“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. 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
Become aware of what is really motivating you. Become aware of your conditioning - your upbringing and past experiences from which you developed painful beliefs that aren’t serving you. Become aware of your resistance to looking at what’s really going on inside. Become aware that you are not your thoughts, your conditioning, your pain.
You are that which is aware of all this; you are the awareness. Come out of identification with the thought streams. It’s only from the vantage point of awareness that clarity and change is possible.
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. Yet, they are beliefs made up by society and taught to us from an early age.
2. See What’s Really True
With awareness of all the thoughts, beliefs, fears etc. that are running through you - and their possible origins - we can slow down and take a closer look at them. We can ask, “Is what I am thinking really true?” Most of our stressful thoughts - that you aren’t good enough, that you need to have money, prestige, social status to have value for example - are not true. Once you can see for yourself what is true for you, the “you” that has been living out a life believing these 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, pursuing them has very little to do with happiness, and you’re actually free to do anything your heart desires.
3. Step into You
You have real authentic desires coming up inside you - true likes and dislikes, wants and preferences. From an early age, we have been conditioned to believe it’s not safe to trust these desires and simply be our authentic selves. So, over time we’ve innocently lost ourselves through denying who we really are. But the life you want is not possible without an embodiment of your authentic self. 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 for the first time.
4. Honor Your Desires
This step is where you begin to move toward your desires. Fear will come up and want you to bail. Your painful beliefs will still feel very true as healing and transformation takes time. You will want to rush things to feel like you’re getting “somewhere” and feel “safe.” Here, awareness 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 rational mind, and grasping to be on paper “successful” at this new thing.
Instead, hang out in the desire and moment to moment follow your nudges and what feels good. It’s a trust fall.
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.
It will all unfold for you. Stay on the path. Stay in awareness. Work with your energy. Hold the vision and feel how good this life new life you’re creating is.
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 conditioning, painful 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 and see what’s true.
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 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 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. 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.