I love timeless wisdom and deep inner work - and often both are necessary to successfully change careers. So it should come as no surprise that one of my biggest pet peeves is how often misunderstood spiritual principles are repeated in the career space - sometimes with terrible consequences.
If you have been trying to figure out what to do next in your career, chances are you have come across at least one of these sayings - and probably from someone who attributed the complete opposite meaning to them than it was original intended. Here are the most commonly misunderstood spiritual principles I see used in the career space and what they actually mean.
1. Follow Your Passion
How it is usually understood: Pick something you like, often just because you have a "feeling" about it, and then do whatever it takes to go after it. Eat Ramen for 3 years, sleep in your car, ignore all naysayers, get close to absolute despair, and if you follow your passion you will get what you want in the end. Oh, and of course eventually the money will come. Also, if it doesn't work out - well, that's probably your fault.
What it actually means: Follow your passion is probably one of the most misunderstood spiritual principles. It comes from "follow your bliss" - and its original meaning was to live in the present moment, taking a step at a time, and letting what you enjoy and love guide you without having a preconceived idea of where you will end up. The whole point is to enjoy the journey now. Notice that this does not mean that there will be a pot of gold at the end, but that, whatever your path, you will keep enjoying it exactly because you are following our bliss now.
What it looks like when changing careers: If you stay attached to a specific career goal just because you think you might enjoy it in the future, you risk missing a more fun and wonderful opportunity you didn't even know existed. Changing careers is a process - enjoy the journey and you are guaranteed to succeed at living a life full of bliss. Starting now.
2. Your Thoughts Create Your Reality
How it is usually understood: By mastering your thoughts you can control your outside world. When good things happen it's because you manifested them and when bad things happen, you must have brought them onto yourself by your conscious or unconscious thoughts. Sometimes this can veer right into victim-blaming territory, which makes it painful or even dangerous when it is one of the misunderstood spiritual principles.
What it actually means: We know that there are some psychological mechanisms that influence how we see the world and therefore experience it. One such example is confirmation bias which is "the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one's preexisting beliefs or hypotheses." This does not mean that we make things happen with our thoughts (unless we take action).
What it looks like when changing careers: A simple example of confirmation bias in action would be looking for a job thinking that you have to choose between doing what you love vs. making money. While holding that belief, your mind will notice all sorts of examples of jobs you like but don't pay or jobs that pay but you would hate, while at the same time dismissing as impossible, or failing to notice those jobs which could be fun and pay you enough. If you recognize your belief and shift it to saying to yourself that there must be at least one job or business you can have that is both pleasurable and lucrative you will start noticing opportunities that fit. The outside world in the meantime will not change, but you will open up to more possibilities, which often leads to taking different action and therefore getting better results.
3. You Have to Forgive in Order to Heal
How it is usually understood: Anger is bad and forgiving means you will put up with any situation, have a relationship with the person who hurt you, and be able to never ever have conflict again. Also, if you truly forgive a person, they will be cool towards you and apologize for what they did.
What it actually means: Although anger is a very healthy emotion to feel and often necessary to heal, when you keep feeling angry for long periods of time, you continue to suffer and paradoxically remain connected to the person who hurt you. Forgiving is something we do to find peace within ourselves. It doesn't mean we have to have a relationship with the people who hurt us, or that they have to apologize to us. Sometimes people will continue to try to hurt you and will refuse to acknowledge the impact their actions had on you, no matter what you do or say. While you only need your own heart to forgive, you first need to be safe and away from the abuse, have processed what happened to you (including being angry), and feel free to choose whether to forgive. Forgiveness might take many years: working through all the needed stages, from defending yourself to feeling intensely all your feelings, makes you a human being - be compassionate towards yourself ♥
What it looks like when changing careers: If you have had a toxic and/or heartbreaking work experience you are not alone, they are way more common than you think. You might have gotten angry, lashed out, or complained to a friend... I know, it's not the way you wanted to be and you might feel ashamed of how you dealt with the situation and even partly blame yourself for what happened. Start by forgiving yourself and understand you probably had a very human reaction to a crappy situation. And then resolve to let it go. You might never get the acknowledgment or apology from your boss and/or coworkers that you feel you are owed - and that's OK. You might never be able to say all you want to say - and that's OK too. By holding onto your resentment you risk staying closed off. It's much better to open up to a new and wonderful team - or business idea - and move on.
4. Hang Out with People who Embody the Qualities You Want for Yourself
How it is usually understood: If you don't like something about yourself, all you need to do is get different friends! Are you poor? Well, time to ditch your broke friends and hang out with rich folks instead. One of the most infuriating examples used to illustrate this point is that in order to lose weight you should hang out with skinny people. Please....apart from obvious and despicable body shaming, this approach is all about projecting your own unhappiness onto other people. Nope.
What it actually means: We are heavily influenced by our environment, so it's important that we recognize when we are in situations or relationships that reinforce our own negative behaviors and/or trigger unhealthy feelings. It becomes one of the most misunderstood spiritual principles when we fail to understand that we are responsible for our own feelings and actions - in other words, it's not like we are magically absorbing bad stuff from other people - at least not only. Here's an example: years ago I met a very successful young woman. She befriended me and we started hanging out. At the beginning of our friendship she mentioned how often women were jealous of her and would gossip and say mean things about her. She firmly believed that women are not supportive of one another. Since I personally never had this belief and don't have friends who behave like that, I simply invited her to hang out with my friends. I thought maybe she just needed a different crowd. ... I bet you can guess what happened: within a few months she was the one saying mean things and acting jealous - to the point that we slowly stopped inviting her to go places with us. I am sure she now believes it was all because we were not supportive women friends!
So as much as your environment affects you, it's imperative you observe whether you keep finding yourself in the same negative situation. And if so, while doing all you can to leave that unhelpful environment, you need to also look at whether you directly contributed to that negative environment - and choose to behave differently. Otherwise, just like my new friend, you might find an awesome group of new people without it making any difference in your life.
What it looks like when changing careers: If you are in a very negative workplace, your job is not to stay for years trying to make it work for you. Your environment is bigger than you are and you risk damaging your confidence, self esteem and career by staying put. However, make sure to also look at whether you are contributing to the negativity, and if you are, remember that an awesome team will want an awesome team member 😉 So look for a better team while resolving to also improving your way of interacting with people if needed.
5. There Never Was Nor Ever Will Be Another Like You
How it is usually understood: You are special - find one thing to be #1, the absolute best - you deserve success, fame, wealth, recognition!
What it actually means: This is a beautiful and powerful teaching, and again one of the most misunderstood spiritual principles. It invites you to feel how amazing it is to be alive right here and now: there will literally never be someone like you having the same exact experience you are having right now. And so it is for every single blade of grass, cloud in the sky, sleepy kitten and fellow human being. Knowing that now is an amazing time that will never repeat itself means to love yourself unconditionally and to honor yourself and others regardless of how much money or success you have - love yourself and others now! It also means to accept that every one of us is worthy of love and peace just as we are. This piece of wisdom invites you to live in the present and to feel that you are already part of everything, to feel a deep spiritual bond for all around you, and to honor every living creature in your path, including yourself.
What it looks like when changing careers: You are not your career. You are worthy of love and appreciation exactly as you are. Work on finding ways of contributing to people and organizations you love from that place of unconditional love for yourself - and always keep a feeling of openness, gratitude and awe for everything and everyone around you, including your own being alive.
What other misunderstood spiritual principles have you seen widely shared as career advice? And how did they affect you? Tell me in the comments!