You don't have to have it all figured out

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I am working on a new program for the beginning of the coming year. I have been working on this for a while, months really.

I am caught between what I did before that didn’t work, what might work and what else is working out there in the world.

The process has me frozen in my tracks.

What is the problem? I asked myself.

It’s an old visitor I recognize well. It’s the one that says I need to have this all figured out.

That whatever I develop has to be a certain way. Impactful. Different than the rest.

That feels like a lot of pressure. The kind that takes me down a dead-end road.

It is a familiar story. Not just for me. My clients.

Often during our first conversations, they tell me about the pressure. Not only do they have to make money, but it needs to be something that they love to do. This message has been drilled into them for a long time.

So rather than getting excited about the possibilities, they feel lost. 

That kind of environment is like living in a closet. There isn’t enough room.

I get it.

So here’s what I want to say to you.

You don’t have to find the perfect job that fits for you. You don’t need to satisfy some other person’s expectations of what you should do.

You don’t have to have it all figured out.

Is there something to do?

The answer is yes.

 I read an article today about holding space by Heather Plett. It is called What it means to “hold space” for people, plus eight tips on how to do it well.

The ideas that she learned through the experience of her dying mother are also profound for the confusion of career change. 

One tip Heather Plett shared was about only giving so much information at a time. The confusion of looking at the world of work is trying to figure it out all at once.

It’s too much for our brains. And feelings. I agree with Heather that it can make us feel incompetent. 

I like to think of the work I do in phases. Mixing up the phases leads to inner turmoil. 

What we forget in the muddiness when we don’t know what to do is that it is okay to not have it all figured out.

It doesn’t mean that we won’t.

Let’s ease the pressure. 

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4 crucial ideas about the work world that you weren't taught in school

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Have you ever wondered how different your life would have been if would have chosen a different career path?

Where would you be today?

One of the frequent statements I hear when I am talking to others about finding their right work fit is:

I wished I would have known this when I was in high school. 

What would have helped you the most? Below is what I wished I would have known back then.

When I was entering high school, I had no idea what I would do with my life. Oh yes, I had some vague thoughts. It seemed clearer to me what I didn’t want to do. I was lost.

I felt as if everyone else BUT me had it figured out.

The harder I tried to think about what to do, the answer felt more elusive. What I felt was….  pressure.

I talked to my friends. I got more confused and felt inept. Who else could help? I had no clue.

So I pretended I knew what I was doing.

I picked classes I thought I might need. I made sure I had good grades. By the time I graduated, I still was baffled.

I suspect that others, like me, and went through the maze of life and got some pointers along the way.

But what if….   What if I could have learned what I needed in school? What if that maze didn’t have so many tangles and pathways that I never embarked on?

What did I not learn in school that would have been helpful?

1. There are many choices

 One of the challenges back then was how I was approaching the problem. I thought there was one answer. One type of work that I would choose and follow for the rest of my life.  

Part of the pressure I was feeling back then to figure that ONE thing out.

What I know now is not only are there many choices of occupations, that focussing on occupations is not the answer.

What we are all seeking, I believe, is a place of belonging. Of contributing to the world in a way that makes sense to us.

The work will be in alignment with who we are.

So the question that gives the best direction is:

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Who am I? 

 A big question but there are lots of fun ways to discover this. Here is a question to begin the process:  What excites you?

What else I wish I learned in school was:

2. What do I have to offer the world? 

This inquiry often happens when we enter the work world. Employers ask us what are our strengths. Wouldn’t that have been handy to learn in school?

I didn’t even know what a strength was. Oh, I had some faint idea that it was something I was good at. But I didn’t know what that was either.

What I know now is our strengths which I also call our gifts and talents, is so connected to how I feel when I am doing an activity. I will be engaged in a way that resonates deeply with me.

This is tied to another thing I wished I learned in school:

3. What the world really needs

We all want to make a difference. How we do that is unique to each of us. But what the world needs is for us to know what matters to us. Because what matters is where we will make a difference. The world needs a lot of that!

There is a great quote from Aristotle about this:

“Where your talents and the needs of the world cross; there lies your vocation.”

What I know now is that how we make a difference cannot be discovered quickly. But oh, how I would have loved started exploring this when I was in high school.

What matters to us is refined over time. From our experience. From our world view.

4. No one has it all figured out

 Those students who were knew their path back in high school were also on the wrong path, on somebody else’s path or were so annoyed at not knowing, they picked something.

There were also some who just knew it. But they weren’t the majority.

What I know now is what we want to do for our work often doesn’t fall in our lap. It takes consideration and self inquiry.

 But oh how I wished I would have known that in school because I felt so alone. What if I would have had the company of others and we had a curriculum where we got to see a bunch of occupations in action?

 I would have seen people loving what they do, hating what they do and what it really takes.

What did I do to find work that fits for me?

I went to the school of life. One muddled and circuitous route. I observed other people and what they did. I asked a lot of questions. I paid attention to what excited me and what I wanted to learn more about. 


