There is something I wish somebody told me a long time ago. It is a simple and logical common sense thing. Yet, the epiphany evaded me for 15 years until it arrived, unannounced, as I stood next to the hand soap at Countdown.
What occurred to me was this:
The unwanted aspects of our career are excellent indicators of what we do want. Often, the moments that cause the most anguish teach us about what we truly desire and set up new pathways in our brain that didn’t exist before.
I’m a neuroscientist, but it isn’t rocket science is it…
Yet so many of us have stayed in careers that don’t fulfil us for far too long, because it never occurred to us that there could be so much more. All too often we have settled for work that doesn’t excite us because we believe that is life. We become trapped by our own mindset.
I once read a great description of a thought pathway in the brain. The writer likened the neurons to a string of Christmas lights. Each time you think a repeating thought, this string lights up. The more you think a thought, the brighter the lights shine. Over long periods of time, these strings of lights become whole networks lit up like your tree on Christmas morning.
Imagine, if we continue to think a thought like “I hate being tied to this desk, but I have no options” or “I wish I had done a different degree, I will never earn more money than I am on now.” Each time we think this way, the string of lights in our brain associated with this thought brightens and the network builds. With time, these thoughts become strong beliefs buried in our subconscious mind. From now on, we are operating with a filter over our eyes. Our brain will gather evidence to support this negative belief and disregard evidence to the contrary. It’s kind of a glitch in an otherwise sophisticated system.
The good thing about these unwanted aspects of our career, is that they provide an opportunity for us to get to know ourselves better, and a chance for us to modify our thinking.
How could we possibly know what we like to do with our time without experiencing its painful opposite. Or more importantly, how could we truly appreciate receiving what we want, without first knowing the discomfort of its absence.
To truly appreciate job flexibility, we must first experience rigidity. To discover that we are a big-picture thinker, we usually find ourselves stuck with mindless and repetitive daily tasks. The unwanted in our careers reveals to us our strengths and preferences, allowing us to step in the other direction.
By focusing on what we want, rather than what we don’t want in our careers, we create a new group of neurons in our brain that didn’t exist before. And this little group of neurons will start to burn brighter with every thought. Better yet, they will start to subconsciously look for careers that match our identified wants and needs.
All of a sudden the filter changes. Our brain is scanning our environment for opportunities to support this new belief system.
So how did the unwanted help me?
When I looked at some of the less-desirable aspects of my career, there was a theme. Most of what I didn’t like about a job – being micromanaged; having to be locked in to a work day with inflexible hours; somebody else telling me when I can take breaks. These things made me feel owned by others and I struggled with feeling as though I did not have freedom, or choice. But I also learned that I thrive when given responsibility, trust and a flexible work day based more on my performance, than set hours.
It was this insight that revealed something amazing. Deep down inside me lies a potential entrepreneur. Because all the unwanted in my career has shown me that I am built to be my own boss. I have been training myself with leadership qualities that I never knew I had within me.
The unwanted that we deem so terrible, is actually a powerful tool, trying to show us what lies in store for us, if we will only listen to the message.
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