Category Archives: Awareness

What My Dog Taught Me

 
How my pit bull helped me re-frame, increase my self-awareness and identify fear that was holding me back.

About two years ago I adopted a dog from a local rescue organization.  I wound up with a 45 pound “mini” pit bull-type dog named Puma.  All rescue dogs have a story and Puma’s story included being attacked by several dogs while in a foster home prior to being surrendered to the organization from which I got her.  She still had the marks on her body from recently removed stiches the day I brought her home.  According to the rescue organization, her original owner kept Puma isolated in his house and yard, and while she loved her people, she didn’t have very much experience with other animals nor was she socialized to other dogs.  I was apprehensive about these facts and I was concerned about my ability to properly handle a powerful dog.  All my worries of course melted away upon meeting Puma.  She was sweet, very affectionate and conveyed that longing plaintive expression unique to homeless animals. She licked my face.  I was hooked.

Aware of the stigma pit bulls carried, I quickly envisioned myself on a mission to make my pit bull a model for her breed.  I was going to train her in obedience, she would earn the Good Canine Citizen certification, maybe even become a therapy dog so we could go about visiting senior centers and hospitals.  I had it all figured out; within a few months I would heal the world with my amazing pit bull.

Right.

My little plan quickly dissipated once the reality set in that this strong little dog had never been trained to walk properly on a leash without pulling me behind her. Forty five pounds of pure muscle, a low center of gravity and over-the-top excitement at being outdoors, made Puma more bull-dozer than pit-bull.  Did I mention that she is very strong?

In addition to the pulling, she would also lunge toward other dogs.  Under any threat, a dog instantly assesses whether fight or flight is the best action.  When a dog is on a leash, there is no option to fly and that’s why a lot of dogs have what’s known as leash aggression.  This was understandable in Puma given her lack of doggie social skills and her experience of being attacked, but nerve wracking for me nonetheless.  Additionally, the terrier in her wants to chase critters, a scampering squirrel could mean a sprained shoulder for me – did I mention how strong she is?

My anxiety was exasperated by the fact some people are afraid of Puma simply because she is a pit bull and I had to acknowledge what I now refer to as the liability of perception.  No matter what behavior Puma exhibits, she’s already perceived as dangerous; she steps up to the plate with two strikes before the first pitch is thrown. I began to perceive my responsibility differently, I appreciated in a new way my notion of holding her to a higher standard. I had to make her into the perfect dog for her own safety.

I hired and excellent dog behaviorist and trainer named Dan Perata. www.danperatatraining.com. Among the many things I learned working with Dan, his recommendation to use a special collar that fits on a dog’s head represented the biggest improvement.  The head collar (brand names are Walk-N-Train or Gentle Leader) functions a lot like a horse’s bridle.  The idea is if a human can control a 2000 pound horse by controlling its head, I can do the same thing with my 45 pound dog.

The head collar worked great and with expert Dan’s help, and a number of consultations, I started to truly enjoy our daily walks.  The head collar enabled me to control where Puma looked with a flick of my wrist.  It was super easy to control her gaze and keep her from staring down other dogs, or prevent her from hunting squirrels and taking me down in a futile attempt to chase it up a tree.  With the head collar, Puma trotted right by my side, looking straight ahead with a loose leash and pulling was virtually eliminated.  The physical part of this was great but the best part was how much more relaxed and at ease I felt while out and about.  My energy shifted from a state of intense vigilance to a more casual and care-free state, I was less tense.

The downside to the head collar was that Puma hated it.  She tolerated it while we were in motion but the second we paused our walking, at a stop light or when I was scooping her poop, she would paw at her face, rub her nose and muzzle on the ground, or against the legs of anyone we would stop to talk with.  Sometimes, if we were walking past a particularly fluffy patch of lawn, she would take a semi-sideways dive and make an embarrassing display of attempting to wriggle out of her head collar at the most inopportune moments.  It got pretty annoying.  On top of that, most people assumed that the head collar was a muzzle, further perpetuating the negative pit bull stereo type, about which I was already a bit defensive.

