Tracy* had been a teacher for over 20 years and was feeling stuck in life. Over the years she had grown to hate the career she once loved and was desperate for a change.  In the beginning, being in the classroom with the children brought her immense joy and fulfilment. Now it brought only misery, stress, and despair. She’d tried to make changes before, trying everything from taking on new responsibilities, switching to new roles, and changing schools, hoping to get back that sense of joy and fulfilment again. Yet whatever she tried, any improvements were short-lived and she quickly fell back into her negative state.

Feeling stuck in life

Like many people feeling stuck in life and unsatisfied with their careers, Tracy had tried to make changes. Yet she kept finding herself back in a classroom, feeling defeated. If teaching brought her so much pain, why did she keep being drawn back? What was preventing her from switching to an entirely different career altogether?

Perhaps like Tracy, you keep finding yourself dissatisfied with your career. You’ve tried changing jobs, different employers, new job titles, yet every time you seem to wind up in the same situation; stuck at the same pay grade, dealing with the same problems, and feeling the same sense of frustration and anger. In my own career I’ve worked for social enterprises, charities, Universities and training providers, and even a domestic violence center. Yet no matter how different each role seemed at the outset, ultimately I kept being drawn to jobs that had me stuck at the same pay grade, with zero room for growth or promotion, and left me feeling like I was just spinning my wheels.

It wasn’t until Tracy was coached through a process of values elicitation that she was able to finally understand why she hadn’t been able to leave teaching behind, no matter how much she had grown to hate it. Values elicitation is a coaching process that uncovers your values – those things that are most important to you. Values elicitation helps uncover not only what your general values are, but what your driving values are. Driving values are those that have the most influence over your behavior and are often to blame when you find yourself stuck. Uncovering your driving values and working with them can help you make massive positive shifts in your behavior and sustain it.

Move-towards and move-away from values

Your values can exert either a pull or push on your behavior. Move toward values are those things you actively want in your life and are typically positive. For example happiness, joy, fulfilment, ambition, success, family-oriented, honesty, compassion etc. Move-away from values are those things that you actively wish to avoid and are typically negative, such as boredom, frustration, misery, failure, greed, selfishness and so on. These are values that leave you feeling stuck in life and that you do not want to have in your experience.

During the values elicitation process, Tracy identified her move-towards values as joy, fulfilment, enthusiasm, and contribution to other. These values were all present in teaching for her when she began her career. She also found them in other areas of her life, such as the two years she spent as a stay-at-home mom with her kids. Yet, when asked about her career in its current state, Tracy identified a number of move-away from values, such as stress, anxiety, despair, and unhappiness. There were no positive move-toward values uncovered in her current job at all.

So why did Tracy continue to be drawn to teaching roles and stay in a career that was making her so unhappy? Her move-away from values should have been pushing her to leave, and her move-towards values should have been pulling her to something new and better. As the values elicitation process went on, it became clear when the coach uncovered her driving values – the two strongest underlying values that truly drove her behavior.

Although Tracy thought her most important values were joy and fulfilment, her driving values were security and comfort. Tracy had a deep underlying belief in the need to feel secure and safe, something her mastery of teaching gave her. She could ‘teach with her eyes closed’, and had great confidence in her teaching skills and abilities. Even though it made her so miserable, she was secure in her ability to perform the job, which kept her going back to that safe, familiar, and comfortable territory.

These driving values were so strong, they were literally keeping her trapped in a miserable situation. As the coach explained to her at the end of the process, the only way to move forward is to work with your driving values, not against them. Your values remain relatively stable throughout your lifespan, only shifting in exceptional circumstances. Trying to fight against them will only leave you frustrated and stuck.

For Tracy, the way forward was to honor her values of security and comfort and find ways to build them in to her life. Tracy was considering coaching training to become a life coach herself – it had the potential to give her the joy and fulfilment she sought. Yet in order to be successful and ensure she was able to stick with it, it will be essential that she seek out ways to feel secure and comfortable while she trains, sets up her coaching practice, and goes out into the world as a fully-fledged coach. Otherwise, those driving values may pull her back to the safety, security, and comfort of the classroom.

So what are your driving values? Are you being pulled towards a career or job that makes you miserable by values that you are unaware of? How might you uncover them? Working with a coach through the values elicitation process is a great start, and can help you move on from feeling stuck in life to make the progress you dream of.

*name changed for privacy.

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