And if you really, really want it, you can have it, even if it means leaping across a chasm filled with ugly words like should, can’t, and impossible. In fact, once you muster the courage to take that leap, you might be surprised to find that the chasm transforms into a springboard, launching you on to your true path.
Your Authentic Self
“My belief is that we’re born into this world with a unique combination of strengths, essence, and energy that we’re meant to express,” says Susan Dahl-Robertson, MA, a certified career and life coach in Boise, Idaho. That unique combination comprises our authentic self, or what Dahl-Robertson sometimes refers to as our “original medicine”—the gifts we have to bring to the world.
“Our authentic self knows more about what we want than we can see at any given time,” Dahl-Robertson explains. And she insists that it’s our job to pay attention to it. Your authentic self, for example, knows whether you prefer country life over city life, artistic pursuits over corporate strategy, or travel over stability—and it will help steer you in the direction of your true path.
“Our original medicine is our gift to the world. We’re not meant to have it just for ourselves; we’re meant to share it with the world and express it,” she says. “When we pay attention to our original medicine and listen to what our authentic self is telling us, we’re actually growing into who we’re meant to be.”
And when we do that, things feel aligned and, well, magical.
Tuning In to the Inner Voice
So, if our authentic self holds all of the answers, what’s the holdup? For starters, Dahl-Robertson says, we get so busy doing all of the things we think we should be doing that we lose touch with that inner voice, or what she calls “the whisper.” We’ve all heard the whisper at some point—it’s that nagging feeling or pang in your gut when you know you’re not being true to yourself or that magnetic pull you feel toward what you really want.
How can you hear the whisper if your life is filled with the cacophony that comes with running from work to errands to carpool to chores and more? “You have to have some context of silence,” Dahl-Robertson explains. “You don’t have to be sitting in meditation, but you do have to tune in and listen.”
Therein lies the challenge for many women: it can feel impossible to find 10 minutes for self-care or reflection, but Dahl-Robertson says that sometimes we use being busy as an excuse. “We overschedule our lives because we don’t want to listen,” she says. “Because once we take time to listen, we’re going to have to be honest with ourselves.”
That honesty can be scary—what if your authentic self wants you to turn your whole life upside down?
Facing Your Fears
“Fear is the biggest basis of why we don’t do stuff,” says Dahl-Robertson. And even though some of our fears may be legitimate, they serve to keep us stuck in what she calls the “perceived comfort zone.” Your perceived comfort zone might be a financially secure job that pays the bills but doesn’t excite you, a relationship that isn’t quite right but feels too familiar and comfortable to leave, or a comfortable life in your small hometown that feels safe but is missing the excitement of a new place.
The perceived comfort zone is a lot less comfortable than it sounds. In fact, your perceived comfort zone is a bit of a trickster. You may think you’re comfortable there, but it’s stopping you from expanding into the full expression of who you are. “If we stay in our perceived comfort zone and skim the surface of life, it feels safe,” Dahl-Robertson explains, “but we’re not here to be safe in that sense of the word.”
Instead, she says, we’re here to follow the true calling of the authentic self, which means taking some risks. We might think we’re comfortable in the moment, but deep down there is a tug—something nagging at us. Listening to that whisper can be scary, but Dahl-Robertson says it leads to freedom and joy. “When we believe in ourselves enough to push out of the comfort zone, we blossom and it feels amazing.”
Sharing Your Gifts
“What if everyone showed up as whom they really are and shared their original medicine?” Dahl-Robertson asks. “Wouldn’t that be amazing?”
In fact, she insists that that is what we are meant to do. Sharing our own gifts benefits not only us but the world around us. “Gifts are meant to be shared,” she explains. “If we don’t share them, other people can’t benefit.”
Taking the Leap
Dahl-Robertson says taking a leap—listening to the authentic self—is simply a matter of doing what feels good. “It’s sort of like playing the warmer/colder game,” she explains. “When you move toward what feels good, you get this zing.”
