Knowing when to stay and when to walk away

Have you ever been in a situation that wasn’t working for you but didn’t know how to change it?  Perhaps you thought of leaving but anyway you looked felt scary? Perhaps you knew it was important to stay?

When I think of certain times in my life, I can see I was at a crossroad.  Was I going to stay or walk away? 

To be honest, the realization of a choice came after some pondering and plenty of questioning. Up to that point, I was trying my best but nothing I did changed the situation.

In considering when to walk away or when to stay, some situations are clear. If you are feeling unsafe or in an unhealthy relationship, it is time to make a plan to leave. 

Most of my dilemmas were vaguer. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what wasn’t working and for some reason figuring it out is where I focused my energy. Certainly there were good parts in the situation, where the list of pros matched the list of cons. After all, I would tell myself, nothing in life is perfect.

What I noticed over time was what I was telling others. For one thing, I realized I was telling a story and it was sounding pretty repetitive. The story seemed to have a common theme – complaints. 

Hearing myself talk was where I was able to see the situation more clearly.  What registered for me was my integrity being compromised.  One of my favourite definitions of integrity was by author Laurence G. Boldt. “Integrity is being true to yourself.”

How do you know when you are not being true to yourself?  Here are several markers and how they may be affecting your work life:

You are living on autopilot.

Routines are central to our lives because of the fundamental nature of being human.  To be stay alive, we need to eat, sleep and exercise every day.  Often work routines can form the same rhythm day after day. What you may not notice is that your dreams and desires are pushed to the background and what is important to you becomes less important in your day-to-day life. Small wonder when people go on holidays and dream about not going back home.

Vacations are one of the best gifts you can give yourself in getting back to what is true for you.  The idea is to remove yourself from the routine so you can see your life through a different lens. 

There is an incongruence in your life. 

Seeing yourself talk in one way and act in another is a way you don’t show up for yourself. For example, one of the big incongruences is when people say what is most important to them is being happy but they are not happy in their work. Being true to yourself means matching what you want in your life with what you do. 

You are not taking charge of your life.

You are being a passenger. This happens in a multitude of ways:

  • You are waiting for retirement (and that is years away).
  • You are waiting for an opportunity. You have worked hard and shown that you contribute in helpful ways. Any day now....
  • You say that if you were meant to do a certain kind of work, it would happen. This is along the lines of a divine plan pre-set for you.

Being true to yourself means getting into the driver’s seat. The challenge is the focus required to get to know yourself and what it is that you want in your life. The rewards of that exploration are larger than you could ever imagine.

You are looking outside of yourself for answers.

When you are struggling with confusion about what to do, it is natural to ask others for advice. What happens, though, when you follow someone else’s suggestion is it may not work for you. What works well is sharing ideas.

An example of getting input from others without them making decisions on your behalf is making a list of your 5 top strengths, telling them to others and asking the question, “I’m looking at work that is a good fit for me. When you hear my strengths, what ideas do you have?” The response could range from a referral to someone they know to a book or article recommendation. Think of it as brainstorming.

Getting a lot of ideas not only helps you expand your possibilities but it also helps when energy is stuck. What you definitely don’t need is someone telling you what to do. You have what you need to figure it out yourself. Often it means listening to yourself. 

Walk away or stay? How do you determine what is true to you?  You are welcome to share your thoughts in the comments below. 

Are you keeping yourself small?

Not long ago I read a statement that the saddest word is potential. Perhaps this is seen best in others when it is so obvious that who they are in the world could be so much bigger.

The same observation could be made about ourselves. 

After years of working as an employment counsellor, I observed two patterns about people and their dreams: people struggling with dreaming big and others abandoning their dream.

Dreaming big is so connected with keeping ourselves small. Marianne Williamson’s words about our biggest fear of being “powerful beyond measure,” resonates deeply as I think of how people keep themselves small.

What I find intriguing is watching myself in my daily life. Ordinary days are rich with ways I can understand myself. As a solopreneur, there are a lot of ways I can be spending my time; as I scour the Internet, there are guaranteed ways for me to experience success. How do I choose which program to take or coach to hire?

If I am honest with myself, I am not doing the research to explore what might work for me. When I think about it deeply, I am overwhelmed.  I believe there is an illusion that the answer is around the corner.

