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Giving Intuition A Fighting Chance

This is an "I should have listened to myself" story. This time last year, a former colleague reached out to ask if I’d take on a little coaching work in her growing consulting practice. I’ve known this person for a long time, and we’ve always enjoyed rich conversations and a shared interest in our work. We’ve also had some significant philosophical differences about coaching, business ownership, and even what great leadership looks like.

In the past, I’d been aware of this tension – we enjoy a shared history and similar work, and yet we disagree more than we agree.

These were the kinds of ‘notes to self' I kept in the back of my mind when we’d see each other at professional conferences or on coaching panels. These were the notes that tried to get my attention when this friend reached out, and the notes I pushed aside to keep going with the call.

I kept going with the call for a few reasons:

  1. I had set a pretty bold financial goal for myself to close out the year, and this invitation felt like kismet, too timely to ignore.

  2. Also, this opportunity spoke to the image I hold of myself as a helper. It fulfills a personal narrative: when I am in the position to do so, I should always help others.

Despite what first felt like good reasons to say yes, a little intuitive voice inside was asking me questions: You sure about this? I’ve heard you say aloud you wouldn’t partner with her, it wouldn’t feel aligned for you. What gives?

I noticed also that another part of me rebutted the caution my intuitive voice was offering me, talking over her with things like, “Hey, don’t be inflexible. This isn’t a permanent arrangement, it’s one project. She needs some help, you can do something good here.”

As it happened, as my intuition had suggested would be true, the differences between my friend and me surfaced during this project. Where she saw structure, I experienced rigidity. Where she saw holding the client accountable, I saw hounding. Our updates were tense and awkward.

A year later, I look back at this experience as a lesson in what happens when I don't listen closely enough to my intuition.

  1. Yes, I helped, and the results for the clients were wonderful.

  2. Yes, I advanced towards my big financial goal.

  3. But the relationship I have with my friend has surely changed.

And the worst part? I knew better.

Maybe you also know this experience of shaking your head, muttering: why didn't I listen to myself!? Maybe you can think of an example, most likely in retrospect, when a part of you knew what you really wanted to do, but another part of you overrode your intuition and led to you do nearly the opposite. What's that about, and can't we do wiser?

I’m still working through this one, but I have already found that there are a few things I need to pay closer attention to next time. Maybe they help you, too.

False deadlines:

The strictest deadline around a decision to say yes or no to this project came from me. Period, end.

I believed I had no time, not because of pressure my friend put on me, but because of how I was experiencing pressure in the rest of my life. “I just want this off my plate, one way or the other,” I said to myself. Still, I know, when I’m acting under false urgency, I am rarely making the most thoughtful decision. I could have seen the timeline for what it was: flexible. I could have made time in my schedule to reflect thoroughly on the tradeoffs, rather than deciding on the go. I could have asked for more time if I needed it. Immediate reward versus the longer game:

In this case, if I challenged my mind to wander around immediate reward circuitry (make that financial goal! be a good person who helps!!) into some scenario imagining,I could have pictured nearly exactly how I would think, feel and act in meetings with my friend about this project. How? Because I had ample, specific experiences with her to draw from. While I pride myself on an open mind and a flexible nature, I also believe in evidence, and I had the evidence that the long-term result would overshadow some short-term gains.

Relentless prioritization:

In those decision days, several of my values and interests were competing for my attention, represented by the multiple internal voices influencing my thinking.

The concept of a “priority” is intended to be singular. Only in the last one hundred years have we started to create multiple priorities in our lives, thinking we can do many things with great effort and great results at once. It’s a challenge for all of us to find and focus on the priority, the one thing.

My priority work value – the one thing that matters most – is integrity. Of course, I mean treating my clients ethically. And I also mean honoring myself and my work by doing things in alignment with who I am, consistent with myself in a way that represents wholeness, integrity.

If I’d focused on the filter of that one priority value, that most important thing, the answer would have been clear.

As always, there’s a chance for me to be a better friend to myself during times of regret. Despite this awkward experience, I’m reminding myself that I’m not broken or a total mess; just learning as I go. And my intuition is always here to have my back.

Your experience tuning into your intuition? Any lessons learned? I’d love to know more about it… drop me a note.


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