Kathy Caprino Blog | Women's Career and Personal Growth Coach and..
Find information on expert career coaching, leadership training, career success seminars, and resources for professional women. As a women's career coach, writer, speaker and trainer, Kathy helps women dig deep, discover their right work, and find their career bliss.
Part of Kathy Caprino’s series “Close Your Power Gaps To Build a Happier Life”
Recently I was asked to contribute to a piece for The M Dash, the online magazine for clothing brand M.M.LaFleur, about what it’s like to feel lost at work at various stages in life. While my deepest area of expertise is coaching and training mid-career women who recognize they want and deserve a better, happier professional life, I’ve worked with hundreds of women and men across a fuller span of their lives, including recent grads, post-baby and later career. As we all know, people can feel seriously adrift in their careers at any and all of these stages. But each stage brings with it specific challenges and questions.
Below is a look at what contributes to feeling lost and confused in your career at three key stages of our lives, and some first steps to take to move beyond confusion into empowered action.
In just starting out, recent grads often feel lost in a number of critical ways. First, many feel that what they went to school for was something their parents and authority figures told them was the “stable, secure” choice, but in their hearts, they never enjoyed what they were studying or felt that it wasn’t aligned with who they are and what they care about.
When these folks graduate, they already feel like they’re behind many others who had a focused passion for what they studied and are thrilled about the possibility of doing work that leverages all that they learned.
Another way recent grads feel lost is that they may have studied something they loved, but now, in their efforts to land gainful employment, they find that what they learned in school, while interesting, just isn’t helping them get jobs. I’ve interviewed scores of young people who graduated from good schools, with great grades, and solid majors, only to discover that they couldn’t find a job to save their lives.
Thirdly, today’s workforce has become fiercely competitive, and recent grads often find that they’re behind the eight ball and not competing successfully with other young people who’ve already racked up impressive internships and other related work experience in the years before graduation. Without these internships or related work experience, many recent grads, especially in highly competitive fields, feel that their opportunities are very slim and they’re already falling behind their peers.
Another contributing factor—how you were raised
It’s a very common time to feel lost because we’re moving out of the teen phase where our parents have been very influential in our lives (and often too hands-on), doing so much for us. Here we are on our own, trying to handle adult responsibilities that, in many cases, we haven’t been properly trained or prepared for. We can feel at sea with all the steps we have to take to create new, successful adult lives.
Several years ago, I published an interview here on Forbes.com with leadership expert Tim Elmore in which he shared the 7 Crippling Parenting Behaviors That Keep Children from Growing Into Leaders. Close to 8 million people have read this article and it has had viral reach, I think, because millions of parents are realizing that they are not helping their children grow up to lead their own lives authoritatively and confidently.
Tips: In a recent interview on my Finding Brave podcast, I spoke with Austin Belchak, Founder of Cultivated Culture, on How To Land a Dream Job at the Salary You Deserve. He shares his personal experience feeling totally lost after graduation. Austin studied science but when he left school, he simply couldn’t find a job, no matter what he tried. He decided to explore a new approach and went on to interview scores of other young people who had had very little work experience yet were able to land amazing jobs at the nation’s most coveted employers. Austin researched exactly how they did that, and in this research process, he learned so much. Austin eventually got a great job and also launched his own business helping other recent graduates do what’s necessary to find jobs of their dreams. It’s an inspiring story with great tips and strategies.
What to do:
Don’t go it alone
When we’re feeling lost, the very first thing is to reach out to someone who can help. This is true no matter what stage of life you’re in. Einstein said, “We cannot solve a problem on the level of consciousness that created it.” I know that if I had reached out for help back when I was just starting out, I wouldn’t have accepted the very first job that I was offered (which I didn’t want, and it set me on a trajectory of unhappy corporate life for 18 years).
When you’re lost and overwhelmed, don’t try to tackle the situation on your own. Find a mentor, a friend, a coach or coaching buddy, a therapist, someone who can help you address what you’re feeling and thinking, and help you see other perspectives and strategies to address what seems insurmountable.
Recognize your strengths and identify work outcomes you care about
Begin to do the work of recognizing what you’re great at (those natural talents and skills that have been with you for a long time and that you love to use). Explore different jobs that require those specific skills and talents. Secondly, know that, in order to succeed in your work, it’s not enough to do tasks you enjoy. You also have to feel good about the outcomes that you’re striving hard to achieve in your job. The company’s goals have to be aligned with what you care about and respect. If you’re working incredibly hard every day for outcomes that you don’t believe in, you won’t thrive.
Understand the culture that you’ll feel good in
Every organization has its own culture, “feel” and style. And not every individual will be a fit with those cultures. Take some time to identify the specific traits of work cultures that appeal to you and will be a strong fit with your values and personality. Then start to network extensively (and become a true connector) to help you identify and connect with organizations that you’d love to contribute to.
What I hear most often from women who are new mothers (and men who’ve become new fathers) and are feeling lost in their careers is this: the very process of having a baby has changed everything for them and made them rethink how they want to spend their time, and how they want to balance parenting with being an active and successful professional.
Childbirth is such a monumental experience that often leads us to rethink who we are in the world, and what matters most to us. Frequently, people experience a new sense of frustration and disappointment as they realize that they’re leaving their baby in the care of others while trudging off to do work they find meaningless, harmful or unsatisfying.
As time goes on and the children grow, the sheer challenge of balancing new and evolving parenting responsibilities with an already-full plate at work can lead parents to feel utterly lost and unable to cope.
Tips: Whenever we feel lost, it’s essential to take some time to get in closer touch with what we feel and think. It’s common to get flooded by our emotions and feel unable to see the possibilities in front of us, for taking control of our lives, making different kinds of choices, and honoring what we care about most. Take some time to simply be and adjust to this monumental change in your life, and to get to know yourself as this new person who has another important role in life to balance. Find some quiet time each day (even if it’s 5-10 minutes) to just allow yourself to think, feel and be quiet with yourself.
This will help you sort out what is causing the most distress or challenge right now. Is it that you don’t have enough time in the day to do what you need to? If so, it’ll be important to re-evaluate everything you’re trying to achieve, and start fiercely prioritizing what matters most. It’ll be important to stop being a perfectionistic overfunctioner and get more help where you need to).
For others, it’s that in the wake of just having a child, what they didn’t like about their careers is more glaring than ever. Explore all those feelings more deeply, and try to tease out the specific parts of your career and professional life that are no longer acceptable. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Just decide on some small, doable steps you take to address what isn’t working.
I’ve worked with thousands of mid-life professionals, and so many of them are lost in a way that’s different from recent grads and younger adults. Commonly, they’ve spent 20+ years working so hard to build a career that they hoped would be satisfying and sustainable, often to find it’s neither of those things, and they have no idea what to do about it.
The challenge at this stage is that we often have a great deal to lose if we want to leave our old careers behind. Many people at this time in life have children who rely on them, expensive mortgages, credit card debt, student loans to pay off, and other responsibilities that make changing course at 40 very challenging. That feeling of “lost” can be extremely depressing and confusing. And they stay paralyzed.
I’ve discovered there are five core steps that anyone can take to help them out of that feeling of being lost and paralyzed. These steps are highly effective, and also prevent us from making costly mistakes as we try to discover what we really want out of life, and get on a more rewarding and successful path.
Those steps are:
Step Back – for an empowered perspective of who you are, what you’re capable and what you’ve already accomplished that makes you valuable in the world. Watch my TEDx talk “Time To Brave Up” for exercises that will help.
Let Go – of the thinking, patterns and behaviors that are keeping you stuck
Say YES! – to your most compelling visions and dreams for your future and your life
Explore – Try on – behaviorally, emotionally, and physically – with doable (risk-free) microsteps, the top three directions that excite you most, to help you determine if these new pathways will in fact be what you really want
Create It S.M.A.R.T. – build a sound plan, with specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound goals, and with an accountability structure, to help you move forward in ways that will get you to your goals.
The truth is, we can feel lost at any time in our lives when the way we’re living isn’t aligning with what makes us happy and what we believe is right for us. We can feel lost when our work has pulled us away from our core values and our sense of integrity and honesty. We can feel lost when we’re being mistreated and discriminated against. We can feel lost when our relationships change and we’re no longer with people we enjoy and respect. We can feel lost when our children grow up and leave us feeling empty and despairing because our life’s work has dramatically shifted. And we can feel lost when we’re experiencing what I’ve found to be the 7 most damaging power gaps that keep us from taking control and being powerful and effective authors of our own lives.