About a year passed using the head collar and Puma made deliberate progress with her leash walking skills.  She pretty much stopped the lunging at other dogs unless they were behaving aggressively toward her and she completely ignored little dogs even if they were yapping and going nuts.  Despite the progress, I found myself growing weary of the head collar, mostly because I knew Puma hated it and I hated her persistent protests whenever we weren’t in motion even more.  I was also tired of judgmental looks from people who assumed my pit bull was vicious and therefore had to be muzzled.

How could I solve this problem? Did I really care that much what other people thought of me? On the other hand, I almost felt it was irresponsible of me to give up the control I had with the head collar and risk her getting into trouble; her proverbial strike three.  Puma needed the head collar to behave properly and keep her out of trouble.  She wasn’t ready to take the training wheels off.  I told myself that even though Puma hated wearing it, she needed it.

She needed it.

The truth was that I needed it.  The truth is that the head collar was a tool for me to feel more confident and secure.  My ego was attached to all the stories I had created about my dog and how my dog would behave.  I had all sorts of judgements around what it said about me (and others) to have a pit bull who wasn’t under my complete control and a model of obedience.  Once I began to perceive the head collar as a tool for me and my piece of mind and my comfort and security rather than something Puma needed independent of me, things really shifted.  It only took a few weeks to fully transition to a regular collar.  Simply having the self-awareness that I was the one using training wheels, it naturally followed that I took the training wheels off for good.

One of the profound things I learned from Dan is how sensitive our dogs are to our energy and how they instinctively respond to our actual energetic state.  We are often too much “in our head” to sense what going on with us energetically. As a coach, I’m trained to identify energetic states, so it was surprising that it took time to fully integrate that belief into my way of being with my dog.  Puma was ready to take the training wheels off and transition to a regular collar long before I was.  She was waiting for my confidence to catch up to hers before we could move forward together. Our animal companions give us so much more than we usually perceive. Puma gave me a beautiful insight to my own self-awareness.

Waves of Water, Waves of Energy

“Paddle, paddle, paddle—paddle HARD!” These words, whether shouted by a surf instructor encouraging a student or uttered non-verbally in my head, are aimed at creating the same outcome: to catch a wave and glide down its open peeling face. Every surfer knows this simple joy; the sensation of sliding across the face of a wave inspires us to do it again and again. What is so alluring about this particular experience? Ask any surfer that question and you are likely to get a wide variety of answers, but at some point, they will just wistfully look out to the horizon and say, “I don’t know, I just love it. It makes me feel good, I guess.”

If you were to ask this surfer that question, I would probably start with explaining that, for me, surfing is a powerful metaphor for life. Everything we can experience, sense, think, and do is literally vibrating energy. When I am riding a wave, I am not riding a wave of water, I am riding a wave of energy moving through water. The ocean is a medium that invites me to interact with the Earth’s energy at one of its most dynamic moments. An ocean wave hitting the beach is the culmination of wind energy transferred to water. Having traveled from many miles away, this energy finally meets the shallow bottom and heaves the ocean into the giant gaping maw of Mavericks or the peeling walls of machinelike perfection that have drawn hordes to Malibu for generations. Big wave chargers and longboard sliders engage with this energy in their own way, spontaneously navigating varying challenges, whether they be mental, spiritual, physical or environmental; surfing demands that we meet the ocean in the present moment and on her terms.

I love the saying, “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” As we go through life and if we pay attention, we learn how to live life. We find the courage to overcome our fear of drowning that could keep us from ever paddling out in the first place, just as we endeavor to overcome the fears that keep us playing small in life and hinder us from achieving our potential. We acquire knowledge of board design and the tides, currents, and bottom bathymetry so we are perfectly positioned and equipped for the wave of the day just as we prepare and establish best practices in business to maximize opportunities when they present themselves. Surfing brings us face-to-face with our physical and mental limitations and provides us a play space to experiment and push through our limitations. Surfing informs us that when we are at play, our mind is at its most creative and innovative and that doing is work while being is effortless.