In the meantime, this is one way to keep myself small.

How do you keep yourself small? When it comes to being unhappy in your work and yet feel perplexed about making the changes that will move you forward, here are some ways you may be keeping yourself small:

1.         You have a dream that has been around for a long time.

You may find the dream appearing on your goals list again and again or popping up in a conversation with a friend. “Oh yes, I had forgot about that.” What you might recognize is a deep longing resurfacing. There is fire in such reactions. You may come to an understanding why this dream is so important to you but in a way it doesn’t matter. Dreams with energy are the stuff of regrets when you are older. I have heard seniors saying it isn’t what they did that they regret, it is what they didn’t do.

What can you do to take your dream seriously?

2.         You find you are spending a good deal of time on what doesn’t really matter to you.

Once upon a time when I was playing Spider Solitaire on a regular basis as a de-stressing activity, I looked at the stats and found I had spent 60 hours playing the game. That was 60 hours of my life. The accumulation of time can be shocking. I was grateful for those game developers in keeping that stat; other activities in my life have no calculator.

Are you spending your precious time engaged in activities that are not enriching your life? 

3.         Another day goes by – you are feeling like you are on a treadmill.

What you come to realize is that a day can be filled easily.  Once I heard that an organization spends 30% of its resources on maintaining its infrastructure.  I suspect this is the same for people. Taking care of business like dishes and errands and laundry can take up all the time in a day. Where is the space for working on your dreams? 

How could you make sure that you have room for dreaming and scheming?

4.         Minimizing the dream.

Following your dreams can be a scary matter. It requires believing in yourself, commitment and a good dose of courage. In a way, it is easier to say that your dream doesn’t really matter. When you dismiss your dreams, you are dealing with a slippery opponent, one that has no business being in your driver’s seat.

How can you make sure that you keep your dream alive?

What I have come to understand is this: My living small does not serve anyone. 

A while ago, I listened to an interview with Pema Chodron and k.d. lang. As they talked about the Buddhist teachings, one of the ideas was around being of service.  Approaching the world from that viewpoint means that we are always aligned with something big.

The Art of Surrender: what to do when you don't know what to do

What do you do when you are perplexed about what to do? When it seems like there are no roads ahead and going back is not an option, how do you navigate yourself? 

At times I have felt utterly lost and sometimes befuddled by possibilities. 

This happened especially when I was at a work crossroad. What I knew for sure was my work was not satisfying or engaging me. At those times, I woke up early and felt deflated about the day ahead. I had no idea of what I wanted to do but I was very clear about what I did not. 

I felt like I should know the answer. Now would be nice. I had an urge to do something, anything.

And then I learned about surrender. In the most unlikely of places. Spain.

Finding my way in Valencia

Finding my way in Valencia

I had received instructions from my host family in Valencia on how to get to the centre of the city – the train, transfer to the subway and the name of the station where to get off.

At the train platform, there was a machine to buy my 10-ticket pass. Thankfully, there was an English option. On the final screen after the purchase, I read, “Validate your ticket.” 

What I remembered then was a discussion from the previous day with house mates who said there were steep fines if you hadn’t validated your ticket. 

I looked around. I had no idea what to do with my ticket.  My rudimentary Spanish language skills did not include “validate.” A train approached. Every one who got on went directly to their seats.  No machines on there. The train departed.

I had been in Spain for 10 days. I had many times like this particular moment, where I was truly stymied about how to proceed. No one to ask. Not even Google.

Alone on the platform, my surrender lesson began. I sat on the bench. 

The first idea that comes up about surrender is that it is about giving up. Surrender, I found, is much more active. What is involved is letting go and embracing. Many of the most important lessons in life have a paradox. 

What I leave behind in surrender is resistance and pushing. Instead of insisting something must be a certain way, I enter into a zone of not trying so hard.

When I observe my resistance, I can see that it is about an attachment to how things must be, about how I want to control a situation. Underneath that is fear, the companion of control.

