Lessons from a Life: Awareness


Lesson #3: Learn from the past.

I was raised to have a long to do list and cross off as many items as I could each day. Through the retracing of my history, I have learned I need much more time to reflect  in order to be happier, to make better decisions, and do my best work.

My mother loves to tell me the story of how she named me because Laurel means accomplishment and I was hers. Keeping busy and “not resting on your laurels” is highly valued in my family.

When my father retired in his 60’s, he had a chart on the back of his office door that tracked how many holes of golf he was playing, which at that time, averaged about a round and a half a day.  Even though, he currently takes a cart at the age of 86, he was walking the course upon retirement.

As a child I had a lot of hobbies that included gymnastics, swimming, singing, cooking, and crafting. I started cooking at four and with my mother’s help my first dish was scrambled eggs. By the time I was twelve, I was cooking meals for my family and reading cookbooks – memorizing the recipes before I went to sleep. When I was fourteen, I had my first small business, making homemade soft pretzels in my mother’s tiny kitchen and selling them at farmer’s markets and local fairs.

I am the grandchild of two hard-working men who supported their families. My mother’s father was a plumber and later, a plumbing contractor. My paternal grandfather was a teamster who delivered meat from horse-drawn wagons during the Great Depression.  In his twenties, my father worked his way out of a blue collar existence, eventually becoming an engineer at IBM for over 40 years.

The most influential of my family members, was my “Uncle” Ray.  Uncle Ray was a curmudgeon who always made me feel like I was intelligent and special. He was my father’s best friend and my godfather.  When Uncle Ray was younger, he worked as a professional golf instructor, becoming  the patriarch of the family business: Rip Van Winkle Country Club in Palenville, NY. One of my sweetest memories is a younger Laurel, sitting at the country club’s bar, drinking Shirley Temples. It was here that I began to fall in love with the idea of ruling my very own empire of work.

Learning from your past can arm you with vital insights. By embracing the functional parts of your history, you can realize what needs to be left behind.  In truth, there have been many times that my accomplishments have turned into anxiety and constant self-criticism.  I’ve had to get a lot of help to battle these things that when left unchecked, can be really destructive.

I remember being in kindergarten and worrying that first grade might be too hard. In junior high and high school, I developed an eating disorder and in college I struggled with depression and abused alcohol. In my twenties, I (barely) balanced my addictions with working compulsively. In my early 30s, propelled by a broken heart, I found a therapist, who directed me to 12-step programs, yoga, and guided me to search for a more authentic life and slower pace.

For example, I have learned that  being inventive or creative often takes practice–  spending periods of time “doing nothing” as part of the process. This is so contrary to my upbringing that I have to continue to work really hard at adding extra unscheduled time to my week when I am challenged to do creative work.

Whatever your history, you can learn more about who you are and what you want to become from delving deeply into it and not letting the past scare you. Learning from your history must include retracing your steps, and then choosing what you want to embrace, and then be willing to change those patterns, habits and ways of being that no longer serve you. This process is one of 12 tenets in the career development programs I’ve designed.

In all cases, I highly recommend you do this exploration with the support of a close friend, a spiritual guide, counselor, coach or therapist. In my own journey, that continues to this day, I’ve had many helpers including my soul brother and business collaborator, Darryl Brown, who is directing this series.

Thank you Darryl!

You may also want to consider signing up for our Virtual Career Masters Small Group Program that begins on October 14th, 2014.

Laurel Donnellan

CEO and Founder, Bright Livelihoods

Laurel’s mission is to help people find their home in the world of work. She has 30 years of experience as a leader, educator and coach and has degrees from Cornell and Columbia.  To request a private half-hour coaching session with Laurel, e-mail us at info@brightlivelihoods.com.

Wild Dream Walks – dreams for all. Yes please!!!

Meet Nicole Huguenin, founder of Wild Dream Walks.   In this video we discuss how she got the idea for this unique career, where she is on her journey, and the reality of operating a venture based on Giftivism.