In all cases, reach out to someone to get outside help to see yourself and what you’re capable of more clearly. Gain awareness of (and honor) what you’re feeling and thinking and try to understand more deeply what is contributing to the challenges you face today. Then, start taking “finding brave” microsteps every day that will shift your life experience and mindset and give you proof that you can change what isn’t working, and transform your career and life in ways that are satisfying and joyful.
Part of the series “Finding Brave To Build a Happier Life and Career”
This week, I received an email from one of my LinkedIn followers in response to a recent episode I published of my Finding Brave podcast. While I don’t know this individual, she shared openly and emotionally about her situation about how she’d been terribly mistreated and, in fact, bullied in her latest job by her manager who was a director and also, later, by the head of HR, after she quit and gave a short notice.
In our interchange, she explained that this wasn’t the only job at which she’d been treated horribly—it was numerous previous jobs as well. And she shared a litany of unethical, abusive and even illegal behaviors that she experienced from toxic colleagues, HR staff and bosses.
This is not new news. I receive literally hundreds of these types of emails and LinkedIn messages each year from people—both men and women—sharing how they’ve been legitimately abused or mistreated in their work and in multiple jobs. And I take these messages to heart because for many years, on and off, I was on the receiving end of treatment at work (by colleagues and superiors) that was toxic, unethical, demeaning and sometimes emotionally abusive, and always confusing.
Approximately 20 years ago when I was at my unhappiest juncture in my corporate life, a dear friend was staying the weekend at my house. I remember this day like it was yesterday. We were sitting on my couch and I was sharing the gory details of what I was going through at work. This was not the first time I was having terrible problems with a boss—this was just the latest in a string of disasters.
My friend said something to me like this:
“Kathy, you know I love you and I’m a true supporter, but I’m wondering how can it be that so many of your bosses have been so bad. I’m just wondering if there’s not something else going on. Maybe therapy might help get to the bottom of it for you.”
Truthfully, I was deeply shocked and hurt that my friend could even think that the problem was related to my behavior (or at least, that’s how I took it). How could she think that it was something that I needed therapy about? But after thinking about our discussion for a few weeks, I decided that maybe she was onto something. Maybe there was something going on that I didn’t understand that was contributing to why I was so chronically unhappy at work and why my relationships with authority figures and colleagues were so often fraught with challenge and pain.
Turns out, she was right.
From that discussion with my friend, I engaged in two powerful years of therapy and learned so very much about why I struggled with my bosses, and why I attracted (and stayed far too long in) jobs and situations that weren’t good for me, and didn’t allow me to grow and express my true self in the way I needed and wanted to. In short, it amounted to my own poor boundaries, lack of confidence and self-esteem, inability to use my voice and say “STOP” in ways that were powerful, and my own inability to recognize a very bad work situation before I threw myself into it.
After a brutal layoff from that toxic job, I transformed my career and became a marriage and family therapist and career coach, which was a life-changing experience in countless ways. And I use that therapy training in every ounce of my career coaching, speaking, writing and research today.
What have I learned in these past 20 years about the top reasons so many of us experience continual and chronic mistreatment at work?
Before I share those reasons, I want to make a differentiation here between chronic mistreatment and a one-time situation, because they are different.
Yes, it’s very likely that in our years of working, we’ll experience at least one traumatizing work situation that goes very badly and involves some type of legitimate mistreatment, abuse, sabotage and more. In fact, recent research has revealed that almost 75% of workers have reported being affected by bullying at work. That’s a huge number that represents a tremendous cost—to us as individuals, to our workforce and to our workplaces each year.
What I’d like to focus on here, however, is not the one-time experience, but when we’re chronically and continually mistreated at numerous jobs.
I’ve found that what repeats over and over is not random—there’s something deeper going on.
And when we can empower and strengthen ourselves in critical ways, we’re able to avoid or address mistreatment very differently.
In working with thousands of professionals who want better, more successful careers and businesses, I’ve observed these 3 common reasons people continue to take and remain in toxic jobs that hurt them:
1: The core negative messages you learned in childhood are still with you
We’ve all been formed by our childhood experiences to a far greater degree than we have ever understood. In fact, I’m seeing that in our adult lives, we are behaving, feeling, and reacting in ways that directly stem from what we’ve learned to be as children in our specific families. If you haven’t examined (and addressed) the key messages and behaviors you adopted to be accepted by your family and your authority figures, to succeed in the ecosystem you were born into, then those behaviors and learnings are significantly influencing your career (and life) today.
It’s critical to understand that seemingly “happy” and intact families (and well-meaning parents) can generate wounds in you that are still interfering with your ability to be happy, confident and successful. Most professionals I coach and train who are not thriving at the highest level are still unconsciously trying to heal wounds and power gaps that were initially formed in their childhood, but most don’t recognize these as wounds or gaps. And most have no idea how their childhood coping behaviors and messages they received are holding them back today from the success and happiness they want.
The most common coping mechanisms and core message that professionals are carrying from their childhoods that are causing great damage are:
“Perfectionistic overfunctioning” – doing more than is appropriate, healthy and necessary and desperately trying to get an A+ in all of it, or order to feel worthy of love and to be accepted.
Not speaking up when necessary because it was extremely scary (or not allowed) to challenge your authority figures when you were a child, and you were in some way punished when you did it
Stopping yourself from “shining” too brightly, feeling confident, and taking credit where credit is due because you were taught that it’s unseemly and wrong for a girl to brag
Not having the appropriate boundaries and knowing how to stand up for yourself, manage your emotions and make the right decisions because your boundaries were violated by parents who overstepped their bounds and never taught you how to think for yourself or trust in your own capabilities
Tip: Think back to your childhood and write down all the messages and coping strategies that you learned – about yourself, the world, relationships, authority, power, independence, assertiveness, money, etc. Evaluate which of these messages and coping strategies are helping and which are hurting you today. Then get some outside help to shift those negative mindsets and behaviors once and for all.
#2: The role you play today at work is the role you played in your family
Today, in your adult life and career, you are playing the exact same role you played in your family and at school when you were a child trying to get love and acceptance or to serve in a way that kept the family functioning (unless you’ve done the internal and external work necessary to modify that).
I’ve learned that for the most part, we as adults are a living, fluid reaction to what our parents and authority figures and the ecosystem we grew up in, taught us to be. We’re still playing the role that we somehow (unconsciously) adopted to keep the family functioning in the way it had historically and the way it wants to continue. A family is a “system” and there are rules and structures that govern how this specific system operates. The family strives to attain a balance (even if that balance is unhealthy) and maintain homeostasis, and the roles that each member play are part of that balance.
I once ran a Facebook group with over 2,000 members who were adult children of narcissists, many who are over 40. Most still could not speak up to their parents and assert healthy boundaries. In short, they simply could not play a new role.
Sadly, we don’t just “grow up” and overcome these emotional and self-identity challenges from childhood. It takes internal work that many of us never do.
Just a few of the roles I see professionals playing out in their work-lives that they adopted in childhood are:
Tip: Think deeply about the role you adopted and played in your family to keep the family in status quo mode. Are you still playing that role in your work-life today?
#3: Your decisions keep failing you as to what jobs to take and remain in
For hundreds of professionals I talk to, they end up in jobs and work cultures they hate, and they recognize it was a bad move often within the first month of employment. (That was me in my last corporate job.)
Why is it that you’re having great troubling identifying up front a culture that will be damaging for you, and why don’t you act on your instincts not to take the job?
1) Don’t support your intrinsic values Your decisions will be bad ones for you if they go against what you value and respect. When you make a decision that ignores your values, it almost never comes to a good end, because you’ll either be on the receiving end of behavior that demoralizes you, or you’ll end up sabotaging the direction because it’s so out of alignment and painful, you can’t sustain it.
2) Come from a place of weakness and disempowerment Decisions that come from weakness, fear, or running away from something, can’t move you forward in a positive way. When you accept or stay in a bad job, often it’s because you’re running away from something and are desperate to make this work. When you do that, you’ll inevitably turn a blind eye to what is wrong and toxic, and you’ll step right into it anyway.
