A Process

If you are looking to shift your career trajectory, I want to offer you a process I use in coaching. Many people begin transitioning by asking: “What else is out there for me to fit into?” This can spawn self-doubt and overwhelm. My process begins with a different question: ‘What is within me that I want to center in my working life?’

When I ask my clients this, some find it hard to articulate. If you feel stuck, begin with what holds you back: What is alienating and exhausting at work? Things that deplete you provide valuable clues. They illuminate what you need to alter. Next, explore these questions: When do you come alive? What gets you into a state of flow? When are you propelled by excitement and curiosity? Finally, ask yourself: What blocks you from feeling this at work?

With this last question, my clients describe a range of external barriers, institutional and systemic, which get in the way of working in alignment with their values. We also uncover internal ones: inner landscapes contoured by individual and collective histories that inform how they see themselves, that shape the horizons of possibility they hold for themselves. Here, we do our deepest and most tender work. We listen to the competing voices inside and parse their true desires from social scripts they follow in search of recognition and belonging. We find that unless these stories are reworked, they can change jobs, earn more money and promotions, and still carry the feeling of inadequacy, the sense of being an imposter. If you experience this, gently ask yourself: to rewrite these narratives, what do you value in yourself and your life that you need to prioritize and honor?

This inquiry paves a path to a different working life. I want to share what I have seen.  As my clients lean into their own uniqueness and prioritize their interests, they experience a steady movement from alienation to its opposite–congruence. They act in ways that are grounded in this sense. They say no to things that do not serve and can articulate to others why. They assess what is in alignment and draw boundaries. They see the surprising power of doing so. One of my clients was offered a job with everything she wanted except for her non-negotiable. She walked away, committed to the life she wanted. The company then adapted their policies to hire her. In this way, as my clients choose to honor what they value, a quiet confidence builds. Suddenly, there is more time, less overwhelm. New collaborations form and they cultivate communities where belonging requires no compromise in congruence.

I have been amazed by the working lives they craft. The work is not only meaningful, but also expansive–it shows them possibilities they hadn’t anticipated. It is not static but moves them forward. Often, their paths don’t follow a script. They set up creative, quirky structures that work for them. When we look back, we realize they made something unforeseen, as it was created through an ongoing discovery of their inner desires and an infrastructure they built in collaboration with others to realize these desires. All this, of course, takes time. It is messy, unpredictable, and like any creative process, it is a process. As my clients move towards work that fits the lives they want, they meet obstacles, encounter their limits, and find a host of new skills to cultivate. In working through these limits, they transform.

As you think about making a change, I invite you to start with this simple question: what is within me that I want to lean into?

It opens a different door to finding your way to work you truly love–from the inside out.

About the Author: Nethra Samarawickrema

Nethra Samarawickrema
Nethra Samarawickrema is a consultant and a coach. She supports clients with career coaching and relationship coaching and works with companies in listening for needs using Nonviolent Communication, Design Thinking, and Ethnography. She has a PhD in Anthropology from Stanford University and trains UX teams on the Emergent Research Process, a method of ethnographic research that facilitates discovery through empathy. She has a passion for teaching teams of researchers, designers, and engineers listening skills so that they can build in a way that is attuned to the needs of those they design for. She lives in Sausalito, California. You can follow Nethra on Linked In, hear her podcasts, and attend her weekly workshops.