Clutter & Other Career Traps

Clutter” is a sort of mental noise that arises during times of stress and confusion. It’s a messy chorus of thoughts that consists of rationalizations for staying where you are (‘I’m only five years from retirement’ or ‘My kids will be out of college in two years’) that are mixed with fears, emotions and stray notions about your life, all of which combine to distract you from thinking clearly about your situation.

Clutter can be constant, annoying and damaging. It consists of both real issues and issues that are mostly imaginary.

In the “real” category are valid concerns about continuing the important business of your life—paying the bills, putting the kids through school, saving enough for retirement. These are issues that need to be addressed, and you can and will address them when the time is right.

Then there are the “imaginary ones”: concerns about what your family might think if you leave your job fears that you aren’t smart enough to succeed at another career at your age, even worries that you might never find decent-paying work again.

These are nonsensical worries that have the potential to keep people from making real and necessary changes. Do you really think, for instance, that with a college degree, a record of accomplishment in your current profession, and with the drive and ambition you possess that you will never again find meaningful work?

Unfortunately, our brains do not filter clutter very well. The thoughts are not sorted according to their quality or the likelihood of them coming true; they simply circulate in our heads, popping up just when we’re feeling better about things, disturbing sleep, and keeping us from seeing clearly into the future.

Clutter consumes valuable energy. It is a natural consequence of wrestling with change and the confusion and fears it can bring. Luckily, there is a cure for it. It begins with making a personal commitment to change and the will and discipline to face up to your clutter.

It is nearly impossible to gain clarity and focus in your career if you have a serious case of clutter. Getting clarity of vision is important because each and every one of us has choices we could make to improve our life and work, more than we could ever try. But we can’t always see that.

That is what Core Themes is all about—helping people free themselves of the clutter and fear of change. When they do, they can see that there is a world full of possibilities that they can choose to explore for themselves.

My clients have a myriad of reasons for not being able to change: My daughter is entering an expensive and prestigious college, and I can’t afford to leave my job. We love where we live and can’t move. I’ve been a retail manager all my life, and this is all I know. Security is the most important thing in my life. The list goes on.

The translation for all of this: “I’m afraid of change and the uncertainty of the unknown. Familiarity is comfortable, even if I’m unhappy.”

The kids’ education: Yes it would be nice if your son or daughter went to Harvard or Stanford. But at what cost emotionally, both to them and to you? Are you enough of a martyr to sacrifice your own happiness for that goal? Would your children want that? They’d probably prefer to see you happy, relaxed and healthy. Besides, there are plenty of excellent universities in the world, some of them are-dare I say it?—state schools. And if you made less money, your kids might get more financial aid.

I don’t know anything else: Sure you do. You have a wealth of interests, abilities, skills and ideas that you simply haven’t tapped inside you. The task ahead of you is to open your mind to the possibilities and explore them.

One of the most exciting aspects of Core Themes is helping someone see the range of talents and skills they already possess. The typical American is better educated, better trained and better prepared to enter the world of work than ever before, and there are new and exciting careers that simply didn’t exist 25 years ago. Fear and a lack of confidence are the real barriers to exploring a different career. You need to decide to be proactive and assertive instead of passive.

I can’t admit I failed: This is another common rationalization, and it is often caused by clutter. Ask yourself why you continue in a job that’s unrewarding. Why does leaving or changing a career have to be considered a failure? Reflect on where this belief came from, and then consider the benefits you’ll derive from improving your work life. You need to realize that you’ll be a better parent, spouse and person when you engage in a career that leverages your talents and values.

None of this should be taken to mean that those who are unhappy in their careers should make big changes lightly or without careful preparation. The opposite is true. It is critical that you think long and hard about your life before you take any calculated risks and that you have a clear grasp of your options and compromises.

Still, the bottom line is that there is no excuse for being unfulfilled and unhappy for the rest of your precious life.

The following is a testimonial (in his own words) from a former oil executive who recently completed the Core Themes program:

Bring The Broom…

Not unlike many people, I would think of my life, and my life’s work, as one of following the path that has been laid out for me, much different than having many definitive choices based on what was REALLY important. On some level, I knew that I had made choices, in my career and personal life, that wasn’t consistent with what I REALLY wanted to do and where I REALLY wanted to be. I had made commitments; I had found something that I could do really well, that gave me comforts that come with success. How could I risk all that on exploring a feeling of discontent?

I began my work with Core Themes knowing that I had an opportunity to explore different career opportunities, thinking that the process was simply matching the skills, experience and personality I had developed with a job. What I came face-to-face with was me. Through a series of tests and insightful conversations, I gained clarity on who I was, what motivated me, what demotivated me, things I might want to do, and things I definitely didn’t want to do. I started scratching some things off my career possibilities list, things I would have considered before because I knew I COULD DO THEM WELL. More exciting for me, I began circling opportunities that excited me.

“Next, I looked back on my life to that point, on the choices I had made, in some cases, hadn’t made, in my career and life, then understood for truly the first time WHY I had made those choices and HOW it had led me to where I was today. I understood the sacrifices I had made, that my family had made for me, and the origin of that LITTLE VOICE inside my head.

But I have responsibilities, even if I didn’t like what I do, it’s what I KNOW how to do. Then I met CLUTTER. I quickly learned to hate the word CLUTTER. I hate it because it means work, it means looking at yourself in the mirror, it means facing those excuses I had been using for years and realizing they were nothing more than that—excuses. GET THE BROOM OUT AND START SWEEPING AWAY THE CLUTTER.

Okay, so I haven’t made good choices, sometimes I have taken the easy way out. I don’t feel great about where I am today. I know that many people have sacrificed for me. I can’t go back to doing what I have trained all my life to do…WHAT A WELCOME TO CORE THEMES. “Through the process, what was truly important to me, WHAT MATTERED MOST, was brought into focus. I understood WHAT I WANTED TO DO, but just as important, I understood HOW I WANTED TO LIVE MY LIFE. For the first time, I made choices in my career that were truly consistent with WHAT I WANTED TO DO. Yes, it is empowering to have such CLARITY, but once through the process, each of us has the responsibility to live in a manner consistent with our Core Themes.”