3) Are about trying to prove something Finally, your decisions are going to fail you if the jobs you take are about trying to “prove” something – to yourself or others. Many professionals take a new job to try to prove their former employer didn’t treat them well enough, pay them highly enough or promote them. But trying to prove something by taking the wrong job will hurt you even more.
Tip: Without exception, always align your decisions with your core values. Every day, be brave enough to honor what you know to be true about who you are and what you want. Make decisions that let you live from your highest standards of integrity.
In the end, if you can heal the self-limiting messages you learned in childhood and take on a new, more positive and empowered role than the one you had to play in your childhood, your life and career will transform. And you will become even more vigilant and careful about the types of people, cultures and workplaces that you choose to support and connect with, so that your precious remaining years of working will be rewarding and fulfilling.
Part of Kathy Caprino’s series “Spirituality and Success”
When I was a child, I was raised in the Greek Orthodox faith, but truthfully speaking, what I heard in church and what I experienced all around me when I was in church, Greek school, or Sunday school, felt very “off” to me somehow. Even though I was very little, I had a highly attuned radar as to what felt true to me, and what felt wrong and hurtful. And the experiences I had in church and how I saw people behave to each other didn’t fill me or connect me with love and inspiration – quite the opposite.
As I matured, I started developing my own ideas about how a loving “God” would speak and behave – and it was clear that my own definition was very different from the dogma I had been taught and the rigid beliefs I was exposed to. Very different indeed.
I didn’t know how to process those differences, and I thought to myself “who am I to think I know what a loving God would do and say?” so I swept the idea of having a spiritual life under the carpet for many years. I just couldn’t reconcile my own heart’s longings for more love, compassion, connection, forgiveness and inclusiveness in the world, with everything I was seeing around me that was being touted as religion.
I even had the amazing experience of singing for a year in NYC’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral choir, as a non-Catholic. While I’m grateful for the experience, I saw once again first-hand how exclusionary and prejudicial organized religion can be. I remember one woman in the choir leaning over to me and whispering in a critical tone “We don’t cross ourselves like that here,” referring to my Greek Orthodox way of doing the sign of the cross. Even in my 20’s I knew that a truly loving God wouldn’t care at all how you cross yourself.
Then something happened that altered my life and thinking dramatically. I was ejected from my corporate life at age 41 (laid off in a brutal way that crushed me, in the days following 9/11), and like so many of us who had a huge wakeup call after the tragedies of 9/11, something cracked open in me that couldn’t be ignored. I suddenly and desperately wanted to connect from a spiritual place with others, and to build more of a spiritual life that felt right to me. And suddenly I was committed to do it.
But I faltered in that process as well, trying on different paths that still left me feeling either hurt or disillusioned, or that I had not quite yet found my spiritual truth or “home.” So I kept exploring, researching and trying on new and older spiritual teachings and practices, to see if they felt right, good, loving and life-affirming to me personally.
During my time of professional transformation when I left corporate life and was studying to be a marriage and family therapist and coach, my heart and spirit opened wider than ever before, working with people who had been through so much trauma, pain, abuse and cruelty in their lives. I worked one weekend with first responders who’d had served in 9/11 and witnessed the unspeakable and were struggling in themselves and their relationships to process the trauma, and I felt more love, admiration and compassion for others than I’d literally ever experienced in my entire life. I still cry when I think of it. Something shifted, and I started relating to people differently – from a deep love in my heart and soul, not from my head.
Then I found the books of Neale Donald Walsch – Conversations with God – and said, “Yes! Finally! These are messages that I can wrap my heart and soul around. These are messages that for me, help me see a true loving force in the world, not the common messages of exclusion, punishment, hatred, and self-rejection that we so often hear in the name of “religion.”
My eyes were opened to the fact that millions of others in the world were going through their own spiritual exploration and were pursuing their own efforts to develop an authentic spiritual life that may or may not align with the religious teachings we’re exposed to daily.
A next step in my professional training included studying REIKI and other forms of energy healing, which I truly adored. These studies brought me even closer to feeling the experiences of others, connecting deeply with them. Studying energy healing unlocked in me so many ways to feel (in my body and in my emotional and energetic field) what another person is experiencing without the use of words. These approaches and tools are with me today and I use every one of them in career/executive/leadership coaching, training, my writing on Forbes, Thrive Global, and LinkedIn, in my media work and speaking engagements today.
About 8 years ago, I was drawn to take a class with Trudy Griswold, a bestselling author of the book Angelspeake about how to connect with your angels, and I found my work with Trudy another amazing and eye-opening experience. I began writing to my angels, and receiving incredible, uplifting messages of love, wisdom and guidance that offered insights that I felt were not coming “from me” but were emanating from a higher level of support.
Then, in 2016, my connection with angels evolved into a deeper practice and experience. In December of 2016, I learned of Lorna Byrne through the work of Mike Dooley (whom I truly admire and enjoy). From the minute I watched Lorna’s videos, I felt a deep urge and calling from way deep inside me to learn more about her and her work and experiences with the angels. That Christmas week, in 2016, I spent the entire 7 days reading every one of her books and listening to the 9-hour audio version of the amazing, bestselling book Angels in My Hair, and I was thoroughly mesmerized and moved.
From that experience, I mustered the courage to reach out to Lorna to ask if I could interview her. She said Yes! and I had the immense privilege and pleasure of interviewing her via video in our Messages From the Angels webinar.
Messages from the Angels with Lorna Byrne & Kathy Caprino - YouTube
All I can say is WOW! Everything Lorna shared felt so very real and authentic for me. I felt changed after being with her, even on video. And just being in connection and conversation with Lorna, I felt what I can only describe as being “closer to God” and to the divine and a deep source of spirituality and loving compassion within and around me.
From that conversation, I longed to meet Lorna in person in Ireland, and spend even more time learning with her. I was able to do just that last April Ireland and my two grown children joined me, and spent a day and a half in Lorna’s beautiful Ireland home with her daughter, Aideen. Since that time, our lives have changed in ways that are so beautiful and thrilling. We now feel in deeper connection with our beautiful Angels and other forms of spiritual support, and it’s been life-enriching experience in so many ways for me and my family.
After our Ireland visit, I immediately had another deep longing, and that was to be able to help other women experience what I had, being in Lorna’s presence, and learning from her amazing life and experiences about how we too can connect and speak daily to our Guardian angel and other spiritual supporters.
Having the chance to spend time directly in the presence of Lorna in the gorgeous splendor of Ireland, to ask your questions about your Guardian angel and the other angels who are here to support us, and how to learn how to access their guidance about your life, work, relationships, health and more, I believe you’ll find as I did that Lorna’s answers are so honest, real, and transformational in their simplicity and love. And they are healing.
When you ask Lorna questions, sometimes you’ll hear what you always have known and divinity and spirituality but never had the courage to believe. And other times you’ll hear answers that will make you want to dance and sing with joy and relief. But always, the honesty and transparency of Lorna’s messages will ring in your heart.
Since being with Lorna last April, we’ve explored the idea of bringing a group of amazing women directly to Ireland to have the chance to experience this sumptuous land and also be in direct companionship with Lorna to learn from her insights and experiences, and to help you get to know our own guardian angel and other spiritual helpers.
Why do we need to find brave to develop our own spirituality?
One final note about developing your own authentic spirituality – I’ve lived the truth that it takes a large dose of bravery and strength. Our world can be very rigid and prescriptive about what spirituality is and isn’t, and how you should formulate your beliefs around spirituality. And society can be extremely judgmental about people who are open about their spirituality.
It can be a cruel and judgmental world, where people think for instance, “How can you be a leading Forbes contributor, executive/leadership coach and successful business owner and yet connect with angels?”
These are not mutually exclusive, but many people fear talking and even thinking about spirituality and shun it. And in working with thousands of people a year, I come from a place of respect for their beliefs. If they want to explore developing their own spirituality in their lives, I’m happy to. If they want to explore personal and professional growth without touching on spirituality, that’s fine too.
But I know for a fact that we are much more multi-faceted than we realize (or admit out loud), and there are many aspects to who we are that can inform and enrich our lives, work, careers and businesses. In my way of thinking, it’s time that we walk through the fear and start the process of connecting with our true authentic selves, even when that “self” seems at odds with what our society says is right and acceptable. As long as love, empathy, forgiveness, equality, fairness, compassion, and inclusion are at the heart of it, I think you’re most likely on a healing path.