When it comes down to it, that’s what we most want—to feel good. But to do that, Dahl-Robertson says, “We have to take action. We can’t just sit there and dream about it.”
Remember, a leap doesn’t have to be huge to be meaningful. It could be as simple as deciding to give yourself an hour each day with no interruptions to do what you love.
It’s great to look before you leap, but often we are so caught up in the looking that we never get to the leaping. So, go ahead—stop, tune in, and listen to what your authentic self is telling you and then prepare to leap and share your gifts with the world.
Think you can’t leap? These women did, and they both found that they landed exactly where they were meant to be.
Leap into Motherhood
Jeanne Robertson, an assistant professor of biology at California State University, Northridge, knew what she wanted: a child. She was 39 and single and had a burning desire to be a mom—but she was grappling with the decision. “I was sort of running out of time in terms of having a family with somebody else,” Jeanne explains, “but it was scary to think about being a single mom.”
So Jeanne started asking questions. She talked to other moms. She turned the idea over and over in her mind. How would she juggle her career and motherhood? Would she still be able to do the fieldwork that she loved and that was crucial to her career as a biologist? Would she feel lonely, as if she were missing out by not sharing the experience with someone else?
Jeanne’s fears were legitimate, but they weren’t moving her any closer to her desire. She enlisted the help of life coach Susan Dahl-Robertson to shift from fear to possibility. “Sue got me to confront all of my worst fears and systematically rewrite them so they didn’t seem so formidable,” Jeanne recalls. “She asked me: ‘What are you most afraid of? What are the worst things that could happen?’”
Reframing those fears set Jeanne into motion, and she began to see possibilities instead of obstacles. Deep down she had always known what she wanted, but she had to allow her head to catch up with her heart. “Even though I spent a year thinking about it and talking to friends and family about it, I had already convinced myself that it was what I was going to do,” she admits. But after a year of deliberating, she got her moment of clarity—one of those goose-bump moments when the right song—Lullaby by the Dixie Chicks—cues up at the right moment and the answer is obvious.
“As I sang along, I realized that I was ready to give my life, heart, and love over to another human being. I was ready to share my life and passions with a child. I was ready to make space for this child and to be a mom with every ounce of me,” she recalls. “It was clear and decisive, and I felt free and light. I never questioned the decision again.”
That’s when she began her journey toward pregnancy in earnest. The answer had been there all along—but Jeanne had to confront all of the what-ifs before she could embrace it. “I wasn’t scared anymore,” she says. “I knew it was going to be hard, but I knew I could do it. I knew it wasn’t ideal in terms of what I thought I wanted, but I decided it was better to do it alone than not do it at all.”
It turns out her instincts were right. She now has a wonderfully full and joyful life with 18-month-old Giorgia. “The best decision I have ever made in my life was to have Giorgia,” Jeanne says. “I had no idea what it was really going to be like. I had all of these concerns and fears, but it turns out they were wrong.”
Of course, one of her biggest concerns was how she would juggle fieldwork and motherhood, but what she found surprised her. “I can still do fieldwork. Bringing Giorgia with me adds an element of complexity, but I’ve learned that often good things come from trying to find creative ways to make it work,” Jeanne says. “I’m so glad that I can expose her to diverse and natural landscapes and give her the chance to have big adventures to fill her curious mind. If I had a partner I would likely not bring her with me.” Thus far Giorgia has accompanied Jeanne to the Channel Islands, and next year they’ll go to Panama and Costa Rica for Jeanne’s ongoing research on red-eyed tree frogs.
The arrangement works for them—better than Jeanne could have imagined. In fact, that’s one of her biggest takeaways from the experience: “I’ve learned that there is always a solution and not to take life so seriously,” she says. “You can be really afraid of something, and then when you do it you realize that you find a way to make it work, and it’s beautiful and joyous.”
