A few years back I had a big decision to make. I wasn’t happy in my job, I knew I needed a change, but I had no idea what that change should look like or how to go about it. It was a feeling of near desperation. I was becoming a mere shadow of myself. I was recently out of a challenging relationship, unhappy at work, and couldn’t even decide if it was worth staying in Berlin or not.
Knowing that it was hard to just make a change without having a clear idea of what kind of change I wanted, I decided that my best bet would be to get a Master’s degree. I didn’t pursue my research with rigor or passion, I just knew I needed to learn something new which would get me out of my current state and open up new opportunities.
This was the mindset I had when I decided to pursue an Executive MBA. I knew it would be a lot of work, but the truth is I wasn’t really so concerned with what it took – I just wanted my world to shift.
I applied to only one school, opted not to take the GMAT or GRE and went straight for the school’s own entrance exam. I did well and was offered a place in the upcoming class as well as a scholarship. Everything I had set my mind out to do was unfolding before.
I told the universe where I wanted to go and it responded, opening doors and pulling out the blockages standing in my way.
If this were a story about the universe responding when you state what you want, then our journey together would end here. But that’s not the whole of it. Yes, the universe listened to me (coupled with hard work and dedication to deciding my own path forward and following it), but there was another force at play. That of my intuition, which seemed to have a different idea of what should happen next.
When I was accepted to the EMBA program – I hesitated. In fact, hesitate is probably a much milder version of the full-on panic and anxiety I experienced. I was unsure if this was the right path. I didn’t know if I was making the right choice. I was so eager to just get on with it and move ahead, forcing my way into the first path that opened up before me, without really checking if it was the “right” path for what I wanted.
After a few weeks of back and forth, buying myself time, finding tiny bureaucratic nuances to delay my decision-making, I finally decided to move forward. I accepted my placement and began to receive the welcoming materials and the names of my classmates.
I felt sick to my stomach. There wasn’t a single part of me that felt joy. I knew I was taking a big step forward. I knew that this would create a major shift for me and get me out of the feeling I had been experiencing, which was stuck and frustrated. I knew this would differentiate me from the many others who follow a social impact or NGO career path. And I knew inside that I needed to take a drastic step in order to create the change I craved in my life.
I didn’t, however, get the sensation that this was the right path. And my resistance to it prevented me from truly going all-in on my decision. I showed up to my classes and to my group calls full of criticism for the program, for the professors, for program management, for this teammate not doing this or that. I was overwhelmed, exhausted, and sensed that the voice of resistance I heard before I said yes to the program was overwhelming me even more now that the EMBA had begun.
I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want to learn finance or accounting. I didn’t want to do case studies. I just wanted a change…and my imposter syndrome – the belief that I wasn’t successful enough, didn’t know enough, and in essence, wasn’t enough – is what got me to that program – a program guaranteed to give me a good reputation and help me be seen as “smart” by the outside world.
My intuition was trying to tell me from the beginning that it wasn’t the answer for me – or at least not the only way forward – but I refused to acknowledge it. I chose, instead, to lead with my head, rather than my heart.
The price I paid was feeling unsettled, insecure, anxious, and like I was ready to quit at any moment. My heart simply wasn’t in it. But my desire to prove myself to myself (and the world) was a far stronger motivator than feeling joy or fulfillment.
Fast forward six years and I can say that while I felt nothing but resistance as I worked my butt off through the MBA, I made it through. And I am damn proud that I did.
As expected, I met wonderful people in my program who I am still connected with today (some of whom later became clients of mine in the coaching or organizational realm,) I got to fully enjoy the beauty and excitement of intimately reconnecting with Madrid (a city where I studied once before ten years earlier – in 2005,) I learned how to prioritize since it simply wasn’t possible to be fully present in my full-time job and in the EMBA program at the same time, and while I definitely didn’t master it, I learned how important it is to be resilient in the face of extreme challenges.
The EMBA opened up a world of opportunities – giving me access to a global network of humans that have genuinely opened their hearts and homes to me wherever I’ve traveled, helping me to feel at home in different countries and continents, and showed me that I can do hard things.
This part of my life taught me a few valuable lessons about what truly matters in life:
- Your intuition is always speaking to you, if you are willing to listen to it. For me, my intuition shows up as that deep sense of knowing even when I can’t describe why I feel that way or how I know it. And when I’m following a path which isn’t really the best way forward my intuition shows me through the anxious feeling that enters my stomach and never really leaves until I address it.
- There is no single right or wrong path forward – every path opens new doors and opportunities, even if it doesn’t always feel like the “right” way forward. While the decision of “what to do next” can feel overwhelming, the truth is that any which way you choose will lead you somewhere new – with a new opportunity to learn or grow. There is no right or wrong, just different journeys you will go on.
- Whatever you do, do it with your whole heart. Commit. Go all in. For there is nothing worse than feeling like you are trapped in something (e.g. job, relationship, living situation) where you are constantly looking for the way out. If you decide to do something, make sure you can give your full commitment to it, otherwise – say “no”.
- You are already enough. No amount of education or training or proving yourself to the world will make you more worthy or valuable. You are already enough as you are. Learn for the passion of learning or hunger to understand something new, do things for the pleasure that it brings you or for the joy of achieving, but let go of the belief that “if only I do…x…then I will be worthy.”
- There is no such thing as “bad mistakes” there are only opportunities to learn. Even if you make a choice that doesn’t sit well, or you regret your decision, trust that it’s an opportunity for you to learn something new about yourself and the world around you. Reflect on the lessons, internalize them, and next time make a different choice.
What is it that your intuition has been trying to tell you but you haven’t been listening?
Amanda Parker is the Founder of The Courage Factory. She is also the creator of the Alchemy Leadership Program.
Alchemy is an 8-week online leadership program for business leaders and entrepreneurs who want to access their inner wisdom and transform their leadership.