Seasons of transition — whether we’re focusing in on summer or seasons of life — are anxiety inducing on their worst day and transformative on their best.
When those seasons of transformation are reflective of a need for a career change they can be even more emotionally taxing.
Dr. Gladys Ato is a clinical psychologist and leadership mentor based out of New York City who works with entrepreneurs and executives to help align their workflow with their mission.
“The only way to get to where you want to be is to get there,” explains Ato. “There are no hacks or shortcuts to taking action on your desires. This means being unstoppable in your pursuit of a career that’s going to fill you up instead of draining your happiness.”
Ato’s motivation to help inspire others to pursue fulfillment is rooted in her experience of seeing her own mother fight to find career fulfillment.
“Seeing [my mom] struggle to earn a decent income because she didn’t have a high school education and was a Mexican immigrant hit me hard,” share Ato. “I remember wishing so badly that she could get a ‘real’ job that would treat her well and allow her to stop working 18 hour days. So when she went to adult school to earn her GED, I wanted so badly for her to find a job that would give her a chance to shine because she was a brilliantly talented woman with so much to offer the world. Looking back, I can see how this early wish to see my mom elevate her career and not suffer so much infused my desire to empower rising stars to do the same.”
Below Ato shares advice for those who are struggling to marry their passion with their day-to-day work life and for Latinas who have inherited their parents’ risk aversion.
Vivian Nunez: What’s the top tip you give to someone who is stuck in not knowing what to do next or what their true purpose is?
Dr. Gladys Ato: Go back to what you know is true in your heart and entrust the support of an experienced mentor. For years, I stayed stuck in a career that had burned me out. I had a great title but was constantly wondering, “Am I always going to be stuck here? What if this is as good as it gets?” That was such a low point for me because I felt I was giving up on my dream of creating a global platform of leadership and personal empowerment — kind of like what Oprah built. I had lost my way. It wasn’t until I started working with an amazing healer that I began trusting my intuition again to guide my decisions and actions, leading me to start my own business where I now mentor the next generation of leaders. If you’re stuck or unclear in your purpose, there’s a strong likelihood that you’re questioning your capacity to go after what you most desire and are afraid something negative will happen if you do go after what you want. Until that fear is addressed, you’re going to keep going in circles, which is why it’s so important to invest in the support of an experienced mentor. This person should be someone whom you see as a role model and who can give you direct guidance and solutions, honest feedback on your blindspots, and hold you accountable to your success.
Nunez: Through my conversations with Latinas, I’ve found that we can be incredibly risk averse. How do we unlearn the fear associated with risk and instead embrace its possibility?
Ato: Rather than using your energy to avoid the fear, let it guide you to keep taking forward action. Risk is perceived. What you define as risk – for example speaking in front of an audience of 10,000 people – to someone else like me may be a dream come true. You have to start with changing your perception of risk so that your fear doesn’t get so aggravated. For example, I was a super shy, introverted, terrified skinny girl who did everything I could to be invisible. When my dad forced me into competitive public speaking in 4th grade, I had to learn how to use my fear in a productive way so I could shine my best. I had to see the risk of being visible as something that could become enjoyable and even invigorating, which ultimately led me to a successful 10 year track record of winning several major competitions. The key isn’t to banish fear, because fear is your great ally. Instead, change your perception of risk and see the associated fear as a sign that you’re stepping into new territory full of exciting discoveries and amazing opportunities to step into your full potential.
Nunez: What actionable tips do you have for someone who is looking to jump headfirst into a career path that is more aligned with their heart?
Ato: Don’t leap or jump headfirst into a new career…build a bridge instead. What exists in between where you are now and where you want to be? A huge empty space that I call the abyss of unknowns. So many people believe that to get to the other side, they have to take a massive leap of faith and risk falling into that abyss, so they don’t go after a career that’s more aligned with their heart in order to stay safe. Rather than leap, I help people build a bridge that closes the gap. This involves creating a clear, actionable strategy that’s full of S.M.A.R.T. goals which allow you to safely walk – not jump – across to the other side where your dream career is waiting.
Nunez: What strategies can we implement on a day to day that will help us shake off the feeling of not being good enough or not belonging, so that we can embrace our full potential?
Ato: There’s a saying that goes something like, “What you seek in lack, multiplies.” If you look for evidence that you’re not good enough and don’t belong, you’ll find all kinds of evidence to support that belief. The reason that happens is because your brain is like a filing cabinet. It scans the millions of pieces of input we get every second to see where to file and make sense everything, and those files are created from your past experiences. If you had past experiences that led you to feel like you didn’t belong or weren’t good enough, you’ve got a “not good enough” file stored in your brain. If you scan through all the pieces of daily input to see what relates to your “not good enough” file, you end up creating a file folder that’s full of evidence to support that belief. To change this pattern, you have to get your brain to work in your favor. Create an “I’m amazing” folder and every day, look for the evidence that’s opposite of what’s contained in your “not good enough” file. With daily practice, you’ll have way more evidence filed in your “Amazing” folder and will develop the confidence to embrace your full potential.
Nunez: What’s the best way to hone the skill of listening to our inner voice so that it is easier to trust our own intuition over other’s voices?
Ato: Experience what it’s like to be fully listened to by someone else and model that behavior toward yourself. One of the key differentiators of great leaders is that they’re self-aware. They invest in getting to understand who they are, how they got to be that way, and how to show up for themselves so they can show up for others in the best way possible. When it comes to trusting your own intuition, you must take the time to listen to your inner voice. Get familiar with what it says and understand how to distinguish it from other voices in your mind competing for attention such as self-doubt, guilt, or shame. The best way I’ve learned how to do this is to instill the support of therapists and healers who were skilled in actively listening to me on many levels – not just to the words I was saying – and objectively reflecting what they heard. By having someone else offer back to me my own hurt, confusion, desires, and wisdom, I started to hear what I had to say and began trusting myself more to develop my own ways of listening to my intuition without questioning it so often.