Escape the Wasteland – how to energise your career by taking successful risks

Posted on: November 23, 2018

It was a hot August bank holiday Monday in London in 1996 and I was stuck in the office of my City law firm. The air conditioning was blasting out chilly air and the hermetically sealed windows cut me off from the blazing sunshine outside. I was sealed in.

Why wasn’t I outdoors enjoying the sunshine and revelling in a precious day off work? Instead I was staring at a file trying to make sense of it as the words swam before my eyes. There was nothing particularly difficult about the case; the problem was that I was finding it hard to function.

As the afternoon ticked by I felt progressively more miserable. Eventually I thought  “Sod it!” threw down my file and headed out into the sunshine to cheer myself up. I headed towards at St Katherine’s Dock to soothe myself by wandering around the cobbled quayside listening to the flap of sails and cry of seagulls.

As I approached the marina a sculpture caught my eye – a girl swimming down towards a dolphin, which was floating up to meet her. There was a lightness between them that stopped me in my tracks. I was entranced by her feeling of freedom, ease and joy and it struck me with full force that it had been a long time since I’d felt any such joy.

In that moment I realised that something had to change. The next day I booked a holiday to Greece and resigned my job on my return. By Christmas I’d left my job and the legal profession and I spent January in Bali swimming with dolphins before setting up my new business as a coach and mediator. Since then I’ve travelled the world teaching mediation skills, established myself as an authority on women in leadership, qualified as a psychotherapist and dedicated spare time to being an environmental activist.

Looking back I can see that I’d been on my own version of The Heroine’s Journey, popularised by Maureen Murdock. Often, the journey will start at The Wasteland – a bleak time when life has lost its joy and colour, when activities that once had meaning and juice have become dry and pointless. For many years I’d felt alienated from my work as a litigation lawyer. It had long passed its sell by date for me yet I was hanging on to it for the security of a salary.

If we remain too long in the Wasteland without heeding the call for change then we are likely to go into the Descent, a phase when our mood deteriorates from merely being flat to one of despair. Depression is a key sign that we are sliding into the Descent.

This often comes when we are resisting change for fear of the unknown. The antidote is to heed the Call To Adventure. What new possibilities are opening up? What new vistas are there to be explored? I knew my next step was to become a mediator, but I couldn’t see how to make it work financially. I was waiting for someone to offer me a secure job and in the meantime clinging on to my salary.

Seeing the sculpture was my Call To Adventure, and this time I knew I had to act. I’d hit rock bottom and the only way was up – suddenly my next step was very clear and I had the energy to take decisive action.

Last week I was back at St Katherine’s dock, more than 20 years since that fateful day when I chose to take a leap of faith – I sat for a while by the sculpture, reconnecting with its impact on me all those years ago. Although the path hasn’t always been easy, I’ve never for one minute regretted that decision to answer the Call.

If you’re feeling in the Wasteland right now and looking for your next adventure, think about:

  • What have I outgrown that I’m clinging to for security?
  • What is catching my attention now?
  • When have I taken risks in the past that have paid off and what did I learn from them?

I’d love to hear about your adventures!