If you’re like me, you know that rigid and hateful societal beliefs that aren’t inclusive, aren’t loving, and aren’t compassionate simply don’t align with how we want to show up in the world, and engage with our fellow humans. And you might feel as I do that it’s time to find brave every day, to take action and stop being afraid and start to “close your power gaps” so you can finally step into your own power and strength to build the spiritual life that YOU believe will envelop you in greater and deeper love, support and compassion.
I believe it’s just the right time to do that.
For hands-on help to build your own authentic spiritual life and connect with angelic support, join Lorna Byrne and myself in our exciting women’s retreat in Ireland in September 2019! And work with me in my private coaching program Live Your True Spirit. I’d love to support you.
Part of Kathy Caprino’s new series “Close Your Power Gaps To Live and Work As You Long To”
In my work as a career and executive coach, I work with women of all ages, sizes and styles, and one theme has become very apparent: women are incredibly tough on themselves, full of self-rejection, shame, humiliation and doubt, particularly about their looks, their weight, intelligence and their worthiness.
Since “getting an A+” is not possible in every activity or area, and — and constantly striving to achieve that level of success is damaging — women then fall short of their unrealistic expectations and feel even worse, seeing their “failure” as validation that they have to work harder and be better.
Know that I’m not judging here. I feel deep love and compassion in my heart for all these women, because I can empathize fully. I’ve done a lot of internal work around this (and continue to), and I’m happy to say that I now know how liberating it is to free ourselves from needing to get an “A+,” and how fabulous it feels to jump off of the never-ending hamster wheel of doing more than is healthy, appropriate, necessary, and hating ourselves in the process.
I’ve seen first-hand that once you close your power gaps, build appropriate boundaries and start speaking up and honoring what you want and who you are, you begin to operate very differently in the world and grow happier and more accepting of yourself and everyone around you. You begin to embrace your “imperfect, just-right” functioning rather than striving for an impossible goal of perfection. But I’m not always there — I sometimes fall down and forget to love and accept myself.
I experienced a real wake-up call on this several years ago, when I spent a day at a photo shoot in Connecticut for my then new website. The day’s experiences took me from self-rejecting, shameful and worried (once again) about my looks, my weight, my “worthiness,” etc., to loving it all — embracing myself, my foibles and flaws, my talents and who I am at my core. I saw how the right kind of experience (with the right kind of people who align closely with your values, your heart and your worldview), can help you move from self-rejection to self-acceptance in a few short hours (or in an instant).
The five stages of transformation from self-hate to self-acceptance are:
Stage 1: “I don’t rate — I’m just not good enough.”
I started the day of my photo shoot afraid — afraid to share my wardrobe choices, reluctant to express what I really liked in terms of style, color, makeup, hair, jewelry and inhibited in my movements and physical presence. I compared myself in my mind to the thousands of other women my wonderful photographer Jacklyn Greenberg had shot before — young and older women and men I thought were beautiful and charismatic (so it seemed to me). Along with head shots, weddings and national events, Jacklyn does “risqué” photography as well, all of it stunning. Some clients are naked or are only partially dressed and from Jacklyn’s website, all of them seemed gorgeous, vibrant and unabashedly free.
I thought, Oh, no — this is going to be a very long day.
Stage 2: “Wait, maybe I’m not so bad.”
As the first hour progressed, with the help of Jacklyn and her great makeup artist D.D. Nickel, things changed and I changed. I moved from fearing everything about me was wrong and inferior to remembering that what I am — inside and out — is not terrible. Far from it. I started to see how my fears about my looks, weight, age, clothes, wrinkles, skin, tummy, etc. are universal and the only thing keeping me stuck in my insecurity was me.
Stage 3: “Hmmm… I guess I do have some unique, valuable qualities.”
Then, midway through, something interesting happened. I saw through their eyes that — as I let out who I really am at my freest — sharing my authentic personality, what I care about, my quirks, how I’m different, the shoot went much better, and the day became raucously fun. I forgot I was being photographed. We talked, shared, probed, guffawed and as I connected more deeply with Jacklyn and D.D., I saw how my qualities could be seen as unique and valuable — to the experience at hand, but also in relationship with these great new folks I was partnering with, and even in helping spread the word about their work and the stunning property, Winvian, we were lucky enough to be shooting on.
Stage 4: “It’s ridiculous (and an utter waste of precious life) to hide — I’m going let it all out.” Towards the end, the idea of hiding was long gone. I wasn’t afraid, shy or reluctant — I was excited, energized and inspired to be even more of myself. I saw clearly how stepping up and powering up to share myself in the most authentic, vulnerable way possible was the ONLY way this whole thing would work (in a photo shoot and in life).
Stage 5: “Ok, I can honestly say — I love and accept myself.”
Finally, at the end of the day as I was driving home, tired but exhilarated, I felt a flush of self-acceptance (dare I say self-love). I had done something that was scary and challenging for me. I had stepped up to a very high vision for where I want to go — in my life, in my career, in my professional pursuits — I held out high hopes for I wanted for and the outcomes I’d dreamed of, and I pushed myself to be real and courageous enough to make this happen. Not just because I went to a cool photo shoot, but because I believed in myself and the idea that I’m worthy of putting myself out there in the world in a bigger way.
At the end of the day, I was able to utter to myself exactly what my spiritual psychotherapist years ago implored me to state as an affirmation every day:
“I thoroughly love and accept myself.”
In the past, I had coughed up a hair ball every time I said that. Now, with each day, it’s much easier.
Years later, I’ve pushed myself far out of my comfort zones and done things that the old me would have run from. And I continue to commit to moving away from self-rejection.
To move through these five stages of transformation, start with these steps:
#1: Begin to recognize just how amazing you are.
Take the time this week to understand more deeply who you are, what you have to offer, and what you’ve already done in the life and work that is helpful, important and valuable. (For professionals, feel free to download my free Career Path Self-Assessment to get in touch with the important accomplishments and achievements you’ve made that have made a difference in the world). And watch my TEDx talk “Time to Brave Up” to learn how to articulate who you really are and the “20 facts of you.”
#2. Identify your biggest fears in the way of sharing more of your authentic amazing self in the world.
Some women might read this and think, “I just don’t love myself so how can I fake it?” in part because women are culturally trained to think that if we love ourselves, we’ll be self-involved, selfish and self-absorbed. And also because many of us have experienced childhoods that trained us that we’re not good enough unless we behave in ways that are not in alignment with who we really are.
If this is you, take the time (and get outside help if you need it) to understand the beliefs, mindsets and fears that keep you from sharing the real you in the world, and loving that honest version of yourself. Understand exactly where you got those beliefs and mindsets that you’re not good enough as you are.
Most likely, it’s damaging messages you received in childhood that told you you weren’t living up to the crazy, unrealistic expectations your parents and society had. (And growing up with narcissistic parents damages even further our self-esteem and self-worth in ways that most people don’t understand.)
#3. Stop holding back and start going for the things you really want. Keep moving through the rejection.
“In truth, there’s only one way to escape the pain of rejection: sit mute in a corner and take no risks. If we live courageously, we will experience many rejections that will make us want to fold up in a corner and never put ourselves “out there” again.
Don’t let yourself stay in that dark corner for too long. Get out and accumulate more rejections. You can take some time out, but don’t ever let rejection stop you.”
I’ve learned that self-love, and dealing with rejection in a powerful, self-affirming way, is vitally important and needed in the world today.
You simply can’t build a wonderful, rewarding and happy life and career — and you can’t be of service to others fully — if you don’t learn how to move through rejection (from yourself and others), and find new ways to love and accept yourself more fully — flaws, gaps, foibles and all.
Are you ready to find brave and walk through the five stages of self-hate to self-love today?
For hands-on coaching support to love and embrace yourself more fully and get moving toward building a more thrilling life, join me in my new Close Your Power Gaps coaching program and tune into my weekly Finding Brave podcast.
Part of Kathy Caprino’s series “Building a Powerful Support Community”
This month, I heard from a corporate executive (let’s call her “Linda”) who shared her story about a career coach she hired last year. The long and the short of it is that it didn’t end well, and she’s now wary of coaches as a whole. I don’t blame her at all.
This coach turned out to be of zero help to Linda, and in fact, set her back several steps, demoralizing her and leaving her more confused than before.
