This timeless, intimate story delivers a profound lesson…
Once upon a time, I was a very successful senior sales executive in the fashion industry. I traveled the world, made a boatload of money and was. ahem, very important. I dined at appropriately chic restaurants, worked out at ‘The best’ club in the city, dressed perpetually as though I was going on a photo shoot, and bossed people around a lot. I was not a very nice person. In fact, I was a miserable human being and I managed to drag everyone I knew into my misery.
One day after a particularly trying trip flying from New York to Paris to Palm Beach and back to New York, I found myself sitting on the sofa in my co-op staring out the window. This was only unusual because the sofa was three years old and it was, perhaps, the fourth time I was home long enough to actually sit on it.
So there I was looking out the window when, eureka, it hit me— the view from my apartment was of a brick wall. Now, of course I, Ms Obvious, knew this when I bought the apartment but this was the first time I saw the brick wall for the message it brought me, and the symbol it was for my life. A dead end. A metaphorical stop sign. A huge wake-up call.
In that very moment, everything changed when, out of the blue, a question popped up on the monitor of my mind, like a billboard on the LA Freeway:
“How much money will they have to pay me for me to forget how much I hate my life?”
That’s not the sort of question you can pretend you didn’t ask yourself.
For the sake of brevity let’s just say that God heard me loud and clear that day: Shortly after I was smacked over the head with the question, I was unceremoniously fired from my muckety-muck position. You might not be surprised to learn that during my ’separation’ meeting, the speech bubble over my head read, “Yes! There is a God!”
Before I even left the office that day I knew, in my soul, in the very marrow of my bones, that I was forever done with fashion.
Sure, I felt rejected. My feelings were hurt. I was in shock. I was pissed off. For a long minute or two I even thought about begging and groveling for them to rehire me. Hey, don’t judge!
The following day, in a quiet moment, I came to realize that beneath my bruised ego, I was more than a little relieved; I felt lighter, more free. This company had been willing to see our mis-alignment and they did what I was unwilling to do. I don’t believe I actually thanked them at the time, so let me do that now.
Here’s when things got really interesting:
The relief that ran through me came from knowing that I could finally stop pretending to be someone I wasn’t.
I’m going to let you in on a not so little secret: Most of my adult life I’d been an imposter, inauthentic and out of integrity.
Most of my adult life I’d pretended that I was cut out for the work I was doing, and I masqueraded as an executive who deeply cared about fashion. I didn’t. Not at all. While it was fun in the beginning— glamorous, challenging and the envy of industry outsiders– the truth is that every step I climbed on that career ladder took me further and further off-purpose and away from the things I truly loved.
Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever so abandoned what gave your life value and meaning that you no longer knew who you were? If so, you’ll know how lost I felt.
There is nothing at all wrong with the fashion world: It is exciting, vibrant and interesting, and is filled with lots of smart, creative and dedicated people. It just wasn’t where I belonged and, worst of all, beneath all my rhetoric, I knew it.
To be fair, for many years my inner voice, my intuition, my God-self had been relentlessly reminding me that the path I had chosen was incongruent with the life-purpose I was born to fulfill. “What, exactly, are you doing, Nancy?” I ignored it, shooed it away, “I know, I know!” I said. Yet I stayed on.
There were many signs along the way inviting me to get clear with myself, but my ego ignored and avoided every one of them. I simply couldn’t fathom dramatically altering the course of my life 180 degrees, after having invested so much in getting as far as I had.
Even a devastating eating disorder failed to get my full attention, though it surely should have— it damn near killed me.
When I was twelve years old I arrived at some mystical understanding that my job, my calling, my mission, the very reason I was born was to help women empower themselves. It so rang of the truth, was so effortless to metabolize that I never once questioned it.
Growing up I’d dreamt of teaching women how to become leaders, even before I knew what that meant. I was excited about inspiring women to inspire one another, to become the very best version of themselves. I was committed to transforming the world into a place where women naturally assumed their power.
I just didn’t pursue any of it. Perhaps I didn’t know where to begin.
At the most fundamental level, I am feeling-focused. I’m often described as ‘Intense’ and ‘passionate,’ I abhor the nonsense that accompanies cocktail chatter, and when I ask you how you are, I really want to know.
How you feel, what makes you tick from deep in your soul, and how you express that in the world has always been more important to me than the hemline on your skirt, the fabric on your blouse or the height of your heels. From the time I can remember, I was the go-to person for all my friends and colleagues who needed an emotional sounding board, wanted to work through a problem or needed a new perspective on their lives. Yet there I was in an industry focused on how things looked, NOT how they felt. Go figure!
