Recently I got lost while driving to a speaking engagement. I’d downloaded directions from MapQuest. They seemed pretty simple, but I just couldn’t find the building I wanted. I kept going over the directions, thinking that maybe I’d misread them somehow – because it seemed highly unlikely that the universal navigation “expert” could be wrong. Finally, out of sheer frustration, I stopped at a convenience store for advice and learned that MapQuest should have directed me to turn right from the expressway exit instead of left.
Shortly after this incident, I read an article about the alarming number of mishaps that have resulted from inaccurate GPS instructions. The article described several horrible accidents, including the head-on collision of a car into an oncoming train because the driver blindly obeyed erroneous GPS instructions to turn left onto the train tracks.
What both of these examples illustrate quite literally is that you may not reach your destination – on the concrete or the road of life – if you rely only on external directions to get you there. Having infinite advice and instructions available in a culture that is rich with technology and information can be hugely efficient but only if we allow ourselves to have the final say. The more we empower outside factors, from the cheerleading of self-help sages to the so-called foolproof electronic voice emanating from the GPS, to pilot us, the less in touch we become with our own innate sense of direction.
In all matters of life and work, discovering where you want to go and how you want to get there starts with making you the ultimate decision-maker. And that means appointing your intuition to be your most trustworthy compass. You might assume that you can rely less on your inner sense of direction when you have access to so many sources of guidance, but the truth is that you need your intuition more than ever to sort through all the options before you and pinpoint the routes that are best for you.
Intuition is the act of knowing or sensing without using rational processes. Though intuition is often regarded in our society as a gift unique to women, I have found consistently in my work with both genders that intuition is an experience of inner knowing, an intangible personal advisor, and a faithful barometer common to men and women.
Intuition comes forth in many ways. It’s that “I just knew” sensation people describe when, after years of bad dates, they have that sudden surreal experience of stumbling upon “the one.” It’s the slight but sure discomfort you feel when you can’t put your finger on what’s wrong with a career or real estate opportunity that by all objective standards adds up but for some vague reason doesn’t feel quite right. It’s what led you to this blog post, and what is helping you decide what to take with you and make your own as you’re reading it.
Your intuition – from telling you what menu item to choose to whether someone is telling you the truth — is with you, ready with unflagging leadership and never faltering through situations mundane to magical. Its unassuming voice, however, often gets crowded out by the squeakier sources of advice – ingrained childhood beliefs, the media, family members, co-workers – clamoring for attention.
Fortunately, intuition is unrelenting and unshakable in its desire to lead you toward fulfilling your innermost wishes and goals. It communicates with you inventively through dreams, images, gut reactions, and signs. Ever undeterred and resourceful, your intuition lets you know through synchronicities, coincidences, and an ever-growing sense of encouragement when you’re on the right track, and via escalating accidents, physical symptoms, and a general aura of anxiety and dread when you’re not.
Here’s an example of how intuition gets through to you when you ignore it:
Mark (not his real name), a coaching client of mine outside of Maine, had a sense when he accepted a competitive position at an advertising agency known as a “sweat shop” that, despite the great salary, this wasn’t the right fit for him. His initial discomfort proved telling when, after a few months in his new job, he found himself feeling irritable, exhausted, and jumpy from too much work and too little sleep. His intuition attempted to let him know – through his worsening mood and daily mishaps – that his current direction was not furthering his satisfaction with life. But he kept right on going, convincing himself that he’d be a fool to throw away such a coveted career opportunity.
Then one day, fighting traffic to get to work on time, chugging a Red Bull to wake himself up, he pressed the wrong pedal and slammed his brand new car into a truck at a stop sign. That’s when his faith in his intuition finally kicked in. Jarred by a red flag as blatant as a traffic calamity, he finally realized that the growing voice inside him meant business. It was his unfamiliarity with his intuition that had made him miss the building mayhem in all areas of his life as a glaring intuitive sign that he was going down the wrong path.