Sadly, I’ve heard this type of story countless times in the past 13 years in my work a career and executive coach. This coach had Linda take a battery of expensive tests, and the results showed that she was in an ideal job for her interests and skills. The problem was, she’s deeply unhappy in this career of 30 years, and she wants to leave it for a variety of well-founded reasons. The coach also told her that due to her age (she’s in later midlife), she’ll have a very hard time reinventing and finding a new job and suggested not doing it.
Wow, thanks a lot for the motivation and inspiration, sir!
While it’s certainly true that reinventing in midlife has its deep challenges (I know this from experience as I transformed in midlife from corporate exec to marriage and family therapist to career coach, writer and speaker), it is doable if you engage in the process with your eyes wide open and with the right steps, strategies and support, integrating all your new learning as you go.
I had a similar experience back in 2000 with a career coach I hired. I had built a corporate marketing career for 18 years and experienced a good deal of outer success. But as I approached age 40, I experienced some serious crises and challenges (which I now know are common among thousands of professional women) that brought me to my knees, including chronic illness, sexual harassment, gender discrimination, toxic bosses, zero work-life balance, unethical management, and more.
What was even more painful was the feeling that what I did for a living offered no positive, contributive value to the world. It was totally lacking in meaning and purpose for me, and as I turned 40, that began to feel like a situation I could no longer live with.
I had been in these types of high-level marketing roles for a long time, and I had such a longing to change my career and do different work that helped people and offered more personal fulfillment. I dreamed of a new direction, but simply couldn’t figure out what to do on my own, without losing everything that I’d worked so hard to achieve.
After hundreds of dollars’ worth of meetings with this coach, and a series of expensive assessment tests, he shared, “Well, looks like your current job is a great match for you and meets all your key needs.” I was so angry and demoralized at his response and at the wasted time and money. If it met all my needs, why am I so desperately unhappy in this work? Why am I “breaking down” from the stress, exhaustion, crushing competition, and lack of connection to my work?
The reason he concluded that my career was right for me came from his limited perspective and limited ability as a coach. He just didn’t understand that you can hate work that seems to fit your skills, and he didn’t know how to help me brainstorm, flesh out and test viable new directions. He wasn’t skilled in helping me leverage what I was good at and also apply that to a new direction that would be more fulfilling for me.
I did eventually transform my career and move into the helping profession (thanks to a pivotal conversation I had with my therapist after a brutal layoff in the days following 9/11). But what I needed was a real breakthrough – a “paradigm shift” that would allow me to recognize the true value of my skills and experiences and embrace new opportunities and directions that would be a great fit.
How did the coaching process go wrong, then?
The career coach and assessment tests I took identified my professional needs and talents but the key thing he missed was that while my current work was indeed tapping into various talents and skills I possessed, I was pointed in the wrong direction. The outcomes that my career focused on felt wrong and “off” to me – not positive or helpful to the world.
This coach also missed exploring other vital dimensions to a joyful and successful life and career, including:
Your standards of integrity – what you will and will not compromise on
Your life intentions – what you want to create and achieve by the end of your life
Your life purpose – the unique purpose you’d like to fulfill in your life and why you’re on this planet at this time
Your natural skills and talents – those talents and skills that have been with you since your early years that are a deep joy to use
The outcomes you want to work toward – the projects, initiatives and results that make you proud to be engaged in
The type of people you want to work with and the culture you’re immersed in – people whom you admire and respect, and who align with your core values and your definition of positive and helpful
The timing of your life right now and what’s a fit with your other top priorities
Your financial, geographic and other needs and desires
Career coaches who don’t touch on the above aspects of building a fulfilling career aren’t going to be successful for you. They disregard the most important dimensions of professional life.
But, as Einstein pointed out, we cannot solve a problem on the level of consciousness that created it. We often do need outside help to shift our understanding of ourselves and to see more clearly what we have to offer and what matters most to us.
If you are interested in receiving outside help from a career coach to build a happier professional life, below are 8 questions to answer that will help you vet this coach and make sure he or she can help you shift what needs to change and propel you forward to your ultimate visions and goals:
#1: Do they feel great to talk to?
Talk to the prospective coach for 15 minutes to gauge your chemistry and your fit. Share your situation and get their feedback. Then check in with yourself about how you feel right after the call. Do you feel energized and hopeful, and perhaps a bit “scared?” I’ve found it’s a good sign if my prospective clients feel really excited and inspired by the discussion, but also a bit scared. This typically means that you’re inspired to grow, ready to commit to the process, but part of you is “scared” because you know there will some stretching involved. Feeling a bit scared often signifies that the coach will facilitate your moving beyond your comfort zone (which is essential if you truly want growth).
#2: Do they understand deeply what’s required to transform your career?
I believe that when you want to change careers, it’s best to find a coach who’s done what you want to do in the world. Don’t buy into that myth that the coach doesn’t have to know a thing about what you’re trying to do. That’s false.
For instance, if you want to make significantly more money in your new business, don’t go to a “life coach” – go to a coach who possesses deep entrepreneurial experience, has lived what you’re trying to do, and has had great success in helping others do it.
If you want to transform your career, find a great, experienced career coach who’s also reinvented their own career successfully and has helped hundreds of others do the same. Select a coach who truly understands from a personal perspective the living realities of what you’re trying to accomplish.
#3: Are they offering powerful thought leadership and a proven model for change?
Review their articles, blogs, videos, assessments, webinars, etc. What does their body of work reveal about them? Do you love their website, their LinkedIn profile, their articles, their guest posts, their interviews and media work, and other components of their thought leadership? After watching their videos and reading their material, do you feel like you simply can’t wait to work with them?
#:4 What’s their energy?
Get a sense of their “energy.” Every person on this planet, and every helper that you work with, has their own style, approach, worldview, mindset and energy underlying their work. Make sure their energy and approach is a strong fit with your style and energy.
#5: Is their training strong?
To be in the helping profession and be highly effective at catalyzing change and helping people become more resourceful and resilient in the process, these helpers need to be highly trained and seasoned in their work. Becoming an effective change agent for others requires much more than just a few months of taking an online class or studying a textbook. It takes years of hands-on training, and deep internal and external work.
#6: Do their former clients say great things about them and do those comments speak to you?
Check out what the coaches’ former clients say about working with this individual. Make sure that what they’re saying speaks to you at a deep level and instills confidence in you that this is the right fit for what you need.
#7: Do they know how to work with the deeper aspects of your life, personality and emotions that are influencing your career success? I’ve found that what holds the vast majority of professionals and executives back from greater success, happiness and reward are actually not “professional” issues at all. They are personal ones. After all, you’re a person when you show up to your profession.
So often, it’s our mindset, beliefs, fears, trauma from the past, childhood pain, lack of confidence and self-esteem and other deeper aspects of our human experience that are preventing us from finding joy and success in our work, or asserting the necessary boundaries and communicating in ways that will protect us from pain and mistreatment. Does this coach understand how to deal with the deeper level of what’s going on in your career?
8: Did they help you in the first 15 minutes?
Finally, in your introductory call, did they offer you great help right there in the first 15 minutes? Do they seem to “see” and get you clearly and understand what you’re experiencing, and echo back that understanding? Is what they’ve shared helpful to you right in the first call? If not, pass.
* * * * *
Getting outside help from a trained coach can be a positive and transformative experience, if you’ve selected the right helper. Don’t shy away from getting the support you need. Just be very selective about who you put your faith and trust in, as you deserve to be supported at the very highest level to achieve the career and professional success and reward you long for.
Part of Kathy Caprino’s series “Finding Brave To Build a Happier Life and Career”
Thousands of professionals are stuck in unhappy careers because they have a misguided belief that if they start exploring a new career, they’ll lose everything that matters to them. They worry that they’ll risk losing hard-earned money, status, title, flexibility, their place in their field because of years of experience, and more. It’s fear of loss and of giving up the “security” of their current paycheck and benefits that keeps them paralyzed, as well as an inability to put their finger on exactly what they would want if they could make a change. (Most have no clue what that would be).
Conduct a thorough assessment of your entire career and what you learned from it, before you make any moves or decisions. Devote several hours this week to taking meaningful, deep stock of exactly where you have been, where you are today, what you want to leverage and let go of in your career going forward. (Click here to download my free Career Path Self-Assessment survey to help you with this exercise. It’s a list of essential questions that every professional needs to answer before they make any decisions or moves. I wish someone had asked me these questions 30 years ago because if I’d answered them honestly, I wouldn’t have made the huge career mistakes I did.)