I wish I had known what I know now. Sooner. There were paths I wished I went down. Where I could have experienced mastery.


Here’s one of the best things about life. Some of the most powerful, life changing experiences we can have is what we stumble upon. Occupations I never could have imagined in high school have been added to my dream jobs list. 



What advice would you give to a high school student who has no idea what they want to do with their work life? 

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Hate your job? What you need to do first....

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I remember those days of new writing books and pencils with their sharp tips. I loved September with all of its possibilities.

I felt like I was on the edge of something bigger in my life. What would that be? I had no idea. But it was invigorating.

Do you notice those same longings this time of the year?

September is a great time for starting anew.

Having had the expansion that summer brings, now is a perfect time to look at your work life and point it in the direction you want.

Alongside those feelings of excitement, do you feel the trepidation of now knowing what it is that you want to be doing in your work life? Or how to get there?

Where to begin?

By making a commitment to yourself.

I am one of those people who have a pretty solid background in taking care of others. Single parent. Helping professions. Other people's needs are apparent.

Isn't it amazing how many things need handling. Our lives are busy from dawn to dusk (and beyond).

I am amazed when an entire day goes by and I haven't done a thing I wanted to do.

Do you feel the same? Where are you in the list of priorities?

You have probably heard the flight attendant tell you about putting your face mask on first in the event of an emergency. You can't save anyone if you are out of commission.

But do you actually follow that advice?

I suspect, no matter how many times we have seen the safety demonstration, if an emergency happened, you would automatically put your child's mask on first. Perhaps even the seat mate next to you.

It is a matter of habit.

Habits form easily. Doing an activity in a way that works, we repeat. And repeat. Until it becomes automatic. And unconscious. Which can be both great and unhelpful.

So if you have been putting others’ needs and the demands of daily life ahead of yourself for a long time, making yourself a priority may not be that easy.

What do I mean by making a commitment to yourself?

  • Making an alignment between what you want and time for making it happen.
  • If you don’t know what you want, make time to explore what that could possibly be.
  • Investing time in yourself – planning times to do those activities that set your soul on fire.
  • Making your well being a priority (sleep, eating what makes your body feel nourished, body movement, quiet time, nature).
  • Taking your dreams seriously. (And lightly – there always needs to be a fun element here.)
  • Thinking about where it is that you want to go.
  • If you are feeling stuck or something is holding you back, find yourself someone who can help you. This does not need to be a lonely battle. Actually it doesn’t need to be lonely nor a battle.
  • Being aware of what you deeply care about. What really matters to you.
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Why is being committed to yourself important?

Being committed to yourself means following through on the plans that you make. If you are not following through on what you want to happen in your life, on your personal goals or dreams, this can affect you in a few ways.

Here’s some thoughts on why you need to place yourself as a priority.

When you say you are going to do something and you don’t do it, that has an effect on you even if you don’t notice it. My belief is the lack of commitment goes to the low self esteem bucket. The bucket that is full of unmet promises, often the kinds you make to yourself.

The ones that we don’t think matter. 

Except they do.  The low self esteem bucket affects how you view yourself. And how you relate to the world and how you relate to yourself.

Being disappointed with yourself becomes apparent in your self talk. Self deprecating, self diminishment. Statements such as, “You never follow through on what you say you are going to do.” “You always…. (fill in the blank).”

Over time, your bucket grows and grows.

This spills over into all of life, including work.


How do YOU make a commitment to yourself?


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Why you need morning pages more than ever

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I like backdoor ideas. You know the ones where you get a new view on how to approach a problem? 

When I consider how to find work that matters, what I know for sure is the answers often come in unexpected places.

What about the idea of  creating the fertile ground for answers to germinate?

I recently revisited an old idea that I pulled off the shelf.


Morning Pages. I first heard of this practice shortly after the 1992 release of Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way. Morning pages are a daily activity to help clear away the cobwebs, to make room for creativity. All types of creativity.

But it isn’t just for artists. It definitely is not about making art.

The idea is straightforward. Each morning, before you do anything else, you write 3 long-hand pages. Whatever is on your mind. Whatever drivel is on your mind. 

I have had a morning pages practice a few times in my life. Here are the benefits I have seen:

  • clarity about what was happening in my life
  • working on a plan on how to deal with a troubling situation
  • taming down the inner critic
  • more inclination to write at other times in the day
  • not being attached to what I write
  • letting go of thoughts, ideas or plans that aren’t really that important

This year I had an insight about morning pages about how it could help with the work I do. Curiously, it happened when I was doing my morning pages. 

A key concept is I encourage with all my clients is listening, listening to themselves, to be able to get quiet enough to truly hear what they have to say.

In a world with so many distractions (and plenty of advice sharing all over social media), listening to yourself is a big challenge.

What morning pages does is dial us in to ourselves. That it is at the beginning of the day is brilliant.

Since I use my phone for my alarm clock, I can see how easy it is to check email or Facebook even before I lift my head off my pillow.

Suddenly I am plugged into the world! Other people’s thoughts. News. Events.

How quickly it is then for the day to unravel and not be in touch with what is going on for me.

