What prevents people from pursuing meaningful careers? In this episode, APU business professor Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt talks to career and personal brand strategist Dr. Carol Parker Walsh. Learn how to tune into your inner voice to identify your passion and strengths and actively start preparing to pursue career-life alignment with purpose and meaning. Learn how to shift your mindset away from following a linear career path, overcome the fear that keeps you from taking action, and give yourself the time and space for the self-reflection needed to hear your inner voice.
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Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: Welcome to the podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt. Today, we’re here speaking with Dr. Carol Parker Walsh. We’re going to talk listening to your inner voice, leaning into what you want and identifying pitfalls along the way. So let me tell you about Dr. Carol Parker Walsh.
She specializes in executive coaching, career strategy training, professional brand and image consulting, and she helps smart, high-achieving professional women at the midlife of their career who are emerging or established leaders and want to take control of their careers, do meaningful work, and design a career and life they love. So, Dr. Parker Walsh, welcome to the podcast and thank you for joining me.
Dr. Carol Parker Walsh: Thank you for having me. It’s so exciting to be here.
Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: Oh, I am truly excited. I’ve learned so much about you and I’m so glad you have just a couple of minutes to speak to the students at American Public University. So let’s get started.
Dr. Carol Parker Walsh: Sure. Let’s do that.
Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: All right. So there are so many critical conversations happening today that address issues around just trying to find the life that you really want, designing the career that you want, and just coming up with the aspirations that help you get to that point. So can you start our conversation today by maybe talking about some of the roadblocks or pitfalls that you’ve encountered when you’ve tried to help people become emerging or established leaders?
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Dr. Carol Parker Walsh: Yeah, the biggest problem honestly when it comes to the career game is mindset. It’s all of the reasons why it can’t work, all of the reasons why it’s too complicated, why it’s not the right time, why I am too established in what I’m doing, why I’m too far along in my career, it’s all of the things that come up in your mind to say this isn’t the right direction I should go. And so the fear around what will happen on the other side of the unknown is the biggest roadblock that people have.
I think when we were kids, we had this fabulous curiosity and this wonderful ability to dream big and nothing was out of reach, in terms of what we could potentially do in our career. But along the way, we start listening to well-meaning family, friends, mentors, people we admire, and kind of lost that childhood curiosity and started leaning into what seemed to “make sense” as opposed to really listening to what was right for ourselves and what we wanted to do.
And then to think to do something outside of the status quo or the way that we’ve been taught, there’s a lot of fear to move outside of that and what that means, because we have this idea of the secure way to go forward in our career and to go against that or away from that is a pretty scary thing. So the biggest roadblock that I found in the work that I do with my clients is fear. The fear of the unknown and fear of what this will mean for me if I decide to take the road less traveled.
Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: Absolutely. Absolutely. I think fear does prevent a lot of us from doing a lot of impactful work. And so in the news right now, we’re seeing so many reports about people making career changes almost at exponential rates. So can you talk about your experience working in this space and how people need to listen to his or her inner voice?
Dr. Carol Parker Walsh: Yeah, it’s what I call unraveling the societal narratives that you’ve been following. We’ve been taught about this linear career path from as far back as we can remember, I’m sure everyone could recite it. You go to school, you get a good job, you stay there until you retire. And that’s pretty much the end of the story, and you live happily ever after. However that goes.
But the linear career path really is dead. And in this new economy that we’re in with the changes that have happened, particularly with COVID, that’s in a lot of ways advanced the world of work, if you will, about five or six years ahead of time with automation and AI and the restructuring of position and the desire to have people have greater understanding of both their personal authenticity as well as their technical skills.
We have to throw out this old way of thinking. And the old way of thinking usually comes from external voices, external advice, old paradigms, and archaic ways of thinking about career development and advancement. And it’s so important to take a moment and listen to what it is that you really want to do.
It’s funny, I did a boot camp recently with about 250 women and at the end of the boot camp, one of the things that they we’re most grateful for was the fact that they had the space to actually ask the deeper questions and to actually listen to their own voice.
And in this fast moving fast-paced world that we live in and the desire to go, go, go, get, get, get, what we fail to do is to just listen to that voice within ourselves, to listen to that voice that has either been crying out, screaming out or begging to be heard.
And we have to be able to create the space to be able to hear what it is that we really want to do, and not only hear it, but value it and see it as worthy as any other voice or any other advice that we may be getting external from ourselves.
Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: So that’s a really good point that we need to listen to our inner self and what that inner voice is telling us, and I really like what you said about people need to build upon that in order to become successful. So I guess the simple question is, how do you find that inner voice and how do you develop a meaningful purpose?
Dr. Carol Parker Walsh: Yeah, well, it takes some self-reflection. Oftentimes if we can go back to the times we can remember when things we did brought us joy, when we used our natural strengths, our natural talents, doing what we were good at, things we did without even thinking about it, the things that brought us joy, the things that people often said, “You’re really great at this.” The things that people constantly asked us for. When we were in high school or college or graduate school and beyond, the things that people always thought, “Oh, well, if I need something, I’m going to go to Carol for that” or if they’re struggling with something, “This is what I’m going to go to Carol for,” the things that we naturally did without thinking about it.
If we can tap back into that time, those moments and look for the patterns that emerge from that information, we can then begin to see meaning and purpose and what it is that we’re meant to do in the world. Then we couple that with experience, we couple that with knowledge and skills, and then our purpose emerges.
It’s really, in a lot of ways, like putting a puzzle together. We have to first dig deep and find those puzzle pieces. And as we begin to get more and more of those pieces together, the puzzle, the image emerges and we’re able then to start putting it together.
So for me, finding purpose is very different than finding your dream job or career, because once you lean into your purpose and you know what that is, you then apply your purpose to everything that you do. And that way, no matter what it is that you’re doing, no matter what job you’re holding, if you’re allowing yourself to work within purpose—and by that I mean your natural gifts, talents, strengths, and abilities, those things that make you uniquely you—then you’ll be able to love what it is that you’re doing.
Because we all change over time we need to know and understand that our interests will also change. Who we were at 20 is not who we are at 30. Who we were before kids is not who we are after kids. Who we are married, is different than who we are divorced. We have to make allowances for the fact that as we change our interests will change, but what doesn’t change is purpose, meaning and purpose. What you’ve identified as unique to you. And once you know that, you’ll find beautiful ways to express that in whatever it is that you decide to do within your career.
Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: I like what you said about purpose, and you’re trying to find your passion. So when people think of a career, they usually think of a series of jobs. So how do you avoid that drift and how do you stay on track when you’re trying to come up with your dream job?
Dr. Carol Parker Walsh: Well, decisiveness is the enemy of drift and clarity is what helps you be decisive. The reason why people drift is because they haven’t gotten clear on and really focused in on what it is they see themselves doing with their skillsets. And what they do is they look broadly at titles and what other people are doing or money or other external things as opposed to thinking, “what substantively am I doing in my role,” and “in what ways do I want to continue to do that work?” If we don’t have the clarity, then we drift because shiny object syndrome kicks in, right?
We think, maybe I should make more money? Or maybe I should go after working for this corporation? Or maybe I should go for the corner office? Or this title sounds really interesting? What causes the drift, to stay in this space of being a nomad, if you will, is not having the clarity of what it is that you really see yourself applying your skills to.
You go after a job, you go after these external things, these external levels of validation without really searching for something that’s aligned with who you are. Instead of understanding your values and looking for places that are aligned with that, you just go for anything because you’re focusing on the money, for example. Or instead of looking for places that allow you to express your best possible self and your skills, or to show up authentically as your full self, you just look for any place that will have you.
And that’s what causes the drift. We stay stuck in these places and remain unhappy. Then we wonder, “how did that happened.” It’s because we haven’t done the internal work to figure out the right place where we belong as opposed to forcing ourselves to “fit” in a place. Instead we need to find those spaces, as I always talk about of where we belong, places that are aligned, that allows us to bring our fullness and our full potential to bear, that cultivates and nurtures our full selves and allows us to have meaning and make impact in the work that we do.
Unfortunately, as I mentioned before, we get so caught up in the survival of life, the “I just need the money and do something,” and what we lose this ability to have career-life alignment. The ability to live as your true self through your work and allowing your work to be something that fits in beautifully with your life. So that you see your career as a part of life and not as something bifurcated or separate from your life. And when that comes together, then it’s just magical.
Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: I think everybody wants a little piece of that magic. So if I heard you correctly, you said the answer to kind of drifting is to be decisive. So can you talk about how do you become decisive? How do you reset? How do you unplug? And how do you better focus on your career?
