#11: Grow Your Self Awareness with this One Simple Fix
with Robin Athey
February 16, 2023 | 58 Minutes
On "Inside-Out Career Design" this week, hosts Nicola Vetter & Peter Axtell speak with Robin Athey
Learn about a gentle and accessible way for dealing with anxiety, titrating, without trying hard to make something happen, but instead use it as a pattern interrupt. Hear that whisper and inner wisdom to harness the power of self-awareness. As a somatic coach, Robin works with the unconscious parts of ourselves using the body to tap into our purpose and authenticity, which results in being in alignment with ourselves. She uses the ancient idea of Dharma which is a principle that refers to our alignment with our thoughts, our actions, our behaviors, and our words coupled with higher principles. They could be called values or principles for living. Her dream of a better world is one where we are dancing together as humanity in the fullness of our gifts and a greater sense of ease in our lives. All of this is combined with the latest data on neuroscience of how the brain and neurochemicals work that influences what we believe and how we behave. She says the name of this game of life is ease and enjoyment. Find out how by listening.
In our conversation, we talk about…
- why having a purpose is so important in life and how to find it,
- what having inner wisdom really means,
- how you can learn to listen to your inner wisdom,
- how authenticity helps you with inner alignment,
- how to change habits that don’t serve you,
- how understanding neurobiological responses helps with making wise decisions,
- and why just leaving your job is not necessarily a recipe for happiness.
About Robin Athey
Robin Athey guides leaders on the front lines of positive, sustainable change. She helps them to reveal the essence of their gifts, embody right use of power, and make wise decisions amidst complexity and uncertainty, as they bring their purpose to life.
Her approach is gentle, powerful – and for those who wish, transformational. Through deep listening, mirroring, and inquiry, she offers banks to the river of her clients’ innate wisdom. She also guides teams, helping them to align their actions with vision and strategy, for greater impact.
She brings 35 years of experience across sectors in 27 countries. Her leadership clients come from Fortune 500, non-profits, and many startups. About half of her coaching clients represent traditionally marginalized populations.
For 9 years, Robin was Deloitte’s thought leader on the human aspects of organizational performance. She also served as an executive coach and advisor within the firm. Prior to Deloitte, Robin led global production as VP of Cole-Haan, a subsidiary of Nike.
She has been a Fellow at Harvard University, holds a B.S. Engineering from University of Florida; and an M.A. in International Economic Policy from Columbia University, and practiced meditation and yoga for over 25 years.
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Books, resources, and people mentioned in this episode
- Shiva - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shiva
- Hinduism - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hinduism
- Sanskrit - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanskrit
- Dharma - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dharma
- Buddhism - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhism
- William James - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_James
- Deloitte - https://www.deloitte.com/global/en.html
About the Inside-Out Career Design Podcast
This podcast is obsessed with answering a single question: Is it possible to create an authentic, meaningful, and fulfilling life you love while building a successful and rewarding career?
Join Nicola Vetter and Peter Axtell, co-founders of the WhatsNext.com Career Insights platform and creators of the groundbreaking MotivationFinder assessment, as they follow their obsession with answering this question by sharing their insights, discoveries, and life lessons and talking with career experts, leaders, spiritual guides, psychologists, data scientists, coaches -- anyone and everyone who might hold a strategy or answer to the age-old questions of “what’s next for me?” and “what should I do with my life?”
They seek to transform suffering into joy for millions of people stuck and confused in their lives and careers.
Get ready to be inspired, motivated, and above all, to connect deeply with who you are and what you are meant to do with the time you’ve been given.
Robin Athey 00:00
It was something that has taken me a very long time to understand is that the name of this game of life is ease and enjoyment and when we align with that ease, it doesn't mean that there aren't obstacles along the way, you know that comes with life, there are always going to be obstacles. It's okay to rest. It's okay to enjoy. It's okay to play.
Peter Axtell 00:22
Welcome to Inside-Out Career Design. In this show, we're obsessed with answering a single question. Is it possible to create an authentic, meaningful, and fulfilling life you love while building a successful and rewarding career? My name is Peter Axtell, and I'm here with Nicola Vetter. We're co-founders of the WhatsNext.com CareerInsights platform, and creators of the groundbreaking MotivationFinder assessment. Join us as we seek to transform suffering into joy for millions of people stuck and confused in their lives and careers. We'll share our insights, discoveries, and life lessons and talk with career experts, leaders, spiritual guides, psychologists, data scientists, coaches, anyone who might hold a strategy or answer to the age-old questions of: "What's next for me?" and "What should I do with my life?" Get ready to be inspired, motivated, and above all, to connect deeply with who you are, and what you're meant to do with the time you've been given.
Peter Axtell 01:36
Are you trying to figure out what to do with your life, to figure out what to do with the precious time you've been given on this earth? Or to figure out what only you as a remarkable and unique individual can bring into this world? If you are, please join us for one of our live and completely free online workshops, where we cover different topics to help you figure out what to do with your life and career without wasting precious time, taking wild guesses, or risking it all. To save your spot in our next live and free workshop go to WhatsNext.com/workshops. We can't wait to see you there. Again, that's WhatsNext.com/workshops.