Leap into Service
After graduating from college, Brooke Laura, founder and director of Saprinu in Nepal, spent several years working in a sales job in Washington, DC, but something just didn’t feel right. “I kept thinking, I’m unhappy. I don’t have a reason to be unhappy, but I am,” she says. So she started searching.
“For me it was a really big journey, and it was me really searching for what I wanted to do and just completely following my heart,” Brooke explains, “because I saw what happened when I didn’t follow my heart, and that made me really unhappy.”
Brooke was raised in a family that had an open-door policy, which meant the house was often full of animals, foster kids, and anyone who needed a warm meal or a place to stay. That upbringing left an imprint and instilled a sense of service in Brooke early on. “I learned that you don’t think twice,” she says. “If someone is in need, you do something.”
But with college and a new career, that lifestyle took a backseat—until a serendipitous twist of fate changed everything. Brooke and her mom read an article about a woman from Sudan who had fallen ill while traveling to Maryland and given birth to quintuplets—far away from her husband and community. Brooke, her mom, and her grandmother sprang into action, providing invaluable care and support to the woman and her babies. Ultimately, Brooke ended up quitting her unfulfilling sales job to help six days a week. “That experience made me think a lot about community and human contact,” she recalls. “It made me want to reach out to people who just needed help or a friend or support.”
After that there was no turning back—Brooke had come full circle, and she knew that she wanted to spend her life helping others. “When you help others, you inevitably feel good,” she says. She traveled to Nepal and volunteered in an orphanage for several months, but it was when she took a break from the orphanage to go trekking that her life really changed. Brooke and her trekking guide, Sudan Bhattarai, quickly formed a strong friendship; and when she traveled with him to his home village in Nuwakot, she saw a glaring need for educational opportunities in rural Nepal. What ensued was a lot of soul searching, treks to many rural villages, and in-depth discussions with teachers, parents, and elders—until Sudan and Brooke took the leap and decided to create a school, Saprinu.
Though Brooke didn’t take the decision lightly, she never had any doubts about starting the school. And for her it’s not really about the school anyway. “At the end of the day, it’s not about this particular school in this particular village,” she explains. “It’s about being a facilitator. For example, I’m helping Sudan live out his dream of being an educator. It’s not about me; it’s about helping others find what is in their heart and helping them see that through. That’s how I look at what I’m doing and what I hope to do for the rest of my life.”
Brooke’s initial leap of faith out of her unfulfilling job was just the first of many leaps that led her down a yellow-brick road to service, community, friendships, Nepal, and, most importantly, happiness. “So often fear holds us back from so many things,” she says. “When you start to let go of that fear, you start to listen to your heart. And when you listen to that inner voice, you will never be guided in the wrong direction. You’ll find what you were meant to do, and you will be great at it.” _
Look, Listen, and Leap
Are you ready to take a leap of your own? Susan Dahl-Robertson uses a simple process to coach women in the right direction—toward their own truth.
1.Tune in. Make time to get quiet, tune in, and reflect. You may find it helpful to meditate or write in a journal, but activities like walking or running also provide excellent time and space for reflection.
2.Ask. Ask yourself two questions: What do I really want, either today or in life? and What’s missing?
3.Listen. Be open to whatever comes up—with no judgment. Dahl-Robertson says that when we hear what it is we really want, often our first response is, “It’s impossible.” But this is simply an exploratory process. Don’t worry about what’s possible or impossible. Just get curious.
4.Examine. Dig deeper—examine the obstacles (perceived or real) that stand in your way. What are you most afraid of? What’s stopping you? Look closely. List every fear. What is the worst that could happen if you were to take action?
5.Take Action. Take steps toward what you want, no matter how small those steps are. Dahl-Robertson says it’s like playing the “warmer/colder” game. Move toward what feels good.
6.Practice. Practice asking yourself what you want every day. Sometimes it will be something small: I want to stop at the park on my way home from work and sit in the grass for five minutes. Just pay attention. “Eventually, you’ll start seeing themes,” Dahl-Robertson says. “That’s when you know your authentic voice is telling you something.”