraged to flourish rather than be hidden away because it conflicts with that perceived norm.
Instead of telling people who to be and sending them onto the conveyor belt of life at work, we need to be comfortable with helping individuals to find their “instinctual foundation” and put that to work purposefully so they can thrive. We need to ask better questions to help individuals find this foundation so they can thrive and enjoy a sense of meaning, control, and certainty. Doing so will enable all of us to orient ourselves confidently in the uncertain times of the new world of work no matter what changes await us around the technology corner.
As Maslow said: “A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write if he is ultimately to be at peace with himself. What one can be, one must be.”
If you find yourself caught in the career hamster wheel with unspent potential, isn’t it time you answered the call, stepped into your true self and created the life you would love to live before you get trapped in an even smaller wheel?
If you are ready to make the leap, find yourself a great coach, one who understands the cry and the angst and can ask you the questions you need to be asked so you can find your foundation and build on it.
My RE-INSPIRED Professional one to one career and life coaching programme is the result of working with thousands of individuals over two decades triggered by my own journey and experience. The framework behind it is research-proven, and perhaps, more importantly, it is client proven too. It provides a structured way to help you identify your authentic foundation and ignite it with purpose, so you escape the career hamster wheel, achieve your potential and make the most of the gift of life you have.
If I could make the leap, you can too if you decide to.
One of the UK’s top career coaches, Carolyn Parry is Founder Director and Lead Coach at Career Alchemy. She is also privileged to represent her profession in Wales, as the Career Development Institute’s Project Associate for the Principality and serves as a trustee on the Board of Citizens’ Advice, Ceredigion.
ABOUT THIS BLOG
Designed for professionals, the Career Alchemy blog mixes news, career trends and philosophy with "how to" advice to help you achieve happiness and success in your working life, no matter how much the world of work is changing.