Instinct – Our Best Friend or Our Worst Enemy?

I’m a little later than usual in tackling this week’s Kuhnspiration exercise. A virus has sidelined me by a few days but I’m getting my second wind this morning and ready to revisit bravery of days gone by. Have you had a chance to think about this week’s creative challenge – reflections on past times when you listened to your instincts and when you didn’t and the  outcomes?  Of course, what I look forward to most is the extra credit portion… drawing you a picture of my “instinctive” friend. I’m pretty sure you’ve probably seen her before. So let’s get rolling…

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Instinct. The other white meat? No, but frankly, better for you.

I don’t think I’m different than most when I admit that as I’ve grown older, I’ve been less reluctant about trusting my instincts. Perhaps that’s growing confidence and self-esteem or perhaps just not giving a crap what others think about my decisions. Or maybe a little of both.

Sure, it would be great if we had a crystal ball and could see what our actions and decisions will lead to, but it’s not that easy. It takes trust, something that’s not always easy to muster up especially when emotions are involved.

So when did I trust when it would have been easy to go another route? Certainly, when I decided to go down the path of a serious relationship again after having gone through divorce at a young age and the realization that I didn’t really give myself any time to get to know myself following college. Yet though I wasn’t pursuing love, my gut told me that this guy was different. We connected on so many levels even though all of the statistics pointed to potential issues – a substantial age difference and the appearance of kids in the picture (his) when I never ever pictured little ones in my world. But we immediately realized a confounding similarity despite different backgrounds and generations. Thankfully, trusting my instinct turned out to be a good thing in this case. We’re still married after being in each other’s orbits for nearly 18 years.

Certainly when I was laid off in April 2009, it would have been easy for me to just naturally begin the application and interviewing process again — and I did for about 2 months. But my instinct – my faithful though increasingly bloated gut – told me that an opportunity had arrived and I’d be a fool not to notice. If you looked at my mini-library in our bedroom, you’d find three kinds of books – books about pets, rescue groups and animals in general; plenty of vegetarian cookbooks and manuals; and books about freelancing. I had been determined to work for myself for years. Certainly since the late ’90s but could never figure out how to make it work – at least not in such a way that my non-risk-taking self would be happy with. Leave a job to go out on my own? What are you, nuts?!

Enter opportunity…aka layoffs.

I knew that I had been fortunate enough to connect with a lot of professionals – both in the business world and the media. Those relationships proved to be invaluable as I found myself remaining connected through unemployment and soon unemployment turned into freelance jobs. First one project, then another and soon, in some cases, steady work.

It would have been far easier to listen to reason and all of those voices in my ear about the need to secure traditional employment, but my gut spoke up and reminded me about all of those freelancing books sitting on my bookcase shelves giving me a standing “O” for hearing the rapping on the door and answering it.

Listening to instinct hasn’t always worked out though. Like many, I’m sure, I’ve followed my instincts for love and  been bitten. My “tweener” relationship between divorce and my long-time marriage proved to be a pipe dream. Plenty of signs indicated that my vision for where it could go versus his were not the same yet I listened to my heart and instinct, planning an entire Southeast U.S. trip to see the sights, sure, but primarily to end up  — SURPRISE! — on his college dorm doorstep, only to find seeming disinterest and no real remaining connection. Bust. Wake-up call. The end.

I’ve taken jobs that I felt were truly an incredible opportunity when I signed up but on day one, quickly realized that I apparently had interviewed in a little gap in space and time between reality and the REAL workplace — the Twilight Zone perhaps — and that once in my seat ready to tackle the job, I was totally in the wrong place.

It’s easy to look back on those miscued love-lost trips and wrong career moves where I listened to my gut and smack myself silly, but I say – eh, shit happens. For every move I did make that turned out to be an incredible journey or led me to some unforgettable people in my life, I am reminded that I would never have gotten there without taking a leap of faith. So if occasionally that leap lands in a pile of steaming poo, well, that can be expected, I guess.

I’m much harder on myself when I think back to those decisions where I DIDN’T listen to my heart even when I knew it was a wrong move. I’ve written before about walking down the aisle that first time even when I knew full well that it was a huge mistake in advance. (If you want to read more about that, you can check out my essay “The Plight of the All-Too-Polite” at skirt.com for that sad-sack story.)

I’ve similarly accepted jobs when I knew during the interview process that it was a mistake. In fact, I have one job that I worked for three months that doesn’t even rate a spot on my resume because I affectionately refer to the place as “Hell” whenever I allude to it with friends. I had ended my working relationship with a relocating company with no new position lined up, confident that I’d find something else soon. Within a month or two, this was the case but after much interviewing and each time I met with its leadership, I found myself more concerned about what it would be like to work there. Each meeting was held later and later in the evening, and I’d learn from others that even after our 6PM or 7PM interview that the leadership team was staying afterward for a product meeting. Gulp. At 8PM. And apparently this was not unusual. I got the job and raked in the most I’d ever made in  my life. I’d made it, right? By the end of that week, I was driving home late at night from the gig, crying over the phone as my husband soothed my expressed fears and doubts about what I’d done. We made a pact as of the first week that I’d begin looking for another job immediately. Thankfully, within three months, I found the best job I’d ever had up until that time, an opportunity that completely changed the course of my life and led me to where I am today.

So I didn’t listen to my heart even when those job interviews told me that I should in no way work for this company, yet had I not accepted the terrible job, I would never have been in a position to seek employment at just the right time when the other opportunity came up. And again, had I not trusted my instinct and parted ways with the other company which I had enjoyed working with up until their relocation,  I would not have been shopping around for jobs in the first place and would never find myself doing what I am doing today for a living – writing.

So even not listening to our instinct can be just as instrumental as listening to it for getting us to our inevitable destination where we belong.

I know now that I belong here – doing what I’m doing. I have far to go in perfecting what I do and definitely how I do it, and I have so many more things I want to try but this is it. This is the place. This is home. And I’ve now made it my mission to do a better job truly listening to what my gut tells me because it’s clearly a shorter distance to the ultimate place I should be than the roundabout trip I’ve taken for much of my life. Time is precious. I’m not wasting time shutting out the important messages I need to hear and acting upon them. Not anymore.

So what does MY instinct look like?

Well, she’s a girl – of course – tough, direct, in my face. Picture roller derby meets Kathy Griffin.  Mine has jet black hair and dark brown eyes. When I was a little girl, I had much darker hair and even my eyes looked darker then – maybe it’s the contacts or just all of the late nights working but they don’t seem like the chocolaty brown eyes I once had. They’re certainly a lot more tired and less bright. Maybe it’s my little girl grown up. I picture the wicked witch on Once Upon a Time, actress Kristin Bauer, or Sara Ramirez on Grey’s Anatomy. Yeah, my instinct whip-cracker’s a little hottie. But the best thing of all is that more than ever before she’s loud, stern and hard to ignore.

Now if only my instinct could have a serious talk with my food cravings.

So tell me about your own adventures with Instinct – the good, the bad and the indifferent. When did you follow it and get it right? Or follow it and run amok? Or completely ignored instinct…then what happened? And I’d love to hear what your “instinctive presence” looks and sounds like, too, so please paint us a picture, okay?

Cheers to finding that daily spark in your life!
Chris

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