#15: How to Build a Life of Meaning Before it's too Late
with Heather Kerr
March 2, 2023 | 62 Minutes
On "Inside-Out Career Design" this week, hosts Nicola Vetter & Peter Axtell speak with Heather Kerr
Most of us don’t pay enough attention to what brings us joy and meaning and what causes a feeling of emptiness, lack of direction, and unhappiness at work. But there’s a way to wake up and do something about our malaise. Writing down the conversation in our head provides a distance from our negative thoughts and reveals what we tell ourselves. Asking the simple but profound question, “what brings me joy?” and writing down everything that comes to mind, day after day, will cause a story to emerge. This can be a story about what we really want, what’s important to us, and how we spend this limited time we have on this planet. And suddenly, we will realize that we can start to ask different questions that lead to the answer to the question of how to build a life of meaning.
In our conversation, we talk about…
- how an unexpected, profound experience at an art museum in Paris became a significant turning point in her life,
- why she decided to leave a lucrative law practice in Toronto to pursue her calling,
- why asking the simple question: “what gives me joy?” can be a source of insight about what to do next,
- why other people really can’t understand you like you do, and to trust that the answers are already inside you,
- and how to build a life of meaning.
About Heather Kerr
Heather Kerr is an artist and life coach who dove headfirst into art 8 years ago after a long legal career in the world of finance and international tax. Pretty soon, Heather’s former colleagues were coming to her art shows and asking her how they could create a life like hers where they get to do more of what they love. Which led Heather to train as a life coach, so she had the tools she needed to help people think outside the box about their careers and lives.
Heather now lives on 8 ½ acres in beautiful Prince Edward County in Ontario, Canada. She has a gorgeous studio and workshop space where she hosts workshops and art shows to help people maximize their creativity, their zest for life and their love of nature. You can visit her gallery and retreat center, GRACE Studio, at 500 County Rd 18, Prince Edward County, Canada (but give her a call first).
Heather offers online coaching and is the host of The Unlikely Artist podcast, so you have access to her no matter where you live.
- Website: https://gracedcanvas.com/
- Podcast: The Unlikely Artist
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/heatherkerr/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/heatherirenekerr/
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/gracedcanvascoaching/
Connect with WhatsNext.com
- Free Workshops: https://www.whatsnext.com/workshops
- YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/@whatsnextcareer
- Podcast: Inside-Out Career Design
- LinkedIn Career Group: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/2080874
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/whatsnext-com/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/whatsnext.career
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/WhatsNextMedia
Connect with Nicola & Peter
Books, resources, and people mentioned in this episode
- Gail Hill, artist – https://gailhill.ca/artist/about
- Yoga Nidra – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yoga_nidra
- Julia Cameron: The Artist’s Way
- Martha Beck – https://marthabeck.com/courses-training/
- Michael A. Singer – https://untetheredsoul.com/michael-singer + https://tou.org/
- Byron Katie – https://thework.com/
Drop us a note
Any topics you’d like us to cover or guests you’d like to hear? Let us know at [email protected]
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 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.
Heather Kerr 00:00
Failure is not a thing. You can't fail. You can either win, or you can learn.
Peter Axtell 00:10
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 01:13
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.
Nicola Vetter 02:05
Our guest today is Heather Kerr. Heather is the unlikely artist, which is also the name of her podcast. Unlikely because she pursued the dream of her childhood days after a long legal career in the world of finance and international tax.
Peter Axtell 02:29
She left the corporate world and city life behind and moved to the country to become an artist and life coach. Everything she does today is focused on helping people live a more expansive life. Heather has a wealth of wisdom to share from her life experiences that can help answer the question, how to build a meaningful life.
Nicola Vetter 02:52
That's why we were so excited to speak with Heather. And in our conversation, we talk about how an unexpected profound experience at an art museum in Paris became a major turning point in her life. Why she decided to leave a lucrative law practice in Toronto to pursue her calling. Why asking the simple question, what gives me joy? can be a source of insight about what to do next. Why other people can't really understand you like you do, and to trust that the answers are already inside you. And now it's time to listen and learn from Heather. Welcome, Heather. So happy to talk with you again.
Heather Kerr 03:51
It's great to be with you, Nicola and Peter. Fantastic.
Nicola Vetter 03:58
So, one of the big questions we are trying to answer here on the Inside-Out Career Design podcast is, what's next? What's next for my life, for my career? Or even the bigger question, what should I do with my life? So we are curious about you, Heather, you had a very distinct tipping point in your life when you knew you had to make a change. We call that a What's Next moment. Please tell us what your life and career looked like and how you arrived at that moment.
Heather Kerr 04:36
Okay, it's a bit of a wild ride. But I was an international tax lawyer. I'd been on Bay Street, which is kind of like the US Wall Street for two and a half decades. And I always pursued the kind of career that was normal, that would please me parents, and all that kind of stuff. And I was on Bay Street, I was a lawyer, I was very much what I would say in my left brain, which means I was spending my day doing very logical, analytical work, reading through cases, helping clients and businesses. I worked with banks. So I was in the financial world, so very much in that world, which was very far from what I'd been like as a child, but we'll probably revisit that later. So what happened was, I went on a trip to Paris, and it was in February, and it was unusually warm. And nobody was there because it was a big holiday. And so the streets were empty, and the galleries and museums were empty. Notre Dame was empty, which meant I got pretty close up to paintings, sculptures, the works of master artists. And about four days into the trip, I started to wake up in the morning, and I had, I don't know, a vision or a dream, just this clear image of me in front of a huge canvas. And I was painting. And I could see very specifically, all the details of what I was painting and what the image was. And it was all very strange because I hadn't done art since I was a child. And so it was very surprising. But I was filled with this enormous sense of bliss, and contentment. And I told my partner about it. And then the next morning, the same thing happened, and then the next morning, and he said, you should journal it. I was so unconfident artistically that I just like wrote in words, what I was painting and each picture and anyway, I got back home, and I kept up these visions, it lasted 51 in a row, and I journaled them all. And it was kind of like something inside me was giving me a message and saying, Heather, you got to pay attention to this. And I think it really stood out for me, because it was the feeling inside me was, I was filled with possibility and just this blissful feeling of contentment. So that was the beginning of it. And to cut through a long story, within eight months, I actually left my job to learn how to paint. And everybody was like, what's happening to Heather? I haven’t mentioned painting before because I actually haven't painted since I was a kid.
Peter Axtell 08:12
Do you think that looking back on that experience it was something, a seed was inside you that...
Heather Kerr 08:19
Peter Axtell 08:20
...looking at that painting was just a catalyst that exploded something that was long buried?
Heather Kerr 08:24
Yeah, I think that was my subconscious or whatever really trying to grab my attention. There had been little hints of it like all over the place. You know, firstly, when I was a child, all I wanted to do when my friends came over was to color. And I would bribe them to spend their time coloring with me and our neighbors had an artist in the family, and I used to ask to go on family picnic, so I could watch and paint. And so I used to construct things with, we used to not have crafts materials, but we'd have crayons, so I'd rip apart cereal boxes and turn them inside out and build little villages for my Barbie doll and for the Dinky toys and stuff like that. So they're all those early creative things. But even as I got older, I've never become a photographer, but I used to travel exotically, and I'd always take a camera and be taking pretty good amateur photos. I got into designing my house and interior decorating and I got into landscaping. So there are those little hints and then there was a really huge hint when a bunch of older partners were leaving my firm and they wanted people at my age I think I was in my early 40s. This was 10 years before my vision. And they decided they wanted a few of us to get more well known. So they analyzed our strengths with this computer test and mine came out with these really unusual results compared to everybody else's. So all the other tax partners, and keep in mind we were working with financial institutions, you know, it was, you know, being really logical or really strategic. My number one strength was the ability to see beauty. My number two strength was the ability to love. And the number three strength was the capacity to forgive. And all my partners, were thinking, this was pretty crazy. Even I thought it was kind of crazy. But it ended up being absolutely correct. Because I had always been interested in psychology. And in fact, I'm a life coach, as well as being an artist. And, you know, the ability to see beauty is about the art, and even love and forgiveness is also about the art. Over time, the love and the coaching are become kind of one, they're just all part of me.
Nicola Vetter 11:16
Well, Heather, you've touched on quite a few things. Now, I would like to drill down on specific points. So the first one that you said is that you grew up a specific way. And I would like to know how that affected who you've become today?
Heather Kerr 11:39
I think it had a pretty big impact. My dad was originally a math teacher, he wrote the textbook in my province for grade nine and became a principal. And he actually had been artistic when he was young. But he had a very low opinion of art and psychologists. And he was very, very effective. He and my mom had both grown up in the prairies, in Canada, that area of Canada, that's just north of North Dakota, has that same kind of landscape. And there were the dust bowls of the prairies in the 30s when they were young. And so both their families went through intense financial difficulties. And so I was brought up to really focus on, get a good job that you can stay in for life. And that will make good money and get a pension. And so the number one focus was financial security. So it definitely affected my choices. In fact, I went into commerce in my first year, not because I had any interest in business, but I knew it would make my dad happy.
Nicola Vetter 12:59
And why did you make the decision to then go into law?
Heather Kerr 13:04
So I first went into commerce and ended up switching into arts, specializing in economics and political science. And I got my master's degree in economics. And I landed a job with the Canadian government in the Department of Finance. And I was in tax policy. So that was my first exposure to tax. And I got kind of interested, I never actually liked economics at all. It was just a subject I was really good at. But I didn't agree with any of the assumptions. And I actually felt like it was a waste. And so in my side of the department, we were just modeling out what the impact of tax changes would be. But there was a group of tax lawyers and accountants that they used to send me over to spy on their meetings and find out what they were doing. It was kind of competitive. And I got very interested in that side of things. And I decided I didn't want to stay as an economist, I didn't like it. I never liked it. But my philosophy wasn't, oh, I've tried something that wasn't right for me, now I should go into what I really want to do. It was more like, I can't waste any of this education. And I have to find something that will build on what I've done already. So my thought process was okay, like choice is to already become a tax lawyer or a tax accountant. So I went to law school to become a tax lawyer. I was like definitely the only person there, so I was, I guess, three or four years older on average than the other law students.
Peter Axtell 14:50
So you came back after this epiphany in front of the paintings, and then you decided to, after all of this education, and this whole position of being a high-powered more than competent lawyer, and you decided to leave. What was going on in your mind at the moment you resigned?
Heather Kerr 15:18
Yeah. So honestly, the moment I decided to resign, it was really just this, almost like a compulsion, it was having experienced that blissful feeling, it made me realize, and I think I'd been unhappy in my job for a really long time, I was successful, but it felt very empty, I used to wake up for years, wake up and feel completely empty. And I was constantly in the bookstore down below our building, looking up the self-help books on happiness, and trying to figure out how to feel better. And it just felt like, my life just didn't really feel like it had a purpose other than being a mother. And so when I felt this bliss in these visions, or dream, or my subconscious bubbling up, or whatever it is that happened in Paris. It was really, what am I doing here? It was kind of like waking up. What am I doing here? So when I resigned, the day that I resigned, I felt a tremendous sense of relief. And kind of pride, in a sense of this is the first decision I'm making for me, like, this is the first time I'm going to do something that's coming from me, and not for everybody around me. And so it felt good. It felt filled with possibility, which was amazing. It was like being unleashed.
Nicola Vetter 17:15
I love that. So you chose meaning over money. But how did you walk away from all that money and security that was instilled in you from your childhood days?
Heather Kerr 17:29
Yeah, well, I mean, I did have some savings, right. So I did this after two and a half decades of law. But yeah, I was definitely walking away from a lot of money. And I was moving into something very uncertain. So what had happened to me as a lawyer, and a lawyer, who for a while, you know, was in the higher bracket, money started to, I felt empty, I felt empty. I notice like when I went out and would buy designer clothes, or all those kinds of things that lawyers wear, the purchases just made me feel empty. And I was thinking back to my economics days where we talked about the utility cost of things, a bit technical, but the value you put on things, and I felt like, I wasn't valuing the money, and I thought it would be interesting to have less, and value it more. That's really what I was thinking. And I also developed a plan so that I didn't have to make a lot of money to be okay. I definitely changed my expectations about what kind of house I wanted to live in and where I needed to live. And you know, how I would spend money. I went from really having no money concerns to having to be more careful, but in some ways, it felt a lot richer, because what's the point? I used to wonder that all the time, what's the point of having all this money? And the thing I don't have is time because the hours I had to keep were extremely long. In fact, people used to brag about not getting enough sleep or that kind of thing. So, you know, the real question is, how rich do I feel? Well, I feel a lot richer. You know, doing what lights me up than I did spend my days doing something because it would keep me secure financially and, you know, be satisfying parents expectations.
Peter Axtell 19:48
Well, I understand that you didn't want to play the waiting game any longer. But how did you actually start? Did you have mentors or partners that supported you to make this transition?
Heather Kerr 20:01
You know, they say that when you need a teacher, the teacher appears. Like, ever since I left, I've never struggled to find the next teacher I need. I'm a constant learner and evolver, I constantly have somebody in my wings, who's coaching me, or teaching me, or I'm taking a course, or whatever. And I've never had to search really hard for those things, they kind of fall into my lap. All of this happened with these visions while I was still working. I decided, at first, I thought, what I need to do is switch my practice area, not just leave the firm. But I think my problem is, I don't want to work with banks anymore. I don't want to work with just large boardrooms full of men. And maybe I want to work with female entrepreneurs, because I hadn't worked with women, very few women for a long time. So I joined this Women's Business Club, really to find out what area of tax practice I should move into, at my firm. And one of the first people I met, like, was literally the first event I went to, it ended up being something called a yoga nidra class, which I didn't even know what a yoga nidra class was, being about manifesting something you want. So we did this exercise where we had to write down what we wanted to manifest. And my intention was, I want to manifest a new area of tax practice, I enjoy more. But I wrote, I want to paint paintings to heal people. Like, I just wrote it. And then for the class, I was stuck with that, because we kept exploring it. And then much to my horror, this was the first time I'm showing up at this business club, we have to share what we write. So I shared what I wrote. I was super embarrassed, but I'm not a good liar. So I had to share it. And there was a woman there, who's a well-known artist, member of the club, and she runs a program that she calls creative self, her name is Gayle Hill. And she had just started her next beginner group the week before. And just before that yoga nidra session, somebody had called and said, I can't make the time for this. And she said, she came up to me and she said, what I'd like you to do is buy the book, The Artists Way, read the first four chapters, and if they resonate with you, let's go for coffee. So I met her for coffee. And I did buy the book. By the way, I'd recommend that book to anybody, artist or not, it's a fabulous way to improve your creativity.
Nicola Vetter 23:06
We'll put it in the show notes. Thank you for that. Yes.
Heather Kerr 23:09
Yeah. Fabulous. And it's been read by millions of people. And yeah, it resonated with me, and I joined her group. And so I joined her group in June. My visions had been in February. This is 2013. I joined her group in June. And I left the firm, October 31. So what happened in the group was, I was with women I didn't know. And I talked about, it was stream of consciousness, and we just talked about what we wanted to do. And this group started to view me as an artist I wanted to become. So it only took a few months of meeting with these people who saw me as an artist, even though by the way, I don't think I only took a painting class and a half before I left my work. And I think the first painting class was in August. So this group was seeing me as an artist before I left, so it helped me walk into that identity ahead of time.
Nicola Vetter 24:24
Heather, I want to quote from your website. So you're writing, you don't need permission to expand your life. The experts, advice givers, family members with strong opinions, your colleagues and friends, the leaders in your desired field, none of them is the expert in what's right for you. You are the expert. So you really found that way. But where, for people who don't feel that inside, where do they start, how can they know where to start?
Heather Kerr 25:04
Yeah, here's the thing, you don't have to have a big vision, you don't have to know what the end destination is. So what it is, is, first of all, it's learning that other people's opinions about you are likely not correct because they don't know how you think, they don't have you feel, they don't know what it's like to be you. So the first step is to just start to let go of the need to follow other people or let go of the belief that other people know better than you do. And then it's a matter of paying attention. Paying attention every day, paying attention, just in the example I gave you earlier about when I did that strengths survey, and it said, hey, Heather, your biggest strength is, like that survey was about if you do, if you pay attention to these things, and you structure your career around them then you will be content. But I didn't listen to it. Right. I didn't pay attention to it. That was a sign I could have listened to that survey result and noticed, oh, these are things that actually light me up. This is what this scientific survey is telling me about me. Maybe this is something I should pause and consider. So it's paying attention, it's paying attention to, I think one of the things to keep asking yourself is, what what gives me joy? And just write down every day, every day, anything that gives you a little feeling of joy, make a note of it, you might be surprised at what comes up when you do that. So 10 years after that strengths survey, after I'd had the visions, I'd found a recommendation that I do that. And it was always things like, oh, when I took a taxi to work this morning, there was a rainbow and it made me feel amazing all day long. Or I helped, you know, I helped my staff compassionately learn something and build on their strengths. And it made me feel really excited for them. So it was just like, really paying attention to the things that bring you joy. And it might seem really random at first, but eventually it's going to tell you a story. The other way of paying attention to is so joy, I just want to be clear about joy. Joy is a bit different than just happiness, which kind of comes from the outside. Joy is something that comes from the inside and feels kind of expansive. Another thing to notice is how your body responds to ideas. I think our bodies house a lot of our wisdom. And they're not affected by the clutter of our minds that interfere with a lot of fear-based thinking. So when you think about doing different things, notice, there's this author called Martha Beck, who came up with this test. She was the first life coach training I took and because of shackles on, shackles off, which is the best way I've heard of describing this physical sensation. Think of something you might want to do and feel inside your body. And notice, does this feel like a telling in my chest? A closing? Does it feel like shackles on, does it feel like I'm going to prison? Or does it feel like I'm being released from prison? How does that feel? It's a really good way of noticing how you're reacting is to go into your body. Because we have fear-based brains and fear will rise up a lot of times but I might think of a thing and think it's really scary. But my body still opens to it. It still feels expansive, I would say just like notice how your body responds, notice what gives you the emotion of joy. And just pay attention to yourself and it will start to emerge.
Peter Axtell 29:45
I think you bring up a great point. We talk a lot about the egoic mind in the crazy mind because that's all based in fear. And you just said something about listen to yourself. And connecting that to listen to yourself, right ideally, what your body, what your intuition is telling you, and not what your fear based mind is telling you. I think that's an important distinction.
Heather Kerr 30:08
Peter Axtell 30:10
In your coaching practice, what's one of the most common mental obstacles you see when people want to make a change? And then how do you help them move beyond that and gain clarity about what they want?
Heather Kerr 30:23
Well, it's a nice segue into that question when you talked about fear, because I would say the most common obstacle is fear. And the reason for that is, our nervous systems are wired to make us afraid of any change. So, you know, the older, we call it the reptilian part of our brains, is wired to keep us safe. And what our brain knows is safe is what we've always done. What we've done like, as far as our brain is thinking, our brain is just like, are you here? Yep. Are you alive? Yep. Are you breathing? Yep. Okay, what we're doing is fine. Let's keep doing that. Whereas, if you're proposing any change, your brain is not going to like that. So you can expect to automatically feel a lot of fear. So part of it is educating people to know that. I think when people feel the fear, they think that's a sign that they shouldn't do something. So part of it is noticing the fear and then not believing it. So you can actually talk to your fear. One thing I suggest to people is acknowledge the fear that's coming up, expect it to come up, acknowledge it, and then say, get kind of grounded, say, I'm feeling fear right now. And that's okay. Or okay, brain, I hear you telling me that we're gonna die if we try this. But I think we're going to try one small step. Today, we're going to try one little thing, I think we'll be okay. You just kind of talk to your brain like it's a small child and give it reassurance.
Peter Axtell 32:15
Michael A. Singer has a great point on this, he says that fear is going to be lodged somewhere in your body, your neck or your stomach, I'm sure I'm not telling you anything you don't know, Heather, and he suggests that if you can locate where this fear is, it's an energy in your body, it's very easy to find that. And then to relax that part of your body to help the fear dissipate so energy can begin to move again.
Heather Kerr 32:43
Yeah, I 100% agree with that. There's also a psychological thing you can do with that too to take it even further. Locate the fear in your body, before you ask it to dissipate, you can interview it. So what I'll do with my clients is we get very grounded, and then we locate it in their body, then we describe the feeling, we describe, is there a color? You know, if it had a name, what would it be? Does it have a texture, and we go into detail. And then they speak for the fear. And we ask the fear? How are you here to help? How are you here to help? And you will be amazed, like interviewing the fear as if it's like another being in your body, with the idea that it's there to help you to just communicate something, it usually communicates something reassuring, and something very wise and helpful. So and yeah, I also agree with the person that you cited about, just then when that's over, you can just feel into the fear. And what I say to it, is just, I hear you, I hear you, I hear you and it usually just leaves.
Nicola Vetter 34:16
It's beautiful to look at fear as not only the enemy, but also as something that can guide you, that can give you some idea about what's going to be next. How do I deal with this or that, right? Now, another big obstacle, and I'm really curious about this, Heather, is that when we want to become who we are, what's in the way is the obsession with what other people think about us. The longing for recognition and especially the desire for appreciation in our society today is huge. And that's why people are constantly checking their phones for messages or likes on social media, or looking around even while meeting with others to see what other people might think or say about them eventually, how do you help people overcome that obstacle?
Heather Kerr 35:26
Yeah, I mean, I think that's the biggest obstacle to becoming who we want is trying to please everybody around us. So the first thing is helping them understand that it's a really futile to try to control other people's emotions, with our own choices and actions. So just imagine a scenario where you go to a party, and there's a bunch of people there, and you're in a dress. Like on average, I'm just making up this statistic, it's something they say, in the coaching industry, this is a great example that they use, and I find it really useful, on average, a third of the people in the room are gonna go like, wow, that's an amazing dress, I love it, a third of the people in the room are going to go, mah, and a third of the people in the room kind of go, nah, don't really love it. Like that happens with everything we do, there's going to be people who love what we do, there's going to people who don't love what we do, and there's going people who don't really care and don't really notice. It's always going to be true. And what that goes to show is actually, our actions don't affect other people's feelings. It's how they're thinking about us. It's, you know, what their views are about the dress we're wearing, it's what their views are about the choices we're making. I know that every single time I left a job, like when I left economics to go to law school, or when I left my law firm to join the accounting firm. There were a bunch of people who let me know that I was ruining my life, that I was making a terrible decision. And it really had nothing to do with me. It had to do with their view, their career choices, how my leaving made them feel about their choices. And that's always how it is. So the first thing is just realizing the futility of trying to control other people's emotions, which is what we're trying to do when we try to please them, we're trying to get their appreciation, right. So the first rule we talked about is you can't control the people. Like Byron Katie is a famous, you know, spiritual or personal development leader and what she says famously, is, there's three kinds of business, there's my business, your business, and God's business. So you can substitute a different word for God if you want. But there are basically things in the universe, in the world, that you can't control, that have nothing to do with you. There's no point in trying to manage those. I can't manage whether there's going to be another winter storm here that locks me in, right. Like, that's not my business. That's God's business or the universe's business, right. And similarly, I can't manage what you do, say, or think, that's your business, that's for you to manage, all I can do is manage what I show up as, and the only person whose feelings I can manage is me. So it's starting to build that awareness that you can't really control other people's feelings, but what you can do is make choices that serve you. Plus, also notice, like if you really spend a lot of time people pleasing. Notice how that feels. Notice how it actually feels when you constantly accommodate other people and do what they want. I can tell you with everybody I've coached, which is a lot of people. At the end of the day, it's usually some form of resentment. So you're doing what they want. But there's a part of you that resents it, so you don't show up cleanly. And I guess the only thing about people pleasing is if you're completely altering who you are, to please other people, then who is it that they're liking? It doesn't feel that amazing to have people like you when you're being super fake, right? I gotta think about movie stars. I haven't had a movie star as a client, but you know, I think a lot of them aren't that happy, right? And I would imagine, it probably doesn't feel great to be trying to be this famous celebrity who people have particular views of, and you're trying to conform to that. So, you know, it's a futile process. And it's really liberating to stop it. And it's really liberating, to start noticing what it is that you want, and taking responsibility for your own feelings. Because how other people think about you isn't what's going to make you feel good. It's how you think about you. So it's part of letting go of people pleasing, a lot of it is learning to be kind to yourself, it's learning to not yell at yourself in your head, not criticize yourself all the time, to have your own back, to support yourself.
Peter Axtell 40:51
You think of the logic of trying to please everybody, that means that your approval and your happiness or whatever is conditional. It's conditional on everything around you. And you have no control over that, because of the mere fact that it's conditional.
Heather Kerr 41:06
Yeah, 100%, you have no control over it. Like the only thing you have control over is, you know, the choices you make, what you think, how you think about yourself, you know, how you feel about things. Those are your choices and your actions. Yeah, you have no control over other people. And a lot of people spend their lives trying to please other people, and they never succeed. It's terrible.
Peter Axtell 41:33
I know that you've gotten this question before. And I want to ask you, because people will be asking us, what about people who don't have strong clear visions like you? What do you suggest they do, if they feel like they want to change, are unhappy, and yet don't have a strong vision to guide them?
Heather Kerr 41:53
Yeah, it's kind of a little bit, like I talked about earlier. First of all, what I've learned is like my story, like having this strong vision, like I didn't have that strong vision for, you know, two years of being unhappy and not knowing what to do. And what I didn't do during those two decades was to follow all the little clues. So what I'd say is, kind of what we talked about earlier, is pay attention, and notice, and try taking really small steps. Try to do something every week that moves you closer to a life that you enjoy. So it could be you know, if it had been me 10 years earlier, creating two hours a week to try painting, just see what it was like. So really small changes can add up to something big over time. I view life as an exploration. It's not, here's a destination, I need to figure it all out now, so that I know exactly where I'm going, and I can follow this linear path to get there. There doesn't need to be an overarching vision, all you have to do is take the next best step. Today, what I want to do today? Today, what can I do that will bring me joy? Today, what degrees of freedom do I have to change a half hour some point my day and do something else? I've had clients who have changed their whole mindset just by instead of work subsuming every waking hour, there's also all the time, deciding to spend their lunches, instead of meeting clients, going for a walk every lunch. And just taking time out for themselves. You really can actually change your experience of where you are now and start to love it by changing small things.
Nicola Vetter 43:59
It's often connected though, with moving into the unknown. And again, the fear component comes up there. But I would like to know, because fear is often connected with money, with your economic situation, what can you teach us about understanding risk tolerance? Now with your clear understanding about economics, what tips can you share with our audience on a how to change careers in a safe way and still pay the bills?
Heather Kerr 44:34
Okay, so let me make an economic analogy. There's something called cost-benefit-analysis when you're doing a project, right? So you look at the costs of doing a project and you do look at the benefits of doing a project and then you decide, do the benefits outweigh the costs? So, one thing a lot of people do when we're getting really afraid to make a change, or lose money, or we're thinking about our risk tolerance, is we forget to weigh the cost of not making a change. So the first thing I'd say is, when you're doing your cost-benefit-analysis, look at the costs of not making a change. Like we get so afraid of making a change, but sometimes, we think making a change is risky, and so I need a high-risk tolerance to make a change, and not making a change is not risky. But not making a change might be the choice that guarantees I'm going to be unhappy. Whereas if I make a change, there's a chance I'm happy. So that's the first point I want to make is, make sure you're counting everything. And then the other thing is, be aware of your risk tolerance or risk tolerances. I think they're a bit inherent, and they're different for all of us. So I know some people that are super comfortable taking enormous risk on a regular basis. A lot of really wealthy people do this, because they're confident in their own skills and abilities to always find money someplace. And so that's one attitude. And then there are people with very low risk tolerances, who, if you made a big leap like I did, you'd be frozen in fear and unable to do what you left your job to do, because you'd be so afraid. And so if you have a low risk tolerance, you don't have to make a big leap, reorganize your life, to build it slowly, you know, put aside some money, put aside some money, just start doing something at night. I know a lot of people in the coaching industry build up a whole clientele before they leave their jobs. It's amazing what you can do when you organize your life, I have one client who was working as the consultant, still working as a consultant, you know, 50 or 60 hours a week and wanted to quit her job to write books. She thought she had no spare time. And now three years later, she's written a whole book series. And she does her job so efficiently now, the CEO of the bank that she works for, asked for her input, and her boss asked her if she'd coach her even though she doesn't coach. So she's like, she changed the way she organized her life to create times to pursue her passion project on the side, still have her financial stability and actually enjoy the job that creates it for her. So there's no one recipe that works for everybody. But I think be careful and be gentle with yourself about your risk tolerance. Don't think, oh, she's got a high risk tolerance and I'm lesser than if I don't, and I need to take a big leap. I would say most people don't want to take big leaps.
Nicola Vetter 48:33
And looking at the costs of not making a change.
Heather Kerr 48:41
I think that's really honestly what happened for me at the end of the day, is, you know, I've been unhappy for so long, and my life felt so empty, that the cost of staying was really highlighted for me when I had these painting visions, and I saw the possibility of what could be there and was I willing to take a big financial hit to do that, but to have my life feel so much richer? I definitely was. But would I have done that 15 years ago, you know, I'd probably not.
Peter Axtell 49:17
This segues, Heather, into another great quote on your website, and it says, you don't need to do it right. Once you've decided to live more expansively, there are no wrong decisions. There's just you learning and growing and experiencing life. But many people believe that doing it right, being perfect will help them in their jobs. Why can it actually be a hindrance? And what's a strategy you suggest people can use to let go of perfectionism?
Heather Kerr 49:50
So the first thing to notice about perfectionism is it's not achievable. Like nothing is ever actually perfect. And so it never arrives. And that's important because a lot of people who are self-described perfectionists are just afraid. And they use it to prevent themselves from taking action. And they say it proudly as if it's a strength. And it's not. So I think the thing to notice is one thing I work on my clients with is, building a real awareness is how they're thinking and what results that creates in their lives. Like how it actually works through, you said that you're logical, like how it worked through the logical process, like, that's the impact on their lives. And notice the situations where you're saying that you're a perfectionist. What is it causing you to do? And more importantly, what is it causing you not to do? What are you deciding not to do, because you can't do it perfectly? That's why I think it's so important. I have a podcast, I started it, I think it's at 103 episodes now. But I put it off for three years, three years, because I thought, I was used to be really fussy, and I wanted everything, I felt the world needed to be perfect. And I thought I would just, you know, I was afraid of what I was going to do with it, like how much time it was going to take. And being kind of frozen with not wanting to say this, not doing it right, not being able to speak properly. And it really was the thought, I'm just going to make this easy. And I'm going to show that being imperfect is okay. And so I misspeak in it, I sometimes say the wrong word, I don't go back and edit it, and people say, you know, it feels like I'm just having a coffee with you. So that's just an example, I helped my self back, I had all the same things to share that I shared. Now, I didn't do it for three years. Because I thought it had to be perfect. And then I noticed that I was violating my own principle of not being perfect and just went for it. And it's so fun to do it when it doesn't have to be perfect. So just notice, there are a few things... Especially in the legal world where you do have to be perfect. You don't want to mess up or give people the wrong legal advice. But most things in life, you don't have to be perfect, so ask yourself, is this something I really need to be? Does my kitchen have to be perfectly clean before I can, you know, take some time out and do this writing project? Or could it sometimes be okay to leave it for a few hours and put myself first? So it's kind of letting go of the unnecessary perfectionism which is most perfectionism.
Peter Axtell 53:08
Doesn't that sound like a relief? Just to get off of that be perfect horse. Yes.
Nicola Vetter 53:17
It also feels like if the kitchen isn't clean, many people would say, we can't invite people over. Right?
Heather Kerr 53:26
Exactly. So many things we stop ourselves from doing because we're trying to be perfect and like I know when I go to somebody else's house and they're perfect and they've got like all the dishes, you know, grown in their garden made from scratch, I feel intimidated about having them over, right. Whereas if they're just kind of sloppy and casual, and it's really comfortable there, then I'm happier to invite them back here. So professionalism can be off putting right? We don't relate to perfectionism. We don't relate to people that are perfect.
Peter Axtell 54:05
And that's why we have paper plates when people come over for dinner, we have paper cups and paper plates, and then we throw them on the floor at the end of things so that... okay, I just made all that up. That's completely not.
Heather Kerr 54:18
Nicolais kind of wincing.
Peter Axtell 54:22
Okay, kind of went off track there, but it's fine. Okay.
Heather Kerr 54:26
But I'd say kind of related to that perfectionism point is one of the biggest things I've learned that's been really super relieving to me is, failure is not a thing. You can't fail. You can either win, or you can learn. Those are the two. The two things to me that was a really huge revelation that I still keep relearning. Every time I remember it, it gives me so much more courage, and so much more self-compassion, and it makes me willing to try things. And that helps my growth. So that's the other learning.
Nicola Vetter 55:14
Heather, to kind of wrap this up now, our interview, you say that what people want matters and that pursuing what they want is the best thing they can do for the people around them as well. Can you expand on that probably with a story?
Heather Kerr 55:35
So I'll start with the ending, which is, I was telling this to Peter, yesterday, as well, that usually, at some point, if my clients are worried, at some point, they say, Oh, my spouse just wanted to tell you that they're really happy that I'm coaching with you. Even those spouses sometimes are resistant at the beginning, like when they change things, they stop people pleasing. At the end of the day, when we stop people pleasing, we show up more authentically as ourselves and more content. And I don't know, you tell me, would you rather hang with somebody who's like resenting, doing what they're doing? They're just doing it for you. Or would you rather hang out with somebody who is really trying to do what lights them up, and shares the best part of themselves with you? So I can't think of a situation where somebody's marriage has gotten worse, after I coached them, it always improves, it's always better. It's just so interesting, it just proves that people pleasing doesn't work. Because they might have done a lot of things to please the other person, but you know, that discontent we carry when we do it. That is just natural when we're depriving ourselves of something important. We release that. It's wonderful to be with somebody who's joyful. I'm not saying my clients are, like, joyful all the time, or that I'm even joyful all the time. But they're joyful more often.
Nicola Vetter 57:25
We've touched on so many things in our conversation, is there anything that we didn't touch on that you really want our audience to know?
Heather Kerr 57:39
I think we've talked about most things, if I could just kind of like wrap up with the three takeaways would that be? Okay?
Peter Axtell 57:47
Nicola Vetter 57:47
Heather Kerr 57:48
Yeah. Um, so just to kind of bring everything together, I'd like people to really take in the fact that there's no ultimate destination, kind of like, further to the point that Peter you just made. There's no ultimate destination where everything is achieved, where we're fully evolved, where life all of a sudden becomes blissful, and where we're like dancing the daisies. We're meant to keep growing and evolving. As human beings we're wired to keep growing and evolving. And life is a beautiful thing, if we keep doing it even in our 80s and 90s. Like, that's how we're wired. And that's what makes us be happy and stay alive. So I guess my first takeaway is, you know, think of your life as an exploration and not a destination. I think that will really help your listeners go a long way. The second thing I'd say is to pay attention to the joy, to the feeling in your body, and you're gonna go in the right direction. Again, doesn't have to be huge steps. Just keep following the joy. Keep listening to your body and pay attention. So you actually hear it, you're not silencing it, you're listening to it. And then the third thing is, we talked about a little bit which is don't overweight the fear of change, balance it out and ask yourself: if it were the end of my life, what would I wish I decided today?
Nicola Vetter 59:30
That's a beautiful, beautiful way to leave our audience with, some questions that they can drill on a little deeper. Thank you so much, Heather. As always, it's been such a pleasure.
Heather Kerr 59:49
Pleasure being with you guys again. So fun to see you again after our Speaking Academy experience.
Peter Axtell 59:55
Yes. We hope you enjoyed this interview. The biggest takeaways for me were paying attention to what lights you up, how asking the simple question, what gives me joy and writing that down daily can eventually reveal a story that can inform you. Also, how joy is different from happiness, and that happiness tends to come from the outside, and joy comes from the inside, and is expansive.
Nicola Vetter 1:00:25
Yes. And what goes along with that, for me is that you don't have to have a big vision or know where the end destination is. That often puts a lot of pressure on us. You just need to pick a direction and take the next step. Other people's opinion of you are often not accurate, because they don't know how you think or feel. They don't know what it's like to be you. So you can let go of the belief that others know you better than you do.
Peter Axtell 1:01:07
Absolutely. To learn more about Heather, head to whatsnext.com/15, where we share the transcript, links and more. Again, that's whatsnext.com/15.
Nicola Vetter 1:01:29
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.