A Buddhist proverb says that in the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few. Surfing reminds us that no matter how many times we have surfed, no matter how experienced we think we are, as in life, there is always something to learn. The ocean has a knack for humbling the most experienced surfer or revealing a fresh way to connect with its energy. When I first started surfing, I was fortunate to get instruction from an accomplished big wave surfer from the North Shore of Oahu. I could not understand why he would want to spend time with a novice when he was readily accepted at the most competitive and technically difficult breaks on the North Shore. When I finally asked him, his answer was simple: He said that after a lifetime of surfing, he found he could reconnect with his original joy simply by working with newbies; he understood how the expert learns from the beginner. For me at the time, just making a wave was cause for celebration. The surf learning curve can be quite steep. I learned early on that the only way to make sense of the experience was to celebrate every progression and revere every new insight, no matter how small. In other aspects of life we rarely allow ourselves such indulgences. Experts, if they take the time, learn that hanging out with beginners can be quite a party. After every session we return to the shore, exhausted and breathless, eager to carry on the tradition of regaling our companions with tall tales about the huge waves we rode. It was in those moments, when my body was physically spent and my mind buzzing with a new kind of exhilaration, that I began to perceive myself differently; I bonded with my heart and soul in a new way. I had a new identity and I relished getting to know me, the surfer.

Just like our most challenging relationships teach us about ourselves, our relationship with surfing and the ocean holds up a mirror and points it directly back at us. The ocean is mysterious, powerful, and exquisitely deadly. It is the source of life on our planet and reflects Earth’s movement through the heavens in its tides and currents. When we step from land into the liquid depths of the sea, we are stepping into a primal mystery. It is at once the dark night of the soul and an ecstatic expression of abundance and life itself. Dichotomies like this abound in surfing and trying to make sense of it in some linear, logical way is futile. Similarly, it is often impossible to make sense of the events that occur in our lives and in the world around us—we can fight it or we can simply accept what is. Gerry Lopez, aka “Mr. Pipeline” wrote in his book Surf is Where You Find It, “There needs to be a calmness that allows the surfer to be centered and aware of all that is happening around him without becoming unnerved. Although instinct isn’t the right word, something like it, along with a clear mind, work better than thinking because, at Pipe, there isn’t enough time for thought. A Zen-like mind that is empty of thoughts allows a stronger connection with the wave.” What Gerry is talking about is not sport and may not even be art, but he is talking about tuning in to the present moment and becoming conscious enough so that the surfer becomes the wave rather than experiencing himself apart from the wave.

So next time you are at the beach and you cross paths with someone who has just come out of the ocean, ask them why they love their sport. And if you encounter a certain brand of surfer and clumsily refer to what they do as a sport, they will set you straight and explain that any activity that moves us to raise our level of awareness in perfect alignment with the present moment, allowing us to glimpse that Divine oneness, is on a level apart from mere sport. Perceiving surfing through this profound lens is a gift. I embrace surfing as a metaphor for life, my life—and what a wonderful life it is.

Peace and surf.

