There’s a common misconception floating around currently where passion and purpose is concerned and the whole decision of career path. 

“When I find my passion, my job won’t feel like work.”

“When I’m following my purpose, I’ll be fearless. I’ll know I’ve found the right career path.  The things that used to scare me just won’t anymore.”

Don’t get me wrong, tapping into passion and purpose is great.  A lot of my career coaching and leadership coaching work is geared at helping folks recognize these things for themselves and connect to them in a meaningful way.  But as far as the above statements are concerned – I hate to burst your bubble, but they just aren’t true.

I’ll give you an example.  I love teaching, I love facilitating.  It’s when I’ve had probably the most moments in actual flow – those moments you lose yourself, time passes and you’re not watching the clock.  These are magical moments, as you’re completely present, mindful and 100% engaged in what you’re doing.  I often suggest coaching clients think about times when they have entered this state as a way of connecting with activities and topics that bring joy.  The more you notice a correlation between flow moments and a certain activity, it may be a good career path option to explore.

There is no career path that will deliver constant flow

But that doesn’t mean shifting your focus to that activity or career path will automatically bring you into an instant state of flow 100% of the time.  The human experience is way more complicated than that.  I’ve also had a lot of scary moments as a trainer and a facilitator.  Difficult participants, difficult clients, difficult colleagues.  Logistical challenges where a room hasn’t been ready, the materials failed to show up or a flash flood was suddenly headed my way with a room full of participants and no idea what to do.  Add to this my personal favorite – incomplete or incoherent course content that’s only been delivered to me a day or so before a program and I’m expected to pull off a miracle with no time to prepare. 

Before every delivery I’m a little bit nervous.  There are often insecurities that come up – What if I don’t know enough?  What if I get asked a question I don’t know the answer to and look stupid in front of participants?  What if I can’t handle the challenging dynamics in the room?  Things are often coming at a facilitator a million miles a minute.  What if I miss something?  What if the feedback is negative from the participants and they express it was a waste of their time?  What if this team or coachee doesn’t get the outcome they’re looking for?

I can’t recall a single delivery where I haven’t felt at least a twinge of anxiety in the run up to a session starting. 

And yet I do it anyway.  Day in and day out, over and over again.  I show up, I do my best, I reflect on the successes and the missed opportunities.  Rinse and repeat.

You may be wondering if I’m a glutton for punishment.  I’ve often wondered the same.  I’ve had days where I question whether I’m really suited for this work, whether I should quit.  Whether I should just give up. 

The inner work will follow you like a bad smell

But the answer is no.  I know leadership development is my purpose and where I belong as it serves my talents and interests best.  But more importantly, I also know this – the internal work you need to do on yourself is going to follow you from job to job, like a bad smell – no matter how perfect that job is. 

In my case, that inner work was approval seeking.  Approval from peers, assorted people I’d put on a pedestal over the years, inappropriate boundaries and in many cases no boundaries at all.  It manifests now from time to time in approval seeking from participants and some of my peers, hence the anxiety I often feel before a session. 

That work was still there years ago when I was an internal audit manager. It was ten times worse.  It manifested in different ways – anxiety before going out on a client site.  Fears I’d be asking the wrong questions in audit interviews.  Overworking the final audit report to ensure it was perfect.  Dreading close meetings where I’d have to present and argue the validity of my findings.  The underlying issue of approval seeking and feeling like I was never good enough was still painfully there, it was just wrapped up in a different career.  One that frankly didn’t suit me so well and didn’t leverage my talents and skills as much as my current role does. 

Switching my career was definitely the right choice for me, but it still didn’t solve every problem I had.  How could it?  I hadn’t done the work.

Make a conscious career choice, not one based in fear

This is why I take a holistic approach to career planning.  I often emphasize to potential clients the message – “wherever you go, there you are” and the importance of making a conscious choice rather than a choice motivated by fear.  The bottom line is the inner critic will come along for the ride to a new job, no matter whether you want it there or not.

I hear messages like this a lot as a coach.  “I’m no good at public speaking or giving presentations so I don’t want a role like that.  My last manager was a nightmare, so I need to avoid that kind of person.”  The problem is that your world becomes very small when you’re navigating your career path based on what you don’t want or what you’re trying to avoid. 

There will always be another manager like that, so perhaps learning skills to advocate for yourself and managing up would enable you to be more successful in the long run.  A lot of the work I do with my clients involves setting boundaries, managing up and advocating for oneself.

When I think of myself, if I let the anxiety of approval seeking get in my way, I never would have hung a shingle as a leadership coach and trainer.  The difference is I recognize this as the work I need to continue to do on myself and I regularly acknowledge how far I’ve come. Practice makes better. There is no perfect anymore in my world.

Coaching questions for thought:

  • How might you be navigating your career path or leadership based on your fears or what you’re trying to avoid?
  • What might happen instead if you leaned into your fear and allowed yourself to grow?

Shelley Pernot is a leadership coach who is passionate about helping her clients discover their strengths and talents and step into their greatness.  Reach out to me here for a free consultation to learn more about the coaching process and how it may benefit you!

  1. Ian Hallett May 18, 2023 at 2:43 pm

    I really needed this! Thanks for the clarity! (and your candor as always)