Are Your Childhood Patterns Hurting Your Career?

Watch the video or read the transcript and then tell me that working on ourselves and our childhood ‘stuff’ isn’t holding us back in our careers and business lives!

“…our chances of leading a fulfilled adult life depend overwhelmingly on our knowledge of, and engagement with, the nature of our own childhoods, for it is in this period that the dominant share of our adult identity is moulded and our characteristic expectations and responses set. We will spend some 25,000 hours in the company of our parents by the age of eighteen, a span which ends up determining how we think of relationships and of sex, how we approach work, ambition and success, what we think of ourselves (especially whether we can like or must abhor who we are), what we should assume of strangers and friends and how much happiness we believe we deserve and could plausibly attain.” 

The question is how do you dig into your childhood and figure out how it’s impacting you, particularly in your career and business life?

How Your Childhood Patterns Affect Your Career

I’ve written previously about how my own patterns from childhood have had an impact on my adult life, who I perceive myself to be, and where those patterns have come from in my childhood.

It never really occurred to me that they’d also significantly impact my career, my business and how I show up there…

Being a recovering control freak has meantI initially found it very difficult to let go of control of parts of my own business and outsource to others; I also experienced this as a management consultant, finding it difficult to trust my team and those I managed to do the job as I might want it (forgetting they might do it better!).

Being a recovering perfectionist has meant: I’ve either not started something if I didn’t think I’d do it ‘perfectly’ (which I keep as some undefined, unattainable standard in my head setting myself up for failure before I’ve even begun), or wouldn’t ship something that was ‘good enough’ unless it was ‘perfect’ which, of course, in my own head it never was. 

How To Identify The Patterns Impacting Your Career

Usually the simplest ways to identify your own patterns are to look for:

  •  The places you feel stuck, and don’t ever seem to move forwards with. What is it that’s stopping you? What’s the story you’re telling yourself in your head about why you can’t move forwards? Where could this story possibly have come from in your childhood?
  • The relationships with colleagues/managers/clients/customers that feel full of friction. What is it about this person you find difficult? What specifically about their behaviour triggers an over-the-top reaction in you? Where in your childhood could this possibly have come from? Who does it remind you of?
  • The areas of your life you’re not happy with, or are still hiding from. While there may be many areas of your life – money, relationships, health etc. – that you’re happy with, are there areas you still prefer not to look at? Are you avoiding looking because you know you won’t like what you see but you have no idea what to do about it?

On top of these, there are some common areas when it comes to being stuck or not being where we want to be in our professional lives…

Purpose

This is the million pound question…what’s your purpose? Many of us find ourselves in jobs we’re not keen on or on career paths we wouldn’t necessarily have chosen because…

  • “You’ll never make money in the creative/artistic fields”
  • “You need to get a sensible/responsible job”
  • “Don’t be silly, what makes you think you can make money from doing that?”
  • “But you’re not very good at…, are you?”
  • “You need X, Y and Z qualifications to do that successfully”

Our careers are typically so heavily influenced by what others think – particularly our parents – that we sometimes don’t stop to ask what our purpose is, what we want to do, and whether what we’re doing is aligned with that or far from it.

One of the things people most frequently say to me however is: “But Lea, I don’t know what my purpose is. I don’t know what I really want to do.” Or “That’s fine for a hobby but I can’t do that for a career”.

The answers lie in the journey to radical self awareness and honesty. Only when you know yourself deeply, intimately and honestly can you begin to see/feel your way to what it is YOU want to do, that isn’t clouded by others beliefs, opinions, judgments and perceptions.

Often a good starting point is to remember what you wanted to be as a child, unencumbered by anyone else’s opinions, and believing you could do and be anything you wanted…

Do you know what your deeply held beliefs about your purpose are? Do you know where they came from? Are they still serving you well? What would serve you better?

Money

Our relationship to money – and how we feel about earning it, spending it, having it, saving it, keeping it, losing it – is heavily influenced by how our parents behaved around money as we grew up.

You are likely to have integrated and internalised many (most!) of their beliefs and behaviours as your own, without stopping to question them…

  • Money doesn’t grow on trees.
  • If we’ve got it, we should spend it before it goes.
  • You have to work really hard to earn money.
  • Getting rich doesn’t happen to people like us.
  • I’m not Bill Gates, you know.
  • There’s not enough to go round.
  • Being rich is evil, greedy and dirty.
  • You can’t be spiritual/awakened/enlightened and have money.
  • Rich people aren’t good people…and on and on it goes!