The Inner Critic, aka, the Gremlin

So far in this series on energy blocks, I have posted about limiting beliefs, assumptions, and interpretations. Each of these blocks can be very powerful and they will persist until our awareness uncovers these hindrances and reminds us that we have choices. The “inner critic” or “Gremlin” is the granddaddy of all the energy blocks because of its intensely personal power and usually originates from a period in our early development.
The good news is that, like the other energy blocks, the antidote to your Gremlin is self-awareness.
Sounds easy, right? Let us take a closer look at this tricky character that seeks to protect you from pain and humiliation. The Gremlin is that voice that tells you to play small to avoid failure, the one that informs you that you are not good enough, experienced enough or smart enough to try or do something. Whenever your internal dialogue is focused on your limitations rather than your potential, that is your Gremlin talking. A long time ago, your Gremlin came into being out of your personal experience. We all want to feel like we are in control and protected from bad feelings, so when we experience fear for example, the Gremlin seeks to protect us from that which we fear. The Gremlin tells us to be careful—the world is a dangerous place. In the guise of keeping you safe and protected, the Gremlin seeks to control your fear, because fear is bad. Since it is a cultural norm to believe that criticism or guilt-induced comments will motivate behavior, we wind up internalizing these thoughts and allowing them to become entrenched. The Gremlin is tricky because it actually has good intentions; it is seeking to protect us from shame, judgment or humiliation, but instead it triggers in us a determination to avoid those things. Avoidance is not the motivation to change, but rather it is a short-term anxiety reducer (emphasis on short). Avoidance strategies can get pretty elaborate and are often destructive, encompassing everything from simple procrastination, workaholism, and excessive checking of your smartphone to full-blown substance addiction.
It is completely within your power to free yourself from the Gremlin’s influence.
The Gremlin’s internal dialogue usually falls into one of two categories: shame-based self-perception and a self-perception of weakness. Shame-based messages result in feelings of inferiority, inadequacy, incompetency, or deserving punishment. Weak self-perception is based on fear and anxiety and may result in feelings of dependence on others, submissiveness, vulnerability, fear in expressing emotions without something bad happening, mistrust, isolation or abandonment. Catch yourself the next time you are feeling anxious or fearful (or distracted or numb or ashamed), and take a moment to examine your authentic feelings about the situation. Since your Gremlin wants you to feel in control, dig deep and ask yourself, “What is really going on? What am I really afraid of?” Allow yourself to touch on your most vulnerable feelings about the situation. Remember, the Gremlin wants to protect you from the shame of failure. Now, try shifting to the second person and listen to what your Gremlin is saying. It might say that you are lazy, you are a fraud (oh wait, that is my Gremlin!); your Gremlin could say you are not strong enough or smart enough; maybe it says you are worthless. What do you say to the voice that says you are worthless? Do you really need all that protection? You can probably handle it without all the negative internal dialogue and its toxic side effect, low self-esteem.
Make friends with your Gremlin.
The notion of making friends with something so toxic might seem counter intuitive but it is very effective. Start by expressing empathy for your Gremlin’s fear or out-of-control feelings. Tell your Gremlin, “I understand that you are afraid of being rejected, and I know you are trying to protect me from those bad feelings. Your critical voice is not helping; please do not talk to me that way. You are preventing me from getting what I want, which is to feel connected to others. I will be okay and I can cope with whatever happens if I take this risk. I do not have to deprive myself out of fear.”
I know some coaches who invite their clients to personify their Gremlin, to create a physical token that represents the Gremlin and name it. This may sound hokey but by casting a spotlight on the Gremlin and extending some compassion, you are actually increasing your conscious awareness and practicing self-compassion. After all, the Gremlin is part of you and wants the best for you. Just tell it, “No worries. I appreciate your concern, but I got this.”

Energy Blocks – Interpretations

The other day I was asked to participate in a conference call with a business cohort. Previously, I had brought up a concern about a particular business model being used and was asked by our group leader if I would be willing to process my concern with him while others from the group listened in. The idea was that my processing and learning would help the rest of the group who may be experiencing similar concerns. Great, I thought, what a wonderful idea!
While I have met many members of this group in-person, there are also quite a few I have never met either in person or telephonically. On the day of the call, I was the only woman on the phone with five or six male members of the group. This was not an issue for me—after all this call was meant to be a learning experience for me as well as everyone else and the call was recorded, allowing access for all members to listen at their convenience. However, once the call got underway I began to sense that the men on the call were not processing their own learning, rather they were attempting to fix my problem. Their tone was supportive and kind yet in my gut I felt they were also being paternalistic and that, at times, their attitude was bordering on condescension. In the moment, I noticed I was making this interpretation and put it aside; since I wanted the learning opportunity, I had to avoid becoming defensive and remain open.
The following day, I talked with one of the female cohort members after she had listened to the recorded call. She interpreted the tone of the male callers far more critically than I did and in talking it over with her, I too was beginning to absorb her point of view. We talked for a long time about our interpretation of the men and how they talked to me as well as the problem that originated the purpose of the call. Both subjects took up a good bit of our energetic attention.
I share this recent experience to talk about how interpretations can show up in our lives. An interpretation is an opinion we create about an event, situation, or experience. In essence, we make up stories based on our past experiences and then we unconsciously look for evidence to support these stories. Interpretations are created from the past, so all the assumptions*, limiting beliefs*, and information supplied by our inner critic* create our interpretations. In my case, the interpretation formula went something like this: Over the years I have observed that men, sometimes either knowingly or unknowingly, treat their female business colleagues as less than their equals. I believe that this treatment is simply an occasional condition of being a female in the workplace. On the cohort call, when the male participants focused their energy around trying to fix and alleviate my concern rather than discuss, process, and share their own experiences from a position of equals, I interpreted their behavior as being condescending and patriarchal toward me. This interpretation was intensified and validated when I spoke with the other female member of the cohort after she listened to the call.
The subject matter of this particular call is irrelevant for the purpose of exploring how interpretations can show up and block our energy. Awareness is the key to successfully avoiding all the energy blocks, (this post is part of a series on the various types of energy blocks); being aware of how we are interpreting is the first step to our avoiding becoming enmeshed in our interpretation. Now that I am aware of my interpretation, the helpful question to ask is: How does the interpretation of our male colleagues affect our openness and trust with them, not to mention our ability to work through future challenges? Without the awareness that an interpretation is in play, my female colleague and I could spin out, ending up caught in a whirlwind of righteous indignation. We could unconsciously conflate our feelings of indignation with anything the men suggest and needlessly cloud an opportunity to solve problems. I am not suggesting that we ignore our feelings; I am simply saying that being aware of where and how these feelings came into our consciousness allows us to address both problems appropriately. By separating the feelings that arise out of the interpretation, without becoming reactive or defensive, we greatly improve the likelihood that the men will be able to see how their actions unknowingly inhibit communication with their female colleagues, and vice versa. Which, by the way, is a win for both sexes and problem solving in general.

