When I was researching my book Breakdown, Breakthrough, I interviewed an inspiring, now well-known and beloved comedienne Monique Marvez, and her words stopped me in my tracks. She shared this story (see Chapter 11 for the full account):
“When I think back my childhood, I never really seized on a specific career path that I wanted. But from when I was a little girl, I thought about being a performer of some sort, maybe a singer. I didn’t have a great childhood. It was marred by a lot of instability and insecurity. So I knew I wanted security and stability, and I wasn’t picky about how I’d accomplish that. The first major decision I made in life was not to finish college. I was studying accounting, but I found the whole thing so boring. I remember somebody said to me then that cosmetics would always be great business, so I left college and got my first job at Estée Lauder. I loved it and was good at it because it was immediate and it helped people. I did very well, working there from age 18 to 24.
Then something happened that changed my life. I had married my high school sweetheart, and after about a year and half, he ran off with another woman. I wasn’t quite 24 years old when I got divorced for the first time. That experience threw me into an odd sort of depression—I felt suddenly purposeless and empty. While I loved cosmetics, I felt it had no real value for me. I felt compelled to seek a deeper, more profound thing to do with my life, to give me the security I longed for. Being married to my high school sweetheart was the thing that had given my life meaning up until that point. I had taken the track that “nice Latin girls” take, and I had thought it was the right thing for me, but I realized I was wrong.
I then toyed with the idea of going back to school, but I knew I was a good salesperson and people liked me. So I went to a temporary employment service to help me regroup and find a way out of retail. I went into a position of underwriting medical malpractice insurance policies, and it turned out I was really good at it. But the company I worked for asked me to stop associating with a former employee who was a close personal friend, so after a period of refusing to do that, I got fired.
I was home one day watching TV, and Oprah came on. Something about seeing her show affected me deeply. I sat there for hours after and wrote this long manifesto about my life called “The End of Slavehood.” In it, I detailed for myself all that I hated about my previous work life, and the things I would never succumb to again. From that point on, I knew I needed to be independent, so I formed my own corporation, Marvez and Madison, and worked for my girlfriend’s company selling medical malpractice insurance. I continued doing this for three years, and at 27 years old I was doing well and making some very decent money. But after a while, I begin to contemplate what my life’s big picture was and wondered if this was it. I hoped not.”
As Monique discovered after “trying on” several different professional identities, being good at your work simply isn’t enough to build a happy, fulfilling life, not if the work doesn’t match who you are. What’s required for a satisfying and genuinely meaningful life is something else—discovering what you’re naturally and joyfully gifted at (in her case, comedy and performance), and stepping forward to do work that makes use of these gifts. People often realize, after following a “secure” but joyless road for years, that life will happen, and traumas emerge, including exploitation, loss, disappointment, and sudden negative shifts away from what they anticipated. Sometimes these shifts are “just life,” but more often than not they have a purpose, which is to point you—like a red neon sign in the road—to follow a more authentic, self-affirming direction, one that allows you to honor what you’ve been endowed with and use your core gifts.
I’ll never forget Monique sharing that she wrote her “manifesto” – what she will never tolerate again in her life – and how she will end “slavehood” in her life forever. I now make this one of the key steps in all my career success coaching programs, helping women get in touch with what they love, and what they hate and wish to move away from forever.
To help you take a step toward writing your personal manifesto for 2015 and shed what you dislike in your life and career, I’d like to suggest these top five things as a starting point, in terms of what you’ll say “no” to going forward:
Abandoning your self-respect
I’ve personally lived through the heartache of compromising my self-respect to stay in a job. Years ago when I was a corporate marketing professional, I knew that how I was behaving (because I felt overwhelmed and pressured to), was not who I wanted to be. I wasn’t the leader or manager I longed to be, because I couldn’t manage and navigate through the toxicity, stress and overwhelm I felt in my job or in the organization. I tried to speak up about what I saw around me that wasn’t right, but I got crushed down. In the end, I completely lost my self-respect, and felt that I was “prostituting” myself in order to keep my job and maintain my high salary. I knew literally in the first week that the job and company were wrong for me. What should I have done? Find a new job fast. But I didn’t. I stayed, and I lost my self-respect in the process.
