Greatness Big and Small

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Since stepping away from my career as an executive in January, I’ve sought space and quiet to listen for insight about what might be next for me. I know that slowing down, nurturing my creativity and focusing on building habits of self-care are essential to that process. I have listened to my brain and mind for most of my life, and they have served me well. This gap year was intended to develop a more heart-centered approach to my life and work.

Round about August I got a little panicky about the future. I had been exploring the idea of enrolling in a life coach training program, and was as excited about the journey of discovery I’d be on as I was the picture of myself at the helm of a coaching business. Coaching has always been an interest, and I currently work with a few people. But suddenly I felt urgency about deciding on the training, and figuring out what was next. Part of the pressure was the deadline for the upcoming training session, but I knew that a fair amount of the urgency came from an untended well of questions about identity and purpose.

The idea of setting myself on a path to be a life coach – something I feel naturally and experientially inclined toward – answered so many of those questions. But the urgency was self-inflicted, a response to the discomfort of the untethered, highly disrupted, and confusing sort of year it has been. I realized (doh!) that the training and a coaching and consulting business would still be there for me if I decided I wanted it after listening to my heart rather than my brain (and the many shoulds that live there!).

I learned a valuable insight several years ago from a woman I took an art class with. We chatted one evening about navigating one’s path in the world, and she said the man who was coaching her told her to “listen to your inner voice” for guidance. She told him that she had many voices in her head, and asked how she would know which one to listen to… “That’s easy,” he replied, “listen to the one that’s kind. The voice that is kind and gentle is your true inner voice.” The loud, stringent voices are hard to ignore, and while even the harshest internal critic is trying to keep me safe, the methods are outdated and not useful to me anymore. I have to get very quiet to hear the kind voice, the one that knows my wants and needs better than I (consciously) do.

In all this sorting through “what to do next,” I have toggled back and forth between thoughts of doing great things in a small way – like working with individuals or consulting with small businesses or non-profits – or doing great things in a big way, like joining an organization with audacious goals and the potential to change the world, or at least a corner of it. The constant is my aspiration to do great things, which I define as making a difference, having integrity and high standards for myself and others. I want to continue to make a difference in the world, and I know that I can do so any number of ways.  My assumption has been that I while I’d be willing to work with large organizations, I wasn’t inclined to do so from inside the organization but rather as a consultant.

So I found myself surprised by my enthusiasm late last week when a friend forwarded a job description for a big job at an organization with audacious goals. Not at all the picture I had when I left my career in January, but one so aligned with my values, my experience and my aspirations, I am compelled. And watching my thoughts and feelings scramble about as I contemplated the role and putting my name in for consideration was an instructive adventure in itself.

I was drawn to the role, obviously, and recognized the “juice” of ambition the job description sparked in me. I realized that this would be an “all in” role, and likely wouldn’t allow me a flexible or reduced schedule, but that would be offset by the learning, the adventure, and the amazing potential of the role. I also entertained a litany of “not good enough” thoughts so common among us. I realized I wasn’t afraid of rejection per se — I have been seasoned by a career with many rejections, or as I have come to think of them, re-directions to something better. My core fear was being mocked for thinking I could compete, for having the hubris to raise to my hand.

But raise my hand I will. I’ll forward my interest and resume by tomorrow, and see what happens. If offered a chance to meet, I will be enthusiastic about the ways I can lead and contribute to the organization. I’ll be prepared to adjust to a future I hadn’t envisioned but would be excited about. If not, I have learned still more about myself: what calls to me, the ways I want to contribute to the world, and the many ways, big and small, I can be and do great things.

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