Due to confidentiality reasons, names and backgrounds in this story have been changed.
It was February 2015 when Marie emailed me asking whether I would consider coaching her husband, Peter. Peter is a successful civil engineer, who has been thriving in his career across 8 different countries over the last 18 years. He is now working with a very well-known multinational company.
One would think the story of Peter’s life is a typical definition of success – he has the money, he travels worldwide for work, and he has earned his professional respect. But during our complimentary session, Peter, a man in his 40s, confessed:
“I admit, I am very good at my profession, and I have worked hard to achieve all I have thus far. However, what I do is not my chosen path, and I’m frustrated because I don’t even like what I am doing. It doesn’t give me satisfaction but a never-ending stream of regret at my hopelessness. But I don’t know how to move forward or change. Among the fears that inhibit me, there is one that torments me the most – that I will still be doing the same thing in the next 10-15 years.”
Peter’s story moved me. I saw in him the same potential that drove me to change my life several years ago. I knew I had to help him.
Before we started our coaching program, I asked Peter to draw a picture of his perceived situation, and bring it to our first session. The picture Peter drew was gloomy. It consisted of a “Start” sign, a brick wall, a road-closure sign, a tunnel, a ticking clock, a “Dollar” sign as well as a large symbol of a brain with the words “job/career change”. The meaning of the drawing was immediately apparent. It symbolised Peter’s dilemma – his internal struggle of wanting a career change, but being paralysed by procrastination and unable to take any steps towards it.
Even though Peter was hopeless, immobilised by all the hurdles that changing his career path would induce, there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and I wanted to support Peter to find it. I asked him to describe his situation. As he is very creative, he quickly labeled himself as “being trapped in a box at the bank of a wild and fast flowing river”.
In further details, Peter said: “I can see the good life calling on the other side of the river, but there is no hope to get across alive. The box represents my stable career in engineering, which helped me to be safe for so many years, but now I have outgrown the box and I feel stuck. In order to cross the river, I need to practice and find the best swimming style that would allow me to safely swim across the water. Swimming style is a metaphor for my perfect career, which will ensure that I look forward to getting up and going to work every morning.”
Next, we did the Harrison career assessment, which proved Peter’s feelings and fears right. His profile revealed that he had a ZERO! percent chance of enjoying a career as a civil engineer. Gosh!
We started working closely together, trying to identify Peter’s passions and talents. As it turned out, Peter had a massive drive for developing and selling sustainable products in areas where they were unavailable. Further probing revealed that Peter yearned to work autonomously and to make use of his creativity. He was fed up with the painfully familiar “Sunday Blues” he felt before each looming Monday.
It soon became obvious that by being an engineer, Peter was simply wasting his life, wasting his talents, but more importantly, he was losing something else – the satisfaction, happiness, and immense sense of purpose that a fulfilling career will bring.
This was the moment when I asked Peter to dig deeper into his past to find the root cause of his inability to change. Both of us had to understand the structure of his approach to work. We began this process by analysing his belief system.
Peter had grown up in a tough working class area in Leeds, Yorkshire and one of the first lessons he learned from his father (who worked as an industrial steel-welder) was that “a job is something you have to hate”. Well, if that doesn’t give you an idea of just the kind of foundation and attitude this way of thinking evokes in a young mind, I don’t know what does!!
Furthermore when Peter was 12, his mother left and he had to take care of his 2 younger siblings. Through this he learned to put his younger siblings’ safety and interests above his own good. This difficult situation also ingrained in him a deep conviction that he had to take care of his family’s well-being by any means, and above all else.
This, combined with the fact that money had always been short, helped to explain why Peter was so afraid to take a leap of faith towards a fulfilling career. There were too many obstacles, and never enough positive impulses to let him free himself from the shackles.
For many people these in-depth personal analyses are never easy. Yet they usually reveal plenty of areas in our mindset that might be stopping us from reaching our full potential. Even though this is an exhausting process, it is a necessary one for change and a sustainable transition.
During one of our sessions and whilst digging deeper into his beliefs, Peter drew a bubble chart of his current beliefs. As coaching happens mainly between the sessions, I asked him to go home and re-consider his bubble chart, turning all those limiting beliefs he had into ones that are empowering and infused with positive energy.
This step of the process is also very challenging. It will only work, if you are able to set your mind on believing the change is really possible and that it is something within your grasp. Also, you have to be prepared to throw away your old habits – those cemented, clingy beliefs that are holding you back. This not only requires guts and perseverance, but also a strong support system in the form of a coach or family that will back you up throughout your entire journey. Behind this lies one truth. The truth that no one else will do the transition for you. You have to do it!
By the following session, Peter had most of his new belief chart figured out. What he shared totally blew me away as Peter had drawn a “New-Belief-Flower”.
The working class area in Leeds became “NEW YORK SHIRE.” The depressing slogan “Work = No Life” was replaced by “LOVE WORK LIFE”. “Responsibility” was replaced by “REMEMBER DUBAI” as a trip to Dubai was Peter’s and his wife’s first experience at travelling and exploring new cultures together.
Peter’s Dubai experience was, in fact, an eye-opener which made him aware of the fact, that one needs very little to be very happy. When I probed him further to understand why he didn’t want to take the plunge and have his Dubai mindset everyday, he said that he couldn’t risk his children’s well-being only because he alone felt like a change. This sounded like an answer of a very reasonable and caring father.
I asked Peter to look at all of it from a different perspective. What did he think his children would say if they saw their father grinding his teeth at his job each morning? After the question left my lips, Peter was silent for a moment, thinking. Then, suddenly, he beamed. “GO FOR IT DAD,” was what he was convinced his children would say. With this, his New-Belief-Flower bloomed further.
Peter’s plan was to make a soft transition, so taking care of “my family” was replaced with “NO RISK” as he decided that he would not leave his well-paying job until there was a clear and safe alternative in place. It was perfect because exploring other options now brought no risk.
Peter also knew that if he wanted to move any further, he had to finally start putting himself before anyone and anything else. The fear of having no money was replaced with “freedom that even little money” would give him.
With the petals of the belief flower now replaced by new beliefs, Peter had only one thing left to draw. The heart of the flower – the essence of his change, the motor propelling and guaranteeing Peter’s success. In the middle of the flower, Peter drew a surfer. This symbolised the balance and focus required to cross the river full of insecurities, worries, and uncertainties.
The rest is history.
During the next year Peter learned the nuts and bolts of how to run an internet business from scratch and in the last 7 month he sold self-designed sustainable products via his own company and created the same amount of revenue as he did when working as a civil engineer in a full year.
Even though he continues working in his old job, there is a bright light ahead of him and every day he is getting closer to the other side of the river. All of this wouldn’t be possible if he didn’t take the plunge and did not change his negative beliefs into new, empowering ones.
Congratulations Peter! Keep pursuing your dreams. Make your New-Belief-Flower grow and grow, bringing you personal satisfaction, fulfillment and happiness.