Anna is a successful professional. She is a high performer, achieving outstanding results in everything she chooses to do. Her friends and colleagues admire her. She seems to have an ideal life, family and career. But something is missing.
Despite a life that looks perfect from the outside Anna feels that she is lacking fulfillment. She believed she had the recipe for success. Now she is wondering what has gone wrong. Why doesn’t she feel the happiness she deserves? Why does it seem as if she is trapped in a golden cage?
Does this sound familiar? Do you recognize yourself in Anna? Many successful women like Anna are not happy despite their ‘perfect’ lives. They lack the personal satisfaction from doing things that they love, leading a meaningful life with more freedom and quality time for what matters most to them.
So what can keep professional women trapped in an unfulfilling life? In working with clients and during my own journey to self discovery I learned that there are 7 major traps that professional women fall into and that hold them back from living a fulfilling life.
Which of these are true for you?
- You can be too concerned about other people’s opinion.
Fear of other people’s opinion is one of the most deeply rooted human fears. Not too long ago a human being would be condemned to death if cast away from their tribe. Survival outside of the community was practically impossible.
No wonder people even nowadays are so concerned about what others think. They feel it is safer to comply with social norms. They prefer to follow accepted stereotypes for fear of criticism and rejection. To find out if this is true for you ask yourself if your choices are driven by what you truly wish or by the fear of what others might think. Do you really want this promotion at work? Will it truly make you happier or just make you appear more successful?
At some point in my life I realized that one of the reasons I was afraid to leave a safe job was because people would judge me and disapprove of my decision to become a coach. I no longer wanted to live a life that made me look good from the outside, but actually made me unhappy. I wanted to now make choices based on what mattered to me the most.
Curiously, the opinion of others often reflects our own opinion about ourselves.
If we believe that giving up a safe job is a failure, then this is how it is going to be perceived by others. However, if we are absolutely comfortable with our choices, then other people are more likely to be accepting, and even if they don’t, it will not matter at all.
The key to freedom from the tyranny of the opinion of others, and the first step to a more fulfilling life, is accepting ourselves exactly as we are, with our own unique strengths and weaknesses.
- You lack clarity about your personal values.
Your values are what you believe are important in the way you live and work. They should shape your priorities, and will probably be your key criteria in assessing if your life is going in the direction you want.
When your decisions and your behavior align with your values you are more likely to be satisfied and content. But when they are discordant with your personal values, then things will feel wrong. This can be a source of stress and unhappiness, which is why making a conscious effort to identify your core values is so important.
For example, if you value spending time with your children but you have to work 60 hours per week, you will soon begin to feel unhappy and stressed. But if you are clear about your own values, then they can be useful for you in helping to make decisions about how to live your life.
At some point I realized that my life may have looked good from the outside, but did not feel good from the inside! The reason was that my life and career did not align with my values. To understand better what mattered to me, I started to think back to the times when I was the happiest and most fulfilled, and to recall the accomplishments I was most proud of in both my career and
This helped me to realize what was most important for me: helping others to envisage a more meaningful life and supporting them in acquiring the skills they would need in order to bring it to reality. It was at this point that I decided to make the transition into coaching and training. I now regularly repeat this exercise to help me stay focused on working towards living my values and feeling much happier.
- You overlook your special talents.
We are not always aware of our full range of talents and skills. We may ignore or underestimate certain skills that we perceive to be redundant or of little value in making a living, such as dancing, singing, painting or writing poetry for instance.
These talents which we may have enjoyed during our childhood, can connect us with our creativity and are a potential source of joy and fulfillment. It may be these special skills were suppressed by our parents who did not consider them essential attributes for earning a living.
When I recalled what I loved doing when I was a child, I discovered that from a very young age I used to enjoy ‘teaching’ my fellow students. When I rediscovered how much I loved teaching I added more of it to my everyday work. I have consequently used teaching and training extensively in my professional
life, and it has become a source of job satisfaction and a potent factor in my career success.
Rediscovering and using long forgotten skills can certainly contribute to a happier and more meaningful life.
- You lack gratitude for all the good things in your life.
We can sometimes focus too much on what we believe is wrong and missing from our lives, forgetting all the wonderful things that we should feel grateful for like our loved ones (for instance), or our health and education.
