5 Reasons Clarity Is So Hard to Find

Most of my clients seek clarity. If they just knew what their purpose was, what the next career move should be, or where to transfer their talents into meaningful work, they would just go do it.

But for some reason, clarity eludes them; actually, all of us, at some point.

Lack of clarity can be a mental block. It may feel unsafe to have clarity because then we would actually have to take action. Sometimes it’s because we just don’t have enough data to draw any conclusions, but the “I need more information” is a slippery slope that can lead to more unnecessary research and rabbit holes—and no action. I believe clarity is hard to find in a career because of fear, yet we may not always recognize it as fear; instead, we call it “reality.”

Here are the top five things I've seen stop my clients (and me!) from having clarity.

1. What we truly desire is in conflict with what someone else (who is important to us) wants.

For people-pleasers and conflict avoiders, this is often the reason we aren’t clear. Every option is riddled with potential consequences we don’t like, and the risk feels too great so we limit our options before we even allow ideas to formulate. It can sound like, "Company X is based in the Bay area, but I don't want to make the kids move, so it's out." These sound like facts, but how do you know you would have to move? Have you talked to your kids about it or your partner?

We don’t know how to please ourselves AND everyone else at the same time, so we stay stuck or do what we always do—sacrifice our wants and needs in order to keep the peace (externally) while our (internal) peace is compromised. We find ourselves explaining why we can’t do something.

Sometimes, though, our desires are buried so deep in our subconscious that we can’t even imagine them. Allowing them to the surface is so threatening to our current relationships and way of life that they stay buried — and we stay ignorant and blind to what is possible. We aren’t even aware we are doing this; it’s simply a way our ego keeps itself safe.

2. What we want is in conflict with what we (truly) believe.

If we believe something that is contrary to what we want, it’s difficult to take effective action. Our own brains will try to protect us through acts of self-sabotage that are really its attempts at keeping the ego safe.

I used to (and still do more than I’d like to admit) have a belief that “I am not an entrepreneur.” Anytime something doesn't go the way I want it to, this belief quickly leads me to feel discouraged, and more unproductive thinking like, “What’s the point?” Then I don't take any action. If I don’t take any action, I won’t get any results, so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

We humans do this self-fulfilling prophecy thing all the time. Probably the most common belief I hear from people who want more clarity is the belief that in order to have security, we have to work in a corporate, “real” job. We hate working in a large company, but we can’t see or imagine how we can be secure without being in that environment.

Here’s how that mindset plays out. When looking for work, I set my search settings so that I don't even see small companies. Or, if I don't recognize the name of a company, I ignore it. Even though I know my neighbor likes her job/company, I don't ask her about opportunities because I already “know” they can't pay me what I want to make.

These are many small decisions (assumptions) that, quite literally, mean I do not see other options. Research has shown over and over again that our brains see only what they want to see. Until we confront our assumptions, we have a really hard time seeing alternatives, much less acting on them.

3. Perfectionism in the form of the One True Right Answer.

When we are looking for the perfect answer for the career that will keep us happy and fulfilled for the rest of our lives, we can easily miss the next right step that’s right in front of us. This can show up in different ways, one of which is researching, researching, researching without taking any direct action to learn something about yourself or test your hypothesis. Perfectionists often believe “I just need more information” or “I can’t do anything until I get it all figured out.” We don’t figure it out by thinking some more—we just keep thinking in the same circles. And we likely have more information than we know what to do with. What provides clarity is taking action and then assessing what we've learned.

Perfectionism can also look like a mindset that is always finding reasons for why something won’t work. When we look for the One True Right Answer—we imagine it will have no flaws or drawbacks. As soon as we see an obstacle, we pull back into our turtle shells. If it were perfect, there would be nothing wrong with it, right? Not so much.

4. Money & Certainty. This is the one most often cited as the reason for being stuck, but it rarely is. It’s a cover for whatever the thing is that you’re really afraid of. I know you’re arguing with me already, but hear me out. Fear of financial ruin cuts possibility off at the knees. It shortchanges imagination. Necessity is the mother of invention, so the saying goes, so how can money be a motivator for you trying something new to gain clarity?

We call it “reality,” but chances are someone else is making money doing the thing you want to do — so doesn’t that mean it’s possible for you, too? Could it really be true that only one person in the world can do this thing?

5. Ego.

The ego always wants to protect us and keep us safe from feeling shame. It wants to look good. To keep us in check, the ego uses scare tactics to stop us from taking action. It will tell us that we could fail, people will stop respecting us, we might look stupid, etc. Making a change could put us "behind."

The antidote? Taking small actions in the direction of something we think we might be interested in. Small actions don't pose the same kind of threat to the ego. This is how we gain more information and data about what we like, don’t like and what kind of environment we thrive in. But it doesn’t stop here. That’s a start but it’s also important to give ourselves time and mental space for self-reflection and for learning how to tune into our own wisdom, which may be buried or rusty.

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Portland, OR

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