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What Coping Mechanisms are Getting in the Way of Your Dreams?

What Coping Mechanisms are Getting in the Way of Your Dreams?

We’ve all experienced some form of adversity in our lives.  The good news is we naturally develop resiliency as a result of negative experiences that we had. Resiliency gives us skills, techniques and coping mechanisms that help us bounce back in the face of future trauma or challenges. Typically, resiliency is a really good thing. 

It means we survived. 

But I’m here to tell you that resiliency is also a double edged sword. Sometimes the traits that make us resilient, like an “I can do it myself” attitude, over-functioning, or over-responsibility, can lead straight to burnout, anxiety, and depression.  

These traits can be valued by society though, so it’s often hard to recognize them as challenges or limiting beliefs.  Resiliency keeps us safe, and the skills protect us from future pain or disappointment.  But often these coping mechanisms may be hindering us and holding us back from making progress towards the big dreams we have.  

My Story

That was true for me. Growing up in an alcoholic family as the oldest of three siblings, I started life with more responsibility than the average person. I helped hold the family together by doing the grocery shopping in high school and working in various aspects of our family business. 

Tragically, both my parents died of alcoholism-related diseases within two years of one another. As the oldest, I was suddenly in charge of not only managing their estates, but also taking care of my two younger siblings. At the age of twenty-two, I became the sole guardian of my sixteen-year-old sister, which was an unbelievable amount of responsibility to be handed to a young adult.

I didn’t have a typical young adulthood with the safety net of family to learn skills from and fall back on. Failure wasn’t an option. I was “adulting” long before “adulting” was a common meme among millennials.  I became self-reliant and was praised for my maturity and “having it all together.” My “can do it” attitude meant that I also excelled in my career. 

I was resilient. 

But this came at a cost.  For instance, I didn’t get to have spring breaks and learn how to “unplug” and turn off.  Most of my breaks during school were spent working to support myself financially.  I didn’t learn the value of finding balance with my time and my boundaries. I struggled to understand and pay attention to my own needs for support and protection from others or learn when recharging and taking a break would make sense. 

I had a belief that I have to work hard, and keep working hard in order to be worth something. Eventually, through self reflection, I made this link between my incessant need for busyness and achievement and how it was the only thing fueling my self-worth. It was mostly driven by my imposter syndrome – a belief that despite outward success I didn’t deserve it or it didn’t really mean anything.  

It’s no wonder I struggled with anxiety and depression throughout my teens and 20s.  It’s also no wonder that I moved through a career path and career ladder simply because of the circumstances I found myself in, not because it was the path that I designed or dreamed for myself.  

I’m trying to speak out against this idea that we need to be busy and achievement focused to be worth something.

It took a long time for me to consider how these traits left over from my trauma — which are often valued in a career — were hurting me. Once I did, the good news is, I think my inherent resilience kicked in. I was able to adapt and consider another path, one that was more even keeled and includes more balance.  

You may not think to describe embarking on an entrepreneurial journey as “even keeled and balanced,” but the truth is it was easier for me to create that for myself than trying to create it within the corporate environment. 

Crusade Against Busyness

One of the reasons I dared to write a book exploring some of the traumas I had and profiling experiences of many others who made big changes in their life as a result of their own self-reflection and inner journeys is because I’m trying to speak out against this idea that we need to be busy and achievement focused to be worth something.  It’s a bit of a crusade that I’m on. 

And it’s warranted because burnout is an epidemic right now.  People experience burnout in different ways.  Burnout can show up in an obvious way like exhaustion, the inability to sleep, or maybe the strong need to sleep all the time. A hallmark of burnout is not having any personal time or self care in our lives. It can also show up as more of a simmering frustration, anger, resentment, or unpleasantness at your job.  

Busyness and burnout can also just be a distraction. A distraction from experiencing uncomfortable emotions. It prevents us from looking too closely at how our past painful experiences in life might have given us coping mechanisms that hold us back from living in more happiness and fulfillment.  

Once I made that link between busyness and my self worth, I was able to start letting go of the societal pressures to always stay busy and productive. Letting go of my corporate job helped me let go of my busyness faster, as I could now set the bar without input or guidelines from a boss or corporate culture.

Becoming an entrepreneur allowed me not only to live a life-long dream of working to help people with their personal finances, but do it on my terms with protections in place to prevent getting too close to burnout and overwork again.  

Naming and achieving a big dream takes courage and being comfortable with a fair amount of risk. However, if we fear risk because it reminds us of something we experienced in the past — it means we have a lot more to overcome in order to do something scary and life a big dream we have in life.  

My most important personal goal today is to spend time going back and living a more carefree lifestyle, as opposed to one that’s over scheduled, overworked, and burned out.  I invite you to do more of your own self reflection to discover some of your coping mechanisms — what might be holding you back from living your biggest dreams?