Do you know what your deeply held money narratives are? Do you know where they came from? Are they still serving you well? What would serve you better?

Being Seen & Being Big

There are many clients I’ve worked with who are reluctant to show up, be seen and play bigger. They know they’ve been staying small and are desperate to play bigger but something, somewhere stops them.

Most frequently, it’s the correlation they’ve created (or that has been created for them in childhood), that it’s necessary to stay small to remain loved, and if you play bigger the love will go. That’s often the core fear.

My own version of this is about being seen, and that if I’m seen in all my ‘glory’, I’ll be rejected and abandoned, as I was at X days old when I was born (and physically seen for the first time ever), and then immediately given up for adoption by my birth mother.

Other fears about being seen, playing bigger include:

  • If I show up, I’ll be found wanting and everyone will see I’m not good enough.
  • I’m going to be found out soon (imposter syndrome!).
  • Everyone will think I’m boasting/arrogant/big-headed.
  • It’s safer to stay small.
  • I’ll show up/be ‘ok’ when I’m thinner/richer/prettier/healthier.

Do you know what your deeply held ‘being seen’ narratives are? Do you know where they came from? Are they still serving you well? What would serve you better?

To see your childhood patterns requires some radical self honesty and awareness; it requires you to look deeply in the mirror and hold the discomfort you may feel about what you see. It requires exploring your ‘shadow’ sides, and elements of who you are that perhaps you feel ashamed about, dislike and would prefer not to look at.

As difficult as this is – and believe me, sometimes it can feel hideous! – on the other side of this lies freedom, power, control…not in a “Mwahahaha, I can control you!” kind of way, but in the “Mawahahaha, I can finally control me” kind of way… 

Because when you understand why you behave in the way you do, why you react to things in the way you do, and where these patterns originate from, it gives you the power to choose a different way of behaving and reacting that might just serve you far better.

The 7 Most Useful Things I’ve Learned In The Pursuit of Growth

Working on oneself in the ongoing pursuit of personal growth and self development is tough; at times, it’s akin to climbing a mountain that appears to have no summit!

I’ve experienced and pursued many forms of growth over the years, beginning with various qualifications in fitness and holistic health and more recently regular sessions with a therapist. Plus the biggest container for growth: My relationship with my partner!

There are certain lessons I’ve learned that have stayed with me and endured throughout; some of these aren’t easy concepts to grasp but when you do, they can shift your entire perspective on life…

#1 Is your normal really ‘normal’?

Nowhere has this been more keenly illustrated to me than the reaction I’ve had from not one but two highly experienced and qualified therapists when I told them of my experiences of flying halfway across the world, aged 5, on my own with my younger brother as an unaccompanied minor to stay with my father, every single year.

To me, this was ‘normal’ – it’s just what happened. To others, it’s far from normal and the truth of that hit home when my therapist asked how I’d feel if I shipped my same-aged son off on a plane, accompanied by a stranger, to go and stay with a father he barely knew and only saw once or twice a year!

We each have our own versions of ‘normal’ in our pasts, and it can take an outside perspective to question these.

Sometimes, our version of ‘normal’ can be presented to us by others – parents, siblings, friends etc. – and repeated so that we never even think to question them. They have a vested interest to maintain the ‘normal’, while you may not.

It can be a really useful exercise – if you’re noticing that your typical MO is no longer really working for you – to look back at your ‘normal’ life and begin to question whether you’d consider it ‘normal’ and even ‘ok’ still.

Or another way to look at it is:

How would you feel if your ‘normal’ happened to someone you cared for deeply?

The purpose of exploring this is to begin to create your own truths and narratives, less influenced by those around you, especially if they’ve been holding you back with their versions.

Underneath those ‘normal truths’ may lie grief, loss, and other painful feelings that once they’re released, you will find yourself free to move forwards in a way that you’d previously been held back from.

#2 Can you hold more than one truth at the same time?

You’ve probably heard the one about different people witnessing the exact same event but recounting utterly different ‘facts’ when asked what they witnessed. This concept of there being many different versions of the truth has been a powerful one on my journey.