Our guest today is Robin Athey. Robin was a well-paid, high-powered executive and thought leader at Deloitte, who traveled the world and lived in luxury. After a big wake up call, a what's next moment, and lots of self-exploration and further training she left that world behind and became a leadership consultant and somatic coach.
Peter Axtell 03:18
We started this podcast to explore how to design your life and career from the inside out. This process has many facets, and one of them is the idea of having a purpose, trusting your inner wisdom, and learning from life's experiences. That begs the question, what is purpose? And how do I find it?
Nicola Vetter 03:42
And that's why we were looking forward to talking with Robin, who is a purpose guide. And in our conversation, we talk about why having a purpose is so important in life and how to find it, what having inner wisdom really means, how you can learn to listen to your inner wisdom, how authenticity helps you with inner alignment, how to change habits that don't serve you, how understanding neurobiological responses helps with making wise decisions, and why leaving your job is not necessarily a recipe for happiness. So let's listen and learn from Robin. Hi, Robin, and welcome. We are so happy to have you here with us on the show today.
Robin Athey 04:43
Thank you, Nicola. Thank you, Peter. It's really an honor to be here with you both.
Nicola Vetter 04:47
Absolutely. Now, you have had quite an interesting International and diverse life and career so far. Please take us on your journey and tell us a little bit about what led you to the work you do today.
Robin Athey 05:05
Wow, it's been a really circuitous journey. I mean, it's had so many different chapters. And it started when I was about eight years old, and I was at Disneyland. And do you remember, I don't know if you've been to Disneyland, but there's this ride in Los Angeles, I don't think Disney World was around yet. There's this ride called "it's a small world", and you float through on boats. And there are all these, you know, now kind of very archetypal, maybe stereotypical images, you know, of different doll-like characters singing in lots of different languages and expressing different ways of being, different cultures. And I was fascinated. And that's the earliest I remember being absolutely fascinated by other cultures and really wanting to be in those different cultures. And so that fascination kept going I was, you know, I would watch this was back in like the 60s and 70s. They had foreign flicks for kids. And it was, you know, probably Ireland was about as foreign as UK. But I remember just being really fascinated by that. And you know, at that time, there wasn't a lot of exposure to these different cultures. And I grew up in a small town in Connecticut, where I didn't have exposure, but my father was an airline pilot. And as soon as I could, when I was in college, I just took a ticket and started traveling, backpacking, and, you know, as young people tend to do, and I got the bug. I was studying engineering, as an undergrad, and I knew that engineering was nice, but what I really wanted was to be living in a lot of different countries. I had a lot of student debt, so the Peace Corps didn't seem like an option, because well, those two things don't go together very well, Peace Corps doesn't really pay, and student debt requires a paycheck. So my mom convinced me that rather than going off to the Peace Corps, and rather than studying French literature, I should continue in my engineering studies, and then just find a job that would let me travel. And I found it in management consulting, and I lived all over the world and really off the beaten path places in Japan doing an internship with Hitachi research labs, then the West Indies, then the Soviet Union in the 80s, and four different countries in Central America, and ultimately Mexico, a lot of time in Brazil and India.
Nicola Vetter 07:42
Wow. So at some point, it seems that you took a different path from a well-paid and high-powered executive to becoming a leadership consultant and somatic coach. So first, for all listeners, what is a somatic coach.
Robin Athey 08:04
A somatic coach works with the body and the mind. And it's a way of working with the unconscious, with the core beliefs and core material around which we unconsciously organize our lives. So we all have these kind of core beliefs about ourselves, core thoughts, core emotions, that we carry within our ancestry. It's said now from research that we have about 14 generations of ancestry in our DNA that we carry from our ancestry that we carry from our families. And these are core beliefs that are laid down and really about the first three years, definitely the first seven years, most of our operating systems as human beings is laid down. And so somatic coaching is a way of working, that can do a lot of different things. It's a way of working to access some of these core beliefs. You know, a belief like I'm not enough, you know, these things, we pick up these messages when we're young, am I enough? Am I safe? Is it okay to express my voice? And things like that. And so, somatic coaching is a way of accessing some of that core material around which we unconsciously organize our lives. And it's also a way of being able to lay down you could say, new architecture, or new wiring in these operating systems. So if you imagine as human beings we're all kind of walking around in a video or a movie of the world that is largely conditioned through our ancestry through our upbringings. As adults, we have a chance, when we can surface these things and become aware of them, we have the chance to be witness to them so we can have them rather than them having us and being greater choice.
Peter Axtell 09:58
Let's drill down a little bit into this idea of a new kind of architecture. How would you explain that to someone, what that looks like or what that feels like?
