Dissatisfaction with your life or career can creep up on you slowly from behind or hit you squarely in the face. A new year, the loss of a loved one, a looming big birthday, or just life itself can make you question what you are doing.
Whatever the trigger, shifting your life and career has the potential to make you happier and healthier. But it isn’t without risks. Unfortunately, most self-help books offer superficial advice that is seductive, but ultimately unhelpful—”just work out what you really want and go for it”. In reality, most people do not know what they really want and feel lost or stuck. Going for it just isn’t an option.
Based on my award-winning research, here are nine secrets that everyone needs to know.
#1: You are dancing with fear and confidence, even if you don’t know it
Life is a dynamic dance with fear and confidence and pivoting in a new direction makes it even more so. Fears are many and varied—of changing, not changing, becoming your parents, dying unnoticed, becoming irrelevant, missing out of happiness. Sometimes fear is in the lead, other times confidence. Both can propel you forward, and both can keep you stuck. To make the shift you want, you must be open to the dance and to becoming your dancer.
# 2: It is more about how you dance than what you dance
Most people think changing what they do is the big thing, but research shows the most important shift is in the how—how you relate to your work, yourself, and your life. Even people who have made huge shifts in what they do, such as from an IT Consultant in Scotland to a Brewery Owner in France, say the biggest transition was in how they now feel about their work. More liberated, more invested, more passionate.
# 3: Yes, it is your dance, but it’s not a solo dance
It can be fun to dance with other people, but not if it’s always to their playlist. Many people experience a rude awakening when they realise they have been living out someone else’s dreams, waiting for permission, or sleepwalking into their future. When you dance with fear and confidence, you are in synch with others, but you are your own dancer. “You’re supposed to be the leading lady of your own life for God’s sake!” to quote Iris (Kate Winslet) in The Holiday.
# 4: You need to re-discover yourself
Walking down a street at night, you catch sight of someone in your peripheral vision walking in the same direction. It takes you a moment to realise the person reflected in the shop window is actually you! You look different, from this angle, in this light, in this context. Most people get so used to seeing themselves, they stop looking—really looking. You need to re-discover who you are now and what really matters to you. You need a fresh perspective and to pay real attention. You need new ‘knowing’.
# 5: Meaning turbocharges your dancing
Dancing like you mean it is easy when you actually do! When you dance with meaning you don’t have to try—your posture is better, you are energised, you throw yourself into the dance gladly. The need for meaning in your life and your work grows and only peaks beyond 65. By dis-covering your sources of meaning and a sense of purpose, you can shift your working life to better suit you.
# 6: Everyone around you has an agenda
All your friends, family and colleagues have an opinion about you and your dancing. Change makes people nervous; they worry about what it means for them. Some, consciously or unconsciously, want to keep you stuck—earning what you do, with the status or stability you provide. Others are too keen for you to change—pushing you to jump before you are ready. Seeking out an unbiased, challenging supporter beyond your immediate circle can be invaluable.
# 7: To dance, you must be ready to stop not dancing
Thinking about dancing is not dancing. Watching dancing is not dancing. Pausing to take stock is good, but not for too long. You have to do something—test a new move, develop a skill, dance with new people. By starting, you dis-cover even more about what you feel, think, want, don’t want. Most people who successfully reinvent their careers do so by experimenting alongside their current work.
# 8: Emotions are friends, not foe
No-one wants a flat, emotionless dance. Emotions show you care, create momentum, keep you safe, connect you with others, make you human. Emotions can ambush you though, making you respond in ways that don’t help you, catapulting you in the wrong direction. Dancing with fear and confidence means befriending your emotions—recognising them more quickly, listening attentively to what they tell you, learning how to respond intelligently.
# 9: Life is complex, so let’s not pretend it isn’t
Life and transitioning is not simple or easy. People who say “I’m just a simple soul” are kidding themselves. By acknowledging and embracing the delicious cocktail of ingredients that makes you who you are, you are better equipped to become more of yourself. You dance with your heart, your head, your gut, your emotions, your face, your body, your thinking, your meaning, your strengths, your values, your relationships, your roles, your past, your present, your future.
Liberating your life and career is about choice and control. It’s about being the leading actor in your own life. It’s about becoming more than the dance—more than the steps, the music, the performance. It’s about becoming more of you—all of you.
Dancing with fear and confidence: how to liberate yourself and your career in mid-life
“Investing time in this book may be the best investment you’ll make all year. It provides a rare combination of insight and intelligence, with a human touch. So, let’s face the music and dance. And Laura’s book tells us how, with honesty, humour and hope.” Alistair McQueen, Head of Savings and Retirement, Aviva
“Dancing with Fear and Confidence is a gem-an invitation to delve into the murky waters of mid-life and come out the other side with breath-taking clarity, feeling reassured, refreshed and re-energised”. Ruth Winden, Founder, Older Yet Bolder