This article on how I figured out what I wanted to do is an excerpt from my ebooklet, The Lighthouse Method*. Please be sure to check out The Lighthouse MethodTM course along with other resources on getting unstuck and figuring out what you want to do.
You may have noticed that throughout the ebooklet when describing perfectionists, I’ve used the word “we” and not “they.” This is because I too am a “recovering” perfectionist. (It takes one to know one.) And I too have used The Lighthouse Method. Only I didn’t know that I was at the time. So, the process took considerably longer than any coaching engagement I’ve had with any client.
The first half of my life, I knew exactly what I needed to do…
…to get to the next grade, degree, or level. I worked hard, earned scholarships, and got to learn from the best teachers and work with the best researchers. Somewhere in my thirties, however, I didn’t feel satisfied. While my perfectionism helped me to be a good student and a detail-oriented researcher, it also led me to see all the ways I fell short. Mainly, as an academic researcher, I wasn’t writing. In order to succeed, I needed to publish my work in academic journals. But, I couldn’t write. I was too afraid of the criticism I would receive from peer reviews, a prerequisite for getting published in journals.
After having my first child and for a variety of reasons, I ended up quitting my job. I was full of mixed emotions. Going from “research scientist” to “mom” changed my day-to-day life in ways I hadn’t imagined (even though I had interviewed moms about the transition to parenthood in my research!). I felt relieved I didn’t have to write journal articles, but also ashamed that I had failed. I felt fortunate that I got to raise my baby full-time, but also guilty that my advanced degree was going to waste. I had a hard time seeing the good in my life. I was unhappy.
I needed a change.
My first instinct was to do some freelance research work. I did for a while but quickly realized I didn’t want to do it anymore. My husband encouraged (challenged) me to try something completely new, so I took an H&R Block course, thinking I might try my hand at tax preparation. After several weeks, I knew it wasn’t right and quit before finishing the course. This time it was easier to quit. It actually felt good. I felt lighter. So I investigated other things—professional organizing, home staging, and knitting design. I quit each of them until finally discovered coaching.
Looking back, I can now see how my perfectionistic thinking led me to view my departure from academia as a “failure.” It’s this sort of all-or-nothing thinking that plagues so many of us perfectionists. We view ourselves so harshly. I recall when I was exploring and abandoning different options, there were days I looked down on myself as a “silly, fickle, spoiled housewife.”
Now, with the experience of using The Lighthouse Method with my clients…
I see my “quitting” not as a failure but as letting go of old anchors or unnecessary weight on my boat that held me back and weighed me down. I let go of notions that:
- I had to work in academia to be successful.
- I had wasted my education.
- I needed to punish myself to motivate myself.
- I had to avoid mistakes at all costs.
Each time I switched one lighthouse for another, it got easier to let go and easier to row toward a new, different lighthouse. Soon after quitting the H&R Block course, I found the right lighthouse for me.
I love coaching my clients. Moreover, I am writing again. It is still hard work for me, but it is far more enjoyable writing for women like me than for other academics. My clients taught me so much; they are my silent co-authors.
*This is an affiliate link. If you make a purchase, I earn a small commission, part of which gets donated to organizations that support women and girls. Thank you!
Designed for the smart and caring, this four-week self-study online course shows you step-by-step how to move forward with your endeavors, whether it’s finding rewarding work, starting a new business, or launching a creative project. You’ll learn small tweaks that are easy to incorporate to work on your priorities…even if you’re caring for others, short on time, or don’t know what you want.