Published on Mon, 31/01/2022 - 14:35
Lucia Micheluzzi

Recently, I received an invite to attend a Crossing Thresholds’ “grad panel”. I opened the email then closed it, dismissing the idea. “I'm too busy”, “What would I say?”, “Why would anyone want to hear from me?” and similar predictable thoughts coming from a place of insecurity.

A day later I opened the email again. I hadn’t fully believed that insecure voice. I decided to check the dates; if none worked, I could safely say to myself that I had tried…really, I had. I thought some of the dates might work but I was on a short holiday in rural Dorset, so I had no way to check. I could still keep the insecure part of me safe knowing no major commitment could be made yet.

In that safe place of mental tug-of-war between not wanting to commit and being tickled by the idea of a challenge, an opportunity for growth and the chance to help other women (I am gathering ammunition against the insecure voice, you see), I started thinking of what I might say if I was to attend.

Whilst attending Crossing Thresholds I got a promotion, moved to a new department, reduced my hours to four days per week, picked up a part time course where I left it before the pandemic and applied to join a level 5 professional coaching apprenticeship. Did Crossing Thresholds do this? No, it didn’t.

You may be a bit shocked there, let me clarify. Crossing Thresholds will not get you the promotion you deserve, or the move to a new department you’ve been dreaming of, or the change of working pattern you so desperately need to make everything fit in your life, or that brilliant idea for a self-employed business, or even the enrolment in that part time course that’s been on your backburner for too long. Only you can do that.

Yes, I know that sounds tough. I hear you say, “Do I have to make all those decisions? Take all those scary steps to put me and my needs, wishes, wants out there to everyone’s scrutiny?” Yes, you do. Crossing Thresholds will give you the tools to take those steps more elegantly and strategically. But firstly, the course will get you started on the path of finding out what you want. What you really, really want. That popular girl band was definitely onto something…

Finding out what you want is necessary in order to make the right decisions. If you are not listening to yourself and what you want, need, desire, and putting those against what is expected from you by others, your family, friends, colleagues, managers, society you’ll always make the apparently right but wrong decision in truth. You’ll be stuck in that loop that sees you making changes, working hard, striving for self-improvement but then always arriving at the same starting point. I know that because I was there for a long time. Achieving when observed from the outside but on the inside feeling forever stuck.

So let me go back to my story to clarify a few points. By the time I started Crossing Thresholds in February 2021 I had already applied for the position through which a few months later I was promoted and moved to a different department. I had the job interview in April and by then I had only attended the first Crossing Thresholds module. So no interview techniques or effective communication work had been done with the group. I got through that interview with what I already had in my toolbox and as the highest scoring candidate. I am still fizzing with excitement and pride when I think of that.

Then I started the job and the excitement of the promotion soon wore off. I felt I was back again at the starting point, which was the deeply dissatisfying role I had left behind before the promotion. Have I just swapped one nightmare for another? It’s just another role, with a different name and a bit more money - I don’t know anyone; everything is new, and my level of subject matter knowledge is so low compared to my previous job. Someone please rescue me!

No one came to my rescue. I went to work (i.e. to my kitchen table…the new normal of workplaces), day in, day out, wondering where I had gone wrong again. I kept attending modules in the hope for a moment of enlightenment, an awakening that would point me in the right direction. The moment of awakening eventually came. I remembered during our first module I was describing what I had seen during the visualisation exercise to help us envisage our ideal career.

I saw myself in the higher grade, working from home on some vaguely defined topic and having time to carry on with my self-employment which at the time was teaching anatomy, physiology and yoga therapy modules to trainee yoga teachers. I was working from a spacious and tidy desk facing a wide window overlooking the beautiful garden of the house I am planning to buy with my husband next year. The facilitator commented on how my face and tone of voice came alive as I talked about my self-employment as opposed to when I talked about my other career, how vague my future role sounded compared to the vividness of the self-employment description. As she said that I remember very clearly getting a knot in my throat. She had touched a nerve. A painful and raw one.