Energy Blocks

Introduction to Energy Blocks

Imagine that you are asked to participate in a meeting or networking event. Perhaps the event is organized around a particular business purpose, or maybe it is the first time you are attending your child’s school PTA meeting. It could be a meeting with fellow church or community members after moving to a new place. Perhaps you are attending a social gathering with individuals you hope will invest in your business idea or technology product. Maybe you have been asked to make a presentation on some topic to a room full of strangers.

Now imagine that you are about to walk into the meeting or event. It is the moment right before you walk into the room and step onto the stage or to the podium. What are you thinking? What are you feeling? What beliefs do you hold about the people with whom you are about to engage? How do you perceive your energetic status at that moment?

Ah, yes. Energy—a word that is tossed around quite a bit, but how is “energy” defined as it relates to human consciousness? Why does that word seem squishy and vague? What exactly is energy? The answer is simple and complex at the same time: simple because energy is everything and complex because energy is, well, everything. Everything you see, hear, smell, taste, touch, and even think is made up of vibrating, living energy. In the context of coaching, energy is about the way you “show up” in the world; it is about your level of conscious awareness.

The more awareness you have about how your particular energetic pattern shows up in the world, the greater your capacity to manifest what fulfills you and makes your life rich with joy, passion, and contentment. When your energy is flowing from a place of consciousness, it is a lot like a garden hose. When the hose is unfurled and kink-free, water effortlessly flows out and nourishes the garden; in this state, there are no blocks slowing the flow of water and the hose functions at peak efficiency.

For us non-garden hose beings, there are four types of energy blocks that inhibit our flow. In this five-part series, I will explain the overall concept of energy blocks. The next four posts will go into more detail about each one of the four internal energy blocks, how to identify them, and how to release them.

The four blocks are (1) limiting beliefs, (2) interpretations, (3) assumptions, and (4) the inner critic. I can almost guarantee you that virtually every difficulty, challenge, fear, or negative thought, feeling or emotion is rooted in one of the above energy blocks. The trick is learning how to identify them in the moment and then choosing a different level of awareness. I will explain these blocks in reverse order of potency:

