Doing what you love despite the voice in your head

Sometimes, I doubt myself.  My confidence drains away and the fear gets a grip.  The downward spiral begins.

Recently, this doubt has been about my “portfolio career”. 

I like having a mix of things that I do to earn a living (or that keep me occupied – not all of them pay).  But sometimes, especially when work is a bit quiet, I find the voice in my head has re-categorised my portfolio as “a ragbag of stuff, none of which is substantial or sustainable”. 

At this point, I sink rather rapidly into the slough of despond and wonder why I ever embarked on this freelance thing.  At its worst, I get paralysed by the fear that I’m a failure, that I can’t make enough money, that I’m not any good at anything.  The panic gets a grip, and I stare at the computer screen unable even to open Facebook, never mind do any work.  As for remembering I’m a grown up... I imagine that my friends and professional colleagues are looking at me out of the corners of their eyes and thinking that I’m not a proper coach, not a proper facilitator, not a proper professional anything.

What is this about?

A coach I was working with recently at a workshop encouraged me to examine the metaphor of the ragbag.  Surely, she said, it contains fragments of often beautiful material, lovingly folded and stored away until its time has come, with memories in the patterns and textures.  And even the genuinely raggy bits – you kept them because you felt they had some purpose or usefulness in life. 

The dictionary offers up: A bag for storing rags.  A confused assortment.  A motley collection.  A smorgasbord.  A mixture, jumble, medley, mixed bag (informal), potpourri, miscellany, hotchpotch.  And: A scruffy or slovenly person.

At least I know I’m not that.  I manage to shower and get dressed every day, even if sometimes it’s lunchtime before I notice that I’ve been at the computer all morning and am still in my dressing gown. 

Back to the point. 

Is a ragbag really a suitable way to make a living?  If asked what I do, I usually say I’m an executive coach.  And then I have to explain what that is to at least 50% of my conversational partners.  I sometimes add that I do organisational consulting work, leadership development, team facilitation, and/or action learning, depending on the nature of the conversation and how interested the other person looks.  But I rarely say that I write, or meditate, or do stress management, or help new graduates on their career direction, or do recruitment assessments, or... any of the other various things that people have at one time or another paid me for. 

The question is not whether all this is a worthwhile and meaningful use of my time on this earth.  The point is that the voice in my head often, and I mean often, tells me that it’s not. 

I read a blog post yesterday by someonetalking about the art of being weird enough, which suggests the best you can hope for is that a third of people love you, a third detest you, and a third are indifferent.  The third who love you will do so because of who you are, plain and simple, and the more authentic you are, the more of the right kind of people you will attract into your life. 

I’ve never been weird.  Not out in the world, anyway.  Perhaps what goes on in my head is weird, who knows?  I’ve spent too much of my life trying to fit in, trying to be what other people expect or desire (or rather, what I imagine they expect and desire – how often do we ever actually check that out?), being a chameleon so I blend in with the background and don’t draw attention to myself.  It was only in the run-up to turning 40 that I began the journey of shaking off the people-pleaser attitude and started getting in touch with what I actually care about, who I actually am, how I really feel about life’s experiences.  Hard work, painful, a slow process.  But full of joy, release, and a sense of settling into a skin that actually fits. 

So this ragbag of mine?  I don’t mind if you don’t like it.  I don’t mind if it’s not your way of running your life.  It’s working for me, I’m at ease with it, and if that makes me weird and you uncomfortable, then we need to hang out with other people. 

And the voice in my head?  That’s where meditation and friends and journalling come in.  I pay attention to it, and then I do my best to turn it down, to switch frequencies.  If I love what I do, the energy I give off will attract people.  If I am enthusiastic and articulate about what I do, some people will catch enough of the excitement to join in.  And people who experiment and take risks and enjoy life are more interesting to be around. 

Sometimes we’re our own worst enemies, and I refuse to let mine win.  It is a choice, and I’m saying no to that thought-channel and re-tuning to one that is more positive and affirming.  Why not?  It’s all in my head, so I can do what I like, right?  Weird enough?

(First published 14 August 2012)