“I only have subtraction.” 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 ways of operating in the world. 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, 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, meeting expectations 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 my present 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, your 100% true and authentic self. 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?
Step into Awareness
Overall this step is about becoming aware of all that’s going on in that beautiful mind of yours.
We want to develop awareness of what is really motivating you, of your fears, of all the thoughts and beliefs that are limiting you from finding your way, including your resistance to looking at all this and what’s really going on inside.
As many teachers such as Tara Brach, Mooji, Adyashanti, Deepak Chopra and more will say, not only are you not your thoughts you are that which is aware of all this; you are the awareness itself. You are simply pure awareness of all that’s going on in your mind.
By stepping into awareness we can come out of identification with all the thoughts and take a close look at them. It’s only from the vantage point of awareness that clarity and change is possible.
So, right now, 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. These are beliefs from society taught to us from an early age. Become aware of all your thinking. Then, we move to step 2.
2. Find Your Truth
With awareness of all the thoughts, beliefs, fears etc. that are running through you, we can then slow down and take a closer look at them. In doing this we gain a deeper understanding and find what’s actually true for you. When we are stressed, much of what we may be thinking isn’t true or serving our best self. Once you see and honor your truth, the “you” that has been living out a life believing the untruths can be unraveled and let go of. Like a caterpillar entering a cocoon, the space for your authentic self to come through is created.
All you’ve been told you "should" want and "should" do can be subtracted. In reality, your worth is untethered from all these things (and from any external circumstance being a particular way actually), pursuing all these “shoulds” has very little to do with happiness, and you’re actually completely free to do anything your heart desires.
3. Step into You
You are a unique individual with authentic desires - true likes, wants and preferences. From an early age, we have internalized so much instruction from the world about how we “should” be and what we “should” do that many of us have overridden and ignored our authentic self. We’ve become chameleons, feeling it’s unsafe to show our true colors and be who we really are. And over time we’ve innocently lost and come out of touch with our true self. But the life you want is not possible without showing up here as your true self. So now let’s get to know him/her, perhaps for the first time. “Hello, sweet one, what do you want? What excites you? What makes you feel alive?”
For some this may be obvious, they may have known for a long time what they really want but have been holding back. For others their desire indicator light has been bulldozed over for years by all the “shoulds” and needs time and nurturing to come out. The authentic you and your desires emerge as you deepen in the process of meeting yourself.
4. Honor Your Desires
In this step you begin to move toward what you want step-by-step. Fear will come up. Your limiting beliefs will still feel very true. You’ll want to rush things to get somewhere and feel safe. Here, awareness of all that will be your best friend.
You see, there runs the danger of going after what you want just like you went after things in the past. Often this means with a lot of pushing to try to “make something happen”, striving, using too much rationality, and grasping to be on paper “successful” at this new thing.
Instead, stay focused on your truth and what you want for your life. It will all unfold for you in a way your mind won’t be able to see right away.
And we work with developing and following our intuition. 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 - 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 from your gut, the path or inspired action that feels good to you. You may be amazed what happens.
It will all unfold for you. Stay on the path. Stay in awareness. Moment to moment follow your nudges and know you will be guided. Hold the vision and feel how good this life new life you’re creating is. And yes, it’s a bit of a trust fall.
Move at your own pace. Then repeat the steps starting from 1 as often as needed. They are steps in a bigger process, but also part of a daily process.
Our stressful thoughts, fears, beliefs, "shoulds" etc. 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 subtract. Step into awareness, see what’s true and let the rest go.
Also know that your desires will 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 eventually 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 (or going to do next) into your new identity or purpose in life. Those are shifting and perhaps completely unnecessary concepts. 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. Don’t underestimate the power, potential and opportunity of following your authenticity.
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.