Robin Athey 10:10
Well, I'll give a personal example. And maybe I can bring in some anonymous client examples. So when we work through the body, we're able to access some of these beliefs that are not in our conscious thoughts on a daily basis. And so one of mine might be that through somatic psychotherapy, actually, I had revealed that I have this inner voice that says, I gotta keep going, gotta keep going, gotta keep going, meaning I can't rest, you know, I just gotta keep going, gotta keep going, gotta keep going. And, you know, for years, that belief had me, I just kept going, going, going, going, going, living in all these different countries, I was a runner, running away from a lot. And when I came back to the US, it was a time of reckoning, I had to look at some things that I really didn't want to look at. And that required me to slow down. And when I slowed down to look at those things, I was dealing with some addictive patterns and pain that I had been carrying around. And the slowing down was painful. And so it took some years to unpack this, but I realized that I was in this pattern of going, going, going for really good reasons. It's an intelligence that was within me, that helped me from having to feel some of the pain and the discomfort that I was feeling, you know, residual stuff from my parents and divorce and all of the things that I had brought into my adulthood and into my leadership. So I want to pause there, because I'm going to share a specific moment where all of a sudden, I had a kind of big wake up about the need to slow down.
Nicola Vetter 12:00
Robin Athey 12:02
So I just keep going?
Nicola Vetter 12:03
Yes, share that moment.
Robin Athey 12:06
So I come back to the US, I was still going, going, going, you know, very fast and living in New York City for a good chunk of time, where I could be with a lot of other people who are going, going, going, and I took a job, I was 33 years old, it was 1995, and I took a job that landed me in a very senior role. So I had developed a lot of experience as a consultant living in all these countries, in particular in manufacturing. And so I landed a very plum job as a vice president of global production for a very high end luxury goods subsidiary of Nike. And they had been after me, I had been consulting to this company, they'd been after me, and I kept saying, no, no, no. And as soon as I heard Vice President, I was like, Okay. You know, at 33, not a lot of people would say No, you know, like, maybe some, I decided to just go for it. And I was miserable. I was absolutely miserable. And what happened was that I realized, first of all that I was still carrying, what I can identify now is a lot of residuals, I'll use the word trauma and I use that word with a lot of honor, because trauma is a word that's tossed around a lot. And in my world, trauma really refers to kind of dissociation and going away and, and not really being here present. And that was happening to me a lot. I didn't understand at the time, but I felt very fragmented. Going in a lot of directions, it was hard for me literally, to sit still. So 33, I landed this job that was not really aligned with my deepest purpose or even, you know, even medium wise, chasing production around the world. I had all of the material trappings, though, and I like nice things. So I had this very fancy car, a five story townhouse filled with like mahogany floors and walls and cabinetry, it was very beautiful, and a corner office, you know, and Italian suits, and beautiful footwear and all of that. And I had made it, you know, my family and friends thought, wow, this is it and what I didn't share with him at the time was that I was feeling so empty inside. And I was feeling very, now I have language for it, I was feeling very fragmented. I was feeling very not in my body. And at the time, I just knew that I felt depressed, and I couldn't understand why would I be depressed? I have everything you know, this is in 1995. At that time in the 80s and 90s, having these material things is a really big deal. And something in me just knew like this is not it. And so a year and a half later, through mutual agreement, I left that role and went back to grad school, which seemed like the best choice at the time for anybody who doesn't know what to do at that young age, you know, why not grad school. So I went back to grad school and on my way I learned, I landed at the house of friends in Atlanta, who taught me how to meditate. And that was probably the biggest gift I've ever received in my life. It was really difficult. I dissociated a lot. You know, in the early days, I was kind of here, but not here. And I learned, I started learning how to come back into my body in little, little ways. Now working with people, I understand how to do that in a way that offers more support than I had at the time that I needed at the time. But it was a real turning point. And what I took away that led me into leadership coaching was a realization that I was in over my head, you know, in terms of dealing with emotional things that were backlogged in my system, as well as, trying to navigate a job that I didn't really care about, and trying to understand what was next. I didn't know what I wanted, but I knew what I didn't want. I didn't know what I wanted. And it caused, you speak a lot about what's next moments, and this is a really big what's next moment, you know, where I had no idea. But it planted the seeds for leadership coaching and that I now coach at the level that I needed them. And that includes working with someone who has trauma, you know, who now I can say, is carrying a lot of that in their system.