Before we make any changes or take action, we have to understand ourselves and our situation (and how we got there) with much greater clarity and awareness. Doing this self-assessment allows you to think about every job you’ve ever had — what you loved and hated about it, and what you learned from it and what you might want to leverage going forward. You’ll also identify your standards of integrity, non-negotiables, values, desires, past achievements that made you proud, and your longings for meaningful, happy work.
Once you do that, you’ll have a much better sense of what you really want. And you’ll be braver about what you will say “no” to going forward.
Thousands of professionals I’ve coached and trained believe that they have to have all the answers to what they want before they can begin talking to people, networking or using their skills in a different way. It’s simply not true, and that belief keeps you from connecting with the very people who can help, and from “trying on” exciting new directions that you could engage in today without even changing your job.
Start talking to everyone you know and just share that “I’m in an exciting new juncture right now where I’d like to leverage my skills in (X) to support organizations that do (Y).” Immerse yourself in learning and talking to others, to start brainstorming new directions. Have a dinner party or get-together with the 10 people you respect the most, and have each of you share one thing you’d like help with. Ask for help and take it. (Here’s more about how asking for help the right way will transform your career).
If you already have an idea of the new direction you want to pursue, don’t quit your job and leap to that yet. Try on this new job/direction/career in every possible way – behaviorally, financially, spiritually, emotionally, physically, etc. – to understand the living reality if this new work. Intern, volunteer, consult in this new direction so that you experience first-hand the living identity of it to assess accurately if it’s a great fit for you. Don’t make the painful mistake I did (when I left corporate life and became a marriage and family therapist before understanding the true reality of that life) of wanting something so badly that you ignore all the signs that this new career won’t work for you.
Develop your own ideal job description
Build out your own ideal job description in writing (just like those job descriptions you see on LinkedIn or on company websites) that describes the role you’d dream to serve in. Flesh it out completely with qualifications, experiences, and outcomes you want to support. Then start sharing that with everyone you know, verbally and in writing.
First, understand that you can and should start “attracting” great hiring managers and others to you by demonstrating your own thought leadership, perspective and experience. Show off your “chops” and the thought leadership and value you bring to a new organization or role. Use LinkedIn’s publishing platform to start blogging regularly on topics that you have a unique perspective on. And start curating and sharing valuable posts and articles from others who are doing work you respect, and comment on that work. Get out there in a bigger way and attract interested parties (and hiring managers who’ll respect and appreciate your viewpoints) to your network.
Right now, start connecting with people you admire and respect both online and in person, and build a mutually-beneficial mentoring or support relationship so you can have inspiring professionals in your corner who can serve as your “board of directors” of your own personal brand. Then leverage all that they know to help you land the exact direction that will fulfill your needs and wants.
Take each of these steps and thrilling career growth and change will begin to happen in powerful and joyful ways.
Part of Kathy’s series “Finding Brave to Build a Happier Life and Career”
In working with hundreds of professionals each year who long to build happier, more meaningful careers, so many have shared some version of this specific challenge:
“Kathy, I have no idea what my life purpose is. I want the work I do every day to be more meaningful and useful in the world, but I just can’t figure out what my purpose is, no matter how hard I try.”
Men and women alike have shared that they believe they’ll finally experience the excitement, passion and success they dream of if they could only figure out once and for all the true purpose of their life. And they want to discover one ultimate direction they should be pursuing that would make them happiest.
The problem with this way of framing life purpose is that you’ll never identify it in a useful, practical way if you’re constantly looking for the answer to “What is my life purpose?”
What questions should you be asking instead?
What people tend to mean when they ask the life purpose question is this:
What activities would infuse my life with more joy and meaning?
What should I be doing with my time and my abilities that would be helpful and make a difference?
What direction(s) should I be pursuing that will feel better to me than this boring, meaningless work I’m engaged in now that leaves me feeling empty?
How can I stop feeling that I’m wasting my time in work that is just a paycheck and nothing more?
And what can I do in my time off from work that will help me feel my life matters more?
I do believe that each of us can identify a key, over-arching purpose of our lives and live from that knowledge, and doing so is helpful and positive. And I’ve seen that when we do, we open the door to experiencing more joy, peace, satisfaction and positive energy. But I’ve also found that discovering your “purpose” doesn’t necessarily look and feel like what people fantasize about. It’s not the antidote for all the things that are wrong in your life, and all the ways you waste your time with activities that you’d rather not be doing. That’s something you have to address now through closing the seven damaging power gaps that keep us from living the life we want. And it requires building much stronger boundaries, speaking up more assertively, and accessing more power, control and authority over our own lives.
Below are 3 simple ways you can identify your life purpose, and start leveraging it powerfully today in what you’re doing both professionally and personally:
1. Understand what “life purpose” truly is
There have been many definitions of “life purpose” over the years, but the one key definition that seems to engage and enliven people the most is this:
Your life purpose is one, unifying theme or idea that exemplifies your key goals in life, a theme that has been evident almost from the beginning of your life. It’s the specific way in which you engage with life that makes use of all that you are and draws on your unique experiences, talents, abilities, and interests in a way that helps you achieve your highest goals while being of service of others.
One way to begin to identify your life purpose is to make a thorough review of everything you’ve ever done that has brought meaning, joy and fulfillment along with a sense of knowing why you’re on the planet at this time. Then you’ll want to intersect that with identifying how that meaning and fulfillment was tied to being of service – to another person, to your family or friends, to your community, organization, or to the world at large.
Make it very simple and straightforward, and don’t overcomplicate it. And realize that it can have a “self-oriented” focus, meaning that it can be about where you personally find joy.
Here are some great examples of my clients’ definition of their life purpose:
To be a catalyst for positive change in people’s lives
To help people realize the light they have inside of them
To bring order and calm to chaos
To help organizations achieve their highest goals in the most effective way possible
To turn my “mess into a message” and help others bypass my painful mistakes
To help organizations lead and manage people more positively
To bring joy and laughter through humor
To nurture my creative talents and help others find theirs
To be a loud speaker for messages that need to be shared
…and the list goes on and on.
To identify your life purpose, connect the dots from your childhood onward and discover who you’ve always been that makes a positive difference in people’s lives. (And if you have no idea how you make a positive difference to the people around you, go ahead and ask them to tell you how.)
2. Honor what you love to do and begin to move away from what exhausts and drains you
We can’t feel and honor our life purpose when we’re bogged down every minute of the day with activities we hate to engage in, with people we don’t respect. For instance, during my last years in corporate life, it took all the energy I could muster simply to get through the day at this toxic workplace that drained and demoralized me. Only when I finally left all that behind and said “Yes!” to myself and to the idea of transforming my career to something I’d be proud of, did my sense of life purpose emerge much more clearly. That was possible only when I took action that honored my own needs and values.
The key to uncovering your life purpose is to start behaving as if you’re worthy enough to have one. Start saying “no” to work you hate. Redraw your boundaries. Tell your narcissistic “friend” that you simply won’t tolerate this behavior any longer. Share what I call your “dirty little secret” (that secret that lives within you that you’ve been afraid to let anyone know) with someone you trust who is safe. Let go of what keeps you in shame and humiliation. Stand your ground and become a person who demonstrates self-worth, self-esteem and self-confidence.
Once you find the bravery to do that (and get some outside help if you can’t do it alone), the positive qualities within you that bring you a sense of meaning and purpose will be amplified and allowed to shine more brightly.
3. Recognize new ways in which you’d like to be of help
Virtually everyone I’ve worked with who has a clear sense of life purpose is focused on being of service in some key way that supports others. This can be through the way they parent or teach, or their personal hobbies, or volunteering for a cause that matters to them, or doing work (either in their full-time role or as a consultant, private practitioner or in a side hustle) that makes them feel alive and of use.
If you feel you’re very far away of recognizing your life purpose, start with identifying one new way you can do something that lights you up. Joy is the way to finding your purpose. No one who’s miserable, exhausted, rageful and beleaguered can find the energy to even feel or see their purpose. The quickest path to identifying and leveraging your life purpose is through doing things that bring you joy and enhance your life experience.
That’s the best and surest way to discover a compelling purpose and a set of overarching life goals that will nourish you and others around you, now and in the future.
