Finding the Real You

It’s never too late to be who you might have been” George Eliot

Recently I’ve been spending time exploring ways to access those securely smothered career dreams that we all have but rarely acknowledge, except when dawdling over a glass of wine on holiday.  Then we feel relaxed enough to play the game of “what did you want to be when you grew up?”  When we head back to our “real” lives we sensibly file away those dreams, dismissing them as childish, unrealistic and not at all suitable for a sensible adult with responsibilities.

I have good news for you.  The truth is that you haven’t stopped growing yet.  It’s true that you have worked hard to create your place in the world, a place that feels comfortable and recognisable.  In fact so comfortable that you may think that it is a world that is impossible to leave.  My friend – it isn’t.

How do I know?  Because many people are catapaulted out of their safe worlds every single day – by illness, by redundancy, by marriage breakdown, by disabling accidents and by the death of loved ones.  That’s when they learn that their safe world is just an illusion, that the rug can be pulled from under their feet at any time.  I know because it happened to me; in 2005 my 20 year long marriage broke down  and in 2007 I was diagnosed with breast cancer – I felt that I’d spent my whole life playing a game where I thought I knew the rules, only to see those rules smashed to the ground.

But, you know what?  Like many many other people have discovered, having your life fragment into pieces gives you the opportunity to re-build it in a new way, to create a new life – and yes, a better one.

So my message to you is that you CAN change your life but you need to choose to do so.  Don’t wait for a tragedy to force change upon you.  Instead see it as a playful project, where you can let go of assumptions about yourself and explore those hidden aspects of your character.

If you don’t believe me, I’d like you to try this one tiny step.  Think of a dream that you’ve had and never fulfilled – be it to play guitar, be an artist, write a book, sail a boat, live abroad or run your own business.  Open your computer and search for a tiny step that you could commit to right now to playfully explore that dream.  You could book on an evening class, start a blog, join a club, even just buy a book or subscribe to a magazine.

This weekend I spent two days making jewellery on a silversmithing course.  It cost me less than £200 and two days of my time.  But the reward has been immense as I’ve finally unwrapped one of my dreams, brought it into the sunlight, turned it over and allowed it to live and breathe.  Will I now become a silversmith? I don’t know and it doesn’t matter – I’ve opened my mind to the possibility.

So dare to ignore that inner voice that tells you it’s unrealistic, invite your dreams out into the open, explore the real you and remember – you’re not a grown up yet.

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Childhood Sweethearts or a Doomed Romance? You and your professional identity

Professionals may enter their jobs with ideal and sometimes unrealistic expectations; a ‘romantic image’ developed due to the perceived prestige that society attaches to professional jobs (Lait and Wallace, 2002)

If you were a bright child, did well at school and were always praised for your successes, perhaps it was inevitable that you chose a career where you would continue to be appreciated for using your brain.  Choosing your career was perhaps simply a matching of certain aptitudes against tasks to be delivered; you were capable of passing the exams, so you did.

Little did you know that you were laying the foundation of your very identity – for your future self.

Instead it is easy to become hooked by the status, earnings and meeting parental and societal expectations.  No doubt you initially found work engaging, inspiring and, on many levels, deeply satisfying.  And, when you didn’t, it was easy to move on; every move seeming to offer both the answer to your doubts – and more money.

But after many years as a successful professional, a creeping and then galloping sense of purposelessness emerges in the work that you do.  Initially you manage to keep convincing yourself that what you are doing in your work is of value and important to you.   But eventually you cannot deny the gradual stirring of revolt against your chosen path.

You have to face the horrifying idea that your work increasingly means nothing at all.  Is it time for a break-up?