If you have a roof over your head, running water and electricity in your house you are better off than the vast majority of people on this planet. All positive changes start from a positive mindset, a mindset of gratitude.
Gratitude is the key that opens the channels for manifesting our dreams. It is the law of attraction. What we focus on is what we attract and create in our life. Focusing on what is wrong is therefore bound to attract more negativity into our lives.
I used to be prone to indulging negative thoughts which seemed to magnify the difficulties and attract more problems into my life until a few years ago when I attended a seminar on Happiness.
I had just ended a relationship and I was utterly miserable at the time. The instructor asked us to create our personal gratitude list and include all the things we felt grateful for in our lives. My list was very short and poor.
I didn’t think I had a lot of good in my life. After all I had so much to be unhappy about, didn’t I? But when others shared their lists I was dumbfounded. They felt grateful for so many things that I took for granted: their families, their health, their job, seeing the sun from their window, listening to the singing birds, enjoying the beauty of nature, to name but a few. I left the place feeling ungrateful and ashamed.
This became a life changing experience for me. As a result I have created a new gratitude list and I read it aloud in the morning when I wish to reconnect with the feeling of gratitude. Do this simple practice and watch how your mood and energy shift.
- You prioritize others’ needs before your own.
Some women think that taking care of their own needs is wrong, that it is selfish and they should prioritize the needs of their family over their own. Of course taking care of your young children is of critical importance, but we do need to also look after ourselves.
Ensuring a modicum of personal time and getting enough rest is far from being selfish. In fact it is the only way to replenish our energy to sufficient levels to be able to give sufficient attention to the ones we love.
Early in my life I realized that the only way for me to be energetic and happy was to take care of my spirit, my body and my mind. So I made sure I devoted time for meditation and yoga, and I also took pottery classes. This helped me stay mentally, physically and emotionally healthy.
It is important to identify what you need most, whether this is rest, physical exercise, spiritual practice or creative activity and make the time available to do it. Trust me, you will notice a big impact on your overall happiness and quality of life.
- You may be afraid of the unknown.
Change is often perceived as a threat. Most of us prefer a familiar situation even if it is unpleasant, rather than have to deal with the unknown. Being aware of this can help us take the necessary action to implement those changes that we actually desire.
It is fear of change that makes us procrastinate and postpone taking action to realise our wishes and dreams. We keep postponing happiness for a future moment that never comes. This was also the case for me. I had been employed for more than 20 years, so starting my own business was a very scary prospect.
When our desires and our imagination become conflicted, imagination will always win. Let me explain. Imagine walking along a wooden board placed on the ground. Pretty easy, you will agree. Now imagine that this wooden board is placed 10 meters above the ground. Would you feel comfortable walking on
it? Probably not, as your imagination creates images of you falling.
Starting a business was for me like walking on this board 10 meters above the ground. I kept thinking of the potential for failure. So what I did was use my imagination to “lower” the board to a level that was comfortable for me as a starting point. I took a step by step approach that gave me the feeling of safety, even as I was mentally gradually elevating that board above the ground. I was lucky to have gifted coaches who supported me during this process.
A good coach is fundamental in supporting us through an important change.
- You have internal conflicts.
Sometimes we are torn: part of us may wish to make a change and part of us does not. For example, marrying the love of your life may mean having to sacrifice your dream job because it requires your relocation to another country. Resolving any internal conflict is extremely important in reaching a decision that will lead to a meaningful and fulfilling life.
A few years ago I had to make a life changing decision on moving to another country. Part of me wanted to stay in my home country in a life I enjoyed. Part of me wanted the success and the financial security of a corporate job. I was lucky to meet my NLP trainer who taught me techniques that helped me resolve the inner conflict and move on with a decision acceptable to both sides
So can professional women achieve happiness and fulfillment?
Achieving a happy and fulfilling life requires courage. Courage to achieve freedom from stereotypes and other people’s expectations. Courage to build a life around your core values and reconnect with your unique talents and skills. It requires a mindset of gratitude for your blessings, taking care of yourself and resolving fears and inner conflicts. Doing all these will help bring your best into the world and enjoy life to the fullest.