A few months back, I was talking with a woman about her career aspirations.

She longed to do something that she truly enjoyed, and felt drawn to transition from her corporate management job to work in organizational psychology.

As is so often the case with us brilliant women, she’d already taken a lot of diligent steps in that direction. Taking classes on the weekends, she’d earned an advanced degree in organizational development, and she’d even done a few small consulting projects on the side of her full time job. Yet she was having trouble making the leap to this being her primary work.

As we talked about why, she realized how scary it felt to her to do something that felt natural to her, even fun. If she wasn’t toiling and working extremely hard, wasn’t something going to go wrong? How could work that felt natural and easy really produce an income? A little voice in her head even whispered cruelly that this career move showed she was lazy and irresponsible.

As we probed a little deeper, she began to talk about the early messages she’d absorbed about money. Her parents had had no choice but to take grueling factory jobs that they hated in order to put food on the table. She’d learned from their actions – and also from their words – that suffering in your work was critical for survival.

Without knowing it, she’d come to believe that adulthood equaled toil.

I share this story today because a lot of us hold this tangled up belief about earning a living and suffering.

But mostly I share it because, whether you identify with this woman or not, for all of us, certain pairs of ideas got fused together early in life.

Those pairings are different for each of us, but we all have them. Perhaps for you it’s likability and docility. Or self-sacrifice and connection. Or perfectionism and rewards.

For you – what got fused together? 

What got fused with the idea of womanhood? What got fused with the idea of financial security?

And the core one: lovability – what got fused with that? Some of us learned that being lovable was bound up with being a high achiever, a star. For others, it’s the opposite – being lovable got bound up with being average – with not shining too brightly.

If you want to change anything significant in your life, the process will involve untangling some ideas that have gotten bound up with one another.

Let’s talk more about how that untangling happens.

For the woman I’m sharing about here, it meant first seeing the conflation in the light – becoming aware of what’s gotten fused. Then it meant realizing that toiling and suffering are one thing, and a career and making a living is another, pulling the two ideas apart.

It meant opening to the radical new idea that – not just for people in general but for her – work could be light, pleasurable, even fun, and also lucrative. Then she had to live with that thought, practice thinking it, go find new evidence of it in the world – evidence that runs counter to her early conditioning.

So, we could map that into four steps:

  1. Seeing what two ideas got tangled together
  2. Pulling the two ideas apart
  3. Believing in a radical new possibility
  4. Practicing the thought of that new possibility, again and again over time (course corrections, forgettings, and regressions included along the way)

What do I personally work at untangling in my own mind and heart these days? Femininity from dependency. Womanhood from saccharine speech and tone. Motherhood from guilt.

So my dear, what got bound up together in your mind and heart that it is now time to separate?

Sending love to you today,


Photo by Saskia van Manen

P.S. If you are longing for more authenticity and meaning in your work, if you are tired of being stuck in self-doubt and fear, our Playing Big course is for you. Visit here to learn more and get on the list to receive all the details about our next session.


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