Dr. Carol Parker Walsh: It comes from being clear about what’s right for you. I’m sure you’re hearing a theme here that clarity is really key. It helps to get certainty to get decisiveness. I often talk about this idea of being unplugged from The Matrix, if you will. So, I mean, if you really think about it in the context of career, you find Neo who’s searching for something and not quite sure what that is, and he’s constantly searching and looking. You hear Trinity say, “I know you’re looking and I could tell you what it is.” And what we don’t realize is that we’re operating in someone else’s ideas and someone else’s fantasy of our lives and career.
Society has laid the script out, this directive, in terms of what it means to be “successful” in your career. It means having a certain income, having respect, because you hold a certain position. We do that in our society. We judge and weigh what job seems more significant than another job. We don’t ask if the person loves what they do. We just judge if the position in and of itself, based on either pay or status or the look or the title or the company that you’re with, that that is somehow or another deemed a better way of living or applying your gifts and skills more than anything else. So in effect, we live in this matrix, another person’s idea of what it means to live.
And then we begin to hear this voice, when we hear that inner dialogue that says, am I really happy? When you’re struggling every day, every Monday to go to work, when you are just unhappy, when you hear a whisper or a desperate cry, or you’re feeling burnt out, all those internal signs that something is off. Then we have to sit back and say, what is really going on? Realize that we’re in the matrix and then begin to unplug from it, to wake up, to realize that this isn’t really what I want.
Now what happens often, as in the movie, when you unplug from the matrix it may not seem so shiny and pretty, and you may go back into the Matrix because it doesn’t look as fun. It doesn’t look as glamorous as maybe it once did. And it’s confusing, because you’re wondering where do I go from here?
But that’s when the work begins, because then it’s your voice, it’s you leaning into what makes sense for you, it’s you leaning into your gifts and talents, it’s you making your own decisions…it’s your choice. As he always talks about in the movie, it’s about you making the choice as opposed to the choice being made for you.
And then you too can become “The One,” right? He (Neo) went from this person that got unplugged, to being confused and having to do that internal work, to having to figure out what makes sense and what’s right for him. As Morpheus said, “there’s a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.” And it takes some time for you to do that too.
We’ve been trained not to listen to our voice, we’ve been trained to follow some other person’s directive that to then sit back and to unplug and listen to our own can be very challenging. Because of what you may learn and what you’ll need to decide to do with it. And the key question is, “are you okay with making that choice and holding that responsibility for yourself?”
Once you answer that, then you can start moving with confidence and the clarity that Neo got which allowed him to help other people unplug from the Matrix as well. It’s a process that I went through, which is why I always use that analogy. And it’s a process that I help my clients go through it as well.
Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: I want to stay with this analogy of the pathway. You said, it’s one thing to know the pathway, but it’s another thing to actually experience or walk the pathway. So in that respect, how does one know when it’s time to jump the line or ride the curve to the right pathway to success?
Dr. Carol Parker Walsh: This is a really great question because the best time to do it is when you start hearing those whispers. Again, using the analogy of the movie where you’re searching for something, you’re looking for something, you’re questioning what you’re doing, you’re struggling getting up in the morning, you don’t want to do this job anymore, you’re trying to figure out like, what is the meaning of life? Whatever existential thing that you may be going through at the time.
When you start having those inclinations, that’s when it’s a clear signal that it is time to make the move and “jump the line.” Because what you don’t want to do, is to get yourself to a place where you are completely burned out, where you are completely miserable, and then you start becoming desperate which may cause you to do anything, as long as it’s something different (not better, just different).
I always tell my clients, you want to be in a place where you are walking into something, you’re choosing to move into the direction you want to head into, as opposed to feeling like you’re running away from something.
And often what happens is that people don’t listen to the voice, they don’t listen to the inkling, and then over time it becomes louder and louder. Over time, it starts to manifest itself physically where you start getting sick, or you’re calling in, or you’re not performing well, or you’re underperforming at your job.
And before you know it, you’re in a position where you become desperate to do something else. But because you haven’t given yourself that kind of runway to do the self-reflective, exploratory work to figure out what it is that you want to step into, you find yourself running away from something and ultimately jumping out of the frying pan into the fire.
And so, the time that you know you’re ready to “jump the line” to “ride the curve,” if you will, to “unplug from the matrix,” is when that voice that maybe once was a whisper is becoming much more louder and clearer. And you’re starting to really feel it almost physically manifest itself in your body to say, we need to do something different. You need to listen to that and not push it down and ignore it.
