Sleepwalking Through Success

A question I get asked over and over is, “What’s the biggest ‘a ha’ you’ve had since you’ve left your corporate career?”

My answer is, “I was sleepwalking and didn’t know it.”

I used to be a significant sleepwalker as a child. Occasionally, I would wake up in the dark in some random room of the house, with no memory of getting out of bed. Once or twice I even went outside. Luckily, nothing truly dangerous ever happened. Most of the time, I’d just hear about it the next day from my parents.  

I’ve since outgrown that childhood quirk, but as I was well into my corporate career and had hit all of the milestones you’re supposed to hit, I was still moving about while being asleep. Like my childhood episodes, I wasn’t really aware of how much I was sleepwalking through my days until after the fact.

I was lucky. My entire working life, I had loved what I was doing. The rare exceptions of bad bosses or boring work were short lived. They were just valuable lessons that helped shape my personal values on what I needed to feel engaged and inspired.

Slowly, between a heavy international travel and work schedule, along with family responsibilities, I drifted into a routine of waking up, rushing here and there based on my calendar, cramming any other “deliverables” needed into the evening hours - all to go to sleep, wake up, and push repeat.  

I hadn’t even noticed that many of the things that make me feel awake and alive were dropping out of my routine.

I had stopped asking myself what I wanted. I had even stopped asking myself an even more important question… what I needed. I wasn’t asking anything at all.

Looking back, part of the challenge was that I really liked my job.  It had a unique combination of interesting and challenging work, global travel, and the opportunity to meet and work with successful leaders in multiple industries.

Every now and then, when the fatigue would settle in a little deeper than usual, I would wonder to myself why I couldn’t find much inspiration in things that used to bring joy or fun or wonder to my life. Just as quickly, I’d turn a critical eye on myself to look for ways to be more resilient and grind harder. I’d place another “to do” on my list of stress management tools from my ever increasing toolkit.

Fast forward. After a few years of sleepwalking, I did the hard work to arrive at the decision to make a change, build an excellent business, and never look back (a story for another post).  

Before and as I transitioned, I took a long look at all the areas of my life. I wasn’t running away from what had been a 20+ year corporate career.  I was running toward something bigger.  Work that is aligned with the life I want to lead. I no longer wanted work to lead me.

One day, months after the transition, I was driving down a street I often traveled. I realized in a moment that everything had changed. I thought, “I was asleep and didn’t even know it and now I’m awake.”

I felt energetic, happy. I was present.  Even the colors of everything I saw seemed richer and deeper. It was, to borrow a term we like to use at Nova, illuminating.

Here’s the thing. So much of what we do in our work and personal lives comes out of goals that we set when we’re young. “I want to have X title by X age and make X amount of money” and so on and so on. So you hit all of those benchmarks by making connections and building networks and delivering value and you get really good at being a corporate worker, and, like anything you’re really good at it, it becomes second nature. Before you realize it, your second nature overwhelms your true nature and you focus more on the goals you’re reaching for than why you’re reaching for them.

That’s why I joined Kathleen in creating Nova. I want to help women who are sleepwalking, either consciously or not, wake up to what they want and to create the ways to get it. You only get one precious life and it seems like quite a shame to waste it sleepily climbing the corporate ladder. Your work life should be as vibrant and vivacious and powerful as your interior life - and you shouldn’t be ashamed of wanting that!

So take some time to reflect on what really matters to you, what sparks joy in your life, and ask yourself if that’s what you’re pursuing. If not, consider joining us at Nova, we’ll give you the support, encouragement, and, perhaps most importantly, tools you need manifest that reality in your life. Join one of our Leadership Immersion Retreats, or talk to us about 1x1 executive coaching. We’ll help you create your ideal personal and professional life.

Kathleen Woodhouse