What I embrace in surrender is two ideas, both about paying attention:

  1. Something bigger is going on. In the moment, the predicament may take up all the space. For example, being in a job that you don’t like may propel you to try harder or minimize your feelings. What if it is time to move on? Perhaps it is time to grow and expand your knowledge. This can be especially hard if you have a “golden handcuffs” kind of job, where envisioning quitting a job is associated with leaving great benefits behind. What is bigger is all about trust. Can you see beyond what you perceive as a loss? 
  2. The time has come to do some observing. When it feels like something must be done, the most helpful action is mindfulness. What is it that you really want to do? What excites you? When you look at your life, what clues do you see?  Paying attention this way, though, means looking carefully. That cannot be done when you are speeding through life. 

The first step in surrendering is cease doing what you are doing.  I am reminded of the saying from Cowboy Will Rodgers:  “If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”

This step may be the hardest of all, especially if you really want something.  You may have invested a lot of time and energy in your pursuit and not want to throw that away.

What may help is understanding that there are many ways to get to a destination. Or maybe the destination you envisioned is not what you really want after all. When you begin uncovering what is happening for you, you may find the destination is not specific but more of a feeling. For example, you may be looking for work where you have more freedom. Or where you can better use your gifts and talents.

The next step is understanding that anything that is really important to you will require an act of faith.   

“Of course, most of the things that truly matter require significant leaps of surrender. Without it there can be no love. Unless we learn to let down our defenses, to tolerate, forgive, and abide, no human relationship is possible. There can be no creativity without practicing surrender, either, since creativity springs from the unknown.”  Mark Matousek

Back on the platform in Valencia, a man on a bike maneuvered close to me. He reached in his pocket, pulled out a card and waved it over a flat surface. I heard a noise. After he left, I took my card and repeated his motion. “Neuve residual,” flashed on the screen. Nine remaining. I had validated my ticket. 

What matters most to you?

What is most important to you?  Behind all of your actions and decisions reside values.  Core values guide you towards how you want to be in the world.  Often when you are conflicted, you find you are not acting in alignment with how you want to lead your life.

Values affect all parts of your life.  In your workplace, you will find that when you are having a disagreement with another colleague, what you believe will be at the root of the issue.

Your values could affect the work that you choose.  Or not choose.

After several months of not being able to find work and living in a new city, my aunt arranged for me to get an interview at a factory.  I was hired.

I was placed at the end of a conveyor belt where I picked up flat boxes that had just been glued at the seams and placed them in a bigger box.  I had two other components to the job:  ensuring the boxes were glued and the machine kicked out every 25th box. 

And that was it. 

Soon I was miserable.  I looked forward to coffee time and lunch, and those inevitable (thankfully!) machine breakdowns.

I dreamed of faraway places and how much money I could put away for adventures. 

What I realized was that some basic parts of me were starving.  Some of my core values such as contributing in a meaningful way, variety, and discovery were relegated to my off-work time.  Except work took up a lot of my time and energy. 

 That factory job taught me a lot about myself. 

You will notice that a lot of your own experiences will inform you of what is most important to you.  Even if you go in the back door like I did. 

Here are a few questions that arise when thinking of how values affect finding work that matters.

What are values?

Values are those guiding standards or principles we use to make decisions and are what drives our actions.  We have many values.  Often you will find that in values assessments, there is a process to pick your top values – those are your core values.   Here is a listing of some values. 

How are values used for finding work that matters?

Values are used in two ways:  to help determine your career and to assist you in finding the organization or company that would be a good fit.  Your values are one aspect of you that is used in the self discovery process of career exploration.  For more information on the Finding Work That Matters’ model, click here.

For job search, remember that you are on the same page as employers – you are both looking for the right fit.  What this means is that both parties need to have a clear idea of what they are seeking. 

Values drive every organization and company.  You will often see a listing of businesses’ values on their website.  Are they in alignment with yours?  If yes, how can you contribute in a way that acts on their values?

How do you uncover your core values?

I have developed a worksheet that you can access for free.  Click here to explore your values.  I would love to hear what you have discovered through the process.   You are welcome to email me at

The core values that have emerged for Finding Work That Matters are integral to all of the work that I do with clients.  It provides the essence of the process and outcomes.  Below are my top 3 values:

Aliveness – to connect with what is alive in you and others

I agree with Marshall Rosenberg (creator of Nonviolent Communication) that what humans want is to connect with what is alive in ourselves and each other.  What makes you come alive? The sense of aliveness is engaging, energizing and expansive. 

