Why does this seem so hard?

4 questions for you to answer that will ease burdens on your growth and development journey

We often feel, or are led to believe, that the path we take in our professional or personal lives will reveal itself early on, the steps to take for advancement will be clear, and our growth and development will progress linearly as we successfully navigate those steps. The truth is that bumps, obstacles, and diversions occur continuously that can make us feel like we are trying to climb a mountain but are not getting anywhere. Through the questions I would like you to answer at the end of this post, I hope you will see that the stories we tell ourselves about what we think should happen make this process feel harder than necessary. These stories put pressure on us, they negatively influence our decisions, and they keep us from seeing the opportunities that can come out of apparent obstacles that emerge. These opportunities are really what we need to recognize, appreciate, and act upon to help find and navigate our desired path.

History –

When viewed from a high level, my career has followed a typical and linear path: undergrad, grad school, post docs, job(s). At ground level, though, it has been a much more tumultuous, non-linear journey. So many of my experiences started out with a particular goal or expectation and ended up with an answer or direction that was entirely different—grad school was intended to enhance my academic record so that I could get into med school, but turned into an opportunity to pursue a PhD and take a different path; funding challenges in my first postdoc pushed me towards a clinical microbiology fellowship which became my first role where I finally felt like I was in “my element”; my academic and industry careers were fulfilling, but I still yearned for more…and now I’ve started my own business with more obstacles that arise, and opportunities to learn from them.

Perception –

I’ve reflected a lot on how I felt, what I was looking for, and what I expected as I was facing each of these decision points along my path. I remember expecting that the solution would reveal itself in some magical way…like being handed to me on a silver platter. I felt pressure inside of me to be certain about the choice I was making because I expected that I couldn’t make a change and that it would be my one career path forever. I definitely couldn’t make a mistake or fail—that would derail me, send me in the “wrong” direction, and make me look bad. Thinking this way and having these expectations caused a self-inflicted burden to always “know” and “be right”—this burden was often so paralyzing that I just wanted that silver platter to show up, revealing all the right answers for me.

Reality –

It took me a while, but I started to realize that those stories I was telling myself about how things would unfold were holding me back more than they were helping me achieve my goals and become “successful.” Upon reflection, I began to appreciate that at those times when I was feeling the worst about rejections, curveballs, and barriers, I was really presented with new opportunities to forge a path that better suited what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be…it just took some time to learn how to be open to seeing those opportunities. It became clear that career development is an active process—I couldn’t wait for the silver platter, I had to be the one making it happen. I also recognized that it is a dynamic process—things infrequently stay the same and there are always ups and downs. As discussed in last month’s post, I have become more comfortable with taking risks and getting out of my comfort zone so that real growth could occur—while not linear, things continue to move in a positive direction.

Don’t get me wrong, even with this awareness, it will still feel like there are mountains to climb in determining whatever path you are looking to take, with familiar anxieties and risks along the way. You will continue to experience things that seem like failures or roadblocks—in reality, they are opportunities to take new or different approaches, or pursue different options that you might not have otherwise considered or been aware of. We can all learn to recognize, appreciate, and act on these new opportunities, which can enhance our fulfillment knowing the personal investment and growth that has occurred through it all—no silver platter necessary.

As you think about where you are in your journey, I pose these questions to you:

What are some stories you have told yourself about your professional development and career journey?

How have these stories shaped your decision-making?

How have they served you and helped you grow—or held you back?

Are there opportunities that can be recognized from any barriers that you perceive?

Hand me the world on a silver platter, and what good would it be?
– Alicia Keys

Feel free to reach out to me through my Contact page if you would like to set up a time to further discuss these questions and your answers, or any other topics related to navigating your path.

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