Dream Dinner Party – Who Would You Invite?

As you’re relaxing by the pool this summer, if you find yourself dreading the Monday morning return to work, then summer can also be a great time to take stock of your career goals and to gear up for more fulfilling and rewarding changes in your work life. Summer is the perfect opportunity to play with the possibilities of change – to explore your passion and figure out just what it is that you’d rather be doing. Opening up to new ideas and allowing yourself to consider new directions, even if they don’t seem immediately practical or feasible, can make all the difference between realizing your dream job and staying stuck on a go-nowhere path.

Getting past feeling trapped is key in forging new horizons for yourself. Self-limiting beliefs like, “I’ve been doing this too long to do anything else,” or “This is what I went to school for and I’m stuck with it,” are barriers to finding your way out of the work grind.  In order to step into new possibilities, you have to first be willing to suspend all those negative, unhelpful thoughts and begin to embrace instead those thoughts that energize you. Those energizing thoughts are the ones that lay the foundation for actualizing a plan that just may lead to your ultimate work bliss.

If you are having trouble even knowing what that passion is, start with a simple, fun exercise that I often ask my career coaching clients to complete. Imagine that you will be hosting a dinner party of 10 to 12 guests. What do these dinner guests do for a living? These are not necessarily jobs that you imagine yourself doing but they are jobs that you would be interested in hearing about. For example, at my dinner party, I would invite a dolphin researcher, an archaeologist, and a private investigator just to name a few.

What do these professions have to do with being a psychologist? Not much. Except that there is a common thread of studying and researching behavior. So, hidden within my dinner party guest list lies my career passion of working as a psychologist.

Now it’s your turn to try! Take a look at your guests. What common themes do you see? Do you see two very opposite professions such as a painter and an accountant? This may be a reflection of different aspects of yourself that need or want to be expressed. Which themes repeat the most? Can you think of ways to integrate different parts? If you need help deciphering your list, ask a friend to look at it for you and to give you their thoughts.

Look closely enough and you just may discover that your dinner guests are pointing the way to a more exciting and satisfying career!


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Easter Eggs and Chocolate Bunnies

When I was about four years old, I vaguely remember participating in an Easter Egg Hunt.  We were given little straw baskets and told to go find the eggs. The person who found the most eggs would win a giant chocolate Easter bunny. I desperately wanted that bunny.

Then a whistle blew and we were all off and running.  I looked through the grass and found a few brightly colored eggs just like the ones I had colored at home. But then I stumbled upon another thing shining in the grass. It was wrapped in foil. What was it? As I crouched over it to see more closely what it was, an older boy swooped past me and grabbed it, putting it in his basket.

Moving on in my pursuit, I again came across something that looked like an egg. But this one was wrapped in red foil and was smaller.  Again, I wondered if I should pick it up. The lady told us to find eggs and this was not a real egg. Then, whoosh! Another kid dive bombed in and picked it up.

The race was over and it was time for everyone to count their eggs.  As I looked into the other baskets, I could see that the term “eggs” was relative.  There were foil-wrapped chocolate eggs along with the real eggs. I remember feeling profoundly sad that I had lost out on my chance to win the giant bunny.

Psychologists would call this story an example of “cognitive inflexibility.” Briefly defined, cognitive flexibility refers to the ability to combine knowledge and experience in new ways and to be able to apply thinking to situations that have not been previously encountered.  For a four year old, this capacity is still developing. The older kids understood through their greater life experience that “eggs” can mean more than one thing.

As adults, we can struggle with cognitive inflexibility too. In trying to solve a difficult problem or make a life transition, we can find ourselves resorting to old behavior patterns and thoughts and then brood about why “nothing ever seems to change.” The ability to make creative shifts throughout our life span can be the difference between realizing our passions and mentally filing them under “Never Going to Happen.” Too often, we hold ourselves back with fears that begin with, “What if?” What if I fail? What if I make the wrong decision?

Creativity experts talk about the importance of tapping into the willingness to play with possibility. Entertain the opposite side of the “What if?” question for a moment, even if it seems absurd. What if I didn’t have all these barriers? What if there was not one single solution but many possible solutions? Critical thinking says, “Yes, but…” whereas creative thinking says, “Yes, and…” How might your thinking shift if you applied this simple substitution?

The cognitive flexibility folks say that advanced knowledge must be acquired in a real-world context. This means that sometimes we must be willing to experiment, to actually walk up to the thing we want, and touch it. Inherent in this is the willingness to make a mistake and to ignore that voice that says, “Mistakes are always terrible.”

Are there “eggs” in your life that you are afraid to pick up? Are you willing to experiment a bit to find out if they actually belong in your basket? If so, there just may be a giant chocolate bunny in it for you.

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“What Would You Do if You Knew You Could Not Fail?”

When author and Minister Robert Schuller originally penned this question, I doubt that he expected this seemingly simple query to end up being re-produced on posters, coffee mugs and office paperweights the world over.  Chances are you have already seen this question somewhere along your journey through life.

But have you ever stopped long enough to actually answer it? I mean really answer it. I don’t mean a knee-jerk response like, “Sure, I’d win the lottery and never work again!”  I mean a full-hearted, full-fledged exploration to tap into what you would attempt in your life if you knew, unequivocally, that you could not fail?

Exploring this type of question helps us to tap into our passion and purpose. It allows the opportunity to ask ourselves if how we are living and relating in the world now is how we really want to be living. Too often, we don’t allow ourselves to dream into the possibilities of our lives – there are bills to pay, kids to raise, closets to be cleaned.

Life is OK enough, we think. But what if we did allow ourselves to dream into the possibilities? And what if dreaming into those possibilities ultimately led us into a fresh, new direction – one that more fully utilizes that which makes us unique in this world?

This is not a question to be answered by over-thinking.  The answer is inside you, patiently waiting to be acknowledged. For some of you, it is already clearly formed but whenever it emerges, you talk back- telling it, “Be quiet – that’s not practical.”

For others, the answer may come more as an image, a sound or a feeling. What is it? Write it down. Maybe it’s just a hunch of some sort. Write it down.  Whatever ‘it’ is, and however it comes to you, start by writing it down.

Many people think this question has only to do with the way we choose to make our living. And while it’s true that this question often serves as a valuable springboard for shifting career direction, its value in calling you into more passionate and purposeful living is much greater than this.

For example, how might you change the way you relate to another person in your life if you were sure of the outcome? Would it change how you parent children? Might you allow yourself to pursue a creative talent or interest just for the sheer joy of it?

What is the story that you tell yourself about yourself?  I’m talking about the story that you tell yourself about how you are “supposed” to be in the world.  Sometimes, pieces of that story come from our childhood messages – things that teachers or parents told us about ourselves that we have unquestioningly carried with us into our adult world.

For example, how many of you were labeled “shy” as a child? Maybe a parent introduced you to others in this way:  “This is Mary. She’s shy.”  At that moment, you were handed a script. The script says that you are shy and thus expected to behave as a “shy” person does.  As you go along in life, you may feel the tug of your inner passion to dance, sing or act. But then the script kicks in, automatically, almost unconsciously and you think: “Shy people don’t sing. I’m shy. Therefore, I don’t sing.”

Answering the question, “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” offers you the opportunity to re-examine that old script, whatever it is, and to challenge it in the light of day.  It’s an opportunity to throw away the old, self-limiting script and to re-write one that serves you better as the person you truly are and wish to be today.

In my counseling and psychology practice, I am always amazed at the striking transformation that takes place once people allow themselves to explore this question in real depth.  Over and over, I see seemingly depressed people who are slumped into my office chair, suddenly light up the room with their energy.

“You know, Dr. McKenzie, there is this one thing…,” they will say.  And then they will share their passion, forgetting, for at least a moment, all the things that they tell themselves about why that passion is “stupid,” “impractical,” or “impossible.”

And I then point out how the energy in the room just shifted – how their face has more color, how their voice has more energy, how their eyes are smiling.

And so the work of transformation begins to take place.

What makes your eyes smile?

What would you do if you knew you could not fail?

I’d love to hear your comments!


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