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How to make important life decisions despite the uncertainty

The two characters you will need to face at the time of making important decisions

During the last few months, a large number of my professional and personal relationships have asked me why I left Banking and what I am doing now. So I figured that writing an article with some thoughts on the topic could be more productive than having a lot of individual conversations where we would probably not get too deep into the matter anyway. And given that I have just crossed the 1-year anniversary of my departure, I thought that it might be the time to do it.

So let’s begin, shall we?

Banking can be a very rewarding career. I am not going to dwell into the benefits that everyone knows and speaks about. Status, money, high-end lifestyle, adrenaline…you name it. Enough has been said and frankly I have never cared so much about those. The real value, often underappreciated, of a career like Banking is that it gets you out of your comfort zone. So much and in so many different dimensions, that it slowly turns you into a problem-solving, hurdle-jumping, ugly-circumstances-overcoming machine. And that’s an invaluable skill to have in your emotional intelligence toolkit no matter what you do in life. A factor that can move a person out of a group of people with similar intellectual capability and project them into the narrow universe of extraordinarily successful individuals.

So, all in all, I am very satisfied with my first career choice because as a result of my years in it I did a monster Phd on attitude building that helped me in other areas of my life and contributed very meaningfully to my personal development. And I am even more satisfied with my employer choice because their people and culture are as good as you can get in the Banking universe, which made the job not only a constant source of growth, but real fun.

Still, I decided to go. Why?

The Doorman of Beliefs

Let me introduce an interesting character: The Doorman of Beliefs.

The Doorman of Beliefs is the gatekeeper of your belief system. It’s the one who decides, by opening the door of your mind, what you believe in, and the one who decides, by shutting that door, what you do not believe in.

What you believe in is a product of many differing things. Your environment as a child, your education, the people you have surrounded yourself with, your experiences, the people you admire. Even the beatings of your older brother when you were little, or not so little.

The people that work in those high-intensity/high-paying/high-status careers like Banking and others, have beliefs towards them. At some point, the Doorman of Beliefs opened the door of their minds and a number of beliefs sneaked in. Beliefs like “High compensation is good”, “High status is good”, “A luxurious lifestyle is good”, “Comparing well to others is good”, “I am good at this”, “Exposure to high profile clients is good”, “My career will be my legacy”, “High risk/high reward is good”, “I can provide better for my family with this job”, etc. etc. You get the idea.

These people function with those beliefs in their everyday lives. As time goes by, especially if they build the gladiator attitude I mentioned before, they make progress in their jobs. They get promoted. They make more money and get more responsibilities. And in the process, they add more stuff to their lives. Houses, cars, eating out, private schools, exotic vacations, etc. etc. It’s just the normal process. They get attracted to it and they can afford it – or so they think -, so they do it.

But after a few years, a strange phenomenon happens to quite a few of them.

They feel empty.

Why?

There might be plenty of reasons. In my experience, and I have talked to a lot of people about this, the most common one is that a need for purpose and meaning starts to grow inside them and they cannot really find it in their current job.

What’s their most common reaction to this? To bury the feeling of emptiness by adding more stuff to their lives. Bigger houses, faster cars, more luxurious restaurants, more exotic trips, more boomerangs from Australia on the walls. And as those treats provide for a kind of gratification that lasts a bit less every time, they buy more, bigger things and with higher frequency in order to keep that uncomfortable feeling of emptiness under the ground.

But after a few more years, another strange phenomenon happens.

It is not working. The feeling of emptiness is still there, even after changing employer a few times within the same career.

And guess what. There is something else.

Some of them, not all, become more and more aware that, although their professional career might be going well, the rest of their life is not doing so.

They spend little time with their spouses. Their children are going through their character-forming years and they do not see them enough. They have lost contact with their old friends. Their parents are getting old and they hardly spend any time with them. They feel tired. Stressed. Overworked. They do not sleep well. They do not have time to develop their personal passions. Chronic pains arise.

In this situation, which is by the way more common than not in these types of jobs, a question should come up. It almost never does, but it should. It so much should.

Are these beliefs I have useful to me?

Now, if you are not an emotionally retarded individual who denies their own emotions and you feel you are remotely close to the situation I am describing, with a massive imbalance between the progress you are making in your career and the one – or the lack of – you are making everywhere else, chances are that your Doorman of Beliefs has let some stuff get into your mind that is not doing you any good. You need to start auditing what is inside your mind and whether it makes any sense for it to stay there. Your mind is the most precious real estate there is, so no one should be there for free if they are not giving you a great service in exchange.