So how does this work with careers?

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With a myriad of choices and dizzying thoughts about career choices, it is imperative to separate out what is useful and what is not. Some of this is our fears. Some of it is expectations we inherited from our families. It may be our own ways we limit ourselves.

All of this needs attention. The problem often is that those thoughts obscure our vision. And paralyze us.

What morning pages does is allow the doubts and questioning and inner critic to have their time so that we can get onto the important work.

What does Julia Cameron have to say?

"When people ask, 'Why do we write morning pages?' I joke, 'To get to the other side.' They think I am kidding but I'm not. Morning pages do get us to the other side: the other side of our fear, our negativity, of our moods."

If I clear off what doesn’t really matter, then there is space for what does.

Making morning pages a practice is where you can see the pay off.  By doing this day after day you are giving yourself a strong message about making room for your own voice.

What do we tap into during the morning pages practice?

Cameron says, “It is impossible to write morning pages for any extended period of time without coming into contact with an unexpected inner power. Although I used them for many years before I realized this, the pages are a pathway to a strong and clear sense of self.”

Are they any morning pages’ rules?

There are no rules for content. Write whatever is on your mind. What you are planning to do on that day. How annoying it is to try to come up what to write about. A scene that stood out from the day before.

The idea is to keep your pen moving for 3 pages. I am a slow writer so it takes me 45 minutes.

Don’t read what you have written, at least for a month. Reading what you have written is an invitation to the inner critic. If you have brilliant thoughts that you want to explore later, trust that you will remember.


“Morning pages are about tuning out our inner critic. “We learn to hear our censor’s comments and say, simply, ‘Thank you for sharing,’ while we go right on writing. We are training our censor to stand aside and let us create.”


Have you tried morning pages? I would love to hear how they worked for you. If haven’t and are into the idea of doing a morning pages experiment, let me know how it goes. See the comments below.

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“The desire for fulfilling work – a job that provides a deep sense of purpose, and reflects our values, passions and personality – is a modern invention.”

With so many choices.

In his book How to Find Fulfilling Work, Roman Krznaric shares powerful ideas on how to maneuver your way through the labyrinth of thinking about work.

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We have entered a new age, Krznaric says, one where “the great dream is to tradeup from money to meaning.”

He tells the story of 3 individuals whose experiences are a sign of the times. A plague of workplace dissatisfaction. And an outbreak of uncertainty about how to choose a career.  In looking at the dilemma Krznaric asks 2 questions:

  1. What are the core elements of a fulfilling career?
  2. How do we go about changing our career and making the best possible decisions along the way?

In thinking about the tyranny of options, he says that we are so worried about making a bad choice that we make none at all. To narrow the choices, he suggests thinking more deeply about the core elements of a fulfilling career. And then develop ways to test them out.

He identifies 3 essential ingredients to a fulfilling career: meaning, flow and freedom. When considering meaning, he proposes that there are 5 motivating forces that make a job meaningful:

  • earning money,
  • achieving status,
  • making a difference,
  • following our passions and
  • using our talents. 

Which is most important? There is no simple answer.

Regarding satisfaction at work, he shows a study of ethical work where he uses the term doing “good work.” The definition is doing “quality work that benefits the broader society.” Those doing good work experienced much higher levels of job satisfaction.

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After Krznaric guides us through the 5 motivating factors, he has 3 activities to help brainstorm careers.

The Map of Choices

The first is called The Map of Choices, a picture compilation of all of the work you have done so far and what shaped the path. He asks several questions from the exercise, including what 2 motivations do you want to shape your career.

Imaginary Lives

The second activity he calls Imaginary Lives, he encourages us to imagine 5 parallel universes where we have a whole year to pursue 5 different jobs. This is the playful and expansive part of the consideration.

Personal Job Advertisement

The last activity is creating a Personal Job Advertisement, where you write down who you are and what you care about and anything else important to you. Once it is complete, he suggests you send it to 10 people who you know and ask them from the information what they would see you doing in a career.

photo: @colourliving

photo: @colourliving

In taking all of this information out into the real world, Krznaric has a section in his book called Act First, Reflect Later. Since we don’t know what will really work for us, he talks about doing experiential learning.

Bring it all to life!

An idea he shares is taking a ‘radical sabbatical,’ or a ‘job holiday’ trying out a new career. He also talks about conversational research, talking to people who are doing the work. The third way to test out careers he calls a branching project, a temporary assignment by taking a course, doing evening work or volunteering or job shadowing. 

Through doing experimental projects, we are more likely to find what really works for us.  The idea is to find work that gives us flow.

“Where can you discover the secret list of flow-careers?”

In exploring the question of finding your vocation, Krznaric says “There is a widespread – and mistaken – assumption that a vocation usually comes to people in a flash of enlightenment or moment of epiphany…. vocations are grown, and grown into, rather than found.” 

How to Find Fulfilling Work has some compelling ideas, entertaining catch phrases and is both practical and inspirational in trying to move out of the confusion about what to do when you are in the midst of career confusion. 

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