Peter Axtell 16:55
Robin, I can imagine people listening to this right now. They're saying, Okay, give me the money, give me the Italian clothes, give me the penthouse, give me the fine car. Just give that to me, because that's what I really want and then I'll figure out whether I want it or I don't want it. I'm sure you understand that. How did you make that transition from complete material comfort, and quote so called security, and make that break? This is not so easy for people to do or to give up for a multitude of reasons. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Robin Athey 17:33
Yeah, well, not easy for me either. It's not like I just had a clean break with material things. My wish, I'll share what actually did really break it, it would happened years later, where material things really kind of loosened the grip that they'd had on me, my wish for people is that they actually have that experience. I think it's, I don't wish for anyone to not have an experience that's calling them and developmentally, it's really appropriate that people have an experience of feeling like, Hey, I made it, you know, like, I have all these nice things, it's easier to have something fully to be able to let it go. For many having an experience fully allows this natural letting go and release to happen. I needed that experience, I needed to know like, what's it like to have beautiful Italian suits, you know, which I still love to this day, I don't own any I don't think anymore, but at that time, it was something that really called, you know, being able to go to Italy and go shopping at Max Mara and, you know, and having beautiful bags and shoes and it didn't go away immediately. I had those nice things and I definitely realized there was an emptiness. My appetite for luxury things happened, there was a short chapter where it was really strong. And then I realized this wasn't it. And I think some of the clues to that were realizing that I spent I don't know how long like days trying to figure out what color luxury Volvo do I want, like, what's me, is it white, is it red? And at the same time, I was dating a Spaniard at the time who was not wired this way and I remember receiving his feedback to this and I seem so caught up and I realized during the experience something in me realized like wow, there's not a lot of there there with this question. You know, and maybe I'm not that, you know, white luxury Volvo with the tan leather seats and seat warmers, which were a big deal on those days of dating, you know, sunroof and moonroof and all that. Well, the shift continued for a long time. I'll confess that life has ways of sending lots of exercises, lots of practice for things like this. I continued after grad school to travel a lot, to travel a lot internationally. And for some reason, even though I would check my bags priority, and I was often business class, my bags would be the last ones off the conveyor belt. And I would feel the stress rise in my system, because I had a real attachment to these nice things, you know, and like keeping tabs of everything that was in the suitcase that was not coming off the conveyor belt, and where was it, and having to be there with the stress of my attachment to these things. And so I had lots of experiences like that until one day, the home I lived in, burned down, and all of it went, everything I've been attached to, gone. I spent $900 trying to clean some of it that was lightly singed and still retrievable-ish. But the smell, you know, for anyone who's experienced a home fire, it's the fire, it's the toxicity of the currents, the firemen, and it's the smell of the fire, that doesn't leave fabrics. And so that was it. You know, and in the Hindu mythology, there's a God called Shiva, the destroyer. And it was as if Shiva came through and just took away what I had known was to be too much. It was a lot of stuff that was weighing me down from the next chapter of my life. You've written and talked a lot about purpose. You described it in your writing as identifying what is calling a person forth. Beautiful writing, by the way, and you call yourself a purpose guide. How do you guide your clients go about finding their purpose, and perhaps you can share a story of a client? Well, I guide people in purpose in various ways. And, you know, I would say, as a headline for anyone who really wants to come into an alignment of purpose and I'll allow for a little context for what I think of is purpose, like what is that even? And how do we know when we're in it? The first thing I think that's the most important is just to want it. It's to want to feel in alignment with something bigger than ourselves. And when I'm working with people, that's my number one wish for them, you know, first, do you want this? And if you do, then there are lots of ways of going about to find it. I guide people on yearlong purpose journeys, where we work very closely together for about three or four months. And then they continue on their own with an accountability group. There are lots of ways of going about and finding one's purpose and people are all in different relationships. And I think it would be helpful before I share a story to share a little bit about what do I even think purpose is. How is it that any human being feels some kind of alignment? I'm going to borrow again from the Hindu tradition because there's a word in the Hindu tradition called Dharma. It's a Sanskrit word and in the Hindu tradition it's sometimes called Swadharma. Dharma in Hindu traditions is a little bit different than the Buddhist. In Buddhism it refers to teachings. In the Hindu tradition, dharma is a word, a principle that refers to an alignment of our thoughts, our actions, our behaviors, our words, with higher principles, you could call them values or principles for living. And when we have this alignment, it allows us to be in harmony with universal principles or laws. So some examples might be living a life of truth, or living a life of intuition, or living a life of empathy, or something like that. Purpose is not a what in my world, it's not "I know I'm supposed to be an architect." There are some people for whom this clicks very fast. My father was about 8 years old when he realized he wanted to be a pilot, and he became one. But it wasn't so much the why it's what being a pilot allowed for him, you know, a sense of freedom, a sense of adventure, a sense of exploring, a sense of being in authority, you know, which was something that was very important for him. So this principle of Dharma really refers to an essence that we all carry, and our essence is different. You know, you can think of the unique thumbprints that we have within life, we're carrying a unique essence, a unique kind of thumbprint in this blueprint of existence. And so Dharma is really coming into touch for me, or coming into touch with purpose and alignment, is coming in touch with what are those unique qualities, that unique essence that we all have?
Nicola Vetter 25:24
People are often talking about passion. Now what is the difference? How do you define the difference between passion and purpose?
Robin Athey 25:34
For me, passion can come along with purpose, you know, it can be part of it, you know, I feel very aligned with purpose and feel a passion for what I do. But it has a different quality to it than the kind of passion that I had when I was younger, that was largely fueled by others’ expectations of me, you know, I had a passion for making sure that everybody thought I was smart, and so I did everything I could to be as smart as possible. But that was largely conditioned through my upbringing, and the expectations of my parents, and probably some ancestral stuff. It has a different quality. And if I come back to the body, it has a different sensation. That passion felt external to me more than internal. It's, you know, something that was kind of externally pulling me forward. The passion that I have now that comes with my sense of dharma, or alignment, or coherence with a larger truth, you know, where my qualities and how I show up just seem aligned and easeful. There's an ease to it, the passion has an ease, it's like a light burning inside. That is, think of it, I'm just sensing it now, you know, imagining like a flame that just burns and it has a gentler quality to it. Not quite as fervent.
Peter Axtell 27:07
I just wanted to mention that I've had people push back on me about saying, I don't know what my purpose is. I feel someone told me I should have a purpose. I didn't know how to find it. And I've really frustrated because I don't have a purpose. I'm sure you've encountered that. So I really like what you had to say about being in alignment. What I would say is with your values, it's a really good point. You said that we reveal our true nature when we step into authenticity. What does that mean?
Robin Athey 27:46
Authenticity is great, you know, this word is like so common. And it's fun, you know, asking what is it now? How do I understand authenticity now? I understand authenticity as being in alignment in coherence with life. It's responding to life, as it's happening in a way that's genuine to a unique essence. It's, again, I'm going to use this word, but it's like that kind of liberation from our conditioning from the imprinting that we have, that allows me to be in relationship with whatever comes my way, in a way that feels aligned, coherent, genuine. When I think of leaders in an authentic place, you know, they're aligned with their values. They're not in defensive posturing, but they're in connection with themselves, in a way that's honoring of others, in connection with others, in response to something larger that's happening and so, authenticity for me, again, you know, one way to think about it is coming back to this kind of like genuine alignment, where I'm in relationship to something from the whole of who I am, and who I can be.
Nicola Vetter 29:09
And what is the connection between authenticity and purpose?
Robin Athey 29:16
That's a great question, Nicola. I might turn that one back around, I could turn all these questions back around. I'm saying it now in a way it's kind of one in the same, you know, it's beyond my paygrade to know that we all have these unique thumbprints in life, you know, that we have these unique qualities, these unique essences, that we have these unique gifts to offer life and this great ecosystem of life. It's beyond my paygrade to say yes, that is a big T truth. You know, but I believe it. And I believe that ultimately, we all have unique authenticity, unique ways of orienting with life. And I have this kind of image that's also described, I'm drawing a lot from Hindu mythology, now there's a concept of Indra's net, you know, where we're all reflecting back for each other. And how I like to play with that image is the reflection of us all offering our unique gifts, in a way that we get to reflect that all back to each other as part of this larger organism, you know, that gets to, to play. And my dream of a better world is one where we're dancing together as humanity in the fullness of our gifts. And for me, I believe that these gifts are all different and authentic, authentic, each human being that we're both interconnected and also bring these unique qualities, essences, gifts.
Nicola Vetter 31:04
And how does it help a person, once they found their unique, authentic gifts, how does it help a person to figure out what's next in their life?
Robin Athey 31:17
What I can say is that I'll tell you a little brief story. The headline for me for that is that there's a greater coherence that I experience, when I feel that alignment, there's a greater ease. And as there's a greater ease, there's a greater ease in our neurobiology, that allows us to be able to hear the whispers of life that's always guiding us. And when we're stressed, or not in alignment, when we're in perpetual kind of discomfort, or caught in a narrative that we're really unhappy, it's just a lot harder to hear that whisper. And my realization of this came, it took a while for me to understand that my purpose was guiding people in their purpose. I remember when that light bulb finally turned on, you know, that it was not by chance that I had gone through this labyrinth of lots of different careers and career choices. You know, there's a children's book, were a duckling goes out and asks everyone, Are you my mother? Are you my mother? And I was like that with purpose. Are you my purpose? Are you my purpose? I was imagining, getting caught in my britches, torn, torn up and twisted around in my britches of like, What is my purpose, what is my purpose? And then one day, I was in Brazil, on a silent retreat, and I was walking down this trellised archway, in this very beautiful part of Central Brazil in the hills, and I all of a sudden felt, there was a lot of work that I was doing around purpose at that time, and then as I was walking through this trellis pathway, I all of a sudden was going relatively slowly, but at a pace that felt as if I was being carried. And then I had the felt sense within myself of just total ease, of total being carried by life that involved a lot less efforting. And I can't describe it a lot in words because it has this ineffable quality that's very hard to describe in words. But I got the I got the message within my body of it was like an imprint, not the conditioned imprinting of the past, but a kind of gift, like a download of sorts of Oh, purpose is this kind of alignment, this ease. And we all have that. I don't agree, you know, that people aren't in their purpose. We're all exactly where we need to be, you know, in ways that put us on our path. And when I look back on life, now, I can see that oh my gosh, like, there's perfection and all of it, you know, in the good things, and the suffering, and all of it, like it all lines up now.
Nicola Vetter 34:32
And it's such a gift, if you can take time off, step off the crazy career path just for a while. If it's only two weeks, right? For retreat, just to come back to yourself, take a breath and insights will come, we'll talk about that more in another episode, but it's amazing what can happen if you open yourself up to possibilities.
Robin Athey 35:07
Yeah, I agree in that taking time off, you know, and allowing silence, I really believe that it's easier to hear guidance from a place of inner stillness and inner silence.
Peter Axtell 35:21
Totally. Robin, I love the William James quote that you used in one of your writings. And it was, "all of our life has been a mess of habits." So let's talk about habits. And how does a person change their bad habits to good habits?
Robin Athey 35:41
Wow, you know, it's funny when I wrote that on my website, my website is a bit dated now, I think it's like 12 years old. I've gone back to what I wrote in that quote, again, and again and it was one of those things I didn't even understand at the time how that was going to be so important, but thank goodness I heard something, I was receiving something to write that quote, because it just now, you know, as I look back, habits to me are just so important, such a crucial part of a path of purpose. And, you know, there are certain habits, good habits that we can develop over time, that help us to have that greater alignment. And that journey from bad habits to good habits is one that I've had the luxury of being able to explore a lot, I really struggled a lot with addiction when I was younger, in my younger adult years, a very typical addiction for an overachieving woman who is not very regulated in her body. And an addiction for me is kind of like the mother of teachers, when it comes to habits, and it can have such a grip. An addiction plays out in lots of different ways. But it's a habit, bad habit, being that thing that has us more than we have it. I remember feeling helpless at times, you know, like, I'm never ever with that kind of very big language universalizing, I'm never going to make it out of this. And I was one of the lucky minorities that actually made it out, which is just incredible grace. And what that journey taught me about bad habits and good habits, first of all, is that I don't know now that I would say that there's any bad and good, like, the line between those I think is gone away, I would never wish on my younger self, that path again, and the suffering that I went through, and the harshness and the inner talk that I had at the time, but I would say that the coming into more fulfilling wholesome habits has really been so much a product of self-talk. Self-talk for me is a massive piece of this, how I am in relationship with myself, addressing my nervous system, there's a lot of inner work that I needed to do. And I also needed to be in an environment that was supportive of that. And so I would say that, you know, an environment that allowed me to stay still for a while in a nice home, rather than I lived in a lot of different places, moved around a lot and that didn't help very much from releasing. I really needed to be able to sit still for a long time. I needed a network of friends and support. So it was very much kind of the inner work that I needed to do, tools along the way that I found really helpful, we like an environment of people who could be really supportive for that, in shifting to new habits. Having a supportive community, having friends, having support is from research actually a very big variable, like people lose weight when they do it together, kind of thing and then having the supportive context as well, you know, having a home, having financial security, which I haven't always had, either. But for a period of time, I had enough of it that I could pay for therapy, for example, that I could pay to study. I've forgotten how many major modalities of somatic psychotherapy coaching and trauma now, I've studied every major modality I know minus one.
Peter Axtell 39:58
So as somebody who is on this path of trying to answer these questions of, what's next for me, and should I go this direction or that direction? I'm trying to tie this into someone who's out there listening to this, trying to figure out what's next, how getting out of some, quote, bad habits, or less than useful habits, and into good habits for change, how that all connects.
Robin Athey 40:23
When I'm coaching people, often they think they need to leave their jobs, you know, that has to be the answer, because they're so unhappy, and it has to be the job. And often, we'll get into a conversation of how they're actually in relationship with their job. And a lot of my clients end up staying where they are, but they change their relationship with where they are. And they change their habits. And, you know, I really believe in resources to be able to make these choices. Having the inner resources to be able to know. I left my job without a clear plan, I left my last major job, my last major role, I was a, what was known as a thought leader at Deloitte, and it was a plum job, you know, I earned very good money, I was flying all over the world, I was a thought leader, and, you know, dog and pony shows, and all of that, you know, as a keynote speaker, and all of that, and it was fun, you know, but I was there for nine years and this was with a major management, consulting firm Deloitte, and, you know, there was a time where I realized, like, I can't be here anymore, but I wasn't really sure what was next. And I left that job, and I left the financial security of that job. And, you know, if I were to whisper to my younger self, I wouldn't say necessarily, don't leave the job, I think leaving the job was probably the appropriate thing at the time. It took me two and a half to three years to gain the courage to leave that job. And I was very clear about what I cared about when I left, but I didn't have resource in a very clear backup plan, I didn't have another business, I had a business name, I had an ideal and a vision and all of that, you know. I am a little more conservative these days and when I'm with clients, and advocating that they have the resource in place, you know, whenever they make that kind of pivot that they can take care of themselves. Ultimately, I ended up, you know, if I'm going to be totally honest, I spent all of my life savings on all of these different modalities and going into neurobiology and deeply studying purpose and going in this retreat and that retreat and deep in spiritual practice for many years. And you know, there was time that wasn't quite lost, because I was feeling more and more alignment. But I think it depends, you know, it really depends on making these kinds of choices. I wish I had a pat answer for you. But I think the one word that I have is, first check in and see is it really the job that's the issue? Is it possibly how you're in relationship with a job, that could be the case? And then for somebody who's really clear, you know, if your fallback plan is to go be a scuba diver in Fiji, you know, to maybe reconsider that there might be something else that's calling and, you know, it's easy to leave something because we want to get away from it. And my wish is that there's something very clear that you're moving towards.
Nicola Vetter 43:45
That requires a lot of self-awareness.
Robin Athey 43:49
Nicola Vetter 43:51
Inside-Out Career Design requires developing more and more self-awareness. So we believe it's at the core of change. But how do you help someone become more self-aware? You have lots of experience here.
Robin Athey 44:11
That's yes, self-awareness is core to all of this. It's a beginning place for purpose, it's a beginning place for leadership, you know. Without self-awareness it's hard to do any kind of awareness around others, or awareness of systems, or something like that. Self-awareness is the starting place. And so, you know, there are lots of ways. I use assessments that I find to be really helpful, you have assessments, and I just find those to be invaluable as a place to start, you know, and to be in conversation with oneself, and to notice one's patterns. I remember taking your assessment some years ago around motivation, you know, and it's that kind of thing that we take where we really start watching ourselves in action. And we take the insight, you know, the insight is about 20% of it, and it's a really important first 20%. We take that insight, and we allow it to inform our experiments in life and trying different things. And then it's in the habits, I believe, and in experimenting, in the actual doing then that growth actually happens, you know, doing that in a way that, I will say, honors our neurobiology biology, and is not too intense.
Peter Axtell 45:39
How do you guide people to make wise decisions amidst complexity and uncertainty?
Robin Athey 45:49
Self-awareness and neurobiology is a big piece of it. You know, I would say that the first step in being able to navigate in complexity and uncertainty is having - I use this word, I'm finding that I'm using it now, it's a word that I really pushed against for a long time - but having a command of oneself, being in choice, being I think of it as being creative response, more than reactivity, reactivity being reacting to the past, to some kind of conditioning that we've had, you know, where we're just perpetuating old habits, perpetuating old things that have us, you know, in automatic.
Peter Axtell 46:37
That's what I was talking about, the idea of these habitual patterns that just keep unconsciously repeating over and over again. And I wonder about this neuroscience thing. How does someone say, Well, how would I get a grip on my neuroscience to help me make the kind of changes that I want to make?
Robin Athey 46:59
Yeah, there are a lot of, you know, I keep, let me just say, as a headline that what we're understanding about how to have that grip, how to be with our whole self, our whole body in any given moment, our understanding of that, and of neurobiology and neuroscience is just expanding, like every day. And so one of the reasons that I continue immersing in this field is that the horizon keeps expanding. And, you know, it used to be that I've never prescribed meditation for someone. I've been practicing for 27 years now, and I can't imagine a life without meditation, you know. Even having this bowl here to remind me of my commitment. But that's not necessarily the best path for a lot of people. And I've really come to honor that. And so when I'm working with people, these days, I work with exercises that are a little more accessible, that allow for healthier oscillations of the nervous system. And what I mean by that is that sometimes, and this was my case, when I would sit down to meditate, it was a really intense experience. Going inside for a lot of people is very intense, and it can actually send us into a kind of intensity in our nervous system, that doesn't help us to have healthier lives and healthier ways of orienting towards life. And so I use exercises with people these days that are more titrated in the development and the cultivation of a neurobiology and a nervous system. I have a client, who I work with who has very, very strong anxiety. She's a very accomplished professional, academic, someone who's accomplished a lot, and she's gotten there largely out of anxiety being that fuel, you know, for her, but that's not necessarily the best fuel, you know, worrying your way into, it's kind of how I did things, you know, worrying your way into a high position, or into a PhD, or whatever that happens to be, you know, is not the way to do it. So we need to break these ways of orienting that can be quite self-flogging sometimes. For me, it was that way. And so how I work with people these days is more titrated that helps to come into healthier oscillations of the nervous system where there's not this kind of intensity that has us feeling bad to feel better.
Peter Axtell 49:43
What does - for our audience - what does titrate mean?
