For as long as I can remember, I thought of myself as a positive, energetic and courageous person with a big heart. That being said, my adult life can be viewed as having three distinct periods: my twenties, my thirties and, finally, now, my forties.
First, there was a period of academic exploration, seeking challenges and growth with little conscious concern for family. In college and beyond, I started exploring the world following every academic opportunity that presented itself - a year in Vienna within an exchange program, a year in Montreal for my Master’s and then six years in Minneapolis for my PhD in Economics. All my energy and courage, my heart and soul went to the professional side of my life while my personal life was rather low on energy, courage and confidence. I was convinced that private happiness was not in the cards for me. So, I wholeheartedly concentrated on academics.
As I was starting my PhD program in Economics in 2000, I remember a question from a prominent professor: How do you want to become famous? And my answer, spoken from the heart, was: “I used to do theater and always just performed for my own enjoyment. That’s when people like it the most. So, I want to do the same with research.” And I did, for a while - with a shout out to my peers and professors at the time: what a journey! But then came ‘The Job Market’ - a very organized one in the Economics profession - and I somehow forgot what I had told that professor five and a half years earlier. I had lost that heartfelt drive from the inside out, let myself be boxed in and tried to do what I was ‘supposed to do’, instead.
So, at age 29 I found my dream husband instead of the dream job I was looking for and - who would have thought - a period of family bliss with a rather unfulfilling professional life ensued. My heart was mainly in my personal life and I didn’t ever take the time or have the courage to evaluate my professional satisfaction. There were heartfelt professional highlights, especially early on, and I loved going to conferences, interacting with people,... But I had a hard time with the loneliness that comes with research and the fact that my computer - a stunning MacBook Pro - was my best friend ninety percent of the time. It was not all bad of course: the generous salaries allowed us to buy a lovely house and the flexible work hours enabled us to spend time with our even more lovely daughter. I am grateful for these opportunities. We did - and still do - fully enjoy the little family life we built for ourselves.
Nevertheless, the more I let my professional motivation slide, the more I felt at the mercy of other people who’s interests did not seem to align with mine. I was performing from the outside in and I happened to be pretty good at it. But I was feeling increasing hollow inside and it showed in my teaching: as exemplified by some teaching evaluations, I did not come across asthe most loving teacher out there. It took a lot of blaming others for my misfortune ending in uncontrollable anxiety attacks - not super fun in the middle of giving a lecture - before I really had the courage to look the monster in the eye and seek the help I needed.
After a few detours with books, mediation, yoga and therapy, I came to iPEC (the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching) for coach training. For the first two days of the first training weekend, I was totally roller coaster-ing with anxieties such as: how am I ever going to get rid of that nasty, brainy, yet helpless top-down teacher-monster living inside of me? I wanted to be a coach but it seemed hopeless. Having absolutely nothing to loose since it was Sunday afternoon already, I decided to give it one last go by volunteering - with a little help from my friends - for the ‘buy-in’ demo… In that session, I described my Pain Island - that roller-coaster of anxiety… The room was dead silent when the coach asked: If that's not what you want, then what do you want? And I described being at peace - my Pleasure Island. Then she asked: who’s with you on Pleasure Island? I hesitated… Anyone can be there: it’s Pleasure Island! From that day on, I trusted the process and believed that I could learn to leave that roller-coaster behind, take the course of my life into my own hands and eventually get to Pleasure Island: I had hopped on the S.S. Coaching Boat!
My head was a bit puzzled as to what had happened at the time - I knew with my heart but my head was lost in translation. After a six months journey of connecting head and heart through coaching and thanks to the unwavering support of my coach, family and friends, I finally got it. What happened that day was that my belief shifted from ‘peace can only be achieved in death - alone’ to ‘peace can be achieved in life - with anyone’! From that place of peace, my passion for life was reborn and the process of rejuvenation began.
While I was practicing speaking from the heart, timidly at first, then more confidently, I also had to decide what I wanted to be when I grew up. After much fine tuning in my transformation, I decided I was largely going to transition out of academia into professional coaching, consulting and entrepreneurship as my main emphasis. Lots of skills from my previous experience were transferable. What took time, courage and dedication was to actually transfer them - both, for coaching and entrepreneurship. For example, my teaching experience helped with public speaking; doing it from the heart, letting go of the know-it-all judgmental professor was a shift that required lots of practice. My research experience gave me a lot of self-discipline, analytical skills and writing ease; using these skills from a place of enthusiastic and healthy aspiration rather than a sense of duty and obligation was another road that needed to be repaved one brick at a time. Bumpy ride - to say the least... Feeling this alive: priceless.
When I started spreading the word about my transition, the reactions were stunning. The self-leadership style of taking responsibility for my life, showing genuine gratitude and looking for mutually beneficial opportunities in each and every meeting had an enchanting effect. I was getting way more cheers, support and well-wishes than I had imagined in my wildest dreams. The sea of opportunities was and still is immeasurable!
While it may appear courageous to the outside, I now wholeheartedly view the leap as a no-brainer - literally. The feeling of normality doesn’t diminish my gratitude - to the contrary. That’s my experience with fear, courage and surrender: find the help you need, get out of your head, let your heart speak, gather your courage, take the leap into action and trust the process.
And guess what: through this process I have also become a much more empathetic, empowering and effective teacher with much less time needed to prepare! Less doing, more being! I can now say that I am that positive, energetic and courageous person with a big heart again, I am engaging in everything I do for my own enjoyment - and people like the results.
What is painful to you these days? What do the glimpses at your exhilarating life look like? Let me know!