In the last year, I have noticed a trend in my coaching practice. I am seeing more and more leaders who feel trapped in their role. They are finding the pace and demands of being an executive are too much. In many cases, these clients are women, but they are not all women. Both men and women seem to be questioning the “total package” that comes with being an executive and whether or not the personal sacrifice is worth it. They are wondering, “Is there another way? Can I have the lifestyle I want and maintain my earning potential? What could I do that would be more fulfilling?” Each time I come across an executive who is questioning their path, I feel a tingle of excitement. I want people to be living a life that aligns with their values and to be fulfilled. Every time a bright talented person makes a choice to put their fulfillment before status or prestige, an opportunity and role model is created that shows the world that it is possible. However, the transition can be a challenging one and from my coaching experience here are three things that commonly derail executives when they try to make the switch.
1) Thinking too much – I know this sounds funny, but it is true. The corporate world has a “left brain” dominant culture. A lot of time it spent flexing the rational part of the brain and less time is spent engaging in creative pursuits. Although there are many advantages to this, there are also some drawbacks. Mainly, that when making decisions, the creative resources that come from the right side of the brain, are often ignored or not maximized. If you are trying to define a fulfilling career path, you need to pay attention to the right side of your brain and define what you want to do by using creative and expansive techniques like using a vision board, drawing an image of what you want etc. I follow the motto: “Define your path with your heart and figure out how to get there with your head.”
2) Going through withdrawal: People who try to slow down, tend to go through withdrawal. They may enjoy the first few weeks of quiet time, but then something feels off. They try to regain the balance by “getting busy” again, but often times they go straight back to their old habits of hyper-busyness instead of finding a manageable amount of work. I have found that there are two consistent thought patterns which can lead to this behaviour. They are: “I don’t want to miss out on an opportunity” and “I am worried I will lose my edge.” If you can relate to this, it’s important to ask yourself: “What is the biggest opportunity I am facing right now?” “How does my edge serve me and how does it distract me?” I have found that when people ask themselves these questions they often uncover big opportunities like spending time with family or getting their career on a fulfilling track. Their “edge” is actually a productive behaviour pattern when used appropriately, but it becomes a distraction when it runs their life and is the foundation for decisions.
3) Being impatient – Creating a fulfilling career and making a positive change takes time. You don’t need to do it 90 days and in reality, you probably won’t. Using Jim Collins analogy in “Good to Great,” it is more like a fly wheel. You make small incremental changes that over time add up. As you take small steps, you start to retrain yourself and convince yourself that there are benefits to create a fulfilling career and standing up for your values. As you reinforce these thoughts with behaviour, you will realize that you can make money doing what you love, the world will accept you, and you will create a new “edge” that serves your life. With this new perspective, you may even chose to stay in the corporate world, but if you do, you will likely be a change agent, and find yourself committed to creating an organizational culture that makes it okay to be an executive and have personal boundaries, even it means saying “no” to a few “opportunities.”