After graduating from Penn State University with a degree in accounting, I held a number of different job: real estate agent, retail manager, outside sales. At age 30, I finally settled into an accounting position and used my degree. I was happy to be able to learn and grow in a respectable occupation and to work for a global manufacturing company based in Pittsburgh that had a long history focusing on worker safety. Over the next two decades, I was blessed in many ways. I held several important positions in the company I worked for. I was paid a nice salary, more money than I ever imagined I would earn. I worked with warm-hearted people from all over the world, who collaborated to improve our business experience and results. And I got to travel all over the world, visiting many of our affiliate companies. Wonderful memories include attending a military tattoo (band festival) at the castle in Edinburgh, Scotland and snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef and attending two performances at the Sydney Opera House when in Australia. I suspect that others viewed me as a trendsetting, independent world traveler. But underneath, there was always a current of unrest, uncertainty, and unhappiness.
The projects I worked on were never fully complete. There was always a need for ongoing improvements, better processes, additional reporting; I rarely had that satisfying feeling of accomplishment. One phase of the project would be over, and it was on to the next. The work truly was never done; the demands were unending. I was always overwhelmed with an undercurrent of anxiety, trying to catch up. This was not a healthy situation.
The main reason I stayed was that I didn’t know what I would prefer to do. I wanted the kind of work that would allow me to confidently express my true self in an authentic way. I wanted to provide value and to serve others. Then I started to hear more and more about a new type of service career called “coaching.” I learned that a coach supports individuals who want to be more fulfilled in their work, business, and overall lives to have more success in attaining their goals. I started a training program at Duquesne University to be a coach and immediately knew that this was something I would love to do every day. I learned the coaching skills that help others get in touch with their strengths and values, to visualize the reality they want in their future, and to make and follow a plan to accomplish their goals. I also learned that I first had to do all of that for myself. So finally, at age 51, I took the time to listen to my heart, to feel what was right for me. I could no longer deny what was pressing on me. It was time for change, time to leave this work situation and move on to something that was more aligned with my life philosophies. I made my plans, gave my notice at work, and was off to start my own coaching practice.
Funny thing: when I decided to make this change I was fearful that others would ridicule me or think I was foolish. What a surprise when the overwhelming response from coworkers, bosses, family, and friends was support, encouragement, and admiration. So many others expressed how they would love to step into a life that is more fulfilling. They recognized my courage for following my heart.
I believe that making our highest contribution is the desire of every human being on this planet. Sadly, we often get too wrapped up in our fears and force ourselves to be what we think we are “supposed” to be. This causes us to lose sight of what we love and what brings us joy, preventing us from being who we were meant to be.
Today I am a leadership coach working with others who are like I used to be, who are not being the shining star they long to be. By helping them rediscover their core values and reclaim their strengths, I’ve found work that enlivens me and allows me to live my purpose. When I’m coaching I know that I’m making my highest contribution to the world. This makes my life much more joyful.
When I’m working with my clients, I encourage them to follow their hearts, face their challenges and move forward as they create a life full of love and meaning.
Here are some of the strategies I applied and lessons that I learned along the way:
1. Ask For Help
I felt as if my life was a dream come true. I was finally doing what I love! However, it wasn’t long before I realized that I had another lesson to learn.
Being a business owner took more time and energy than I had expected. All I wanted to do was coach people. Instead I had to learn marketing, sales, networking, things I never had to experience in my corporate position. Those responsibilities took me way out of my comfort zone.
My focus is always on promoting others, helping them to be their best, spreading the word about their accomplishments. To do that for myself seemed to be offensive, abrasive. So when I was talking with a business manager who was telling me about her struggles, I would build her up, point out her strengths, and cheer her on to her success. But I was challenged in talking about the other ways I could help, such as how I could bring out the best in her staff, help her team work together to be more productive, keep her and her team accountable for progressing.
I have come too far to let my dreams slip away! I sucked in my pride and called on my friends to ask for help. As good friends, experienced coaches and successful business owners, they are eager to see me succeed. They helped me to see (and remind me often) that with my quiet, reserved personality, there is no way I am going to appear pushy and offensive when I have an authentic conversation with the intent of helping others. Being sincere, asking questions to understand what others are struggling with, and sharing how I helped another in a similar situation, is a way to connect with others and not an intrusion. Not having those conversations are keeping me away from creating the relationships that mean so much to me.
There are always caring friends who are eager to help. Successful people love to help others be successful. Don’t try to tough it out alone. Ask for the help you need and your request will be answered.
2. Focus on Your Strengths
We all know there are certain things that just come naturally to us. What comes naturally for me is my focus on relationships and my ability to envision the best for others. I naturally seem to know what others can do to create the best outcome for themselves and how to cheer them on to reach for their dreams. I’ve done this in my personal life for many years with family, friends, and colleagues, and now today with my coaching clients. I am known as the person that people can go to whenever they are facing a challenge and they need to be listened to, picked up and dusted off, and given a warm, encouraging hug. Then, together, we excitedly map out plans to move forward to their success.
So get clear on what your strengths are and make sure that the biggest part of your life is spent doing things that make the most of your gifts. That’s how you’ll make your greatest contribution and enjoy doing what comes most naturally to you.
3. Forgive Yourself
In my coaching practice we use an assessment called the Core Values Index™ (CVI™). Through this assessment, I came to a new awareness which removed a huge weight from my heart. For many years I had a successful corporate career and was respected and well-liked by my colleagues. But I never really felt like I fulfilled the role that the company executives were looking for. When I became aware through the CVI that these types of tasks are not aligned with my natural strengths, that I am actually demotivated by this type of work, I felt such a relief. That’s just not who I am! I am strong in relationships, not in statistics and reports. My success was due to the relationships that I formed with those I worked with. The executives and managers who relied on my reports knew that I cared most about their success and that I would do whatever I could to support them, and because of this, we formed close relationships.
What disappointments are you holding on to? What have you not achieved in your life that is eclipsing all the good that you have accomplished? Get clear about what your true gifts are. What will it take to let those disappointments go and celebrate your gifts? And then do it!
4. Create New Habits
Changing our circumstances is not a guarantee that we will change the way we act, think, or be. Even though I left the corporate rat race, I still had the tendency to neglect taking care of myself. Setting out a schedule for exercise, meditation, and healthy meals seemed like an easy plan to incorporate all the self-care that I knew was so important to me. But after a day or two, other tasks would infringe on those priorities. First one item, then the next item, and before I realized it I was back to being neglectful. I finally realized that by trying to change everything at the same time I was setting myself up for failure.
It took some time, but by focusing on just one new practice in self-care and self-acceptance, other practices fall into place naturally and become long-lasting ones. Once I started eating better, I also had the energy to move my body more and a greater desire to spend time each morning reading or meditating for a peaceful mind. These habits also helped me to better identify and focus on the important business tasks that are now required of me as a business owner.
Are you looking to create new habits to make your life better in some way? Implement just one new habit today and see the effect it has on other areas of your life.