In the Dream Work Project guide I collected 6 steps to a Happier Career, which I think are the most important to work through, if you want to create a good strategy for achieving a happier career.
However, there is one more thing I learnt during my own journey. Without this, I believe there would have been no happy solution.
There I was in Barcelona, this amazing city, where I had moved a couple of months earlier, to escape from my own burnout. After the first excitement of meeting new people, finding a flat, and settling in, it was time to consider how and what I would make a living from.
I spent more than 20 years in tourism, and I was tired. I knew I could not work 12–14 hour days ever again.
I felt panic creeping up on me. For weeks, I had the same question banging in my head, again and again.
If I’m not a travel agent, what am I?
I did not have an answer. Many months have passed since I signed the official papers to sell my travel agency, and I still had no idea what I would be doing instead. It already started to dawn on me that I will probably not go back to tourism, or at least not the way I was involved in it, but when I thought about this, my stomach clenched.
What am I going to make a living from? I know nothing else, but tourism…..
I remembered something that I learnt, when as a company director, a leadership development coach was working with me on becoming a better leader.
I wanted to do more, move faster, and find speedy solutions, but she told me several times:
There are no Quick Fixes.
None. Not for essential and important changes. All fundamental and desired change requires appropriate investment of time and effort. And commitment.
During one of our sessions, I told her that I was feeling totally lost and I had no clue how to move forward. I was working more and more, starting new projects, but somehow the desired results were not coming. I told her that it felt like being in no man’s land.
It was the scariest place I could imagine. I was terrified.
When I finished talking, I sat there, waiting for her to react and say something helpful. But she too just sat there, without any reaction. I was becoming really nervous.
What’s going on?
Why doesn’t she tell me what to do? And if we are just sitting there, what am I paying this unbelievably high fee for? I was becoming angry and desperate.
Still, she just sat there.
At the top of my discomfort, she finally spoke. And that made things even worse.
She said: “If you are lost, I’m also lost with you.”
And then she went quiet again, and we sat there for what seemed like hours. By now I was ready to run.
Eventually, after what seemed like eternity, she asked me: “So how do you feel now, knowing that I’m as lost as you?”
I told her I was angry, disappointed and scared.
Those minutes of silence made it even more frightening. This is a totally unfamiliar feeling for people like me, who are used to knowing where they are headed. We are expected to act, to always know the answers, and to keep everything under control. We cannot afford to NOT know.
So when we don’t have the answers, we do more and think more.
Those few minutes of silence turned out to be one of the biggest turning points in my life. During that session I was able to express my anger, my frustration, my fear of being lost, something I was actually ashamed of. I learnt how to accept these feelings, and being able to share it with someone made it a lot easier.
I also learnt, that this no man’s land is a totally natural thing, when we leave behind old ways, our old life, and are moving towards something new, even when the new direction is not yet clear. We were just not taught to deal with it.
When I remembered this coaching session, I finally gave myself permission to just be in Barcelona and allow myself to do nothing.
I stopped doing, and I let go of wanting.
I just let myself stay in this nothing.
As a coach, I too meet lots of people, who rush from one task to another, without stopping. They fill all their time with activities. They take work-related calls even during meals, over the weekends, or during holidays, and they rush from one meeting to another. There is no break between tasks, or in their agenda.
I used to do that too.
Today’s society, the business environment, and even our parents suggest that if we stop, we are lazy, useless, worthless and lame. Because of this, we have this constant urge to do more, so that somehow someone will notice how useful we are. Perhaps, if we do more, we will see the appreciation that we so badly desire. If we work ourselves to death, perhaps we will even be successful and hopefully, we will become popular and wanted if we do everything that is expected of us.
This can work for a while, then suddenly life throws us a curve ball, that throws us off balance and chaos takes over. We sense that something has got to change, but we don’t know where to start.
We are used to controlling everything, and the feeling of being lost is unbearable.
We immediately want rush forward and do something, just to get out of this discomfort, this no man’s land, so that we can transform our lives again to what we believe it should look like.
Even if it the best would be to stop for a while and to just do nothing.
If we could resist the urge to immediately figure out what the next task is, then we just might find this empty space, which could become the source of several new possibilities. In this void, and silence, when we retreat into ourselves, we give ourselves the chance to hear our own voice.
Perhaps, we would hear and say things that we’ve never heard or said before.
We might hear what upsets us, what makes us angry, what our real needs and our deepest desires are. In this “nothing” something new and fresh could flourish. New ideas could emerge, and it would be easier to notice the opportunities that we have no chance of seeing, while we are constantly rushing from one activity to the next.
We could reconnect with ourselves.
Back then, I had no idea, that I would become a coach. I also did not know that I would be using the Gestalt approach to coaching, just as my amazing coach did in our work together.
I did not know then, that there is a term in Gestalt for this no man’s land.
It’s called the “Fertile Void”.
According to the Gestalt philosophy, our experiences occur in cycles, which have identical stages. In a healthy system, between two cycles there is a Fertile Void, because a new cycle can only emerge from there.
In this silence, or fertile void, we create space for important thoughts, ideas, and creativity to emerge into our consciousness.
This Fertile Void, that we so badly want to avoid is our source of creativity. It appears between the end of something, and the beginning of something new.
Isn’t that beautiful?