  1. Limiting beliefs. These are the beliefs we hold about the world, about people, about situations, and about life in general that hold us back. These beliefs may not necessarily be about you, but can be ideas such as (a) crying is a sign of weakness, (b) venture capitalists do not invest in women entrepreneurs, or (c) personal sacrifice is necessary to achieve anything of high significance. Most of the time, a limiting belief is an idea that we have simply absorbed without much consideration of that belief’s veracity. Think back to the thought experiment at the beginning and imagine that you are a woman about to pitch your idea to a group of investors. If you hold the limiting belief that venture capitalists do not invest in women entrepreneurs, how would that belief affect your energy in that moment?
  2. Interpretations. The opinions we create about an event, situation, or experience are interpretations. We tend to interpret a thing, person, situation, or experience through the lens of our experiences and (limiting) beliefs, and unconsciously look for evidence to support our particular interpretation to validate the truth of the story we tell ourselves. Actually, our interpretations often represent only one among many possible viewpoints. When we continue to consciously or unconsciously accrue evidence to support our interpretation, we can wind up creating an energy block that keeps us from being all that we can be. As an example, imagine you are at that venture capital pitching event and you notice that one of the potential investors is an old acquaintance. From across the room you wave hello and that person ignores you. Perhaps that person was not wearing their glasses and did not notice you waving, yet you interpret their behavior as deliberately ignoring you. How would that influence your energy when it comes time to present your idea to the group? What might you think about your chances of being successful with the person who is ignoring you?
  3. Assumptions. Beliefs, mostly unconscious, that we hold about the past and that we apply in the present fall in this category. We convince ourselves that because something happened in the past, it will automatically happen again. Assumptions are more potent than limiting beliefs because they involve us personally and have to do with our personal experiences. Assumptions are one of the most insidious energy blocks and they show up everywhere. An assumption can go like this: the last time I presented my ideas to a group, I was not understood; I am not a good communicator. Because I am not a good communicator, I assume this presentation is going to be really hard for me. If you assume you are a bad communicator and presentations are difficult, how well will you be able to inspire others with your idea? How might that affect how you “show up” for the presentation?
  4. Inner Critic. Sometimes called the Gremlin, the inner critic lies within everyone. It is that little voice—sometimes loud and sometimes soft—but always there to tell us that we are not good enough. It tells us not to try, not to take risks, to take the safe road, and to play small so that we avoid failure. The most potent and powerful of all the energy blocks, the inner critic is more emotionally charged, and when it speaks it is hard not to listen. And when you do listen, you will not even attempt some things because the critic has already convinced you that you will fail or suffer humiliation. This inner critic or gremlin is uniquely yours; your own special sauce of toxicity, and it knows precisely how to make you shrink from your highest potential. Typically, the inner critic tells you, “Do not even try to get this idea funded; you will be exposed for the fraud you really are. Do you want to be exposed? Do you want everyone to know how inexperienced you are? You will never succeed as an entrepreneur; better to go back and get a real job.”

I will go into more detail about each one of these blocks in the next four parts of this series. If you are feeling like any of these blocks might be showing up in your life, give me a call and I will help you create a customized approach to banish these blocks from your consciousness and get your energy flowing freely.

Peace,

~Dyana

How connected are you?

In my early twenties, a spiritual teacher introduced me to the writings and teachings of Joseph Campbell. Over his life and career, Campbell became recognized as a giant among scholars on the subjects of mythology, spirituality, and comparative religion. Joseph was often asked, “What is the meaning of life?” He would respond, “There is no meaning. We bring meaning to it.” This idea is central to Campbell’s most famous saying: “Follow your bliss.” Over the years, his simple yet profound instruction has sadly become no more than a bumper sticker slogan that validates superficial pursuits of pleasure. Campbell was not talking about personal indulgence or hedonistic pursuits, no matter how blissful that hedonism may feel; he was referring to the deepest parts of our humanity. Following your bliss is a courageous path, often fraught with obstacles and powerful forces that want us to veer toward the paths of conformity and status quo. This is the Hero’s Adventure and there is no security in following the call to this adventure, yet this adventure is how we bring meaning to our lives. Everyone must forge their own path; our deepest values serve as our compass through the uncharted territory of our lives. When was the last time you checked your compass?

Are you on a path designed by you or designed by someone else?

Until recently, I spent virtually my entire professional career as a technical and executive recruiter for some of the most successful companies in the San Francisco Bay Area. Over the years, I have talked with countless people about all aspects of their jobs and job searches, as well as career planning and advancement. The technology sector tends to be fairly lucrative compared to other industries and the people with whom I interfaced were, for the most part, making good money compared to national averages. Although there are market fluctuations, the Bay Area/Silicon Valley is a great place to be if you are looking for a position in the tech world, but be warned—there is also a lot of talent here and the competition for the best roles can be tough. 

You would think that with all the effort it takes to make a name in this marketplace, people would be really clear about how their values drive their career decisions.

