365 Days of Courage #51: "Suck it up" is not a career plan
In the past few months (and years), I've had a variation of the same conversation over and over again with close friends, new acquaintances and clients. One of my oldest friends told me over dinner how miserable she is in her career and how stressed, overwhelmed and imprisoned she feels. It's a conversation she and I have had for almost two decades as she has felt this way about her career for that long. Another friend told me how "soul-crushing" her work had been for the past few years and she was actually one of the people who I thought ENJOYED her work. A new client said she felt like she had to figure out how to make being an accountant work. That she should "suck it up."
I told that client "you didn't hire a coach to figure out how to suck it up better."
And yet, as a society (especially a midlife society), that's what we try to do and what we've been raised to do - to suck it up better. We work harder and longer, we lean in further and further until we completely lose sight of anything that truly matters. We become more and more connected to work we hate while becoming less and less connected to who we truly are. As a society, we wear stress and overwhelm as badges of achievement which makes it all the harder to change our behavior. If everyone else is sucking it up, why shouldn't we?
In a vain attempt to uncrush our souls a little, we buy more stuff or overeat or overdrink while binge-watching Netflix. Anything to distract ourselves from the fact that we are sucking it up.
In the book "Roadmap: the Get-It-Together Guide for Figuring Out What To Do With Your Life", the authors describe the Invisible Assembly Line so many people find themselves on:
I'm here today to ask you to entertain the thought - just for a moment - that it doesn't have to be this way. That it is possible to find work that lights you up instead of burning you out, work that fulfills you rather than frustrating you, work that makes you feel like YOU rather than a shadow of who you were born to be.
In the Roadmap book, the authors estimate that we spend 90,000 hours at work during our lifetime. Is it at least worth considering whether those 90,000 hours could be better spent?
Would it be self-indulgent of me to insert an Idris Elba video at this point? I think not and, yes, you're welcome.
Take 2 minutes and 37 seconds to hear Idris’ perspective on the question "What do you want to be when you grow up?" "What's the dream?"
If you don't have time to watch the video, Idris' main point is that, as adults, we stop growing and we stop challenging ourselves. We stop dreaming. His challenge to us is that whatever age you are, you shouldn't stop dreaming.
I believe that too many adults stay stuck in careers that range from "meh" at best to "soul-crushing" at worst. We burn ourselves out in pursuit of society's definition of success while deferring the things we really want to do - our dreams, our interests, the things that make us light up - until later. Until our kids go to college or we have a certain amount of money in the bank or we reach a certain point in our career or or we take a few more classes or the biggest dream-thief of all, until we feel “ready.”. Too often “later” never arrives.
I'm on a crusade to change the story we tell ourselves about work - to encourage as many people as possible to choose work that is meaningful and fulfilling and which allows them to use their natural skills, talents, passions and beliefs in pursuit of their own definition of success so that they get years of their life back.
The kind of work "that ensures when the alarm rings in the morning you don't feel dread at starting another day, but rather excitement about the path you're on." (Roadmap book).
I really want you to think about the question "what do you want to be when you grow up?" in a whole new way. I encourage you to put caution and "shoulds" to one side and don't censor your dreams. This is your safe space to express your true self, your dreams and your aspirations even if you have to dig deep because they've been buried for years or decades. If Idris Elba asked you "What do you want to be when you grow up?", what would your answer be?
What's YOUR dream? Don't censor yourself - write down the first thing that comes to mind (even if you've never told anyone before). In fact, especially if you've never said it out loud before.
Now take a moment to think about where you are "sucking it up" in your work life. For me, "sucking it up" is tolerating anything that feels like it is sucking YOU out of you. The opposite of "sucking it up" is filling YOU up. It is how I feel since I started coaching again. I was sucking it up for the past decade as I worked harder and harder to build a business which - although I was proud of it - did not use the best of Sally in anyway. Now, when I coach or when I talk about coaching to build my practice or write about coaching, I feel myself getting fuller and fuller of Sally.
Spoiler alert: it takes WAY more effort and energy to do work that doesn't use your natural talents and passions than it does to do work that uses the very best of you.
At the age of almost 51, I'm becoming increasingly conscious of how precious life is and what a tragedy it is to waste it in any way. I'm thinking more and more about Legacy and I have incorporated it as a vital part of my coaching work with The Midlife Courage Projec.
What is the legacy you want to leave? How do you want to be remembered? A question I think can be even more helpful is: "How do you NOT want to be remembered?" Is the work you are currently doing contributing to or detracting from the legacy you want to leave behind when the real “later” arrives.
I would love to hear your thoughts!