We’ve all been there; questioning our career path and calling, desperate for direction and meaning, wanting to find work that we love. But when you keep avoiding the person you really are, you create a ripple effect in your life. Your relationships suffer, your finances may suffer, and most importantly your health may suffer.
Ironically, pursuing a career as a health coach began to take a toll on my health.
There are many reasons why we avoid stepping into the roles we were born to fulfill but I believe there are 5 main reasons why you and I overlook or even avoid our calling.
1. We rationalize a safe option
I remember where I was the moment I decided to go back to school to get certified in Holistic Nutrition. I had just watched an inspiring health documentary for the seventh time and was convinced that I had to become a health coach.
After all, I had worked in the Whole Body department in Whole Foods for years and fell in love with helping people find the supplements, skin care, and healthy food they needed to improve their lives. I helped so many different kinds of people and was hopeful that someday I would find my way out of the grocery store and into a more reputable line of work. I wanted to find a career where I could put to use all that I had learned while working in the wellness industry. Or so I thought. Like a lot of people my age who are unclear about their future, I decided to go back to school.
Honestly, I wasn’t sure how I would make a living off of my art so I looked to something seemingly more secure, which in my case was more education despite the fact that I had just graduated from college.
But I never stopped to evaluate what I really wanted to do deep down in my gut. Ironically, months before deciding to return to school for nutrition I had begun secretly writing a business plan for a small boutique because I had been somewhat successful selling thrifted clothing on Etsy.
It was right there from the beginning; right under my nose. Two paths. One subtle and more intimidating path. And another path more obvious, clearly laid out, and “secure”.
Ignored the things that came naturally to me like photography, styling, and curating I tossed art aside because it felt “too” easy. And I leapt headlong into something that I believed was sure to make me into a respectable career woman.
2. We’re gifted in many areas and get stuck
I love being healthy. I like reading about health and wellness, holistic remedies and pointing my friends and family to the best resources, experts, and products. That doesn’t mean that I’m best suited to be a health coach. I’m good at health coaching by some people’s standards.
However, you and I aren’t just gifted in one area; we’re gifted in many. Usually we come with lots of different talents, passions, and skill sets that can be used very well across many industries. That’s a good thing. But it can confuse you if you’re not careful.
I was good at helping people. I was so good at my job at Whole Foods that I thought that’s what had missing all those years while in art school. I like serving people, I love connecting with them, listening to them, and encouraging them. I care about their wellbeing and happiness. People needed health advice so to help people, I got knowledgeable about health.
Not a bad thing. And for a while, an intensely rewarding thing. But was it really “me”?
3. We’re trying to do more “noble” work
From the very moment I started my training I would vacillate back and forth between style and art, and health and wellness.
The more I wrestled with these feelings the more confused I felt. I’d go all in on health coaching for a while and feel like things were moving forward. I’d promote a talk about the danger of sugar and have a private meltdown because I felt like a fraud.
I reasoned that because I’m gifted at teaching and certified in nutrition, I should keep doing this work even though I was emotionally and physically drained by it.
It doesn’t matter how well you put on a facade, it takes a lot of energy to pretend being comfortable. And I was not comfortable. Not for much of it.
For over 3 and half years I had a monthly cooking segment on my local TV station. I loved connecting with the hosts and getting to know them and I loved picking out my outfits, and styling the set with my beautiful table cloth and flowers. But I hated trying to write the recipe and time everything perfectly in my head to prepare a meal on live television. It was utterly nerve wracking. But I’m a professional and believed that because I had a worked hard to get certified, worked hard to earn the trust of my clients, and worked hard to get the chance to be on TV that I had to keep doing this.
I thought if I chose to focus on selling clothes on Etsy, cleaning out my clients closets, or styling photo shoots people would think I was giving up and hate me.
I genuinely believed that all my clients could tell how scared I was inside, how hard I was trying to please them and help them. It was painful for me and painful for the people around me like my parents and husband who would have to talk me off the ledge every time I doubted the care I had given to a client. I never knew if what I was doing was actually helping them. And it wasn’t until I got my first closet clean out client that I knew I had been working too hard to fit my square self into a round career.
After that first closet clean out, which I did for free, I felt like a million bucks. I left, what would later become my best friend’s house, on cloud nine knowing without a shadow of a doubt that I helped her. I knew in my heart and gut that I had made a difference in her life.
But I still didn’t think it was as valid as health coaching, because when compared on the surface it’s clear that health is more valuable than clothing.
4. We’re afraid to be who we really are
I keep hearing this saying that people are more afraid of public speaking than they are of death. This isn’t true.
People talk in public and in group settings all the time. What people are really saying is that they’re afraid of being totally alone and vulnerable with nothing to hide behind and being rejected for who they really are.
“I’m up there all alone and if I fail I’ll have nowhere to hide!”, we think to ourselves.
That’s why all these TV talent shows are so compelling. We love to see people get up there and risk it all to win the approval of a room full of fellow flawed and fallible human beings. It’s so rewarding and we can’t help but imagine ourselves in their shoes, putting our most authentic voices out there and being accepted. But what happens in our daily lives is that we have many places to hide behind. Family, friends, bills, kids, appointments, and cell phones are wonderful distractions to our inner voice calling us in the direction of our deepest longings. By using these things as distractions we can get away with not being true to who we really are and what we’re really capable of.
It’s not that healthy living isn’t true to me, it’s just a small part of who I am. I can tell you what vitamins to take all day long, but when we’re talking about vitamins and I learn that you have more going on than a vitamin can fix, I get very nervous.
At this point in a career you’d naturally be asking yourself, “Do I get more training and tighten up my skill set to better serve this person or do I face the thing I’m most afraid of facing and cut my losses?”
5. We’re holding on to “sunk costs”
That’s the thing about switching horses in midstream, it’s dangerous to our egos. We may look less professional, put together, or confident. But that’s ok. As Chris Guillebeau points out in his book Born For This, “there’s almost nothing you can’t recover from career wise.”
Yet many of us, myself included would rather hold on to delusion until it kills us.
One of the members of a group coaching program I’m in pointed out what I was doing. He said, “We have a term in accounting called sunk cost. What you’re doing is trying to avoid losing what you already have invested.”
“What you need to do,” he said, “is suck it up, move on and don’t look back.”
So this is where I am. For the first time in 6 years I’m setting aside my ego and role of health coach to step into the person I really know I am: an artist.
My mentor, Jeff, messaged me a few weeks ago with a video of director Kevin Smith talking about the process of making his first film Clerks. In the interview he explains that though the first screening of the film bombed, it didn’t matter. He loved who he was when he was making the movie. Success wasn’t his metric. Love was.
Without Kevin’s knowledge at the time, Clerks would go on to become a cult classic which would launch his decades long career. Turns out the hard work and risk of creating art that he loved paid off.
Jeff asked me, “So what are you doing when you most love who you are?”
For me, it’s making art. It’s helping people. It’s style, fashion, beauty, and simplicity. It’s encouraging people to embrace living a simple yet beautiful life. Every time I would play over in the art sandbox, my anxiety would lift, my step would regain its pep, and my health would improve. It’s like my body knew that I was happier in that role.
I just had to get to the point where I was willing to let go, suck it up, and move on.
Almost as if by clockwork, doing this opened the door to signing a closet clean out client that is willing to invest in her simple, beautiful dream. I accepted my losses, opened the door to what I really wanted, and saw that a career and calling to help and inspire people was waiting on the other side.