At 32 years old I had a killer career.
Eleven years of blood, sweat and tears had earned me a sizeable salary, a senior management job title to be proud of and strong promotion prospects.
It resulted in a beautiful London home, regular dinners in fancy restaurants and exotic annual holidays. Hell, I even had a clothing allowance as a work benefit (hello designer closet).
I was at the top of my game and succeeding.
At 32 years old I had a killer career.
Eleven years of blood, sweat and tears had earned me a decade of chronic insomnia, stomach issues that meant I couldn’t digest food and random bouts of sobbing I couldn’t explain.
It resulted in ongoing health problems, a permanent state of exhaustion and exotic holidays that were used as recovery operations. Hell, I felt so drained that no amount of retail therapy could make a difference.
I was at the bottom of my game and failing.
I certainly was.
Particularly after several rounds of invasive hospital tests determined there was nothing physically wrong with me.
Why didn’t these two versions of my reality coincide, and what was making me feel so damn bad if I wasn’t actually ill?
Luckily for me I had an insightful hospital consultant and he hit me with it using that most nebulous of terms: stress.
Now, if knew me then you would appreciate my bewildered response. I was the least stressed person I knew. How on earth could it be stress when I felt I was calm, capable and coped reasonably well with whatever was thrown in my path?
In news to me, it turns out that stress isn’t only caused by a feeling of overwhelm, as I had always assumed.
The consultant explained that it packs an equally hard punch when you are fighting yourself, following a path and making decisions that are out of kilter with your natural self.
Putting my scepticism with this strange rationale aside for a moment, I still didn’t understand what this had to do with my ongoing ill health?
And then he gave me the hard-hitting explanation that ultimately changed the course of my career.
My consultant argued that by refusing to mentally acknowledge how stressed and unhappy I was, the conflict had to be manifested somewhere – so my body was taking the strain.
In effect, I was causing my own physical illness by actively ignoring how I really felt.
This mind-bending analysis left me with two choices. Ignore the crazy doctor with his weird diagnosis and carry on working myself towards a successfully poorly end, or start asking myself some difficult questions about what I did and didn’t want and actually listen to the answers.
The hard truth I discovered in the ensuing months was that I wasn’t living in a way that was true to myself.
My choice of career and the way in which I approached it were at serious odds with my real nature and the things I really cared about.
I was contorting myself to fit a mould; operating out of character and ignoring every gut instinct I had about what was right for me.
Mostly because I thought it was THE WAY.
We live in the real world right? In order to be successful and get on that is what’s required.
Compromising myself and sucking up what felt awful was simply a given if I wanted to survive and prosper. I was just being realistic.
Luckily for me the more realistic I was, the more ill I became.
Eventually, with my body at breaking point the consultant’s verdict struck a chord. Something had to change. It was the start of a journey that brings me here today.
At 42 years old I have a killer career.
Ten years of learning to trust my gut instinct, listening and working towards what I really want and making decisions based on my true self have earned me a job I love, work that doesn’t feel like work and more than enough money to enjoy life with.
It has resulted in a home office in the Welsh mountains, an ability to eat whatever I like and eight hours of unbroken sleep a night. Hell, my GP almost misses me; it’s been so long since I last needed to visit him.
I am on top of my game and smiling.
The moral of the story? It’s a simple one that also happens to be the answer to the question people ask me about how to find a way to work they love.
Live true to yourself.
That means really listening to the voice inside. The one that knows what’s right and wrong for you. The one that pipes up every time you work on something or agree to something that doesn’t feel good. The one that screams internally when you adapt or force yourself to fit.
It also means asking yourself questions about what drives, motivates and interests you, together with what you are naturally good at, and listening to the honest answers with curiosity rather than judgement.
So if you are unhappy in your job or life generally, do one thing for yourself this week. As you go about your days, aim to consciously pick up the cues on what feels good and what doesn’t, and what draws you in or puts you off, to see what you discover.
Whether activities, topics, causes, environments or people, these insights are golden and they will point you in the right direction if you let them.
Take it from someone who knows and who stubbornly learnt the hard way.
P.S. If my story strikes a chord and you want help getting clear on your ideal career in the context of your ideal life, check out Work Wonderland.
It’s an online programme and web app that leads you to identify your ideal career, and it includes practical tools that show you have to take action and make the ideal a reality.
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