Robin Athey 49:47
Oh titrating you remember in chemistry, I don't know if you ever took chemistry, but in chemistry class for anybody who's taken chemistry where you go drip, drip, drip and then pruuu or something. Titrate is like the little drifts you know, so that doesn't pruuu. So one of the things that I advocate for clients that comes out of trauma work is when you're feeling a kind of a rise in whatever might be happening is in that moment just to allow your eyes to wander around the room wherever they want to go. And there are all sorts of things that happen in the nervous system where we're getting our orienting architecture of our body, first of all involved, which is a really important thing. And it sends all sorts of signals to the body that you know, right now, everything's okay, right now, I'm safe. So I'll offer just invite clients in a way that's organic, that's not, you know, making them do something. But I might notice that in a moment of anxiety with this client, I'll notice, for example, her eyes go up, you know, and I'll say, Oh, I notice your eyes are looking out the window, what are you noticing? I noticed this branch. What do you notice about the branch? Well, I'm noticing, you know, the leaves aren't there anymore. And there are lots of branches and there's brown, and I noticed it's a kind of calm day. Oh, tell me about the calm day. And so there's a way in which I'm working organically with where that person is already going themselves and not making them do something which can actually send a nervous system to a higher degree of intensity, that I'm catching organically, where they're already going. There are other exercises too of rubbing fingers, you know, I feel the anxiety train coming, and I know it's gonna go down the tracks. And so as early as possible, I catch it. And I just bring attention to my fingertips rubbing together. I've been practicing recently, with a practice called Positive Intelligence that I like a lot where you do a lot of these reps, you know, just feeling you know, with attention, you know, just noticing, you know, like the fingertips or wiggling toes. If I'm working with a leader who's sitting in a meeting, and they get triggered by something someone says, or something like that, you know, I'll have them rub their fingers or wiggle their toes. These things tend to be more accessible for me than going to the breath, which is where we often go and more, won't get a lot into it, more aligned with their heart rate variability. When we bring control to our breath, it can actually send heart rate variability in ways that are not in rhythm with the heart.
Nicola Vetter 52:37
And focusing on your body is actually like a pattern interrupt.
Robin Athey 52:43
It's a pattern interrupt, that's exactly what it is. It's a habit, interrupt, it's a pattern interrupt. And I'm not bringing people with this orientation with the eyes or rubbing the fingers. I'm not bringing people into the center of their body where things might feel very intense. It's a pretty advanced practice too to go into the core. Yeah, that would be titrating you know, little things that allow for gentler practices.
Peter Axtell 53:13
Because you've taken a deep dive into self-awareness and are deeply invested in neuroscience, I can't help it but to ask the sometimes cliched question, what would you tell your 30-year-old self, knowing what you know now?
Robin Athey 53:32
I would tell my 30-year-old self that number one, it's okay. You're gonna be okay. At 30 I was living a pretty nice life, I was living in Honduras on my 30th birthday. And on the one hand, it looked like I was having a great life. But inside I felt like a mess. You know, I felt it can happen for people in their 20s and 30s. You know, it can be kind of a distressing time for a lot of young, young adults, I had all sorts of expectations about who I should be and what I should be doing and who I was not. I was very oriented towards what was wrong. A lot of things that were wrong and I didn't yet have the capacity to see the intelligence that's at play in everything. And that's taken many years to cultivate to see and appreciate the wisdom that's always here. I work with leaders and teams on this now, in finding what's right about what's happening, what is the intelligence that might be at play and that would be my biggest wish. My inner talk as a 30-year-old was pretty harsh.
Nicola Vetter 54:47
So the advice is to really listen to your inner wisdom.
Robin Athey 54:53
To listen to, I think be softer and to allow a gentler, this is a very feminine kind of thing, but your size are okay, you know, your weight is fine. You're gonna be fine. But to really trust, maybe trust, trust life, trust life, trust the intelligence that's at play in everything and into play.
Nicola Vetter 55:26
That's a beautiful part to stop this conversation, I think. We're at time. Is there anything that we didn't touch on that you really want our audience to know?
Robin Athey 55:41
Yeah, building on that last bit, it was something that has taken me a very long time to understand is that the name of this game of life is ease and enjoyment. And when we align with that ease, and it doesn't mean that there aren't obstacles along the way, you know, that comes with life, there are always going to be obstacles, it's okay to rest. It's okay to enjoy. It's okay to play.
Nicola Vetter 56:08
Beautiful. Well, thank you so much for speaking your truth with such clarity and compassion. I truly deeply honor the path that you've walked on and that leader and coach that you are today. It's beautiful to hear and to see. Thank you, Robin.
Robin Athey 56:35
Thank you, Peter, thank you, it's really an honor to be able to be in this conversation and I'm grateful for your audience that they have you.
Peter Axtell 56:35
Thank you, Robin. One of my biggest takeaways was how Robin spoke in a different way about the idea that purpose has a lot to do with being in alignment with yourself and your values. Now that I think about it, alignment with yourself is a defining factor of a fulfilling, satisfying life. What a beautiful way she described it.
Nicola Vetter 57:10
Yes. And I was reminded again, that the core of all growth, learning, and personal change is self-awareness. It's a lifelong practice. And the idea of taking some time off from a crazy career path to rest, to come back to yourself, breathe, and let new insights come to you, is very dear to my heart.
Peter Axtell 57:44
I love that. To learn more about Robin head to whatsnext.com/11 where we share the transcript, links, and more. Again, that's whatsnext.com/11.
Nicola Vetter 58:08
And if you like what you've heard, share it with someone you care about. And subscribe, rate, and review our Inside-Out Career Design podcast on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts, so you'll never miss an episode. Thanks so much for joining us here today. We'll see you next week for another episode. Same time, same place.