How Your Intuition Can Unlock a More Fulfilling Career
Your body knows way before your mind catches up.
But somehow, in the western tradition at least, we are brought up to privilege our rational brain and validate, check, use logic and let this part of our decision-making process have the final say.
I knew ‘in my heart’ almost eighteen months before I handed in my resignation to devote myself full-time to my career-change coaching business. In these eighteen months I used every framework I could find to weigh up different aspects of this choice. I discussed it endlessly, procrastinated like a professional and made several false starts before actually making the leap.
Why was this so hard when my body ‘knew’ already? I believe it’s because I’d been trained throughout my life – and especially with each successive academic qualification I gained – that evidence and rational validation is intrinsically more important that instinct. And I think something else was going on too, I’d taken these measures so deeply into my psyche and my belief system that I would have felt embarrassed to admit that I’d made a huge decision because it ‘felt right.’
So, does intuition deserve more serious consideration?
If you’re used to acting on instinct and trusting your intuition you won’t need this portion of evidence. You already have the wisdom.
But for those of us who like to keep our intellect fuelled, let’s look at some of the thinking that presents intuition as an extremely slick and wise decision-maker. Malcolm Gladwell puts it well in his best-selling book Blink:
Respect the fact that it’s possible to know without knowing why we know and accept that – sometimes – we’re better off that way.
Instinctual decision-making is often disparaged as ‘knee-jerk’ and many believe that following a ‘feeling’ or hunch is in some way an inferior transaction – perhaps because it’s hard to explain intellectually. But psychologists have a word for this – ‘rapid cognition’ (aka ‘thin slicing’) – the way we make rapid decisions unconsciously and quickly.
You’ve heard of ‘emotional intelligence’? Using your intuition is an example of this now widely accepted cultural phenomenon. New York Times science writer Dan Goleman explored this in his book of the same name. Goleman describes the choice-guiding functions in our brain as being driven by the ‘wisdom of the emotions.’ By collecting, sifting and evaluating all memories of what has or hasn’t worked effectively for us in the past, we have a mass of evidence to draw upon in the blink of an eye. This reaches us emotionally – as feelings – and physically – as gut response.
So in fact, instinctual responses are highly sophisticated processes. Does that give you permission to listen to them?
Developing access to our intuition is an important skill for a coach. In the Co-active coaching approach that I’m trained in, we notice that people feel intuition in many different places in their bodies – in their gut, chest, fingers, head – or even outside it, like an intangible aura. Learning to be more aware of where you experience your intuition is an important first step – so start tuning in. Then practise expressing what your intuition is communicating to you. According to Co-Active Coaching,
‘intuition is where the hard data and soft data merge.’
But I don’t have any intuition!
Many of us aren’t used to listening to our instincts, feeling our intuition or other bodily clues. We haven’t yet learnt to tune into these signals and signs – but we can certainly develop the capacity to do so.
When we’re trying to make a big decision, we can gather a whole range of data and evaluate it, but this can be overwhelming. When we’re stuck, we usually tend towards even more data. Please don’t! A better place to go would be to your intuition. What is your body telling you about all the evidence you have gathered? All the pros and cons, the opportunities and threats? What really matters?
The chances are you already know which is the best option for you – but are steadfastly sticking your fingers in your ears because you haven’t learnt to value this intuitive voice. Let’s strengthen this ability.
Giving your intuition a work-out
Present yourself with two of your career options, let’s say:
a) is to continue as you are in your secure, regular, uninspiring and increasingly suffocating profession. It aligns with values you held dear twenty years ago: status and security
b) is to re-train for a new career that builds on your values, purpose and interests. It’s risky, exciting and fulfills your current guiding values of creativity, autonomy and making a difference
Present option a) to yourself as your only option and notice how your body responds – what is happening emotionally and physically? How do you feel in your heart and in your body? Try this idea for a whole day and watch your responses.
Now present option b) in a similar way and note your reactions.
You already know the answer. Is it just permission you need to listen to this inner wisdom?
Another way to tap into your inner wisdom is to describe the next five years of your a) and b) careers to a close friend and ask them what they hear in your voice and see in your face and body.
This is one of the gifts a coach can give you too – the ability to reflect back to you what you really want. The tone of your voice, the set of your shoulders, the expression on your face – these don’t lie (unless of course you are a professional actor). Learning to trust and value intuition is an essential part of making an authentic decision.
Let knowledge and wisdom combine
Let knowledge and wisdom combine
In the career-change programme I offer my clients who are seeking a more fulfilling career – one that fits the person they are today – the decision-making phase combines intellectual and instinctual evidence.
We explore a range of data from important areas that define a fulfilling career: skills, strengths, values, purpose, motivations, interests and achievements. They explore what an ideal life looks like to them.
We add to this a bank of multimedia examples that answer the question ‘What do you love doing?’ And ‘what excites, engages and attracts you?’
We refine and distil this data into ‘essentials’ for a fulfilled working life. Then the client describes two of their favourite options and I as the coach, reflect back the body language that reveals which has clear resonance.
This could be an excitement in the voice or face, a relaxed posture, an open demeanour, heightened positive energy, happiness – or the reverse.
One option will FEEL RIGHT. My job is to notice that, reflect it back to my client for them to hear. And then to trust.
Both intellectually and intuitively, they have reached a decision that is right for them. And very often, they will admit that they have had this idea floating around in the back of their mind for some time but have not given it serious thought because it didn’t seem like something they SHOULD do. In other words, they couldn’t explain it in a way that made much sense to anyone else. There was no hard evidence and no personal belief that this was a viable option.
Learning to value what matters most at this particular time in your life is an important way of approaching a future career path that speaks deeply to you. Using intellect AND intuition is a break through permission slip!
How can I learn to trust my intuition?
This needn’t be complicated. It means tuning in to your feelings and bodily responses. Notice them and learn to value them.
When you are faced with any possibility you are currently considering, what do you feel emotionally and physically?
Some emotions that indicate an aligned choice are: excitement, openness, optimism, happiness, elation, communication, feeling at peace
Some physical responses to an aligned choice: lightness, openness in stance, relaxed body language, animation, high energy, turning outwards
Some emotions that indicate a mis-aligned choiceare: sadness, lethargy, anxiety, discomfort, frustration, boredom, pointlessness
Some physical symptoms for a mis-aligned choice: tightness in the chest, neck or shoulders, stomach ache, headache, heaviness, clenched jaw or grinding of the teeth, furrowed brow, shrinking inwards, being lost for words, unable to voice your desires
These are all important clues.
Are you listening?
Are you trusting what your intuition is telling you?
How can you change that?
To explore your intuition, your values and a more purpose-filled working life, take a look at my Career Change Service