If I knew nothing else when I was fired, I knew this: I was not following my unique path and living my divine purpose.
Here’s the scoop: If you are blissfully unaware that you even have a purpose, never mind that you’re not living it, then the Universe will seemingly grant you much grace. If, on the other hand, you know you’re off purpose, if you know you’re walking someone else’s path instead of your own, if you know you’re occupying a job that belongs to another and you willingly ignore or avoid that truth…. well, good luck, because then all bets are off.
So what did I do, you may be wondering?
I pulled a do-over card. You can too!
I spent the next thirteen months sifting through the emotional debris of the last twenty years of my life. I took lots of walks, exercised, learned to meditate, took classes on how to access my intuition at will, and changed up my mindset by reading personal growth books and attending transformative retreats. Know about EST? Then you’ve got the picture!
You could say I became a student of my own life. All this self-exploration led me to enroll with my first coach, and introduced me to what was then an almost unheard of new psychology-like field called coaching. Game-changer.
Larry preceded me in coaching with several years already under his belt. He taught me much of what I needed to know, delivering a transformative cocktail of counseling, consulting and spiritual practice. For the first time in my life I felt like I’d come home, and I knew I’d finally found my niche.
I would be a coach for women.
So new was the field of coaching that people assumed that I wanted to coach Little League when I told them of the direction of my career. Yes, it was that long ago.
Lest you think I was fearless, the constant in my life was the vacillation between paralyzing anxiety for the unknown, and elation at the prospect of a new future of my own design. Scared? You bet! I had absolutely no idea who I was without a corporate job, an impressive little title and a steady cushy paycheck. I was about to find out.
When the timing felt right, I packed up my co-op and relocated to the other coast, wish list in hand.
- House on the beach. Check.
- Golden Retriever puppy. Check.
- New boyfriend. Check.
- Enroll in Graduate School. Check.
Arriving on the other side of the country, I decided to earn a Masters in Psychology, which mapped closest to what I’d be doing as a coach. It would be many years before any coaching certifications would be available, but no one knew that back then in the Jurassic Period, as my teenage son likes to remind me. In the meantime, I knew I needed a framework for my endeavors and although I had little desire to be a therapist, I was sure this line of education would provide me with some essential skills and tools. It did.
Fast forward to today. I have now coached and trained thousands of women. I have keynoted in front of thousands and thousands more. I have loved almost every minute of it.
No, it has not been easy- nothing worthwhile is. Going from VP of Sales to entrepreneur has been an enormous stretch, which I have often felt incapable of making. I have failed far more than I have succeeded, and I have succeeded more than I imagined I could. Switching my focus from outside-in to inside-out has been equally challenging. I still struggle with that on the days I question whether “I’m enough”. (For those of you who are afflicted with this ‘thinking disease’, you know what I mean).
But knowing that I’m doing what I came here to do, that I’m using my unique personal operating system to make the difference I came here to make, is more valuable than words could possibly explain. If you’ve ever been off-purpose in your work, know that you are not alone.
I want to end this story providing you with some tools you can use in your life; tools that will help you determine if you are on purpose. As is my style, these tools come to you in the form of a question. Over time I have learned that a good question beats the hell out of an excellent answer.
All you need to do is ask yourself each question, and sit quietly while the answer appears. If insight doesn’t happen right away, don’t worry, don’t be anxious and don’t be afraid. Sometimes the answers will come to you when your focus is elsewhere; when you’re in the shower, taking a walk, playing with your dog. If you’re open and willing to be authentic with yourself the answer will come. I promise.
NOTE: The most valuable questions are the ones you absolutely, positively do not want to know the answers to. No, I’m not kidding.
- Why do you do the work you do?
- Is there some other work that’s calling you?
- Do you know your life-purpose? If not, are your curious to discover what it is?
- If you were fired tomorrow, and you couldn’t get another job, what would you do?
- What impact are you making at work and in your life?
- Do you do what you love to do about 80% of the time in your job?
REMEMBER THIS: It is never too late to do what you came here to do.
I would love to know how my story landed with you. Were any of my experiences similar to yours? How did you handle it? What changed you? Your thoughts matter to me! Thank you!
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Be sure to look for next week’s article, where I take on the topic of how your spirituality impacts your work: 4 Terrific Things That Happen When You Take God To Work