Last week, I went to the doctor and came back with some not-great news. I have a health profile that includes a Big Scary Illness, and occasionally I have a situation where my doc says "Heads up, this doesn't look good". I'm in the middle of one of those scares right now, and there's an internal battle that goes on in my brain in a situation like this:
1. "Crap I'm going to need lots of money and really good health insurance." (ie, a nice stable job!), and
2. "Wow life is short, and I should make the most of the time I have by doing what I love." (ie, pursue my passion now while I can!).
It's the ultimate battle: do I prioritize practicality or passion in the face of a life situation that makes me need and want both?
There are career decisions I could make in this situation. I could move to ensure that I get better access to high-quality medical care, I could sacrifice doing what I love for a job that provides security and good pay, I could focus on making the most of my time every single day but sacrificing benefits to have that freedom, I could think creatively about a dozen ways to somehow get what I need in all areas of my life. And yet, I find myself unable to make a positive and confident decision about my professional options because I'm scared. I'm anxious, and frustrated, and sad. Those feelings make it incredibly hard to have an effective think about what is the right professional decision to make. How do I prioritize both practical access to things like money and benefits, and also my desire to make the most of my precious time, when I'm worried?
Stuck in Feelings
I'm not alone in this. There are a lot of you who carry the burden of worry about your health, or the wellbeing of your family or partner, or your debt, and your career decisions are entwined with the practical considerations that these needs entail. But you also have dreams, hopes, and wonderfully crazy ideas of what you really want to do, even if they might be hidden underneath all those practical pressures and worries. And we have emotions about all of this that affect our ability to make a choice to move forward in our careers. One of the hardest aspects of being a living human person is the negotiation of these things - our own desires, our needs and the needs of others, and the feelings that we feel about what we want, can't have, don't have, or what will happen to us.
What do I DO?!
So what do you do when you've got some fear or anger or other consuming feelings in the way of your career decision making? Sometimes, you're too deep in the emotions of a situation to make a choice, to think clearly, or to even see the situation and all of its important elements. Before there can be thinking and problem solving, there needs to be feeling. Sometimes there isn't anything to do yet, there needs to be a time of sitting, of understanding yourself before there can be any recommendations or actions or decisions.
Recognize the Feeling
So start with your feelings. This is super uncomfortable, I know, I can hear you squirming in your chair all the way from here. But it's important so stick with it. You'll feel the relief as soon as you identify and name the collection of feelings you have bouncing around in your body. Recognize them, don't shove them aside or pretend they're not there, because you're not going to make any good progress until you say hello to those ugly, scary-looking, uncomfortable emotions. Are you afraid of something? Angry about the situation you're in or angry at someone else? Are you anxious or worried? Are you jealous of someone who has it easier, or guilty about prioritizing something you think you shouldn't? And what happens if you become happy?
Start here: Strategies
There are some strategies that can help. I journal a lot. If you're not sure what to write I start with nonsense like "I'm not sure what to write", and then after a page or so of that, the good stuff usually starts to surface a little more. Meditation is great for some folks, and if you're new at that, take a class. Yoga can help loosen up some of that tension in your chest and shoulders that is keeping your feelings locked away. I run, I swim, I pour a glass of wine and call friends, and I listen to music that suits the mood I suspect I might be hiding from. All of those things help me clear my thoughts away so I can identify what I'm feeling. If you're really experienced at evading the feelings that might be keeping you stuck, get yourself a therapist! Those people work magic.
So start there. I bet you'll make some interesting discoveries, and then we can work together on what to do next.
Watch for Part 2 of this series on Prioritizing Practicality or Passion.