Alright, let’s say you are with me on this one. You feel energised to twist the Doorman of Beliefs’ arm and make him get some of that unhelpful stuff out of your mind and get some useful beliefs into it.

But it’s not that easy. Because that’s when a second character shows their way in.

The Chatty Voice

The Chatty Voice is an uncontrollable conversationalist that has full access to – and loves – your existing beliefs and your emotions. She feeds on them and produces stories that you do not stop hearing no matter where you are.

The beliefs you have you can change. You could stop believing that a high-paying/high-status job is the best choice and start believing that what really matters is a job with purpose, that makes you feel alive and produces a real contribution to the greater good.

However, your emotions are largely unconscious and almost impossible to control. They just arise and trigger a call to action. The only thing you can control is the action. And that action could reinforce or dilute the emotion.

These emotions are the source of the power of the Chatty Voice. The key ingredients she uses to script believable stories that make an impact on you, in order to make you keep your Doorman of Beliefs undisturbed and your existing beliefs unchanged.

Now, let’s continue with our example.

You, a successful professional in X (insert high-status/high-paying career here), want to improve your lifestyle by changing into an occupation with more meaning (or maybe do your current job differently) and add more balance into your life by paying more attention to other important dimensions in your overall happiness. You are mentally ready to talk to your Doorman of Beliefs into letting some existing unhelpful beliefs go and bring some new and more useful ones in.

But then your Chatty Voice takes the stage. She takes a good look at your emotions and suddenly you start hearing stories from her in your head: “Your parents will not understand this”; “You are giving up everything you have worked for”; “you have something so many people would kill for”; “the friends you have made over the last few years will take you out of their circle of trust”; “the network of working relationships you have built over the years will fade”; “you are putting your financial health at risk”; “you are preventing your children from having the best education possible”; “you do not know if you will be good at that new occupation”; “you will fail”; “you are nuts”, “stop dreaming”; “stupid”, “loser”, etc. etc.

The Chatty Voice knows exactly what to say. She is totally tuned into your existing beliefs and your emotions, so she hits you with impressive accuracy and sounds extremely reasonable, prudent, grounded and believable. So much, that you think that she has to be right.

But there is only one issue. One issue that if you fully recognise and absorb, will change everything for you.

The Chatty Voice is not you.

It sounds and feels like you, but she is not.

I understand that this might be a bit difficult to process if you are not a regular meditation practitioner or have not educated yourself about this. But she really is not you.

As soon as you start getting this concept, which might take some reading and some practice, there is something you can do to release the Chatty Voice from some of her power: Distance yourself from the emotions you feel.

How do you do this?

First, recognise them when they arise.

Second, do not identify yourself with them. They are an emotion you feel, but they are not you.

Third, recognise the stories that the Chatty Voice is telling you by feeding on those emotions.

Fourth, recognise that the Chatty Voice has her own agenda, and the people that have their own agenda do not really want the best for you.

Once you go through this, and it will take some time for you to do so, you will be more ready to face the Doorman of Beliefs and start renewing your mental wardrobe into something that fits you better. The Chatty Voice will continue to tell you endless stories, because that hyperactive animal never stops talking, but you will be better equipped to act in the direction that helps you the most. Even if those emotions continue to impact you somehow– which they will.

And this brings me back to the original question of Why I left Banking.

The certainty beyond the uncertainty

My life was unbalanced. I was receiving a lot of growth and satisfaction from my career but I was neglecting other important areas that I knew – with absolute certainty – were essential for my overall long term happiness. I was also feeling a need for something with higher purpose. Something that made a direct contribution to improving the lives of other people. This feeling was not sporadic or unfounded but rather permanent and deep. And it was getting more and more intense over time.

It became very clear to me: My existing beliefs were not useful anymore, because they did not cater for these deep desires. Desires that were an integral part of my identity. Of who I was and what I really wanted.

The Chatty Voice sensed the threat very quickly and got up in arms. The stories she told me were good material, oh yes. She was at her best for quite a long time. But, step by step, I learned to separate myself from her and dilute the intensity of the negative emotions that were beating underneath her stories. And by doing so, I felt more empowered to seduce my Doorman of Beliefs into throwing some of the non-paying, dirty, noisy tenants out of my mind and letting some kinder ones go inside. Slowly, I changed my beliefs into a set of principles that were much more useful to me and catered for those deeper desires of mine.

When I felt ready, and full of gratitude for everything that the experience of working in that great institution provided me with during all those years, I left. Just like that. Not knowing very well what I would do next, but with an overall sense of where I wanted to go.

I remember how uncertain everything looked. And at the same time, how certain everything felt.

And that was exactly what I wanted.

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