The Resiliency Effect draws on the disciplines of life coaching, psychology, and financial planning.  My goal with the book is to offer a way to develop excitement and energy around your purpose which often is preceded by deep, inner work. It’s available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and everywhere books are sold.

Four Reasons I Wrote The Resiliency Effect

Four Reasons I Wrote The Resiliency Effect

I felt compelled to write my book for a few reasons.

First, I’m a financial advisor in my day job as Founder and CEO of North Financial Advisors. I speak with hundreds of people each year about their hopes and dreams along with their finances. What I hear most often is that people desire to live their lives differently, more in sync with their purpose or dreams or simply to have more balance and happiness in life. We all can name these big dreams or big changes we want for ourselves. Yet, the vast majority of us aren’t living them. Why is that?

I wanted to find out the answer, and that’s exactly what I asked when I interviewed and profiled more than 50 people for the book.

I, too, had a dream that had long been put on hold — to work with people one-on-one with their finances.

A story I tell in the opening chapters of my book is how this dream of mine languished for about 8 years. I was too busy, too focused on the wrong things and too caught up in what other people thought of me and what I “was supposed” to be doing. My self worth was tied to my accomplishments, achievements, and full calendar. This all dates back to how I grew up and the experiences and adversities I experienced as a child and young adult.

I often found myself burned out, but then quickly wondering, “what’s next?” I easily moved on to the next thing rather than doing the inner work necessary to get at my biggest dreams.

I bet you can relate, as I’ve heard so many stories at this point, it almost feels like a ubiquitous human condition. At it’s core, this book explores ways which people have overcome these kinds of adversities to live their biggest dreams. It gives you the “how” related to your mindset and inner journey. Then, the taking action part is up to you.

Second, there’s truly a limit to the number of people I can work with one-on-one. I only take on a few new clients each year to my financial planning practice. While I’m able to help coach clients to do some of their deep inner work to not only discover their big dreams, but start living them, the collective dent I’m able to make is quite small. My hope is that offering a book will be a way for many more people to be inspired to start living their big dreams.

Third, I think more people should be business owners and starting a business is one big dream that many people have. The problem is there’s this assumption that being a business owner is hard, draining, and a hustle. Yes, there are challenges, but when done right, being a business owner is a great way to get more freedom back into your life. My book challenges many of the assumptions about business ownership. Dozens of the people I interviewed or profiled in the book have their own business and it was great getting their thoughts on “lessons learned” to incorporate best practices in my book. While my book isn’t about “how to start a business,” it’s more about how to get yourself and your mind in the right place to explore what’s possible and create something that will be sustainable in the long-run.

Finally, I wrote this book for me. It’s not easy to work through the inner stuff as much as we focus on our outer accomplishments and achievements. About 6 months before writing this book, I was looking at my own charitable giving strategy and looking for national trauma-informed non profits doing work to expand people’s knowledge about many of the topics I explore in my book. It didn’t exist. The closest thing I could find is ACESAware.org and that’s mainly a California organization. That told me that we need more awareness first – Part 1 of my book dives deep into how adversities and trauma we (or our families) experienced can be holding us back in ways we’re not even aware of.

What I discovered on my author journey was that there is power in vulnerability. As humans we learn so much through story telling and relating to others, far more than when we memorize facts and figures. While it’s scary to share so much of my story and my past along side all the people I interviewed, developing the courage to do so has changed me for the better.

Do You Want to Write a Book?

There’s a whole host of reasons I think everyone should consider writing a book. First, it’s a fantastic way to organize all your thoughts about a topic and dive deep. The best way to learn is honestly to write or teach about it. It forces you to fully understand both the big picture and the micro details, filter out what’s most important and then share it back to people in a way they can relate. That’s powerful.

Whether you’re a business owner, employee, manager or aspiring to any one of those things, a book can be a great way to develop a higher level of credibility. It’s much easier to earn media appearances, speaking gigs, and business referrals as an author. Having a book on someone’s shelf is much more memorable than a business card. It can be a door opener to creating new connections and opportunities. It’s so much easier to explain, “What do you do?” when you wrote a book on it.

There’s also a fair amount of self-discovery that comes along with writing a book. It can help you answer your “why,” it can help you make an impact, it can help you get comfortable with uncomfortable stuff. I thought writing a book would be a very lonely process, something I did on my own. But as it turns out I joined an author community, had a ton of help, and during a global pandemic managed to expand my network and my reach.

Beware…the minute you start thinking about stretching yourself to do something like this, your brain might say, “Wait a minute! That sounds scary / risky / painful, isn’t there something else you should be doing?

I urge you to instead do one small thing to explore this dream or any other dreams you have. Can you spend 10 minutes researching, writing or talking to a friend about it instead of immediately shutting down the idea?

What’s your big dream? What’s one thing you can do to make tiny, incremental progress on it?