So I had the answer to my question as to where I had gone wrong. I had made decisions not from a place of what I really wanted. I had forgotten where my passion was. I was trying to make me fit into a mould whose shape I now know will never be fully mine. Don’t get me wrong, I am good at my new job and I actually enjoy it now that I’m a bit more familiar with things. I have a great team and amazing managers who value and encourage work/life balance. In the end it was the best decision to go for the new job. I needed a change from several years in the same department and too long in a team where ways of working were less than healthy.

Now that I had the answer to my question, I needed to act. And this is where the skills learnt from Crossing Thresholds and its constant reminders to keep what I wanted at the forefront of my decision making came in handy. Firstly I asked for a reduction in working hours. I was full of doubts and excuses why I probably shouldn’t be asking for this, why they probably wouldn’t accept it- maybe I should just leave it. I remember feeling quite scared about asking for this. But I wanted it, I needed it so that I could create more time to keep doing the things I loved. I asked, ready to have to justify my request in a hundred different ways. I got a yes straight away. None of my prepared justifications were required. I was amazed. How many times had I stopped myself from asking for what I wanted because I had already decided (without any hard evidence) that I was going to get a rejection? Far too many times.

At this point the floodgates were open. With my part time working pattern and the newly acquired connection with my true wishes and desires, I was going to get myself a bit more of what I really wanted. So I enrolled in the next level of part time studying I had put on hold just before the pandemic hit. How busy and bogged down with other things had I been to forget that I really wanted to progress through this training? This is a common pattern for many of us: keep busy doing what’s expected of you even if you don’t enjoy it so that you can pretend not to hear that little voice whispering that this isn’t right for you, and that voice is only little because you have squashed it under all that busyness, otherwise it would be fit for the opera.

As the floodgates remained open I also got the courage to go to my manager and ask for approval to join a level 5 apprenticeship in coaching. I gathered evidence to show how it could benefit my role and the wider department and she agreed. Old habits die hard as I started to ask her with in mind tons of doubts and excuses as to why I shouldn’t be asking and reasons for her to say no. Nevertheless I pushed through, made my case and got her approval. I was over the moon. I had found a deep sense of fulfilment being a work coach in my previous role. I now wanted to formalise this role, increase my skills and be able to offer professional coaching to other colleagues who felt stuck. Just like the help I received through Crossing Thresholds, I hoped to help others too.

Working out and getting what you want is a lifetime’s work. I have only just started and it’s not always easy. It’s a skill to be practiced in everyday life not just your work. For me at this point is about shaping my employed role to fit my nature more and to ensure I have enough space to keep doing the things I love outside work. I have now realised that keeping a fair balance between my office role and what ignites my passion is a must for my happiness and mental health. I have left the floodgates ajar for the moment. I am not planning any more big decisions or changes as I have created a lot of opportunities for me to work on. Mind you, they are only ajar because one never knows what’s around the corner. This is only the beginning. I am ready for more of what I really want!

“How does she know she is doing the right thing this time round?” I hear you ask. Let me tell you, I didn’t just wake up knowing what to do and always getting it right from then on. It took me a few weeks to realise I was on the right path. I noticed I was happier because I was more patient with myself and others. I felt a sense of calm and purpose. I regained motivation in my employed job. Even though it didn’t make my heart sing, it was giving me a sense of achievement and belonging. Knowing that I had enough time to also do more of the things that filled my soul with joy, I felt a renewed energy to tackle and succeed at the tasks assigned to me.

It’s been a win-win situation, that’s how I knew I was making the right steps forward. As I made space for more of what I wanted, also the things which felt less right in my life found their place and became more pleasurable. But it’s not a happily ever after situation, I still have doubts occasionally, I question myself and my decisions. When that happens I go back to the main question “What do I want?” and this gives me the answer against which to measure my next steps.

As for the “grad panel”, of course I decided to join one! Nothing changes if we don’t step out of our comfort zone every now and again, but that’s the topic for another time.

road sign opportunity ahead