Gill Stannard

Thursday, April 26, 2007

What did you want to do when you grew up?

With a clinic in the heart of the city, it’s not unusual that I have many clients who are unhappy with various aspects of their working lives. Workloads are too high, expectations unrealistic and time to have a fulfilling life inside and outside of work has become greatly diminished.

The popular slogan is to ‘find our passion’ and all else will follow. It is a cliché but I for one am proof of the riches that come when you take a giant leap of faith. I went from a government job in another country to starting my journey in naturopathy in Melbourne - all in the course of a fortnight, 20 years ago. Like in all good urban fables – I woke from sleep with a deep sense of ‘knowing’ what I needed to do with my life and where I had to go to make it happen. Later when I had the time to backtrack through what had been brewing for the previous 2 years, the leap from a political science degree, to becoming a naturopath made total sense. What helped me connect the dots was perhaps ”one inspired thought” that had been nurtured with some time to dream. But more than that, it was believing in the thought and running with it all the way to the travel agent.

I admit, now 2 decades on from that monumental life change, ensconced in a very comfortable life complete with my own business and a mortgage – I wonder if I had a similar epiphany today, would I find the bravery needed to turn my world upside down completely? I believe I would. Even without a complicated life, not all of us find the courage to believe in our dreams and take a risk. Despite the 'baggage', there are times when we need to harness our inner resources in order to find fulfillment. If we continue to ignore them, sometimes the consequences can be deadly

In recent years I watched a close friend go from the top of his game to near bankruptcy. Ten years on from co-founding a small company, it had grown into a very successful business with 100 employees. As a trade-off for the long trips overseas that he loathed, he and his partner got to play on some of the world’s best golf courses. His family were well and happy. They’d just made a lifestyle choice to move to a new, inner-city apartment and were enjoying the cosmopolitan life. One day on his pre-work walk along the river he sketched out a plan to make the company more sustainable without him, to cut down his hours and spend more time doing what he loved. The dream was attainable and I felt very excited for him.

The next time I saw him he was depressed, medicated and working 7 days a week. Fear had got in the way of putting his plan into action. He’d stopped enjoying days on the green and hid in the office. The original partner had left the company and 2 younger men had replaced him. They were moving the business in another direction, expanding in areas they professed expertise in which was different from his own. While this could have been an opportunity to restructure his role, he’d gone with the energy of the new partners and was left feeling old and tired. Fluctuations in the value of the dollar had put pressure on their cash flow, as most of their stock was sourced from overseas. The new ventures were not performing as they’d expected and all was not well at home. The transition from a man on the brink of exciting change and one heading deeper into despair was remarkable. It was as if he’d opened the door to his dreams and slammed it shut. Within a couple of years the new ventures had bled the company dry, the young investors had passed all the blame to him and scarpered, he’d had an unhappy affair and left his marriage. The business folded, the apartment sold and his world at 50 was the absolute opposite of what he imagined 5 years earlier. While he was devastated by the company's failure, he began to slowly get his life back. It’s early days but one year on he’s been off antidepressants for some time, gone back to university and more often than not, seems to be happy. At times he feels guilty to be enjoying his new life so much.

Frequently I see examples of ill health or negative consequences from not following our dreams. Sometimes our secret desires conflict with those of the other people in our life, or we are just too fearful to rock our comfort zone. Often it’s not the job that makes us unhappy, it is our how we react to the work and our approach to living. There comes a moment when we can choose to no longer be a victim of either a successful or a thwarted career, and begin to take responsibility for our happiness in and out of work.

Where to start:

A career consultant might help you change your focus but if you are not allowing yourself to access the bigger picture, a move sideways will not satisfy for long. A more holistic view of work/life change is presented in Barbara Sher’s classic "I Could Do Anything If Only I Knew What It Was”. She has gone on to write further inspiring books but I’d recommend this one as the place to start. is a UK based careers coaching site with some great articles and ideas. The founder, Richard Alderson, describes the project as a “dedicated online community for career changers”. It’s well worth a look.

”The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron is both an inspirational and practical process to access the artist that resides within us. Even if you think this is not you, start doing her “morning pages” – 3 pages of free writing the old fashioned way with pen and paper every morning – and see what comes up for you.

Lastly, it is very difficult to access our hopes and dreams if we don’t take some time out from the everyday routine. Try traveling to work by a different route, getting away from your desk every lunchtime and making time each day to read, write, observe and walk. Ask people who you admire what makes them happy? Find role models who have achieved work/life balance. Write about what you wanted to do when you grew up.

Guess what? You’re a grown up now!

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