Most of us know from experience that New Year’s resolutions and the huge, hairy goals we dream up for our lives are created with great gusto and high hopes, but all too frequently they die on the vine very soon after we’ve written them down.
Today, I’m excited to share what I’ve found to be a helpful year-end strategy of reflection — the process of reflecting back on the past year in an in-depth, careful and probing way, exploring all that you’ve learned and experienced, created, and also “failed” at. This is a very effective step to become clearer on what you really want in your life and to commit to new habits and behaviors that will pave the way for building what you long for.
This reflection process helps you connect in a powerful, juicy way with your ultimate dreams and desires, and it highlights where you’ve been living “off course” – far away from what your most authentic self really wants.
In my Finding Brave podcast today, I explore what I’ve found to be six essential reflection questions that are perfect for this time of year, to help us take stock, grow in our appreciation, and set the wheels in motion for an amazing new year and new chapter of our lives.
Here’s that episode:
To get moving on this process of reflection, I’d suggest listening to the podcast, then taking some time before the new year or immediately after to answer as deeply and thoughtfully as you can (and write down or journal your answers to) these six questions:
Reflection Question #1: Celebrating your progress
“What progress have I made this year toward my juiciest, most thrilling goals and visions that I want to make sure to celebrate and appreciate?”
As you answer this question, it’s important to understand a few aspects of the inner workings of celebrating your progress:
Acknowledging your growth
First, we humans often fail to acknowledge what we’ve done and achieved, for a number of key reasons. When things come very easy to us, we don’t to recognize the natural talents involved in making this achievement possible. So we undervalue the accomplishment, feeling like it’s nothing important or valuable, or that anyone can do it.
Secondly, many people (particular women) are perfectionistic overfunctioners – constantly doing more than is healthy, appropriate, and necessary, and desperately try to get an A+ in all of it. This is an exhausting and disempowering way to live, as the process of trying to reach an impossibly high bar means you’ll never allow yourself to get there.
Celebrating all the wins – from tiny to huge
All steps towards growth are worthy of being appreciated and recognized, not just the huge things. It’s so important to your self-esteem and confidence to appreciate the things that come easily to you that have made a difference in your life and the lives of others, as well as those actions that were “hard” and required a great stretch beyond your comfort zone.
Reflection Question #2: Lessons
“What are the top lessons of this year, and how have they impacted how I think, speak and engage going forward?”
Think about the biggest learnings that have come to you from what’s transpired this year – what you gained from the hard knocks, from the accomplishments and wins, from the challenges and heartbreak in your relationships, to the beautiful moments that took your breathe away, and more.
It’s important to remember that failure isn’t negative in and of itself. When we fail or fall down, it’s not meaningless or wasted if we can learn something powerful and helpful that will support us to continue to grow.
Reflection Question #3: Highest goals
“What are my three highest goals for next year, for myself personally and for my business?”
To help you explore this question fully, here are other ways to think about it:
What are the outcomes that you most want to create?
Where can you turn your “mess into a message” to help others thrive and bypass the specific challenges you’ve faced?
Rather than agonizing about the specific “how’s” and steps towards getting where you want to go, focus on the feeling you’ll have when you create, achieve, or “live into” something that calls to you. Just dimensionalize those feelings, thoughts and sensations of that and see with your minds’ eye what will be different once you become that exciting new version of yourself.
Then ask your higher self to help you identify and say “yes!” to all the doors that will open for you as you move forward in your life towards that juicy goal.
Reflection Question #4: Finding Brave
“In what new ways can I “find brave” next year that will help me grow, learn and stretch beyond my comfort zone?”
Take a look at where you don’t feel brave today in your life, and where you’ve remained locked in your “comfort” zone when in fact, it’s not comfortable at all.
Where can you stretch beyond that next year? What project, cause, volunteer effort, hobby, or other endeavor can you engage in that will help you feel more alive and more connected to your creative and other talents and gifts? Remember that you don’t have to chuck out your current career in order to bring more meaning and purpose in your life today.
Reflection Question #5: New Habits
“What new habits do I want to commit to, to build a healthier, happier, more balanced approach to my work and life?”
I’ve seen in working with thousands of people that when we try to incorporate an important new behavior that stretches us, there’s almost always some degree of resistance to it that’s challenging. And that resistance simply won’t go away unless and until you develop and commit to a new, constructive habit that supports this behavior.
What habit, with some form of ongoing accountability and structure that fits your style, can you build that will help you to get where you want to go?
Reflection Question #6: Closing Your Power Gaps
“What “power gaps” do I need to close, in order to be able to reach those goals I’m most excited about?”
A beneficial step for your life is to identify where you have one or more power gaps, and take just one brave, bold step to address your most oppressive gap.
When you get (and stay) on the path to becoming more powerful in how you operate in the world, and use that new power and authority for good – for the benefit of yourself and others – your life with change and improve dramatically.
I hope these 6 reflection questions move your forward to doing what it takes to build a thrilling New Year that matches what your hearts and soul desires.
Part of Kathy Caprino’s series “Communication for Positive Change”
This month, I was honored to be interviewed for an Oprah Magazine piece by Celia Fernandez on “It’s Time To Stop Saying I’m Sorry” and how it hurts your confidence to say you’re sorry when you’re not. It got me thinking in greater depth about the crushing habit I see in myself and in so many other women I’ve worked with of saying they are sorry when they are actually feeling something very different, and why that happens so frequently.
Below are several key questions I’ve been asked over the years (and my responses) about why women often speak in an apologetic, overly-deferential way and how it hurts them, suppresses their chances for more impact and damages their confidence. My responses are based on my experience as a senior corporate executive, my former work as a marriage and family therapist and my current research and work as a career coach for women.
Why do you think women say “sorry” easier than men?
I wouldn’t say it’s “easier” for women to say “sorry”- I’d say women are conditioned to say it more frequently, and they do it in instances where men do not view an apology as necessary.
In a patriarchal society, there are clear and rigid gender roles and expectations for behavior for both males and females. For example, our society encourages men to be strong, direct, assertive, confident and unabashedly committed to achieving their goals (and to avoid being or showing that they are emotional or vulnerable). On the other hand, our society encourages and teaches women from the earliest age to be kind, malleable, pleasing, accommodating and acquiescing. And they are taught that it’s not good or acceptable for women to appear overly ambitious, confident or strong.
There’s been a great deal of research in the past years showing that forceful, confident and assertive women are in fact punished in our society and in our workplaces. Here’s just one example of research that demonstrates a clear gender bias, revealing that women’s perceived competence and value drop significantly (versus men’s) when they’re judged as forceful. Regarding saying “I’m sorry,” it seems to have become a way that women can appear more accommodating, less forceful and less strident in asking for what they want and sharing what they believe. It’s a way for women to ask for what they want but couch it in terms that make it appear less of a demand and more of a soft ask.
This way of communicating is a damaging mistake that we need to focus on learning how to avoid. Saying “I’m sorry, but…” (such as “I’m sorry, but I don’t agree here, or “Sorry, but I think we’re heading in the wrong direction with this new project…”) undermines the power of your statements. Unfortunately, the result is that women are often not taken as seriously as they deserve to be, and this type of language compromises their leadership impact and authority.
One interesting study showed that men and women apologize equally for what they feel is their own offensive behavior, but women have a lower threshold for what they view is “offensive.” Thus, they apologize more readily and frequently.
What are other ways to apologize without saying sorry?
When you are truly wanting to apologize – let’s say, for a wrongdoing, or for inconveniencing someone, or for being hurtful or mean, then “I’m sorry” is the right thing to say. A true apology is needed when we’ve wronged someone or crossed a line. And learning how to give an authentic, heartfelt apology the right way when it’s necessary is a critical thing to do if you want to build and maintain healthy relationships.
The issue isn’t that women should stop staying “I’m sorry” altogether. It’s that they need to utter those words only when an apology is necessary, and not when they’re afraid they will offend, upset or put off someone by speaking up for what they want or believe.
We need to be careful that we don’t say “sorry” when we’re not at all sorry . Here’s an example – when someone has cut in front of you in a line that is 20 people long, and you’re mad about it, you don’t want to say “Sorry, but there’s a line here.” You’re not sorry at all. You’re angry that they cut in front of you. Another way to express your feelings on this is, “Excuse me, perhaps you didn’t realize but there’s a long line here ahead of you.”
