Lead with your heart Featured

9:43am EDT July 22, 2002

If your inner voice is encouraging you to make a change, you might be holding back because of one thing — fear, says Barbara Braham, who has been a personal and business coach for more than a decade.

Making a major life change, she says, takes courage.

In her work with more than 20 people in a position of change, she’s found that the fear of uncertainty — If I make a change, will it work out? — holds many people back.

“The further we get along in our life, the more we have to lose from a financial security lifestyle position,” she says. “We hear, ‘You’ve just spent 20 years developing a career, establishing yourself in a career, getting to a point where you’re making a nice income, and you want to quote-unquote throw that all away?’”

“They say, ‘You have it all. You’ve got a great job, great title, great position, you work for a nice company, you have these financial resources, you have these perks. So it’s a little boring. You’ve only got 22 years left,’” Braham says.

Those are the outside voices, she points out. What you really ought to listen to is your own inner voice. Making a change could offer gains in the arena of personal fulfillment, personal satisfaction and really making a contribution.

“How many of us are sitting out there with a little voice and we still stay where we are? We’re retiring on the job. As soon as we get that little thought that I’ve done what I can do here, we’re no longer having new years of experience. We’re repeating the experience we’ve already had,” Braham says.

Individuals who don’t know what their passions are, Braham says, likely aren’t giving themselves the opportunity to stop and listen to the question of whether they’re happy or where they’d like to go next. Some, she says, aren’t even comfortable living with such questions.

“We always want to answer the question. Some questions are not helpful when they’re answered; they’re most helpful when they’re lived in,” Braham says. “But we get this misperception that to not have the answer is to not be bright, not be clear, not be mature. I hear people laugh and say, ‘I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.’ That’s a great question to be asking, because as we move through our life, we keep growing up.”

She offers these suggestions:

  • Allow yourself some space to incubate what’s waiting to be expressed.

    “We are in a world that wants you to know everything immediately, that tells you to operate your life based on next, next, next with no pauses in between,” she says. “When we’re ready to create the next chapter in our lives, we need to put space around it.”

    You might not be able to take a leave of absence from work to rediscover yourself, but there are easier ways to stop and listen to the inner voice, she says.

    “Take a few minutes every day to be quiet and see what shows up to you,” she says, suggesting the drive to work or 10 minutes at the end of the day for reflection. Writing in a journal also might provide some insight.

    Sometimes, that space comes whether you want it or not, as in the case of Leigh McGuigan’s layoff from her banking job.

    For many people, Braham says, transitions in life are uncomfortable, and they wish they didn’t need to make a change.

    “As painful as downsizing and merger is,” Braham says, “it’s really one of those blessings in disguise, because it really does give them a forced opportunity to go in a different direction and to go in a direction that could possibly be more authentic for them now.”

  • Explore.

    Taking time for reflection will allow you to learn more about yourself, Braham says.

    “Reflection is keeping close enough to yourself to know if what you’re doing you still enjoy, if in what you’re doing you’re still making a contribution,” she says.

    She suggests asking yourself some questions: Have I changed, or more important, How have I changed? Is the life that I’m living allowing me to express who I am now?

    “We’re not the same at 40 that we were at 20, and we’re not the same at 50 that we were at 30,” she says. “If we don’t allow ourselves moments of stopping and looking at our life to say, “How does this feel?’ we probably find ourselves with physical stress on our system or feeling unhappy.”

  • Connect.

    Assess what values are guiding you through life.

    “If my highest value is security, I’m probably not going to listen to that inner voice when it says something different,” Braham says. “I don’t want to denigrate that. If that’s the person’s highest value, then what that person should do is honor that value.”

    Look for ways to keep growing and learning within that secure place, she says.

    Braham says the first question many people ask when they’re listening to their inner voice is, “How do I make money?”

    “That’s the wrong question,” she says. “The first question is, ‘What am I interested in, what gives me juice, what makes me feel excited about getting up in the morning?’

    “What I’m actually saying is the first step is to start with your heart, and the second step is to bring in your head,” says Braham, who has written a book, “Finding Your Purpose,” to explain the things that hold people back from making major changes. She’s also written “Be Your Own Coach,” which gives people tools to guide themselves through the process of considering life changes.

    To find out more about yourself, she says, consider these questions: How have I grown? In what ways have I outgrown what I’m doing? What would I like to move toward? Where’s my growing edge? What needs expression now? Who have I become?

    Understand, Braham says, that just because your inner voice is telling you to make a change, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to change your entire career or life.

    Pay attention to little hunches.

    Say, for example, you’ve always wondered what it’s like to kayak. Try it.

    “Maybe you take the kayak trip and you know that’s a place you have a passion for and you’re going to really get serious about kayaking,” she says. “It might not become a job, but it might be that now you vacation at places where you can kayak instead of in a big city where you can go to the theater and a show and eat out at great restaurants.

    “You can honor this inner movement in lots of ways without having to change your work,” Braham says. “But when it speaks to you, I encourage people to be open to exploring that. Be open to investigating it. Be open to learning: What is this new something telling me about myself, about who I’m becoming?”

Joan Slattery Wall (jwall@sbnnet.com) is associate editor of SBN Columbus.

How to reach: Barbara Braham, www.bbraham.com, 291-0155