Many days I feel as if I am running headlong into oncoming traffic. Over the past seven years, I have adopted a much different outlook on life than I had for the prior 37 years. My current mindset is much more optimistic, positive, or growth-oriented, whatever you want to call it. Many elements of my life have changed in that period and almost exclusively for the better. My life is not perfect for certain. I have things that trouble me on some level every day. Yet, I don’t succumb to ruminating thoughts that in the past have controlled me. Rather, I have conditioned myself to consistently ask the question, “What can I do differently?” placing responsibility on myself to control the things I can control and accepting the things that I cannot control. This perhaps overly simplistic formula has afforded me great benefits, the greatest of which is somewhat taming my overactive mind. And while I feel great about the changes I have made, sometimes I feel as though my new-found outlook places me a vast minority in this world.
About three years ago, I made an anxiety-filled decision to embark on a new career in the performance coaching field. I was unsatisfied in my business consulting career. I felt like a cog in the proverbial wheel. I had no purpose at work every day. I suspect that I probably felt this way for at least 10 years prior but never truly gave myself permission to acknowledge my lack of fulfillment. I carried a number of thoughts that I have found to be common among others like me: middle-aged married fathers with 20-ish years of experience in their chosen field. Money and security are typically the primary drivers of employment for my cohort. Joy, intellectual challenge, and genuine purpose are viewed as secondary reasons (at best) for employment. Yet, for me, prioritizing money, security, and even prestige was a one-way ticket to a daily walk down the plank of life. Getting on a train or a boat or a plane to go travel somewhere I didn’t really want to go became debilitating. In fact, it became so debilitating that the pain started to become unbearable.
The timeline for my career change has become blurry because it feels like forever ago. So, let’s call it five years ago that I started exploring a career change. I knew that I wanted to pursue a new career, but I honestly didn’t know what that might look like. Once I started vocalizing my curiosity in a new career, I started to get some positive feedback. I was referred to a career consultant (I call him a coach). His services were expensive, and I had no clue where it would lead me. However, the unending discomfort that I was experiencing pushed me to explore this opportunity. Further, the changes that I had been making in my life had allowed me to accumulate enough self-esteem to invest in myself without too much guilt. After two solid years of self-exploration, prioritizing, and research, I determined that my new career would be in the sport psychology field and that I would go back to school to pursue at master’s degree in sport psychology. I made that decision sometime in 2016. I then developed a transition plan that would have me start my degree program in 2018 after having saved “enough” money to feel comfortable. Turns out, there is not enough money in the world that would have allowed me to feel comfortable in foregoing my very healthy annual income. Nevertheless, I only made it to the end of 2016. I applied for my master’s program in November 2016. In December, I gave notice to my employer. On January 16, 2017, I quit my secure full-time job and a career with nearly 20 years of equity to embark on an unknown path. I had finally reached rock bottom.
Once I made the decision to pursue my new career as a mental performance coach, I then started the wrong way down the one-way street of life. I felt relief. I felt joy. I felt optimistic. I felt excitement. I was finally pursuing the career that I so carefully curated over the past three years or so. I was happy to wake up every day as I was building toward something that truly mattered to me. However, I noticed that these positive feelings about my work and my life were very different than many of the other people around me. For many people, work seems to be a chore at best, a means to an end, and way to pass the time until the weekend comes. I have grown to wince when I hear the phrase “TGIF” that my wife is so fond of using. For me, it was “thank God it’s today.” I was grateful every day. I no longer looked forward to weekends. I looked for to the day staring me in the face. I worked at nights. I worked whenever the opportunity presented itself – nights, weekends, during travel. I took my kids to school and coached their sport teams. I went to the gym during the day. Everything that I did was in service of my goal to establish a career and a business dedicated to helping others reach their potential. I wasn’t complaining about my boss. I wasn’t complaining about my raise or bonus. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to build something new from scratch. And for that, I truly felt like an outlier.
Nearly three years after leaving my old life, I am on the verge of finishing my master’s degree, building my business, and serving others in the capacity that I have envisioned for so long. I have invested a great deal of energy, time, and money in getting to this point. Not having a full-time income is much significantly more stressful today than it was almost three years ago. Further, my enthusiasm for finishing my educational requirements has waned a bit because I am champing at the bit to work on a full-time basis. However, I still wake up every single day excited about what I am preparing to do whether it’s work with college athletes, generate new sales opportunities in my independent consulting hustle, or going to the gym working on my fitness. I have an immense amount of gratitude for the opportunities that I have created for myself. Calling my own shots is probably the thing that makes me most happy. You might say that I am intrinsically motivated to build my life on a daily basis. My choices and actions are largely autonomous and after three years I feel more than competent in my ability to be successful in my endeavors. Self-Determination Theory suggests that individuals that experience autonomy, competence, and relatedness while performing any action are likely to experience self-generated motivation that leads to well-being (Ryan & Deci, 2000). I am living proof that this theory has merit.
I consider myself to be a very observant person. I am fairly attuned to what others around me say and do. I consistently hear people say things like, “TGIF” or “I can’t believe it’s only Wednesday” or “I’d rather be anywhere than at work today.” Similarly, when I am traveling to Manhattan, I consistently see people that look like they are walking the plank of life similar to the way I did over three years ago. Witnessing these things makes me sad because I know that change is possible. I am living proof of it. However, I also know first-hand that it is extremely difficult to do an about-face and take on the oncoming traffic of life, so I am acutely aware of not judging others. Change requires a great deal of planning. Change requires a great deal of courage. And unfortunately, change requires a great deal of pain (at least for me it does). I hope to help others make that U-turn into oncoming traffic when the pain finally becomes too great to endure.
Ryan, R.M., & Deci, E.L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68-78.