I would ask my candidates, “Tell me about the sort of company, assignment, or environment where you feel most engaged. In other words, give me an idea of what you are looking to experience in your next position. What needs to be present in that environment in order for you to thrive?” Even after I rephrased the question several times, few candidates were able to answer it. In fact, most seemed to not understand my question at all! To me this question is straightforward; I want to get an idea of what is most likely to engage a person in such a way that they are inspired to do their best work (which, incidentally, should be the first question all employers should ask, but that topic is for another post). Answering this requires people to understand their internal values, what is important to them, and why they do their selected work in the first place. It goes back to what Joseph Campbell said about following your bliss. Most of the time, candidates would answer with something like “…well I have eight years’ experience with SQL and database development, I know TSQL, and can write triggers and scripts…,” usually in a monotone voice and completely devoid of feeling or any indication that there was anything approaching passion for their work. I would ask a question about their unique values, to which there is no wrong answer, and 95% of the time the reply was a recitation of their resume. It was like talking with a live commodity rather than a human professional with singular desires, passions, and reasons for engaging in his or her chosen work.

How did we become so disconnected?

A few years ago, I became a certified professional coach and began to pay more attention to this phenomenon of highly paid tech professionals, living and working in the heart of technology innovation and entrepreneurialism, but seemingly disconnected from themselves. While most knew how much money they expected to earn, had clear ideas about what title would be appropriate for their level of seniority or how much pre-IPO stock they should be granted, it never ceased to amaze me how many could not answer my simple question about their values and how those values related to their career. Campbell would have agreed with the title of Joan Didion’s book, We Tell Ourselves Stories In Order to Live. Indeed, Campbell’s Hero’s Journey metaphor shows up in myths and legends throughout the ages, including the modern classic Star Wars. Luke Skywalker is the obvious hero in the story and Darth Vader is the villain. Symbolically, Vader is simply the shadow side of Skywalker. Vader, having succumbed to aggression and hate, is driven by ego, which seeks to preserve itself by asserting power and dominion over others. He is encased in the machinery that keeps him alive because his body (his true self, values, and bliss) is severely injured and can only function because of machinery that is both his prison and his life support. I am not equating my former candidates with Darth Vader, but rather I am asking the question: Which story are you telling yourself to live? Are you encased in the machinery of conformity and trapped in a story not of your choosing?

I have met many highly accomplished people who have achieved what our culture validates as success, but who are secretly miserable or numbed out.

Some of us are so disconnected from ourselves that in order to compensate for this void, we have become masters in self-delusion, with our culture aiding and abetting this delusion. There are a multitude of stories out there, but the story I call “the big lie” goes like this: Wealth equates to well-being and happiness, and material consumption is the indicator, proof if you will, that we have achieved wealth and therefore well-being and happiness. In this context, it makes sense that my tech candidates viewed themselves and their skills as commodities for sale to the highest bidder—after all, they wanted to be successful. They wanted to grab the brass ring that the big lie story promises. They were following the formula “a job plus hard work equals wealth, and wealth equals happiness and well-being.” Who would not want happiness and well-being? The irony is we unconsciously disconnect or remain disconnected from our internal values, our bliss, so as not to feel the pain of that disconnection. We usually do not think in this context when we are making important decisions about our life path. Many of us have internalized the big lie story so expertly that we have little awareness of how profoundly it shapes our choices and our actual well-being and happiness.

I am not suggesting that hard work to gain wealth should be avoided; I am suggesting that we often delude ourselves about what we are truly working for.

My first coaching clients were going through career or job transition, but now I work with clients who are in all types of transition. Transition can come into our awareness in many forms. Sometimes we intentionally choose to transition and sometimes we find ourselves thrust into it. Many people feel stuck; they are unhappy with their present situations and because they have disconnected from their inner values, they believe they lack options. Again, I am not knocking material wealth or success in any of its forms, but ask yourself: How connected do you feel to your inner self? How connected do you feel to your values?  What are your values?  When was the last time you took stock and checked to see whether you are making choices that are in alignment with your values? Have you ever had a moment where you wondered, is this all there is? Are conflicting pressures like providing for your family or paying your mortgage hindering you from connecting to your values?

Join my community and I will send you a complimentary exercise to help you reconnect with your deepest values. This exercise is simple, but will help you lay the groundwork to transition to a more meaningful and fulfilling path.