The Job of Your Life with Karen Schaffer

Get out of your rut and find your passion

Archive for September, 2009

Spaciousness or Just Drifting?

Posted by Karen on September 8, 2009

(Shout out Renata and thanks for waiting for this one!)

So I’ve spent my summer (supposedly) working on this wonderful question from a “Job of Your Life” reader, who, in engaging with the new step of Spaciousness asked “How do I know if I’m being spacious or if I’m just drifting?”

Because that’s the concern, isn’t it?

In The Job of Your Life I’ve outlined the idea of Spaciousness – of allowing things to occur inside of a structured inquiry – which sounds really meaningful and important. But then you could just as easily be calling it “Spaciousness” when what you’re really doing is avoiding the decision or maintaining the status quo with a great excuse or drifting along thinking you’re getting somewhere but really just fooling yourself.

And really, in our chaotic world of “go, go, GO!” it does seem self-indulgent and new-agey to “just go with the flow” or that’s how it feels maybe when we’re trying to explain to people about our lack of perceivable action. And if it’s hard for other people to tell if we’re being “spacious” or just being “drifters”, it can be even harder to tell ourselves, since in this area of career exploration I find that people often feel like they’ve lost their proverbial mojo anyway – that inner sense of knowing that you’re going in the right direction.

Ironically the very reason WHY you’re career exploring is exactly why you feel so confused; you’re looking for a new direction you’ve never considered before.

That’s also why you can feel pretty vulnerable to the vagueness of the process, the wondering “Am I getting it right?” and the sense that other people would be doing a lot more fancy action steps. Plus we really don’t value spaciousness, ever. Our world has become so instantaneous and responsive, we have problems understanding why someone can’t “just get it together already” and make a choice. So measured by that standard, we get very unforgiving of ourselves if there’s any sense that we’re not in constant motion.

So here’s a way of evaluating whether it’s drifting or spaciousness:

1. A Created and Stated Intention: When you move into spaciousness, do so with intention. That mean, be clear on your outcome (not rigidly but with some specificity) such as “I allow new ideas and opportunities into my working life. I stay open to when these new ideas and opportunities arise”. Intentions are the structure, the silent backbone – it allows you to become spacious and allowing “with purpose”. If you want to know more about the power of intention, check out/read The Intention Experiment. It will scientifically both prove my point and blow your mind.

2. Follows an Intense Period of Breakthroughs: Spaciousness is often required if you’ve been doing some deep inner work. That takes time for your system to process. It may be that other, unexpected things came up, things you didn’t expect to be related to career. It may be you saw new things about how you relate to work, or your self-identity, or made progress in your personal self-development. Following the natural ebb and flow, this means letting things settle before leaping into the next stage.

3. Continued Personal Work: Spaciousness can still mean that you’re working with a coach or doing other kinds of personal work. I do notice that there are times that clients step away from regular meetings with me and need a few weeks or months to process what we’ve worked on. Or they may find an alternative form of therapy or personal work that they resonate with and want to do work with that for a while – this might require some spaciousness.

4. Keeping in Touch with Your Needs: Learning how to listen to yourself is one of the first hurdles of an inner exploration. If you know how to tune into yourself and when you tune in you are clear that you still need space – take it. Your mind might get impatient (mine always does) but I soothe it by showing it the undeniable truth – I’m not ready and I won’t be ready until I’m ready. And there’s no sense trying to hurry it.

5. Other Things Are Happening: Often we get impatient with ourselves at the weirdest times – like when you’ve had a big breakup or you’ve moved or you just had a kid (that goes for Dads too) or lost someone close to you. Everyone else is like “slow down, take it easy” but we try and crack our inner whip on the career thing, like that’s going to make a difference. I think we just have a deep human desire for emotional events not to touch or change us and so we reach out to things that we feel like we can control, like career decisions, even if it’s more appropriate that we spend time processing or getting through what we need to get through in the moment. If your moment is demanding your attention elsewhere, give it in trust. You can always check in with yourself if the demands continue to keep you away from your career exploration.

6. You Feel Engaged Even If You’re Not in Action: I always associate this one with writing. I have books in me that I don’t yet have time to write, but when I check in, they are there, waiting for me to be ready. I don’t feel like I avoid them; I feel like they are a delicious thing in my future that will flower at the right time (pardon the mixing of metaphors – I suppose you can eat a flower but maybe it won’t be delicious). If you check in on your feelings about the career exploration, and you feel positive about it – that some part of you is engaged, feeling like this change will be good and it’s coming – you’re likely in spaciousness.