Another example is in asking for a raise or to oversee the handling of a plum assignment. You don’t want to say to your boss, “Sorry to ask, but I’d love to take over this project – it’s really interesting to me.” Why? Because you’ve just undermined your very requested by apologizing for it. Instead, you want to say something like: “I’m really excited to hear about this new project, and I’d be thrilled to explore overseeing it, if possible. Could we discuss that at your convenience?”
When shouldn’t you apologize?
It’s simple – don’t apologize when you’re not sorry for what you’re saying or doing. And become extremely vigilant in watching your words and understanding your feelings, and making sure your words are a close match to what you’re actually feeling, even though those emotions may be scary to admit out loud. Get into the habit of being a bit more direct and asserting what you know and what you want, rather than being acquiescing and overly-accommodating.
What are some other ways we can communicate strongly without apologizing?
Below are a few examples of how to replace apologetic ways of communicating with a more direct, authoritative approach:
When stating what you know
Apologetic: “Sorry, I may not have the right answer here, but I’m thinking…”
Direct: “I believe the right answer is_____”
Apologetic: “Sorry, but I don’t think I see it that way.”
Direct: “That viewpoint is really intriguing. I have a different take I’d love to share.”
When asking a question
Apologetic: “Sorry, but I have a question.”
Direct: “I’d like to ask a question, please.”
When expressing appreciation for a kind behavior from a friend
Apologetic: “Sorry for bothering you with all this.”
Direct: “Thank you for listening and supporting me through this.”
When asking to join someone at their table
Apologetic: “Sorry, can I have this chair?”
Direct: “Is this seat taken?”
In the end, you’ll expand your confidence and influence when you gain more awareness of exactly what you feel and learn how to express that more directly. You can still be polite, kind and respectful in your communication and in how you share your beliefs, values, and needs.
But it’s critical to your ultimate success, your authority and control over your own life, and your confidence and happiness to stop apologizing for what you have every right to express.
Part of Kathy Caprino’s series “Finding Brave to Build Your Happiest Life and Career”
Last month, I had the great honor of speaking at the Pennsylvania Conference for Women, an inspiring conference that attracts over 10,000 attendees from around the world. I gave two presentations, one on Finding Brave To Reach Your Highest Potential, for a breakfast event sponsored by Accenture for 150 senior women in pharma, biotech and medical technology. And the other was a panel discussion exploring the topic of Get Unstuck: Navigating Through a Career Transition, to an audience of over 1,000 women.
The questions attendees posed echoed the very questions I hear every week from scores of midlife professionals around the globe who long for something more, different or better in their jobs and careers, but can’t seem to get out of the gate to take action, or decide the best directions to pursue.
These same fears plagued me as well during an unhappy 18-year corporate career that was extremely unhealthy and damaging for me. I finally “found brave” and overcame those crippling fears and excuses because I had to – I faced a serious breakdown moment in the form of a brutal layoff that pushed me to my knees and forced me to act differently. That breakdown led to breakthrough, which finally opened the pathway for me to address my deepest fears and transform myself and my work.
The top 3 fears that keep individuals stuck in career pain and misery are:
#1: Fear of losing the money they’ve worked so hard to amass
This may seem obvious but the fear of loss of money is the most potent block to making any change for professionals. The challenge here is that money, for many, is such a big, confusing and emotionally charged topic that they lose their ability to think and plan rationally around it. And the fear of lost money looms so large that many people won’t even take one micro step to begin to explore what they could do differently in their jobs or careers.
As an example, I have several clients with millions of dollars in savings, yet they’ve grown up with a traumatic scarcity mentality from childhood so that, emotionally, they feel they will never have enough money to be happy and secure. And that fear prevents them from even entertaining or exploring the idea of change.
Others truly do have serious financial concerns and problems, but they haven’t been able to address those in effective, empowered ways. They’re continually struggling to pay their bills, to plan for the future, and/or keep up with the lifestyle they’ve created that may be beyond their means. This money relationship/management problem interferes with their ability to choose a different type of life or career that will be successful for them.
Tip: If fear of lost money is what keeps you stuck, seek outside help this month in the form of a great financial advisor to help you take a long, hard and rational look at your money situation. Start planning more effectively, and less emotionally, for the future. And get very clear on your own money story and money programming so that past trauma or fears around money won’t continue to influence you in unconscious ways. The reality is that you can make significant improvements in your job and/or career without losing money.
#2: Fear that they’re not good, smart or capable enough to build new skills or pursue new directions
Recently, in my Amazing Career Project online course, one of the participants who is highly talented and accomplished — with great experience that’s relevant to many industries — doesn’t see her accomplishments in a clear light. She feels flattened by her prior experiences at work, and believes that the challenges she faces means she’s not valuable or capable.
When we’ve had serious challenges at work (which almost all of us on the planet have), or if we’ve been passed over for a raise or promotion, or not advanced through an interview process for an exciting new job, we often feel that we’re a failure or “less than” – not talented, capable or competitive enough to be desirable in the workforce. And often we lose the ability to see clearly what we have to offer. Therefore, we fail to speak powerfully about our own achievements, contributions and talents. And if we can’t speak powerfully about our contributions, we’ll fail to advance.
Tip: This weekend, take some time for yourself at brainstorm the “20 facts of you” – the 20 accomplishments and contributions you’ve made over the arch of your career that were important, powerful and moved the needle to greater success for your team, department or company.
Write down all that you did, and how you did it, and detail the ways in which you contributed that no one else could replicate, because of your unique set of skills, perspectives and experience. Understand that you are indeed special and in fact, amazing – everyone is, in their own way. But first, you need to recognize just how you stand out.
#3: Fear of taking a stand, making a decision and choosing between numerous new exciting directions they dream of
Finally, this fear of missing out and making the wrong decision around what to pursue trips up so many professionals today. They’ve shared with me, “I have so many ideas I want to pursue that I can’t choose!” or “I’m just not sure which of these ideas would be best” so they stay paralyzed by the worry that they’ll pick the wrong direction to focus on.
As an example, one fellow in my morning presentation stood up bravely and shared that he had three big dreams that he longed to pursue but couldn’t figure out where to begin and which to choose. He was weighing out the options of writing a book, becoming a teacher or earning a Ph.D. – but felt confused as to which he should actually commit to.
Tip: This fear is actually very easy to address with three key steps:
1. Try on and explore in every possible way the “living identity” of the directions you’re exploring.
The living reality of many of the careers we dream of are often much different than we’d think. In other words, the living experience and role of teacher, or therapist, or singer, or bed-and-breakfast owner (or whatever you dream of) is often very different from the fantasy you’ve projected onto it.
For instance, I became a marriage and family therapist because I believed that my life would be full of meaning, purpose and value by helping others. For me, it was indeed that, but it was also extremely emotionally challenging and draining (and even frightening at times), working with rape, incest, pedophilia, suicidality, drug addiction, attempted murder and more. The scariest moment for me was when I had to reach for the “ALARM” button under my desk that summons the police if the therapist is feeling threatened by a client or situation at the office.
If I’d had researched more fully the actual living experience of being a therapist, and interviewed more therapists doing the real work of therapy in my community (rather than just interviewing a few wealthy therapists who were bestselling authors and didn’t need to take insurance, etc.), I would have understood more clearly the true reality of the job and seen it was different from what I dreamed it was.
2. Do the thing you dream to do, alongside your other roles
As I like to say, “Writers write, dancers dance, teachers teach.” If you want to engage in writing a book, for instance, then get going with it. You don’t have to change anything in your life to start writing, except to dedicate the time to do it.
The vast majority of people who write books don’t write at the exclusion of all their other professional roles. For instance, I’m writing my second book now, in the midst of all my other professional roles – Forbes contributor, career coach, speaker, teacher and leadership trainer.
3. Prioritize and choose the thing you’ll regret most if you don’t do
Finally, if you’re still confused as to which direction to pursue, choose the ONE thing that you’ll regret most, at the end of your life, not having tried. The key is to avoid those deep, painful regrets that make you feel you wasted your life in endeavors that failed to bring you joy, meaning, and fulfillment.
In the end, fear and excuses will keep you stuck in a miserable, unfulfilling career unless you commit to finding brave and getting in the cage with those fears. A happier career or role is available to you as early as this year, but only if you choose to live and work more consciously and bravely, and not let fear keep you from becoming the person and the professional you want to be.