While the adoption narrative for most people is one of positive benefits only – ”Oh you were so lucky to have been adopted and given a much better life than you’d have had” – there is also the narrative of loss, grief and the totally unnatural event of a child being taken away from their birth mother. Both narratives are true about the same event at the same time, one is not more true than the other, nor does one negate the other.

On a related note, this is a similar concept to being able to hold conflicting feelings about something or someone simultaneously.

For example, when I’m talking to my kids about their emotions, we talk frequently about how they can be utterly furious and hurt that their father is planning to move 5 hours away from them, at the same time as still loving him and craving his attention. Both things are true and it can be a tough ask for them to hold both truths at the same time.

This is related, on a much deeper level, to the ability to hold the light and the shadow – firstly in ourselves and then in others.

It’s about being able to embrace and love ourselves, not just for the good and positive we see but also the ‘bad’ and ‘negative.

We are a complicated mix of many things and being able to integrate and hold the whole is the absolute foundation of self acceptance and self love.

#3 Respond, don’t react.

There’s a difference between the two – responding is a more conscious, considered action and reacting is typically an unconsciously-driven, knee-jerk action.

When we react, it’s usually a sign that we’ve been triggered – that one or more of our painful buttons has been pushed and an existing ‘wound’ has been poked and prodded. We then act (out) from this hurt and wounded place, often unaware that this is what’s going on.

If we want to respond instead – to be able to act in a way that’s more in alignment with who we are beneath our shields, defences and existing wounds – it means getting out of a triggered space.

It means taking a breath (or several), and if it helps, write out what you want to say, in all its steaming, ranting glory first. Then take another breath.

Then ask yourself the question below – is it more important for you to be right or connected? – then delete what you’ve written (or burn it, safely), and RESPOND instead of reacting.

If you need to, wait until the next day and use the space of a night’s sleep to get yourself back on a more even keel.

#4 Is it more important to you to be right or be connected?

This is something I’ve learned most from my partner who has frequently challenged me with the question: “Lea, would you rather be right or be connected?” – when we’re in the middle of an argument and it gets to a stage where it seems pointless to continue!

We use this with the children too, when they’re adamant that they’ve done nothing wrong, the other party is to blame and they can’t move past it.

While it feels good to blame – to shift the responsibility as far away from you as possible and onto the nearest easy target – it usually gets you nowhere fast, except perhaps a temporary feeling of relief.

Fundamentally, blame is divisive. You can stay wronged and be right, and alienate those around you – revelling in your ‘rightness’.

But most of the time, we want to be connected. And to do that, you may have to not be right for a change!

(Note that isn’t necessarily the same as being wrong – let’s not go that far, shall we?!).

It’s ultimately your choice in a situation: Stay right or get (re) connected?

#5 Fault is not the same as responsibility.

It’s really easy to blame others for our woes and for us not being where/how/who we want to be. Maybe you had a difficult childhood, you’ve had a traumatic past, you’ve been the victim of some awful events – and while it may indeed have been at the hands of others and their fault, it is not their responsibility to heal you.

Whatever your trauma, past or emotional wounds, nobody but you can do your work to heal those wounds and help you recover from past trauma. Nobody but you can learn how to change your patterns, behaviours and responses that are no longer working for you and are rooted in past defences.

You may feel like you’re ‘owed’ something, that it’s someone else’s job to help you but it’s not. And if you don’t do the work to help yourself, no-one else can or will.

While the cause may be someone else’s fault, the responsibility to move on with your life and heal those wounds is yours and yours alone.

#6 What’s the story you’re telling yourself?

If you watch Brené Brown on The Call To Courage, she illustrates this concept brilliantly.

Most of the time, underneath the surface we are all constructing a narrative; we decide upon the story and then we filter everything through that story.

So if the story you sometimes tell yourself is “Well, I’m really stupid and ugly and I’m never going to amount to much” – if someone close to you says something that hits this nerve, you’re going to easily go into this narrative and behave as if this is the only truth (when as we already know it isn’t!). That may mean lashing out, or being defensive (or offensive), or it may mean going into a cave of isolation and not wanting to come out.

Understanding the stories you tell yourself is the first step in being able to change the ones that aren’t currently serving you well and are keeping you stuck.

You likely have all sorts of stories around many aspects of your life – relationships, families, money, career and more. Do you know what they are?

The other useful aspect of this is knowing that other people in your life have their own stories.

When you’re in the middle of an argument or someone appears to be behaving irrationally or blowing something out of all proportion (in your opinion), try asking them: “What’s the story you’re telling yourself right now?“. Or if that’s too hard, ask yourself: “What’s the story they could be telling themselves right now?

#7 Own your own stuff. Wholly.

When faced with difficult truths about ourselves, it is far, far easier to shift the blame, shift the responsibility and shift the truth onto someone else. But this is not the path to growth.

When we find ourselves in repeating patterns, destructive relationships and situations we find difficult, there’s one truth and one truth only…we cannot control anything or anyone but ourselves.

This is powerful to understand; when we give up trying to control the things we can’t control (other people) and focus instead on controlling ourselves – our responses, our reactions, our behaviour and our choices – we begin to fully own our selves, and look at the part we play in creating what we’re experiencing.

All the time, YOU are fully responsible for creating your own reality.

Even when others are involved too, how you respond and behave is still your responsibility and no-one else’s. No-one can ‘make’ you feel anything.

(Think about it: How on earth could I ‘make’ you feel happy if you didn’t choose to feel happy yourself?).

No-one else can control your emotions or the feelings you experience, but you.

No matter how someone else behaves or what they do to you, how YOU respond is YOUR responsibility.

This is quite a shocking concept for most people, so reluctant are we to fully own our selves, including the ‘dodgy’ bits!

Growth and self development work is tough and is not for the faint of heart but the concepts above have been fundamental to my growth and absolutely vital in the quest for radical self honesty and awareness…and as a wise man once said:

“Awareness is the greatest agent for change” – Eckhart Tolle

Blind Spots: How To See What You Can’t Yet See

One of the most valuable aspects of working with someone else is their ability to see what you can’t yet (ever) see about yourself – your blind spots.

This is true in relationships, or at least the kind of relationship where each of you is open to exploring and challenging your own default behaviours and reactions to grow together, instead of being trapped in a dysfunctional, co-dependent, “I need you, you need me” dynamic where personal growth is a deadly threat to the relationship.

A HUGE clue to a blind spot hiding in plain sight, for each of you, is that recurring argument you have on repeat which never seems to get resolved or go away. Dig a little deeper and the blind spot you can’t/won’t see is staring you in the face.

This is  true in your career, whether you work for someone else or for yourself. Nowhere is the saying “we don’t know what we don’t know” more true than when it comes to our professional selves; the self we want to be seen as competent, confident and eminently capable to anyone who is looking.

To have it pointed out that we don’t know or can’t see something is, for many of us, akin to being told we’re stupid, incompetent, incapable.

(There’s a blind spot right there – can you see it? How do you react to critical feedback? Why do you have that reaction? What’s the story you’re telling yourself when someone gives you that kind of feedback?).

This is true about your own personal growth…

One of the most fundamental lessons I’ve learned, both from seeing a therapist and being in my relationship as I explore my adoption, is that who I thought I was is not who I am.

Confused? Bear with me!

There are certain traits and aspects of my personality I’ve always been aware of…I’m a control freak, I’m a (recovering) perfectionist, I’m impatient (though at times I can be incredibly patient; this dichotomy has always confused me), I like to be useful and this has served me well in my time. Most of these I simply accepted as ‘just the way I am’, with zero clue about how I got this way. Cue exploring my adoption.

It’s become patently obvious that… 

I’m a control freak because the huge trauma that happened to me at 0-7 days old – of being abandoned by my birth mother and, literally, from one moment to the next having everything I ever knew suddenly disappear – was one utterly beyond my control. Who wouldn’t then want to spend the rest of their lives trying to control whatever they could so that this kind of unanticipated, unexpected, unforeseen trauma doesn’t ever happen again?

I’m a perfectionist because somewhere in my unconscious mind not being perfect was my fault and lead to me being abandoned. Who wouldn’t then want to spend the rest of their lives trying to be as perfect as possible so this never happens again?

I’m impatient but typically only with myself because I’m a perfectionist (see above); I can be infinitely patient with anyone else because it’s ok for them not to be perfect; I can accept their shadow side and right not to have to be perfect but not my own, because my fear is that it won’t be accepted by others and I’ll be abandoned.

I like to be useful because if I’m useful then people will want to keep me around. Who wouldn’t want to remain useful so they’re kept around versus risk not being useful and being abandoned?

Each of the above were my blind spots; behaviours I accepted as ‘just me’, nothing I could change and they’ve served me well. Except now, they don’t. 

Frankly, it’s exhausting trying to control everything and everyone around me – having children has been one of the best enforced lessons here! And pushing for that level of control only serves to push away those closest to me…therefore resulting in the very thing I’m trying to avoid (them leaving!).

It’s exhausting trying to be perfect all the time; never allowing myself to fail or not get it 100% right, and again having children, what kind of role model am I if I won’t allow myself to get something wrong? If making mistakes isn’t ok?

And being useful? On the deepest level, we each want to be loved for just being. Not for anything we do. And so do I – it’s liberating, freeing, and a relief to be in relationships where I’m loved for being me, not just because I’m useful or handy to have around. And yet again, the unconditional love of children here is one of the most valuable lessons I’ve experienced – I’m loved for being me, for being their mother no matter how good/bad I am at that.

In business, we have all sorts of blind spots we just can’t see too.

The stories you tell yourself about making money that are keeping you poor… 

“Money’s not ok to want. I’m being greedy to want more. Money doesn’t grow on trees. I have to work hard to earn money. Money’s the root of all evil. Money = stress. I’m not good with money.” 

The many ways you discourage yourself from marketing (telling people about) what you do that are fundamentally stopping you from ever growing your business… 

“It’s not cool to show off. People will think I’m bragging. Who am I to think I can do this? I don’t want anyone to see me fail. I don’t know what marketing is. Marketing = selling = vile!”

The reluctance to sell yourself and the beneficial impact of what you do that’s keeping you stuck at the same level.. 

“I’m not that special. Surely everyone’s good at that? I need to re-train. I’m too old to get started in that. No-one will hire someone like me. I don’t have the right experience. I don’t have enough experience. I don’t have any experience.”

The many beliefs you have about how things ‘should’ be done that are stopping you from doing anything… 

“I have no idea how to ‘properly’ do marketing/finances/strategic planning. That’s not how X does it. What if people laugh/think I’m stupid if I do it like that.”

Many of these beliefs are deeply buried in your psyche, often internalised from your parents’ own beliefs and the prevailing energy you were exposed to as you grew up…

For me, there are parts of my money narrative that are currently blind spots for me; I am aware of a repeating pattern in my life that when I get to a certain level of earning, I’m clever at subtly self sabotaging what I’m doing. I’m aware that this *may* be related to some adoption stuff – some guilt that I’m the ‘fortunate’ child who was ‘given’ a path with more opportunities while my birth family live in relative poverty in a shack somewhere in the Philippines. Yeah, that’s not great and I can see the many, many holes in the narrative I may have unconsciously created (it’s such a blind spot that I can’t currently ‘see’ whether this is indeed the narrative I’ve created!). Still a work in progress…

We can’t see them because we are spectacularly unaware they’re there, and yet they drive large parts of our behaviour, reactions and decision-making.

So how on earth do you know what your blind spots are if you can’t even see them?

There are clues, if you pay close attention, and they include:

  1. Repeating patterns that may feel out of your control and that they just seem to keep happening to you. Like constantly finding yourself on the receiving end of unfair accusations, or finding yourself in situations which quickly spiral out of control into some drama-fuelled crisis, or finding yourself the victim at the mercy of ‘bullies’ who pick on you for ‘no reason’.
  2. Repeating arguments that go on and on, and never reach a conclusion or resolution. Like who’s responsible for making sure X happens, when you’re both busy with work/careers/kids, or that one of you wants to spend more time together doing ‘couple-y’ things but the other is happier doing things apart or with their mates, or that you want more sex than you currently have but your partner just never seems interested or bothered about it.
  3. Reactions that feel out of proportion to the event that happened. Like the reaction your boyfriend/girlfriend has when you want to go watch a movie with a friend on your one free night of the week, or the reaction you have when your partner turns over and goes to sleep because they’ve had a long day and clearly hasn’t noticed you’ve made an effort to look as alluring and sexy as possible for them, or the reaction you have when your partner/parent/friend tells you you shouldn’t wear something you like because it makes you look frumpy/tarty/too old/too fat.