Lowering your standards of integrity
I view “standards of integrity” as core principles and values that guide our behavior. Integrity is a choice, and while it is influenced by a myriad of factors (your culture, upbringing, peer influences, etc.), if you behave in ways that are out of alignment with your integrity, you’ll suffer. One who has strong and well-defined standards of integrity behaves with wholeness, integration, honesty, and does right by himself/herself and by others. Standards of integrity involve values and virtues such as honesty, kindness, trust, wisdom, loyalty, transparency, objectivity, acceptance, openness, empathy, and graciousness.
In these past few years, I’ve witnessed so many people in midlife awaken as if from a long sleep to realize that they’ve compromised their most core values in order to get ahead in their work or retain jobs they hate. It hurts them to realize that they’ve walked away from who they are, and what they value and cherish most.
People mistakenly believe that in these tough recessionary times they have to give up on their values and integrity to stay employed, but that’s simply not true. Those who are guided by a strong sense of integrity fare much better in professional life, and will besuccessful where others fail.
Sacrificing your soul for money
Money – and our relationship with it — is a topic that’s spawned millions of books, articles and seminars. Many of us struggle each day with maintaining a healthy balance and appropriate power dynamic with our money, and most fail. I’ve seen countless professionals give up their souls for money – not because they are struggling to pay the bills, but because they’ve become enslaved by their lifestyle and their need to impress (and their need to feed their sense of worthiness through money). These folks have forgotten what they’re capable of, and that they’re here at this time not to just pay the bills, acquire things, and keep up with the Joneses. I’m not saying that fulfilling your financial obligations isn’t important – it is. I am saying that you are much more than your paycheck or bank account.
You know you’ve sacrificed your soul for money when you’re in a painful, debilitating state that you can’t pretend your way out of, and no amount of money will heal. (Here’s more about transforming your wealth programming.)
Disregarding your health and well-being
In my teleclasses and workshops, I see hundreds of high-level professional women who are brilliant, achievement-oriented and accomplished, but at the same time exhausted, depleted, and depressed. In the pursuit of a great career, they’ve compromised their health and well-being. Much of this has to do with the ever- complicated issue of work-life balance and how to stay competitive and ahead of the curve. But to me, it’s much more. Sacrificing your health and well-being demonstrates your lack of prioritizing yourself as important, failing to understand that you need to care for yourself – and yes, put yourself first — before you can be of true service to anyone else, your business, your family or your employer. If your body is shutting down, diseased or debilitated because of how you work, rapid change is needed.
Ignoring your mission
Finally, the saddest professionals I’ve met have sacrificed their personal legacy in the process of building their careers. What is your legacy? It’s your mission in life – what you will be able to say about yourself when you’re 90 years old looking back — what you’ve stood for, given, taught, imparted, and left behind. Not what you dreamed of being, but what youhave been. It’s the impact you’ve made on the world, your family, and your community. So many professionals forget that they have this one chance to build a life that’s meaningful and purposeful for them. Instead, they compromise their legacy in a vain effort to grasp “success”, accolades, security, or power. (If you want to clarify your legacy, values, standards of integrity and more, take myCareer Path Self-Assessment).
If you think you have to compromise on any of the above in order to be employed or build a successful career, I hope you’ll think again. I’ve lived the pain of losing myself in the processing of creating my corporate professional life, and finally learned that, despite all our best efforts, it will never bring you the success, fulfillment and reward you long for if you continue to say “no” to your authentic self.
Write your Personal Manifesto today, and make 2015 your time to shine. Here’s some inspiration for that.
Kathy Caprino, M.A. is a nationally-recognized career success coach, writer, trainer and speaker dedicated to the advancement of women in business. She is the author of Breakdown, Breakthrough:The Professional Woman’s Guide to Claiming a Life of Passion, Power and Purpose, and Founder/President of Ellia Communications, Inc. and the Amazing Career Project, focused on helping professional women build successful, rewarding careers of significance. A Forbes, Huffington Post and LinkedIn contributor and top media source on women’s career and workplace issues, she has appeared in over 100 leading newspapers and magazines and on national radio and television. For more information, visit www.kathycaprino.com and connect with Kathy on: Twitter, FB, LinkedIn.
This article originally appeared in Forbes.
Photo Courtesy of Marc Falardeau [FLICKR]