Updated: Nov 17, 2022
(Because, seriously, THAT'S where the answer is.)
You've worked hard. You've gradually climbed your way up the career ladder.
Only to find that somewhere, somehow, you’ve lost yourself. And found yourself in a career that no longer fits you.
You’ve got secret dreams of moving to the countryside, growing your own vegetables, setting up an coaching-with-art retreat and coaching amazing women like yourself to create the creative working life they’ve always wanted … (No, hang on, that’s MY dream. Or as I like to call it my PLAN. I love a good plan).
Seriously though, you can not stand the idea of having to work for another 20 years in a job that no longer fits you.
You've read everything there is to read. You've asked for and received all the advice friends and family could give you and are more confused than ever.
But can’t begin to imagine how to find your way out of the maze of thoughts, feelings and worries in your head.
To help you get started on making sense of the chaos and starting to listen to yourself again these are my top tips.
1. Look inward not outward
Daughter, girlfriend, aunt, wife, mother, grandmother. Spotting the pattern yet? Yes, these titles are all measuring women in relation to others.
Despite all the progress made in gender equality women's value is still often measured by how well we are performing in relation to others. How well we fit in. How well we are performing by the standards that society sets for us.
And to make matters worse, standards in society are confusing. To get ahead we are told to be assertive - but not bossy. Be ambitious - but not too much. Yes, go on, make good money - but not too much, you don’t want to appear greedy. Don’t smile all the time, so that people will take you seriously - but don’t smile and people start to think you are not very likeable or downright miserable.
No wonder you’re confused! With all these standards and cultural norms, with all these demands that other people make of you, no wonder your inner voice got drowned out a long time ago.
Well, not anymore! It is time to stop comparing yourself, stop listening to others and start listening to what your inner voice has to tell you. And no, I don’t mean your nasty inner voice. I mean the real you, the one with the dreams of being creative and living a life full of love, joy and inner peace, and of doing work that is fulfilling and meaningful to you.
2. Listen to your body
And what better way than by starting to listen to your body. Years ago someone told me ‘your mind is much stronger than your body’. And yes, for a long time your mind will be able to override your body. But one day your body will say ‘enough is enough’.
You will get headaches, or you will have frequent colds that don’t seem to want to go away, or you will be tired all the time (despite getting your full 8 hours of sleep), or you get irritable bowel syndrome for no apparent reason. These are symptoms of your body having had enough.
But even before you get to that stage your body can provide you with clues on what is right for you.
Have you ever sat at your desk with your shoulders up near your ears, due to stress? Have you ever felt your stomach clench thinking about your work? Have you ever come home absolutely exhausted? All indications of your body telling you that things are not well.
So, what can you do? My top tips:
Mindfulness - I was a very late adopter of mindfulness (having tried meditating sometime in the 90s and failing miserably). But mindfulness for me is the best way of letting go of all the thoughts in my head (or at least trying to) and being able to be by myself. Mindfulness has helped me to ‘read’ my body and as a result look after myself better.
Belly-breathing - Sometimes your body is full of tension to the extent that you don’t even know you are holding your breath. Taking a small pause and practising ‘belly-breathing’ helps you to relax, understand what your body is telling you and get grounded.
Exercise - Take 20 minutes to go for a walk or to stretch or even go for a swim. This will help your body to recover. And during those 20 minutes of focusing on your body you will find that ideas and thoughts will just pop in your head, giving you vital clues on what is really important to you.
3. Write it down
Ever since I’ve read ‘The Artist’s Way’ by Julia Cameron, I am a true fan of journaling. Writing three pages of ‘morning papers’ every morning without stopping has proved vital to me finding my voice, making sense of my emotions, untangling my chaotic thoughts and ultimately rediscovering my dreams.
My top tip? Buy yourself a nice writing book and some good pens and make the commitment to write every morning. Don’t worry about what you write, no one is going to read it. Just write and give a voice to your thoughts. You’ll be amazed by what appears on paper!
4. Imagine yourself in 20 years time
Some people say that you can’t look ahead as far as 20 years when it comes to what you want in your career, and advise to stick with a 1-year timeline. Others say that - for happiness in your life and career - you should consider what you would want to have achieved on your deathbed, and start making your first steps to achieving it.
The point is that, whatever timescale you set for yourself, you should use your imagination to consider who it is that you want to be. Put your creative self to work and take a bit of time to visualise how you see yourself in 1, 5, 20 years time.
Where do you live? What have you achieved in your life? What do you look like? Who are you with? How are you feeling?
Visualisation is a powerful way of getting clear on the life you want to live. And while you’re being creative, why not make a drawing, or a collage, of this future vision. For a visual representation of what it is that you want.
5. Start saying 'no'
Or rather, take a pause before you say ‘yes’ first. And then start saying ‘no’.
Start saying ‘no’ to your fears and to your nasty inner voice. Remember him? (Well, it’s a ‘him’ for me, but perhaps it’s a ‘her’ for you? Or an ‘it’?) Meet your inner critic. Your inner gremlin telling you that what you’re doing is no good. That you’re better off staying safe. Who says ‘who do you think you are for wanting to do something for yourself?’ Or, 'who would want to listen to you!'.
He (or she, or it) is a representation of your fears. He is there to keep you safe. And he only knows one thing: that making a change is scary and that the best way to keep you safe is hissing constantly in your ear what you should and shouldn’t be doing. Stop listening to him. Tell him ‘thank you, but I’m OK’. You might not be able to get rid of your inner critic, but you can certainly choose not to listen!
Start saying ‘no’ to your work. Always the first one in and the last one out? Feeling that you’re more conscientious than a lot of people around you? That is because you probably are! And what is that giving you? Not enough time to do the things you want to do, that’s what!
If you’re serious about wanting to make a career change, or even about wanting to fit in more time to do the things you love, then you need to find time. Say no to unnecessary long office hours, and start prioritising yourself.
Start saying no to others. And this is probably the hardest thing. But, next time someone wants you to do something that you don’t want to do, start practising saying ‘no’. Trust yourself. Be kind, but firm. And be true to yourself.
Saying 'no' is one of the most empowering things you can do. And by practising saying 'no' (and 'yes' to the things you do want to do) you start relying more on your inner compass. You start trusting your own judgement and your own sense of direction.
6. Make your next steps
Years ago I decided that I wanted to get back into painting. And what’s more, that I finally wanted to master painting portraits. And I dedicated time for it in my day (or rather, my weekend). And as a result I now regularly paint and show my work to the world.
Take a look around you. How does the life you have now (and the work you do) compare to the vision you have of yourself? What is the gap? And what little steps can you take to get closer to that vision?
Tineke Tammes is an ICF credentialed Career Coach, who supports professional women in making successful transitions to careers of Freedom, Flexibility and Fulfilment! Besides that she is also a lifelong feminist, part-time portrait artist, never-only-read-one-book-at-any-time reader, and obsessive doodler. Oh, and she knows a bit about change management too.
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