Struggling? Remember who you are
Lost your job?
“I’m sorry but we have to let you go.”
“I’m afraid we’re not going to renew your contract.”
Lost the pitch?
“We felt the fit just wasn’t right.”
“You were right in there. It was a hard choice, but…”
Dealing with a bully?
“I could fill this position for free.”
“You’re incompetent. You don’t listen. I told you…”
“This will be the worst day of your life.”
Under employed, bored, feeling lost? I’ve experienced most, if not all of these, from getting fired to being bullied. And of course feeling lost and lonesome, along the way. When we’re bam, hit with a reversal or are in a long slow slide into disillusionment, struggling to find meaning in, or purpose in our work, all can seem lost.
When these reversals hit me I’ve found it rejuvenating to think deeply about my past. I think about what I’ve overcome, how I did it and what has given me the most pleasure in my work.
I try to remember what lead me to who I am now. I try to reach beyond the fear and constraints of the moment.
When I work with clients that are in the midst of struggle I ask them to reach back and remember what inspired them to move along the path they choose. To reach back and remember, what it was in their work that gave them the feelings of pleasure that they built their career on.
I ask them to remember those original moments of discovery and delight. The stories they tell hold nuggets like these…
-A photographer who still has the photos she took with the camera her dad gave her when she was four.
-A writer who remembers magical trips to the library with his mother.
-A designer who can still visualize and describe his first grade volcano illustration.
These memories hold revealing clues about where to go to retain your fire. Memories that define and show us where to look for sustenance when we are caught in the web of struggles and constraints that fear seems to weave.
Here’s one of my defining memories…
I was about eight and living in a woman’s home who took in children. Much of the time I was by myself and terribly lonely. I wasn’t allowed to leave the fenced back yard except to go to school. And I don’t remember ever having friends over. After school if the weather was nice I played by myself in the yard. She didn’t talk much. At night I slept upstairs in one of the two bedrooms, alone.
Then one day another boy was boarded there. I think his name was Kenny. I don’t remember much about Kenny except that his dad drove a bus. I loved his uniform. Kenny was a year or so younger than I. He was afraid –– afraid of being separated from his dad, afraid of being alone and afraid of the dark. At bedtime we were sent upstairs and the woman would turn out the light and shut the door at the bottom of the stairs. Kenny would cry sometimes at night. I remember how his sobs would dig a hole in my chest. To stop the pain I’d talk to him. As time went by and he felt more confortable with me we developed a routine to our banter and he’d ask me…
“Teddy would you tell me a story?”
And I’d make up a story. Or he’d ask…
“How do they make paint?”
And I’d make up a story about how they made paint. As I talked Kenny would slip into sleep.
With Kenny I wasn’t alone. But, more than that –– with Kenny, I felt probably for the first time, the comfort that I feel today when I find myself helping another. The comfort I feel when I know what to say to help them step forward, tap into their passion and gain the confidence to take action. I must have learned to tap into my empathy much earlier than at eight with Kenny. Maybe it was from my own loneliness. This wasn’t my first foster experience. I’d been in and out of strange homes and felt the deep pain of loneliness for years. I knew it well.
Taping into my empathy, learning how important listening is. Learning the great pleasure that comes from hearing another’s stories. Understanding how powerful and helpful an objective outside voice can be. These are all skills that I must have become aware of with my Kenny experience. Skills that I use everyday now. Skills that helped me attract clients, build a design powerhouse and become financially independent. Skills that helped me reach beyond my fears and the constraints of unworthiness, while understanding, most of the time, that the constraints can help one remain humble.
Feeling unworthy can be crippling. Feeling empathic can be freeing.
I have all kinds of reasons to feel unworthy, to feel the constraints and fear that comes from being fostered at birth to flunking the fourth grade and making seemingly countless bad decisions along the way. But what sustains me I now know, and always has, is the empathy that I discovered with Kenny so long ago.
That empathy. That very real interest that I have in others is what I tap into with those I work with everyday. That’s who I am.
What’s your story? What’s your source of passion? Who are you at your core? When you find yourself struggling, think about what lead you down your path. Tap into the power of those memories and the strength of your experience.