Photo: Emily Long
“Don’t give in to your fears. If you do, you won’t
be able to talk to your heart.” ― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
Some people call it your gut. My pretend BFF Oprah calls it “a whisper.” Others describe it as “the little voice in your head.”There are many ways to define what is ultimately known as your intuition – the intangible thing that stems less from reason and more from instinct. But how many of us truly take the time to hear that little “whisper” and then actually listen to it? For me, it took twenty-something years to learn how to “talk to my heart” and finally get to know my gut.
I had a job that is best quoted from one of my favorite chick flicks, The Devil Wears Prada – “A million girls would kill for this job.” I worked in a beautiful office space in the heart of Hollywood, full of designer brand showrooms and celebrities, where work events consisted of red carpet parties and award shows. Yep, I was a PR girl. In this case, I’d substitute the “Public Relations” for “Pretty Ridiculous” because that’s how out of hand things quickly began to feel. For me, it was a job that sounded really cool on paper (and pretty cool on Facebook), but something was amiss. I was in a hyper-competitive environment with women more inclined to berate you than mentor you. I was constantly reminded how replaceable I was if I didn’t keep up. I witnessed a revolving door of coworkers every other month. I kept telling myself it would get better, while my gut kept trying to reason with me.
No matter how early I came in to the office or how late I stayed, I still felt like I was constantly overwhelmed and under-performing – both adjectives that I’d never used before to describe myself. I just couldn’t stay afloat and I didn’t know what exactly I was doing wrong. As I’d drive into the parking lot in the mornings, my stomach would twist into knots and I’d start my daily prayers, “Please don’t let anybody yell at me today…Please let me get caught up with my work and do something right today… Please let everybody be so busy they forget to pay attention to me today…” If you asked anybody who knew me, or anyone I’d ever worked for before, they’d tell you there was something very wrong with this picture. I had always prided myself on working hard, being successful and having a great rapport with my bosses. And yet, here I was, on the verge of a breakdown and possible termination. What the heck was I doing wrong??
It wasn’t long before I decided to swallow my pride and quit my job – despite the worries I had of being judged for quitting, not trying hard enough, or not sticking it out and making it work. I realized this was one of those moments where walking away was actually the greater sign of strength because I was being honest with myself. I knew any additional effort was still not going to make this situation work out any differently. It took some time away, however, to finally go back and see what my gut was trying to tell me. You’d think getting stomachaches every morning driving to work would be a hint that maybe I needed to stop and evaluate the situation. But no, the prideful girl in search of success and recognition couldn’t see that at the time.
After quitting my job, I took a much-needed sabbatical. It was a luxury to have some time off and I am so grateful I had the chance to just recharge. During that time, I was able to reassess what I felt my strengths were and what activities I felt energized and motivated me. I slowly started piecing together the types of work that made me feel accomplished, and also saw how my ego and desired self-image had taken over certain career moves that my gut was trying to advise me against. It’s amazing how when you no longer have anything to lose, you have more courage to think and dream bigger for yourself. As I started to rediscover my strengths in writing, public speaking and interpersonal communication, I slowly made my way to a happier career that allowed me to do the things that made me feel good.
As fate would have it, I ended up returning to work in higher education, a profession I had previously dabbled in. As a college admissions counselor, I get to travel, build relationships with students and families, speak at presentations almost every day and work in a place where mentorship and encouragement is a way of working. I let my gut lead me to a more nurturing work environment where I could help people while also finding inspiration in hearing their personal stories. What a huge difference from the ulcer-inducing career I was working in before!
Recently, I read Strengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath and was reminded of my top 5 strengths. It was a very useful exercise that I would recommend to anyone looking to define and cultivate their strengths. When I started to read through my strengths, such as being a “Relator” and enjoying close relationships with colleagues, enjoying “Harmony” and feeling discord with conflict, things began to click even more. Back then, I couldn’t put my finger on why I just couldn’t feel happy or motivated in the work that I thought I wanted to do. But as I started reading the traits that I value the most in work and friendships, it was clear I had been working in an environment that was not conducive to practicing and developing those areas of talent. Those stomachaches on the way to work were my gut’s version kicking me in the butt and saying, “HEY! PAY ATTENTION! Something needs to change!”
It’s been nearly two years since I put those knots of anxiety to an end. The lessons I had to learn didn’t click overnight, but they did eventually. The clarity I was seeking came with time, patience and alittle bit of quiet. All day, we spend time talking and asking for advice and then talking and giving advice. How often do we just sit still and let our hearts speak to us? When we are feeling like something is just a little “off,” those are the moments we most need to pause and let our intuition to kick in. I think Oprah calls it a whisper because we have to slow down and be quiet in order to hear it. Sometimes we purposely ignore the whisper, knowing we aren’t ready to hear what our gut wants to tell us. Sometimes we listen to it but don’t really hear the full message. Whatever the case, it’s important to know our gut is always there to guide us. It took me awhile to realize this, but in the end, I’m so glad I finally heard that whisper and got to know my own gut.