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We were all given a compass for life. Unfortunately many people were not taught how to use it. As a result many compasses have become rusty from neglect.
What is the compass within all human beings that I am referring to?
It is your FEELINGS
If you just rolled your eyes or felt like it, you needn't worry. This isn't going to some touchy-feely post about getting in touch with your feelings. Feelings have received a bad rap in society. If someone listens to their feelings they are often seen as soft, or too emotional, even flaky. “Intelligent” people don’t pay attention to their feelings. They use their head in making decisions. We call them “level-headed”, “even-keeled” and “in control”. However there is a major flaw in this theory.
Many people like to believe that they can be objective in a situation. They tell me they look at the facts, consider different points of view, weighs the pros and cons and make a rational decision. The only problem is that they are looking at each situation through their own filter, and that filter was molded in childhood. It forever makes them bias in any situation.
Let me illustrate with an example. James comes from a family with a long history of business professionals. His father, uncle and grandfather all started and built their own businesses. Family dinners were often filled with intriguing business discussions about good deals, marketing ideas and selling strategies. Most of the time these discussions weren’t very interesting to James, except when the conversation turned to logos or artistic design of products. Whenever James spoke about possibly going into art or design, the men at the table would smile and mock him in a friendly way with comments like, “that is a good hobby but let’s get serious”.
In his last year of high school James is confused. He doesn’t know what to go into. On one hand, his “logical” mind tells him to go into business. He has the pedigree and a grass roots understanding of business. His rational mind tells him to go into a bachelor’s program in business administration with the possibility of following this up with an MBA. It all makes “perfect sense”.
However that is where it all falls apart
He can’t possibly be logical because his whole life has been biased towards business. And he feels guilty whenever he begins thinking of his own wants because of all that his father taught him.
Now let’s look at the other hand. His “feelings” tell him to go into design. He has always had a passion for art and he has a unique talent of seeing his ideas in 3D in his imagination. Since junior high he has kept a sketch book that he loves to doodle in. He even designed a logo for a business his father was considering to buy but the deal fell through.
What would you tell James to do?
Because of all of the influences in James’s life, it is nearly impossible to untangle what is rational from what is obligation. With his background he can’t possibly be objective. So the most “logical” decision for James would be to follow his feelings. That is because his feelings are much closer to his true essence if he is able to still himself and pay attention to his feelings.
He should imagine a typical day in his working life and FEEL what that feels like. Feelings can come in the form of an emotion like enthusiasm or peacefulness and it can also be a bodily sensation like “pins and needles”, a warm sensation or feeling more energetic. Some people refer to this as a “gut feeling”. He can sense how he feels in different scenarios including running his own business. And he should listen to the one that FEELS best. That is why your feelings are your only true compass in life.
Some of you may be saying, “Well Sam, his feelings have also been influenced and are biased.” In response, I would wholeheartedly agree with you. And that is okay because there is no need to figure anything out. You need only tune in and pay attention to what your feelings are saying. Simply put, if it feels better in the long-term, that is a sign to take a step forward. And if it feels worse in the long-term, that is a sign to put the brakes on and look for an alternate path.
Of course I am not saying to only follow your feelings – but it should lead the way. This can then be followed by rational assessment where you take a good hard look at any flaws, disadvantages and foreseeable problems with the path you choose.
A Winning Formula is FEELINGS 1st - Rational Thinking 2nd
This is in contrast to what many people do when they think they are choosing rationally first and then hope that the feelings will come later. I have found that the old business adage that 'money is everything' is simply not true. I have seen many private clients who were doing very well financially but felt that their heart just wasn’t in it. They came to me with high levels of work stress, signs of burnout and often feeling numb. They were seeking something more than money. They were seeking a purpose and a meaning for their work. In a word, they were looking for a FEELING that money couldn’t buy.
You can have both – feel good about your work AND make a good income.
The good news is that as long as you are breathing your internal compass is still working. But you have to take it out, dust it off and begin to use it again. With practice, you too will be able to guide yourself through life’s challenges by putting your FEELINGS FIRST.
Now I would like to hear from you. Would you have told James anything else? Please share your experiences in making decisions in life and whether you used your head or heart or gut and what the results were like. I am interested in hearing about your experiences.
Live Your Dream
Dr. Sam Gerstein
Business Strategy Coach, MD, Author