“I only have subtraction.” A few years ago I found myself on a coach’s couch. When describing her style of coaching to me this is what she said. At the time I didn’t know what it meant.
This is subtraction: Identifying and letting go of all the thoughts, beliefs, ways of being that don’t serve your health and happiness. Finding what matters to you, finding your truth, then nurturing and honoring only that, letting the rest fall away. It’s about less. Subtraction. It’s an approach with no new philosophies to adopt or things you have to follow or can do wrong.
Starting out, I held tightly to my old thoughts and belief systems. They had gotten me this far in life and I thought I needed them for survival. But, I soon realized they were not serving my survival at all — indeed they were threatening it.
For me, the linchpin that held my life and mind together was my work — my professional and career achievements formed the basis of my identity. There is nothing wrong with pursuing success and accomplishment in your work, but for me it came from an unhealthy place. I was constantly pushing myself, striving, laboring (toiling would be a good word), forcing myself, and trying to force everything to happen. And at the root, it was all from an energy of fear. Fear that I’m not enough, not ok, if I don’t achieve the ever-moving socially defined target in front of me.
And to keep hitting those targets I denied myself, my needs and the little voice inside that, when I look back, was faintly whispering the truth in my ear all along. Whispering that this isn’t right for me. This this isn’t right, period. In fact…
this all seems to be bulls**t.
A ruse. A wicked game of carrots and sticks where the sticks are self-inflicted and the carrots are a mirage.
Not that I expected rainbows and unicorns, but after all that following along and ticking all the boxes laid out, a glimmer of a life that I like and enjoy? Maybe? Nope.
But at the time I didn’t have this clarity and access to truth yet. This was precisely why I found my crying mess on that coach’s couch. And the career arena is where I’ve had to do the most subtraction. And through all the letting go I’ve slowly found myself — I was in there all along.
You have to subtract to begin to build again. To build something true, something real, something meaningful, you have to let go of what, to you, is not true. Find your truth — what matters to you, what you want for your life, what brings you joy. Then operate from there. This is the only solid foundation to build on. Anything else is precarious.
So how do we do that? Where do we begin? When I look back these are the broad stroke steps I took.
1) Take a look at what you’re doing and why. Disentangle you from what’s not you.
We’re consumed by and often make decisions for our career from trying to keep up with what society deems is a good job, prestige and what it will look like on our resume, collecting fancy names as employers or clients, hitting the achievement markers that will satisfy the judgements of our parents, friends, people we went to university/college with. This isn’t you. This is what the world has taught you that you "should" do, and "should" want. And the implication is that if you don’t chase these things you are not good enough, won’t be “successful”, won’t be happy or have a good life. But it’s simply not true. It’s a construct made up by society and taught to us from an early age.
All you’ve been told you "should" want and "should" do can be subtracted. In reality, your worth is untethered from all these things, pursuing them has very little to do with happiness, and you’re actually free to do anything your heart desires. Realizing this may be the door you’re looking for to find that success, happiness and life you’ve been searching for.
2) Find desire. Find what brings you joy.
Once I realized I don’t have to do all that anymore, I was left with questions.
What do I genuinely want to do? Who am I? And what brings me joy? What do I desire? For some this may be obvious, they may have known for a long time what they really want but have been holding back. But this wasn’t the case for me. I had no clue what I wanted and no desire for a long time. Zilch. Not depression, but I just couldn’t find anything that came from an authentic inner movement of, “Oh, yes! This feels good and I want to do this!” My desire indicator light had been bulldozed over for years and needed time and nurturing to come out.
I ultimately found it by sitting and in a way diving into the nothing, giving into the no desire, to the stillness and well, desire to do nothing. At any chance I got. I did nothing. For someone who had always kept busy this was a scary step. But stopping the habitual doing creates a space for something new to emerge. You think this part will last forever and you’ll never find desire, but this doesn’t happen. It comes. The authentic you and your desires emerge as you deepen in the process of meeting yourself for the first time.
Once you have a pulse on your desires and what you want (for now at least), move to step 3.
3) Follow what feels good.
This step is about finding authentic, creative, feel-good ways to move your life toward what you desire, toward what you want to do — this is the ‘how’ to go about doing it. You see, there runs the danger of going after what you want just like you went after things in the past. For me, that would be with pushing, striving, using too much rational mind, and trying to be on paper “successful” at this new thing.
I found a genuine desire in coaching, talking and connecting with people to help them transform their lives. I could easily miss the whole point of this process, which is to create an authentic, sustainable life I enjoy, by getting tripped up by what society might tell what I "should" do to be a “successful” coach — things like book deals, writing for top publications, getting social media likes and on and on. But I get to decide if I want to do those things. And I only want to do those things, or anything else, if it feels good, if it feels right for me and the coaching practice I want.
So, get clear on what you want and then stand in what feels good. You get to decide not just what you want to do, but the best way of doing it — it’s all for you.
4) Use your intuition. Follow your nudges.
One of the main reasons I had made the life choices I had in the past was because they seemed like the safe, logical, rational things to do. On the surface, most "shoulds" make a lot of rational sense. While there is a role for logic and mental analysis in our decision making it can’t be the only guide. If we want a different result for our life now, we will need a different approach. What’s that? Using our intuition.
I was pretty out of touch with mine and very good at ignoring it. You may be too. So it may take some time to get acquainted. But it holds the map to your next steps and how to get to where you want to go. Listen closely when it wants to tell you — “Hey, go check this out,” “Call this person,” “Do/don’t make that deal,” etc. It may not make logical sense to you at the time and your rational mind may put up a fuss, but give listening to it a try. Follow the trail of nudges. You may be amazed what happens. My writing this blog post is me following a nudge, hoping that my words will reach others who will be helped by them. I don’t know where it will lead or what might happen between you and me because of it. I’m just following my intuition.
Move at your own pace. Then repeat the steps starting from 1 as often as needed.
Those "shoulds" are sneaky and have had many years of programming on our brain. When we find ourselves stressed it's often that there's something we can go back to step 1 and subtract.
And desires change. That’s life and you’re not flakey or wrong to change course, it makes you an evolving human. What you want now is real and authentic and it is only natural that your wants will change. You don’t even need to create a narrative to explain or justify your choice to change other than your desires shifted and you wanted to. It’s that simple. You also don’t have to make this new thing you’re doing into your new identity or purpose in life. Those are shifting concepts too. Embrace the fluidity and aliveness of you.
I know for some, in the back of your mind you may be thinking, does living this way mean a vow of poverty? In short, not at all. Quite the opposite, the material success you want is still possible and can come if you want, it will likely even come easier to you now that you’re in your flow and doing things that are aligned with who you are. But the funny thing is you might not even care so much about it anymore.
I could sum up this whole process as this: listening to what you want and then doing that. As I write it out I find myself thinking, “Well, of course, how obvious.” However, this is only in hindsight. Back then, sitting on that coach’s couch I didn’t know any other way of life than the one I was living. I didn’t know an authentic life was possible. And to find mine I needed the help of a fellow soul to sort through what’s me and what’s not, how to find my truth and desires, and the encouragement to follow them. I have no shame in needing help. If it really is so obvious and simple so many of us wouldn’t find ourselves so far from where we actually want to be. My greatest hope is that through my coaching I can help others the way I was. To find themselves and the work and life they want.