If you’re not mindful of the direction your life is headed, you might end up somewhere you’re unhappy with. Be deliberate and intentional about where you’re headed. Answer this set of four questions to get a better sense of your direction.
We all face crossroads moments in our lives and careers, those times when we feel compelled to change direction. Those choice points most often arise because we feel inspired to embark on a new adventure or we’re desperate to change the situation we’re in. One of my biggest choice points came seventeen years ago, when I realized that if I didn’t change the bus I was riding on, I might not even be around to have a life and a career.
At the time, I was in my late thirties. I was running my own coaching and consulting practice, starting a new women’s leadership company, and I was going to graduate school, consistently working seventy to eighty weeks. I was employed as a consultant on a change management project for a division of Fortune 500 Company, partnering with a Vice President named Ellen to help to “humanize” her organization. Ellen and I had developed a close friendship over the two years we’d worked together on the project. She’d become a corporate mentor to me and I, an informal coach to her.
One day in late September, Ellen and I met for lunch. She was reeling from her performance review earlier that morning that hadn’t gone well. Working 24/7 with little support, Ellen had single-handedly attempted to change the culture of her organization. Her efforts threatened her boss and some of the senior leadership team as their hierarchical and dictatorial approach to power was exposed and beginning to break down.
I’d never seen Ellen look so hopeless or physically drained. She was sweating profusely and was having a difficult time focusing on our conversation. Led by my concern for her well-being, I told Ellen how concerned I was about her health, then proceeded to tear a piece of paper off the top of the tablecloth and wrote, “Rx for Ellen. Take 3 days off, leave your cell phone at home, and go to a monastery and rest.” Ellen read the note, wadded up the paper, shoved it her purse and said, “Stop worrying about me, Donna, I’m fine! I don’t want to discuss this anymore!”
I paid the check and we said goodbye. Although I knew something was terribly wrong, I had no idea it would be the last conversation I’d ever have with Ellen. I received a call on Monday morning that her husband had come home on the night following our lunch, and found her dead in their hot tub, presumably from a stroke.
Ellen’s early death at age 50 rattled me to my core. At the time she passed away, I was beginning to experience the symptoms of a chronic illness that would sideline me from work for more than two years. Two months after Ellen’s death, she visited me in a dream. In the dream, I was standing on a street corner and a bus was passing by me on the street. Ellen was standing on the bus cursing at the bus driver to let her off. The bus driver yelled back, “Lady this is your bus. It’s too late now. You can’t get off!”
Dressed in a pink wool suit in stiletto heels with a glass of wine in one hand and a cigarette in the other, Ellen yelled a stern warning, “Donna, be careful which bus you get on!” Her words put me on notice that is was time to change my life if I didn’t want to follow in her footsteps. She was trying to save my life.
Over the next two years, mostly bedridden by my illness, I had lots of time to think about the kind of life and career I wanted to lead. I had to choose whose voice I wanted to follow, my own or that of others’ expectations. I made a decision that I wanted to work fewer hours, live a more balanced life, and if I recovered, help leaders unleash their potential to thrive from a place of authenticity and choice. But first, I had to awaken from my own cultural trance that said success is based solely on how much money you make, how busy you are, or how much you accomplish. I had to make a conscious choice about which bus was the right one for me.
My decision was forged by desperation. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Inspiration is also a powerful motivator. It’s never too late to take the big adventure to choose the right path for your life and career. Here are a few questions to help you decide which bus you want to take. I hope you’ll choose the bus to thriving, because the world needs you and your gifts.
1. Take some time to reflect on the bus you’ve been riding up to this point in your life and career. Is this the bus you chose, or did you land on this particular bus by accident?
2. What are you enjoying most about the ride? Which parts of the ride are enriching you and those you care about? What brings you the greatest joy and satisfaction in your work and life, and what, if anything, do you need to change to experience those things more consistently?
3. What are you finding difficult about the bus you’re on right now? Which parts of the ride are detrimental to you or those you care about? What do you want to change, if anything, about the bus or where it’s heading?
4. What is one dream for your life and career that you haven’t yet fulfilled? What is one step you can take today, this week, and this month to move you closer to fulfilling that dream?
Donna Stoneham, PhD, is the author of the new book The Thriver’s Edge: Seven Keys to Transform the Way You Live, Love, and Lead (CLICK HERE to get your copy). She’s the President of Positive Impact, LLC www.positiveimpactllc.com. Donna is a master executive coach, transformational leadership expert, educator and speaker. Take Donna’s Thriver Quiz at www.DonnaStoneham.com and follow her on twitter at @donnastoneham and on Facebook at DonnaStonehamPhD.
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