Boldness – to step wholeheartedly into your life

The definition of boldness has 2 components.  One is to be daring and the other is about strength.  When I see a person being bold, they are working in alignment with their strengths, offering to the world their own unique gifts and talents.      

Contribution – to contribute in a way that is meaningful to you

Contributing is a personal choice.  For some, a contribution is a cause or an ideal and it certainly can be in very ordinary ways.  Check out this video for ways of contributing in our daily lives.  This is the way we change the world!

To find out how I can help you find work that matters to you, check this out

Ocean Lessons

Feeling alive!  What I know for sure is that the more you feel alive, the more likely you are to get closer to the work that truly engages you!

A weekend by the ocean.  I had been to Tofino a long time ago, before its popularity exploded.  The community of 1,800 expands to about 22,000 on a summer day.  Though its appeal also includes winter storm watching, the promises of sun and surf calls visitors.

The last weekend of September was perfect in the weather department.  I was sitting on the sand at Chesterman Beach when I thought how much being out in the wind and elements was connecting me to what it means to be alive.

On this part of the West Coast, the shore stretches out like a fan and the ocean goes on forever.  Surfers in wet suits dot water and sand.  The beach area expands and contracts with the tides.

As I walked along the waves’ edge, I watched the spray of seawater as it crashed against a rocky outcrop.  When I felt the cold water touching my feet, I looked down.

The minnow was stranded on the sand, flapping its head and tail.  The next wave was no where near the tiny fish so I used a shell to toss it back into the water. 

 It swam away from the ocean to a pool of water which was full of its buddies.  I couldn’t distinguish it anymore.

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a movement.  A crow sitting higher up on the outcrop.  It was bending over.

When I looked closer, I could see the crow was near a tidal pool.  The next moment I saw the crow.    

3 fishes in its beak!

My heroic rescue was in vain. 

Nature has blatant lessons.  Harsh even.  And yet life and its perpetual change is what underpins everything we do.

From our day-to-day work activities to choosing what work we want to all of our dreams and passions, we understand everything is always in motion.

Through looking at the world from that tiny fish’s perspective and then the crow, I saw some connections to finding work that matters.

There will always be a squirm factor.

“You cannot discover new oceans unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.”  Anonymous

There is a discomfort in following your dreams.  In order to grow in the way that you want, it will require stepping out of the coziness of your life and into something new.

The challenge is to develop some sort of ease with the uncertainty. 

The Art of Surrender

“Surrender isn’t about giving up.  It’s about letting go.”  Anonymous

At first when I watched that little fish flopping on the ground, I saw it suddenly stop. I figured it was conserving energy. I can imagine that it was feeling some discomfort. Was it surrendering?

Waiting for the wave also reminded me that at some point there is a need to surrender when wanting to embark on a new career path.  Like the fish though, it doesn’t mean giving up, it means understanding that something much bigger is happening. 

That fish had no idea when the next wave was coming, but indeed it knew that it would happen because that’s the way it has always worked. 

The surrender to me is about not pushing too hard, but to pay attention really to what is pulling you.  What is capturing your attention?  What really inspires you?  Where lies your desire? 

The idea is to listen carefully because some of what pushes is what needs to be let go. 

Helping each other

“Individually, we are one drop.  Together, we are an ocean.”  Ryunosuke Satoro

I know that fish just wanted to get back to the rest of the school.  Indeed when I tossed it back into the water, it took no time to find its buddies.  That crew knew about the strength in numbers. 

What I hear from people who have experienced success in life is how much their success has happened because of all their helpers along the way, people who have rooted and encouraged and been there for them. 

In finding work that matters to you, the chances are you will come to a point where you question yourself, where you wonder if you should choose an easier road.  At this moment, you need someone who believes in you more than you are believing in yourself.

Surround yourself with those people

We are all interconnected. 

"Each of us is a unique strand in the intricate web of life and here to make a contribution."  Deepak Chopra

Watching the crow holding 3 fishes in its mouth reminded me of the chain of life, that there is a place for fishes and crows.  Each part of the chain is critical to the next. 

And so it is with finding that work where you will shine your best.  Where is your place? 

It reminds me of the lyrics from a Fred Penner song:

“Always search for an answer until your strength is found.” 

For more inspiration about how nature can help you, check out this video: