The Demons in your Rucksack

One of the main features of stuckness is the role our thoughts and emotions play in blocking off every escape route we can think of:

  • You’re too old to change!
  • You’re too young to change!
  • You are too poor! Unqualified! Overqualified! Whatever, the list is endless.

This is a key component of being trapped in Career paralysis.  We don’t like where we are, but when we consider alternatives we feel as though we are blocked by some insurmountable barrier, fear or uncertainty.

The Problem with Difficult Thoughts and Feelings

Many people say ‘I want to feel happier’ or ‘I want to feel less anxious’.  This is understandable – anxiety can be an uncomfortable emotion.

Yet from a long-term perspective the real problem with difficult thoughts and feelings is not that they are harmful in themselves, but when they interfere with our long term values and goals.  They become a problem when they pull us away from what is really important in our lives.  By giving difficult thoughts and feelings the power to set our course in life so we start to narrow our lives.  This is known as experiential avoidance and it is often at the heart of career issues.

To explore the issue more deeply, we can use a metaphor – the demons in your rucksack.

The Demons in Your Rucksack

Imagine that your life is a path upon which you are walking and along the way you see various things, encounter various events and experience different thoughts and feelings.  These all go with you as memories, in the mental rucksack you carry with you.  Every day we encounter new stuff, we add more memories.

Some of these are wonderful and it feels great when we have them.  Many – even most – are pretty neutral and forgettable.  But some are really horrible.  They are more like demons – ugly, loud, aggressive, threatening.  When these show up in your rucksack, they feel heavy.  They tell you you are going the wrong way.  They threaten that if you do not turn around or take a detour this walk will end in disaster.

These demons can be very scary to listen to.  And over time, they can really get us down and stop us from going where we want to go.

Step 1: Identifying Your Demons


Think for a moment about the next steps in your Getting Unstuck process.  Maybe you need to work on your decision criteria for example, or identify some new options.

What are some of the next steps you need to take?

For example, these might include:

  • Set aside an hour to work on my criteria:
  • Research training options
  • Make financial plan
  • Speak to someone in the industry

Now identify any demons (thoughts, feelings, emotions, memories, sensations, urges etc) that arise when you think about these actions.  Think of the ones that feel difficult – the ones that tell you you’re no good, the process isn’t working – these are some of the demons in your rucksack.  See if you can identify the demon that has the capacity to STOP you from moving forwards:

 For example some of mine at various stages of the process were:

  • If I really wanted to have changed career, I would have done it years ago
  • All the options I have are impossible
  • I should be grateful to have my current job
  • I am going to look a complete failure to my friends
  • I am too old to re-train

Step 2: Struggling with Demons – Checking your Experience

The natural temptation is to want to try and get rid of these demons before moving forward, perhaps by arguing or bargaining with them. Or even by trying to avoid them altogether.

Experiential avoidance sequence-03

But ask yourself:

  • Does this work for you?
  • Do your demons ever go away permanently?
  • What happens when you focus your attention on getting rid of them?
  • Does engaging with the demons make them more or less important in our lives?
One client said that paying attention to her demons felt like when a bus driver goes to confront unruly school children on her bus home.  Rather than making the situation better, the unruly children almost grow in importance, and their behaviour often worsens.  But check your own experience!  Maybe for you, arguing or fighting with these passengers has worked in the past?  If so, great!  If not, read on.

Step 3: The Alternative

If you’ve spent lots of time in your life trying to get rid of, argue with, change or avoid your demons, how much longer will you continue to do so?

What would it be like if you chose the direction in your life, not your demons, and carried them with you instead?

Demons in rucksack

Career Change, Career Development, Developing Coaches - ACT Training, Executive Coaching, Getting Unstuck coaching

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