Facilitated by a Dream Walk leader, each walk provides a safe space for participants to share a life wish/desire/goal that is present for them.  These desires could be as simple as “I’d really like to have someone cook a meal for me” or as weighty as “I have an idea for a business that I want to launch”.  Currently, there are Wild Dream Walks being offered in five cities in the US, with more on the way.  Curious to join a walk or become a dream walk leader?  Check out Wild Dream Walks.

Don’t know what’s next? Let that be okay.

SamsaraIn order to experience rebirth, one first has to walk through the valley of death.  What fears are in your way? What lies are you telling yourself?  What life circumstances do you need to exit before you have the space to create anew?  In short, what must die before you can experience rebirth?

Recently, I was stuck in the question of “what’s next?” in my career.  I had been with a great company for three years.  The company grew rapidly in that time, and the work of my job was slowly appropriated by other departments in the company.  At some point, it became clear that I was no longer needed.  Providing value and feeling valued are nonnegotiables for me, and neither were present any longer.  It was an awkward and uncomfortable place to be in, but certainly one that I didn’t want to prolong.  I worked at finding a new role inside the company, but nothing that was available to me resonated with me.  Clearly, it was time to move on.  But, on to what?  That part wasn’t so clear.

People would ask me, “What do you want to do Kelly?”  They were willing to help me, if I could describe a specific vision that I was ready to manifest.  Waaaah-waaaa.  I gave a handful of vague answers that, really, were non-answers. They were an attempt to have an acceptable answer for the questioner, and did nothing to move me forward.

The darkness of not knowing what I wanted to do next weighed heavily on me. It felt like a certain kind of emotional torture – the uncertainty, the limbo.  I beat myself up.  Why didn’t I have a vision?  For crying out loud, it’s not like I’m a newbie in life.  I’ve made major life transitions umpteen times.  Still, no matter how many times I’ve experienced it, the feeling of being in limbo sucks!!!!

Then, one of my personal coaches brilliantly positioned the truth of my situation – what’s next for me was in the process of gestating, and it was on its own timeline.  No amount of me pushing it along was going to make it show up any faster.  “Hey! Yea, that feels better.  My “what’s next?” is gestating, like a mama growing a baby.”  His words hit home, and I finally allowed myself to let it be okay that I simply didn’t know.  I relaxed and was able to trust that my vision was already in process and that it would come to me in due time.  Which is good, because apparently I was powerless to make the vision for what’s next appear sooner than it wanted to appear!

I had to let the limiting belief that I should know right now what was next for me die die die.  Well, actually, my coach helped me kill it with his wise words.

Here is the big HOWEVER, though.  While I did find emotional ease around the question of “what’s next?” by letting a limiting belief die, I did not lay on the couch and play solitaire on my phone.  Well, maybe I played a few games…  Really though, I kept my eyes, ears, and heart open. Plus, I stayed in action – researching, meeting new people, trying on new career hat ideas.  Too, I found myself tap dancing to avoid fully committing to anything that didn’t resonate for me (temporary commitment for the sake of generating necessary resources works in my world – as long as I keep the exit door within easy reach).

For me, these are the keys to moving through the darkness that comes with the uncertainty of “what’s next?”.  Stay in action – even if it is minimal – research counts as action. Get emotional support from people you trust.  Avoid over committing to something that doesn’t resonate.  Hold the question of “What is next for me?” and trust that the answer will come.  Listen in all the ways that you can.  If you are awake, aware, and listening, the clues reveal themselves.  They are the shining beacons that guide you to a meaningful life.  Find the courage to follow the clues by acting upon them.

Kelly Dwyer is the Chief Growth Officer at Bright Livelihoods.  She has 20 years of experience in business and an MBA from Cornell.  Kelly is intimately familiar with the change process involved in making major career transitions, and she loves to see how a person’s face lights up when they talk about their passions. To request a complimentary 30-minute coaching session with Kelly, email info@brightlivelihoods.com.