1. Find the Flinch
Identify an important action you haven't taken. This could involve doing research, making a call, or just setting foot in your home office. It's possible that you've taken this action from time to time, but not consistently. Or you've taken it over and over with no success. What's crucial is that you recognize the moment when you ordinarily check out, not only from your dream but from your ongoing emotional flow. This is the point when you might reach for a distraction, go numb, or sink into a "What's the use?" depression.
2. Go for the Jugular
If there weren't something very challenging for you to feel, you'd have no need to check out. To find that challenging emotion, ask yourself, What's the worst thing that could happen if I went forward in this moment? Rather than jump to conclusions, let the answer come on its own. Once you've discovered your worst-case scenario, ask, If this happened, what's the most awful feeling I'd have to endure? Again, let the answer arrive naturally, without rushing to uncover it. It may be fear, failure, loss, guilt, rejection, rage, hurt, or something uniquely yours. You know you're on the right track when your original flinch deepens, when you want to run for the hills.
3. Weather the Storm
It's now time to feel what you've been resisting, perhaps for most of your life. This takes real courage, but the only alternative is an unfulfilled dream. So go ahead, imagine that the worst has come to pass, and give yourself over completely to that torment. Whether you feel it in one particular spot or all over, stay connected to its physical manifestation. Whenever you lose your focus, patiently bring it back. Let your awareness remain soft and steady, without attempting to do anything. Freed up in this way, your emotions will shift and change, just like the weather.
4. Repeat as Necessary
Now you know the most liberating truth: The emotion you thought was intolerable actually isn't. You have the capacity to accept it, survive it, and feel cleansed with its passing. And that means it can no longer deter your dream. You'll be able to stop procrastinating, work longer and harder, uplifted by an exhilarating flow. You will, however, need to repeat these four steps whenever you find yourself yearning to escape. But each time, the process will be easier and quicker.
One of my clients, Noelle, was freed to have a peaceful relationship with her teenage daughter by accepting that she felt like a bad parent. That didn't mean believing she really was a bad parent, but rather ceasing to deny the feeling and therefore having to blow up every time her daughter triggered it.
Another client, Evelyn, loved to sing and wanted to create a cabaret act—but she couldn't accept that her voice wasn't great. When she surrendered to feeling "painfully mediocre," she soon found songs that played to her vocal strengths.
Perhaps the most telling example is Christine, who yearned to turn her enthusiasm and caring nature into a career as a personal coach. She'd printed up business cards and gone to a few networking events, but that was years ago. She called herself the Queen of Procrastination, and a lost cause. "It's like there's a mile between me and my dream," she told everyone at a workshop, "but I can't take the first step."
It turned out that the feeling Christine most resisted was being overwhelmed. A few moments of staring at a to-do list usually sent her straight for a bowl of Häagen-Dazs. But when she sat still and said yes to the feeling, she found she wasn't so overwhelmed after all. Instead, she felt sadness. She realized that all her role models had been even bigger procrastinators and that no one had taught her to follow through.
Christine's sadness gave way to relief, and she was able to give herself a break. She came to understand that her first job was to coach herself. In the process, she developed greater patience, an ability to ask for help, and the kind of authenticity that only meeting challenges can bring. Six months later, her coaching practice is already half-full. And what inspires her clients the most, she reports, is hearing about her own path to emotional freedom.
Raphael Cushnir is the author of Setting Your Heart on Fire (Broadway). For more information, go to heartonfire.org.
Change Your Career for the Better
- How 4 career changers found their calling
- The career change that changes you
- How to say "No" at work
From the September 2004 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine.