Focusing Outside versus Listening Inside: How to Learn from Your Own Life

Focusing what others think of us can be a full time occupation if we’re not careful. If I focus on what others think of me then I might participate in activities that I don’t really like or I might avoid activities that I really like. I might spend time with people that I don’t really like or avoid people that I really like. I might spend time doing work that I don’t really like or avoid work that I really like. I can think of countless examples from my own past that I can use to populate this list. When I graduated from college my focus was on what people would think of me if I couldn’t support myself financially. I wanted to be perceived as independent, so I only considered work that would allow me to be financially independent. Within three months of graduating from college I was working as a financial analyst for a Wall Street firm on the 31st floor of the World Trade Center. I was able to pay all of my extremely high New York City bills. I was flying all over Latin America with my coworkers as we completed high-dollar deals in poor countries. From the outside it looked great. My parents were proud and there was clear proof that my expensive college education had paid off. There was only one problem. I was miserable. I had never been so miserable. Desperately miserable.

For a while I tried to talk myself into being happy because my life looked so good on paper. I started looking for other ways of being happy with my life and I decided that working for a “kinder, gentler” Wall Street firm might be the ticket. I got a job offer at JP Morgan and was assured that most weeks I wouldn’t be working more than 80 hours (what a relief!). I arranged to take 2 months off between leaving Salomon Brothers and starting at JP Morgan. Within 24 hours of leaving my first job I was on a plane to San Francisco to visit my best friend from high school. On my second day in San Francisco I started crying. I couldn’t stop. I was sitting in my best friend’s two bedroom apartment with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge imagining what it would be like to return to my expensive studio in New York City with a view of busy, smelly, noisy, grimy 14th Street. I couldn’t imagine going back. She had a job that she liked with manageable hours. I would be going into yet another job that was not “me” with completely unmanageable hours. On top of that, I had never felt so at home before in a place that I barely knew. I had always believed that New York City was the center of the universe, but my universe was suddenly expanding to include other possibilities. Looking back I can see that this was a rock bottom for me. It wasn’t very dramatic on the outside as I only cried for 24 hours, but on the inside something big shifted. I was no longer focused on what others thought. I had been doing that for a long time and it led me to feeling miserable. There had to be another way.

Within a day I called my parents to let them know that I was moving to California and that I would not be an investment banker. I called my landlord in New York City and gave my 30 days notice. I called my next job and told them I would not be showing up at the end of the summer. And I called U-Haul and rented a truck. A month later I drove across the country to my new life in San Francisco. I got a job with manageable hours as a consultant and I started applying to graduate school in Counseling Psychology. I had decided to become a therapist in 10th grade when I took my first psychology class, but I buried that dream until then. I straddled the corporate world and the world of psychology for many years as I made my way through the schooling and the supervised hours required to become a licensed therapist. During this time I was getting to know myself – what makes me tick, what brings me joy, and what I like and dislike about myself. My focus had changed from striving on the outside for surface achievement to looking inside for deep contentedness.

There were many hiccups along the way. I dated a nice guy for a couple of years who looked great on paper. We talked about marriage and a family. Luckily I realized that something didn’t feel right on the inside even though everything looked great on the outside. Ending that relationship made room for my husband of 14 years (and counting) to come into the picture and I’m eternally grateful. I could have talked myself into trying to be happy, but now I just am happy. There’s no convincing necessary as it’s just the truth in my heart.

And now I do work that I love and have a schedule that is balanced so I have time to spend with my family and friends. And part of what I love about my work is that I teach people how to listen to their hearts. Sometimes listening to our hearts can seem so difficult because our hearts don’t yell at us and they are not pushy. We have to be quiet and focused to hear our hearts as they tend to whisper and speak in more subtle ways that we’re used to perceiving in the outside world. If we live our lives focused externally then we’ll always be trying to please or impress or cope with the people around us. This is a never-ending cycle that turns us around and around until we’re exhausted, but it never gets us closer to our truth. If we start to live our lives with a more internal focus then we start to see our priorities more clearly and we have an opportunity to put our life energy toward the things we love the most…not just towards the thing that squeaks the loudest. The trick is to remember what we see when we focus internally and not forget it once we open our eyes again. If we can consciously remember, then we have a map that can help guide is in the external world to make decisions and spend our life energy in ways that are in alignment with our truth. If we forget, then we’ll end up caught in the cycle of focusing on what others think and want and we’ll lose ourselves once again. But all we need to do to find ourselves yet again is to close our eyes and listen. It’s never too late.

If this resonates for you I suggest that you take a few minutes today or tomorrow and study your life. Review the ways you spend your time and energy and money and see if those ways are in line with your highest good and your deepest truth. If they are, acknowledge what a great job you’re doing in listening to your heart. If they are not, take a few minutes to let your heart tell you what needs to change. If you feel stuck and your heart and your mind start to fight with each other, make an appointment to come to see me. I specialize in helping people who are stuck to resolve the internal conflicts that can keep you stuck. Resolving these conflicts can help you find the path to living the life you want to live.


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