These behaviours and reactions are your current conditioning…and the good news is that they can be ‘unconditioned’ or ‘reconditioned’.

This conditioning – many of these behaviours, reactions, responses, thought patterns, beliefs – are the things you’re currently doing, beliefs you’re currently believing, ways you’re currently being that aren’t serving you and are keeping you stuck. These are your blind spots. Can you see them?

P.S. And how do you feel about others seeing them while you still can’t?

The World Has Changed So Why Are You Still Relying On The Same Old Strategies To Try And Succeed?

We live in a very different world today to the one our parents grew up in…

The systems that once seemed empowering are now looking like outdated relics, no longer relevant to the world we’re living in…

The education system which once guaranteed a secure, well-paid job at the end of it, now appears to yield nothing more than years upon years of debt and no guarantee of a job to help pay that debt back. [Tip: Check out Lambda School for disruption at its finest; this is a true game-changer.]

The healthcare system which was once at the forefront of eradicating devastating diseases and advancing and equalising healthcare and treatment for all, is now run by folk focused largely on profit and driven by corporate agendas.

The world of work which once guaranteed a job for life with a hefty pension at the end of it (requiring not much else but loyalty in some cases!) has changed beyond recognition in many fields, with temporary contracts replacing permanent jobs, remote-first companies, and the ongoing struggle for a level playing field around salaries/wages and fully equal opportunities.

And despite these pretty pivotal changes, most folk are still caught on the same hamster wheel path, unable to see what’s coming (or is already here) and/or do anything about it. We still hear and often heed the same old advice to achieve ‘success’…

“Work hard and get as many qualifications as you can, especially a degree from a good uni…it’ll set you up for life.

Just listen to what the doctor told you; don’t go and see some woo-woo ‘quack’, they have no idea what they’re doing.

Don’t take any risks, career-wise, stick with the job you’ve got/on the path you’re on, you’re lucky to have it. It’s too risky to try something else!

You can’t make any money from your writing/art/creative talent…you’ll have to get a ‘sensible’ job if you want to be rich and taken seriously.

Seriously? If you’re still listening to this advice (or hearing these – your parents’? – voices in your head), why? Is it still serving you?

Do you have the career you’ve always dreamed of or are you still harbouring secret, unspoken desires to do something more?

Is your autoimmune/niggling health issue being healed from the inside out, or are the symptoms simply being treated for ‘comfort’ and ‘quality of life’?

Are you at the weight and level of health you desire from following your doctor’s/the medical system’s advice? (Hint: They are trained to treat dis-ease, NOT optimise wellness).

Are you actually using the knowledge and skills you learned in your undergraduate degree in a meaningful way in your career, without the need for additional courses and training or a boatload of hands-on experience?

But rejoice! it’s not all doom and gloom! Alongside these changes are other enriching and empowering developments…

We have a voice!

The rise of social media has given a voice to the individual; we have direct and public access to brands, personalities, media outlets, journalists through a variety of channels. When we want to, we can use the power of collaboration, community and crowdfunding to make ourselves be heard in ways we never could before; this is truly  powerful.

We have knowledge at our fingertips!

We have access to more learning tools and resources from around the world (e.g. Khan Academy, eLearning platforms, plus a plethora of online courses and more) than at any other time in history…from the comfort of our own home and often for free; this is truly powerful.

We want more!

Our exposure to what’s possible has exploded; we are surrounded by YouTube sensations, personalities who at first appear to have few skills and yet make millions, and role models of all shapes, ages, races and sizes. We want more from our jobs – we want what we do, day in and day out, to make a difference and matter. We want more from our stuff – the sharing economy with the likes of AirBnB – empowers us to get more from our ‘stuff’ and possessions than ever before.

If you’re still stuck in the ‘old’ systems – and that includes your own mental/thought patterns of ‘But Lea, this is just the way things are done!’ – what are you waiting for? How are the ‘old’ ways still serving you?

The world has indeed changed – and is still changing – are you ready to try new strategies to get you to where you really want to go?