And let me just talk about that for a minute, because what pushes it down are hearing other people say things like this, “Why would you leave that job? Oh my goodness, you make all this money and you have this title.” I remember when I decided not to be a lawyer, to this day, and I haven’t practiced law in almost 20 years, people will still say, “Why aren’t you practicing law anymore?”
Those are the things that push it down, that makes you decide not to listen to the voice. Or “Wow, you make all this money,” or “You have all these responsibilities where your kids are about to go to college, why would you walk away from that income? They’re going to need it, right?”
Those are the voices that began weigh heavily on us, the things that may make you say, “Okay, let me just stay where I’m at. I’m being foolish. Let me ignore the voice.” But, ultimately, that voice will rule out, to a place where you have to make a decision and a choice.
Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: Absolutely. So speaking of choices, if you are a high achiever, what suggestions do you have for a person to ensure that he or she has no regrets?
Dr. Carol Parker Walsh: Listen, there’ve been a lot of studies about regret. And one of the things that’s true is that we don’t regret the things that we’ve done. We may feel bad about them, be embarrassed by them, may want to forget them, but over time you get over it or justify it and find some way to move on.
What we truly regret are the things that we don’t do. And so, what I suggestion to avoid regret is to not stay stuck knowing that you want to do something different, knowing that it’s time to make a shift, knowing that it’s time to break from the matrix, and you don’t do anything about it. That is what you’ll regret in the end.
Now let me just say, I’m not someone who advocates that person says, “I don’t like what I do so I think I’m going to just quit my job, and go on a journey of self-discovery.” If you have the financial means to do that, by all means, go for it. I think that’s a beautiful problem to have. If financially you can just go away for a year and just really think and reflect that’s great, but most of us are not in a position to do that.
So, what I suggest is, when you feel the inkling, start doing the work while you still are gainfully employed, while you still are meeting your needs on a practical basis. And then test the waters, try some things, volunteer to sit on a board of a nonprofit that you’re thinking maybe you want to be a part of, do some volunteer work, do some informational interviews, connect with other people and ask them their journey and path.
Start the process of getting the information and getting tooled to get what you need to ultimately be ready to make that choice and to make the leap. You don’t want to live a life of regret staying stuck, wondering “what if” or “I should have,” or “oh boy, if only five years ago I had listened to that voice or that thought that was in my mind,” or “only if a couple of years ago…” or “man, when the window was open, I should have leaped.” That’s what we regret, are the things that we don’t do.
So be proactive and take steps to get the information and the knowledge and the resources that you need to make an informed decision, decisiveness, and being clear about that choice so that when it’s time for you to move, that you’re completely ready to make the transition. To avoid regret is to move into action, but prepare yourself for that action.
Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: Prepare yourself for action. I think that is a wonderful phrase that we can leave with, with all of our listeners today. So as we start to wrap up, what are some resources that you’d recommend for our listeners to tap into his or her inner voice?
Dr. Carol Parker Walsh: There’re so many. As somebody who’s been in academics and somebody who loves to read, there’re so many things. But I love Carol Dweck’s book on mindset and I think that’s a great book to read so that you can really see where you are in terms of your thinking about this process. There’s a saying, and again, I’m going to use The Matrix, where I think Neo was asking Morpheus about, “Well, why can’t we free everyone?” And Morpheus said, “Not every mind can be freed. They’re not ready.” And that’s very true in this process as well.
And so reading Carol Dweck’s book on understanding mindset and the fixed mindset, the growth mindset, and to see where you really are before you embark on the journey, I think is an amazing thing to read as you do the self-reflective work.
I love Brene Brown’s book on “The Gift of Imperfection: so that you can get away from this idea of this something has to be perfect for you to be able to move into something that you want to do. And understanding that in your imperfection, perfection can be found in many ways. These are two great resources to get started with.
Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: Wow. Thank you so much. And thank you for sharing your expertise and your perspective on just understanding your inner voice, and thank you for joining us for today’s podcast.
Dr. Carol Parker Walsh: Absolutely. It’s been a lot of fun. Thanks for having me.
Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: Oh, the pleasure is all mine. And thank you to our listeners for joining us. So as a reminder, you can learn more about these topics and more by signing up for American Public University’s bi-monthly newsletter. So until our next podcast, be well and be safe.