This post is modified from www.surflifecoaching.com/
What’s your lie? I asked this question to a recent client of mine who was feeling very stuck with what she wanted to do regarding a major life decision. She couldn’t answer me on the spot, she needed time to think. But I have a lie…let me tell you about it.
For 11 years, I worked to build a non-profit organization in service of helping immigrant and refugee women start their own businesses. They faced systemic challenges in getting their businesses up and running – mostly due to language and economic barriers. In 2010, I took a sabbatical from my organization to recover from burnout and to figure out what was next for me. I was relatively free of stress during my sabbatical; it gave me the opportunity to really experience life in a way I had never been able to in my adult career and to realign my passions with my work.
What became clear to me was my commitment and support of women’s empowerment. I also valued freedom and independence greatly. (Yes, I was the type of kid who would look at our shed outside my suburban NJ home and wish I could live in it by myself.) I wanted to empower and work with women, regardless of whether or not they were immigrants. When I came back from sabbatical, I realized my lie was deep inside, I was not the one who should be running this organization. I knew it should be led by the people it sought to serve – by fellow immigrant women in the community. Only they really knew and understood their circumstances and challenges and could organize and represent themselves in a way where they shared power and were the ones making change.
We had developed an innovative curriculum in the process, and I believed that could be spearheaded independently of the organization by a motivated entrepreneur who could take it to the next level. At first, I thought that entrepreneur was me but, on further reflection, the thought of raising capital and driving forward another start-up – which would take everything I had – made me cringe.
This realization only came to me after stepping away from what I was doing and giving myself a break. I actually had no idea about the amount of financial stress I had been under all those years running the organization. Don’t get me wrong; we did AWESOME work. The team was even more AWESOME, and our clients – amazing.
When I started working with low-income women entrepreneurs and was thinking of starting the organization, an early donor – herself an immigrant – suggested to focus on immigrant women. She hadn’t seen anything substantial being done for the community in this respect. In some way, it had felt as if I had been partially carrying someone else’s agenda all these years and not been feeling my full authenticity. There were elements I felt I owned, but in the spirit of a non-profit, at the end of the day, I worked on behalf of the interests of donors and institutional funders. I never felt stuck, per se, but the year upon returning from my sabbatical, I knew it was time for a change. I acknowledged my “lie” and what the right decision for the organization was.
Being clear with myself on what I really wanted to do was key. It took time and space to figure this out but, when I finally did, everything seemed to flow like a river. No more getting sick. No more stress. No more feeling like I was pushing a boulder up a hill. I could just flow, knowing I was on a path to live my truth: to work one-on-one with successful women and leaders, in service of their personal and professional transformations, and guide them in using their success to have a positive social impact on individuals and the planet. While all these years I had dedicated myself to working on behalf of women with few resources, I knew my calling was to work with women who had the resources to give back.
Sometimes we do good work, and it is not exactly the path that we know will most fulfill us. Sometimes we do work that sucks the life out of us. It’s what Greg Levoy, author of Callings calls a “parallel path”. It’s like the dancer who becomes the dance critic or the novelist who instead ends up in journalism. Don’t get me wrong; sometimes parallel paths are very necessary. But what is your “truth” that keeps popping up? What are you hiding from? What parallel paths do you keep creating for yourself to avoid your real path? Give yourself space and time to reflect. If you don’t, you will feel stuck, unmotivated, and even sad.
I was fortunate to have the time and space to figure this out. I was able to explore and make so many different discoveries about my next steps. If you cannot make physical space or take time off, it’s critical to make mental space. Keeping a journal and adding a self-reflective process to your regime will help immensely with this.
So what’s your “lie”? Really mull it over. See what comes to you. You may be surprised at what pops up and how this bit of information can help ignite momentum for your next big leap, whether it’s a career change or new business idea. The other way to explore this (also great advice from Greg Levoy) is to have someone ask you over and over: “What do you KNOW to be true?” Have them keep asking it and see what it uncovers in you.
Farhana Huq is an award-winning social entrepreneur, executive coach, and founder of several globally conscious ventures including Brown Girl Surf. You can find out more about her at www.surflifecoaching.com.