The great thing about intuition is that it’s ready to start working for you just as soon as you’re ready to count on it. No matter how long it takes you to come to your senses and heed its astute insights, your intuition is always certain and steady. Intuition doesn’t get weird when you don’t listen; but it doesn’t let up either, even when you try with all your might to drown it out. Eventually impressed by its steadfast loyalty, you believe in it enough to act on it. With each step you take, you feel rewarded. You experience an increasing sense of well-being, and so trust grows. The more you pay attention to your intuition, the more powerful and creative it becomes in smoothing the way to what makes you feel the truest sense of being alive.
Sheila (not her real name), a friend of mine, has what I’d call a seasoned relationship with her intuition. She learned as a young girl that she could rely on her intuition to send her navigational messages through physical sensations. When she had a stomach ache, she knew that something in her life was amiss and needed her assistance. When she felt like smiling, she knew she was in a situation where it was okay to be herself and relax. By her early twenties, Sheila’s trust in her intuition was so committed that she just knew that no matter what her dilemma, her intuition would always come through with just the right answer at just the right time.
In her early thirties, Sheila was perfectly satisfied with the life she had built for herself in her home state of Kansas but for some inexplicable reason longed to live in the Northeast. Though she’d never been to that part of the country, she had a particular hunch about Maine. While mulling over her instinct at a stoplight in Topeka one day, she found herself staring at a Maine license plate on the car ahead.
Recognizing this as an undeniable sign from her intuition to relocate, she moved east and started a life that felt even more right than the successful one she’d left. She’d thought she had “it all” in Topeka with a great job and wonderful friends. Had she not trusted the whisper of her intuition, she would not have ended up meeting her soul mate and discovering she loved mountains and the sea even more than the Midwest plains.
Intuition is a great guide and teacher because it always pulls us toward situations that nourish our sense of comfort with ourselves and the world. But, like most of what propels us toward personal growth, the challenge sometimes of getting to a broader place can be disruptive and frightening. The tough thing about intuition isn’t so much figuring out what it has to say; it’s summoning the courage to act on it. And that, of course, is why we do so much to distract ourselves from really hearing what sorts of risks we might have to take if we really want to rise to the potential our intuition is always turning us toward.
A really hard part about developing a relationship with our intuition is that our quick-fix, stimulation-addicted culture makes little space for small voices and subtle signs. Because intuition refuses to compete with speed or flash, you have to pause from the attention-impaired frenzy of American life and consciously create situations that encourage your intuition to speak with you. If you don’t pause, you won’t be able to respect intuitive messages that may not seem logical because you’ll be too inundated with outside distractions to believe in something that makes sense only to you. Building a relationship with your intuition demands that you simultaneously start letting go of what others think and trusting that, even when the messages seem half-baked and you may look crazy to others for following them, your intuition is always leading you in the direction of improved circumstances. And you are never obligated to explain it.
Following your intuition takes sheer guts and faith at times. Being true to your inner voice means being able to take such courageous actions as uprooting yourself from a perfectly comfortable (but not quite stimulating) relationship or job with nothing else lined up. It means believing in yourself so completely that nothing can get in the way of what you know, that when your intuition tells you to do something, even if it seems insane and the step will create emotional upheaval, you will ultimately be better off.
Intuition, because it is sparked from within by sheer self-confidence, always thrives in an atmosphere of self-care. So it’s really quite matter of fact: if you want your intuition to flourish, treat yourself well. That means doing what you want to do because you want to do it, not because you feel swayed to do it by some outside force. It means being open to the right opportunities for learning and growth. It means balancing your life with ample doses of solitude so that your intuition can rise up and be heard. Mostly, it means refusing to let fear stop you from making changes that you know will make you the person you want to be.
My suggestions below will help you to develop a better relationship with your intuition so that you can reap the rewards of living from the inside out. Just two things to keep in mind before you proceed: 1. intuition responds more to gentle coaxing than pressure to perform, and 2. you don’t have to act on your intuitive insights until you’re good and ready:
Good luck with this, and let me know how you do. I’m always up for stories about intuition leading the way.