Photo Credit: Lidya Nada, Unsplash.com

Written by Paula Rauenbuehler
December 27, 2019

A few weeks ago, after my 86-year-old mother received her first set of hearing aids, she commented on how much she could hear. She was hearing sounds she hadn’t been aware of for a long time prior to these devices. Things like the sound of a timer for a lamp grinding away, my chewing of cabbage from across the room. These sounds were now so clear to her—and yet for others, they were background noises.

This is what it was like when I dove deep into what I knew in my heart was my purpose, but still unclear about the how to do it.

I’ve known for a very long time that one of my core purposes is to help people be their best selves. For decades, this happened through working in the human resources field. First, through training and development, and then integrating skills as a certified, professional coach into my work. The experience of participating in a high-quality training program was like putting in hearing aids—what had been all around me for years had a sense of newness and demanded my attention.

For more years and jobs than I’d like to admit, I’d been exploring and searching for that role that fit me perfectly. The one where both purpose and fulfillment from an employer would magically appear. I’d find bits and pieces. But over time, as my experience grew and the business world changed, it was as if I was seen as having outgrown what employers needed in the role of talent development.

More and more, my duties related to administrative and compliance tasks and moved further away from working with individuals and teams to influence performance. And the more years of experience I had, the further away my job moved away from what attracted me to human resources early on in my career: developing team members by training, guiding, and helping them find their purpose and fulfillment.

As I became more aware of the patterns and what experience was showing me, I realized that I’d been in a “rinse and repeat” cycle with each role. Early on the restlessness would be at about two years. But by the time of my last job, the shine was off the apple by three months. 

And while I did the job well (almost in my sleep) I accepted that changing jobs wasn’t the answer to my search. I had to make the move to claim my life’s purpose 100% and leave behind what was comfortable and uncomfortable at the same time.

After accepting that while I had respect as a human resources professional and experienced what appeared to be successful, to continue this path would continue to result in lackluster engagement and even more so, a lackluster life. 

The Inner Critic

The most significant shift in my life relating to receiving professional coach training was with relationships . . . starting with myself. Learning to trust those tugs at my heart again, to follow my purpose, and gain confidence to deal with the inner critic’s voice was such an important aspect of my experience. Being guided to explore what was holding me back in a community in which I felt safe and protected, I made sure to do the extra work that was critical to my growth.

Listening to the voice inside was difficult and liberating since, like most, that critic told me I wasn’t good enough. Evidence such as being the last kid picked for a team on the playground and not being invited to high school dances played in the background for many years. Exploring how that played out in my life, such as not auditioning for a part in plays but rather taking a backstage role summed up my life in playing small, staying on the sidelines.

Sure, I worked hard, got good grades, was successful at work. Giving credit to others while deflecting credit offered to me. But staying out of the picture–both literally and figuratively. When I had the opportunity to examine and deconstruct my inner critic (and other limiting thoughts), I used my analytical and emotional mind to break it down.

And when I did, I realized that I was making my own way. Making best friends with Miss Representation (my inner critic) helped me to use her to my advantage while before she kept me small. And while risks are fewer when playing small, the risk of living a life unfulfilled was worse than not being invited to the dance floor. My choreographed dance may not be considered award worthy but I’m worthy for expressing myself, period.

The more I learned, the deeper and wider I took my learning. Relationships at work became more nuanced and productive. Conflicts were more effectively resolved. Being more relaxed and open to the experience, rather than just getting things done, was a game-changer. Yes, we still needed to get things done, but the how and why we did them changed to become more meaningful for everyone involved. Building trust and collaborating rather than attacking things from an administrator’s mindset was a primary driver of this change for me. And while a sense of fulfillment was building for me, in my heart I knew it wouldn’t be complete within the confines of an employer. At least, not for me at the present time.

Finding Fulfillment

And so, accepting that fulfillment was unlikely in these environments, the choice to go out on my own–to pursue my purpose and to reach fulfillment–became increasingly urgent. After careful consideration and planning, the decision was made to leave my career as a human resource professional and dive fully into building a coaching practice. Being in a space that fully draws on my purpose is naturally more fulfilling. Even with the bumps in the road, the challenges and risks, this was the right choice for me.  

For now, my daily activities are revolved around building relationships with others as I set the foundation for my practice as a whole.    

As an introvert, my networking activities are well curated to offer stretch goals while not overextending myself. Overcoming my tendency to be in the periphery would naturally involve some awkward moments. Early on, my activities in networking events were purposely with non-ideal client events–ones found on MeetUP among local organizations and associations provided me with a variety of opportunities to get comfortable talking about my business.

I’ve been surprised how quickly my relationship-building skills have advanced since first leaving my corporate role, and with this comes more natural interactions with others–along with more confidence when meeting someone who is closer to my ideal client. After approximately three months, people are starting to reach out to me to learn more about what I do and how we might work together. Approaching both my development as an entrepreneur and in relationships with a long-term view has helped me look at each interaction as a point of growth rather than a win or loss.

For far too long I settled for working without a sense of purpose and having outward success, waiting and hoping for that sense of fulfillment, feeling empty and underutilized. The pursuit of fulfillment is personal and unique to each of us. There will be twists and turns, highs and lows. The journey of a lifetime has so many insights and benefits if you’re willing and ready to hear and see what has been there all along waiting for you to listen and pay attention.

Reflecting back on my life and career up to this point, at each point in time I experienced fulfillment and satisfaction with how my purpose was being put to good use. With time, my perspective expanded to reveal a more expansive role for which I had now been prepared to take on. Some steps were baby ones, some were huge leaps of faith for me and others, and sometimes I was pushed out of the nest and had the courage to fly.

Fulfillment isn’t a destination but a journey and one that’s continually built over time (yet not necessarily in a linear fashion). As a young adult, I never even thought of entrepreneurship or even human resources as a career. Still, these unplanned experiences, freely and enthusiastically taken on, have provided me much joy and purpose.

Fulfillment is nearer and more tangible than it’s ever been. My journey continues and has just begun at the same time.

Photo Credit: Lidya Nada, Unsplash.com