7. You Get Unexpected Breakthroughs or Synchronistic Events: Spaciousness is the opportunity for your subconscious to process all the learning you’re doing about yourself and the possibilities and opportunities that might fit you. So you can be in a period of spaciousness and suddenly get a new insight, apparently out of nowhere, or get into a great conversation with a woman at the dentist’s office, or hear a program on the radio that seems like it’s speaking to you, even if nothing else seems to be happening. These are signs, also called termed God Winks and other various names, that let you know you’re still on the playing field even if you don’t feel geared up and carrying the ball (see…there go those metaphors again).

8. Ask Yourself – You Know the Truth Without This List Anyway: We have a deep knowing as human beings if we are doing something for the “right” or the “wrong” reasons – we just keep ourselves from knowing that truth by keeping ourselves busy and on the surface of our minds. If you have the courage to look inside deeply, you’ll know if you’re creating spaciousness or if you’re merely using the idea to keep you stuck.

It’s totally natural to doubt yourself, particularly when nothing seems to be happening on the surface. Spaciousness is the ultimate practice in trusting yourself – and trusting the Universe – that all will happen in right timing. Your insights are happening deep below the surface. Your job is coming. Stay peaceful. Stay connected.

All is right with the world.

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Life Can Change In A Moment

Posted by Karen on September 4, 2009

If you’ve been following the Bryant case in Toronto, Judith Timson of the Globe and Mail wrote an excellent article analysing how perceptions keep changing as we learn more about each man on that tragic night. She concludes with a great point:

How frustrating that we will have to wait at least until mid-October to know the end of this sad tale, that in the meantime we will have to deal with more ambiguity and nuance, with not knowing which details matter and which are just the easy ways we have come to typecast our heroes and villains – not to mention voice our own frustrations. We may finally have to acknowledge that notwithstanding a Harvard degree or an alcohol problem, both of these human beings gave in to the wrong emotion at the wrong time. Yet of course only one lost his life.

Told that way, we are left with no clear villain – only colossal misjudgment in a human tragedy that reminds us what we don’t want to think too closely about, lest it happen to us: Our lives are completely hostage to human frailty. That isn’t the satisfying moral conclusion we want to draw from this story. But it’s the one we’ve got“.

I have also been fascinated by this case and for the reason Timson identifies, which is that in a flash of anger or fear or upset we can make terrible decisions that can impact us for the rest of our lives – or cause our deaths. I think what makes the story a “hard-to-look-away” story is that by the grace of god goes all of us – one bad decision, one temperamental moment and it’s over. And in this case, that goes for both men. No matter what the end result, each of them made bad decisions that compounded into tragedy.

How do we stay grounded when our tempers are flaring? How do we walk away from an ego moment? How do we know when it’s best to let go, even if it means the other guy might get the upper hand?

A Life Changing Moment

The practice of what Landmark Education calls “getting unhooked” and all spiritual practices talk about in some form or other is the practice of being able to “let go” right when Ego has us in its grip. The practice of ego detachment has to start long before the penultimate confrontation. It’s a daily practice of letting go in the moment…letting go of being right, letting go of being understood, letting go of the outer world asserting that we’re okay.

I have a really extraordinarily calm relationship with my husband, which I credit to our mutual practice of being able to let go of anger and upset within moments and quickly moving to communication and resolution. . And it helps that we both do it…over time we have come to trust that letting go on one side will lead to the other person letting go as well.

The ability to let go in the moment after an upset didn’t come for me all at once though. I was practicing that skill long before I met him in ways big and small – with everyone from family members to the person who cut in front of me in line. It’s a commitment to peace. Inner peace. It  didn’t come easily and I failed often. But little by little I got stronger in it, where an upset didn’t have to last days or even hours, but I could work through in the moment what had triggered me, why I wanted to react and get to a place of being able to share that without making the other person the enemy.

I haven’t always been successful. Who is? It’s hard to do when you’re tired or vulnerable or full up from other emotional situations. It’s hard to do if you have an unsafe history with the other person. It’s hard to do when a stranger is screaming in your face, because you’ve never built up trust with that person and have to trust in yourself to create it in that moment. But the way is always there and it’s practice that gets us there faster.

It’s not about giving up your ground.

On the contrary it’s about honouring the other person’s ground and then sharing your perspective. If you’re yelling your “perspective” at someone or you’re trying to getting across to them while you’ve got them in a headlock, it’s probably not going to get through. It would take the Dalai Lama to peer out from under your arm and say “You must be really upset I took your special cupcake from the fridge. I apologize for depriving you and I want you to know I did it out of extreme hunger”.

But if you practice letting go, of calming down, of not allowing that flash of anger and hurt to create your reality but to acknowledge and then step away from the feeling and look for another path that would honour you both, that is where inner strength and inner peace is created.

And it’s that very inner certainty that will hold you stable in a chaotic world, and keep the people around you – the ones you know and the ones you don’t – safe from harm, no matter how they behave.

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