Personal Evolution: The Art of Reinventing Your Life and Career with Sally Anne Carroll
As a reinvention strategist and career coach, Sally Anne Carroll knows what it's like to redesign your life and work from the ground up. She's done it and has made it her life’s work to help professionals and entrepreneurs think differently about what's possible for their lives and to create their own vision of sustainable success. Her perspectives on reinvention, sustainable success, work-life balance, self-care, life design and career transition and development have been featured in numerous print and digital media outlets.
During this week's Confidence Conversation, Sally shares how you can effectively revitalize your life and career, and make sustainable changes in your life to lead you down your path of success.
Hi, Sally Anne! Thank you so much for joining me. Before we dive into all the amazing work you’re doing I’d love to know what confidence means to you.
I see (and feel) true confidence as a result of clarity, alignment and practice; practice in this case meaning consistent action. A lot of the time, we think about needing to be more confident before we can take a leap or stretch out of our comfort zone towards something we want. Or, we think of it as this elusive quality that we have or don’t have — as if “this is easy for me” equates to confidence. But really, confidence is what we naturally develop when we’re clear on our who, our what, our why and keep showing up for what we want. It’s very much connected to integrity, unlike bravado or “faking it until you make it” which isn’t really authentic confidence at all.
As a career and life coach, I’m interested to know your take on work-life balance–is there such a thing?
Absolutely. YES! And defining what a balanced life means to you as an individual and crafting that is an essential piece of cultivating well-being. I’m passionate about this topic because so much of what we hear about this is coming from a narrative that it is impossible or unrealistic to aim for living an integrated life. We spend a lot of time on semantics about what we should call it — is it balance or blend or integration or what have you — and also what we should aim for. The result of this false narrative and the structures that uphold it is a lot of burnout and career dissatisfaction, particularly for women. Wellbeing research shows that we need to rethink this — and since we cannot create what we believe we cannot have, that starts with rethinking how we talk about balance and how we define it for ourselves. It was never about doing all the things or slicing life up into equal pieces. I think this is very much a narrative worth rewriting — and even though we do need to address workplace and community aspects of this, there’s a lot we can do as individuals as well.
Your company is named Whole Life Strategies. What does living a whole life mean to you?
The name came out of wanting to coach at the intersection of life and work, because we don’t live professional lives or personal lives, but we often talk about it that way. We have one life with lots of parts and roles and responsibilities. So I want to be sure that as a coach, I am supporting people to thrive across their whole lives, not just a small corner of it. Living a whole life to me is about embracing (growing into) who you are, being values-aligned, and allowing your well-being to be a foundation, not just a nice to have.
There’s work, and then there’s passion. How do we know if we’re working in the right industry?
I don’t believe that there is necessarily one “right industry” or right role for any of us — there are many possibilities, and often our interests and contributions will evolve throughout our careers. Mine definitely has, and that is true of most of my clients as well. If you’re in an industry or a role that is allowing you to draw on your natural strengths, that challenges you just enough (but not too much that you can’t access flow in your work), and that connects to your values and interests — that’s a great place to be. What that looks like and where you find it is very likely to change over time. On the flip side, we often KNOW when we’re in the wrong place, and we don’t want to stay there.
What’s the difference between a job and a career?
Any job can be a job. A career is more of a trajectory or a focused path, where you are growing and evolving across an area of interest and developing expertise and impact. Both have their place, depending on the season of your life and your goals.
Now, you didn’t actually start your professional career as a coach. Can you tell us what you were doing beforehand and how you knew it was time to do something different?
Before I trained as a coach, I had a consulting practice in communications and worked with businesses and individuals on thought leadership and marketing. Before launching that business, I worked in the nonprofit world as a marketing manager, as an associate principal in a consulting/training firm, and prior to that as a freelance and staff journalist. I’ve also written professionally in some form my entire life, and nearly always had a side hustle. I am someone who has always liked to shift what I’m doing or have a few things happening simultaneously. Like many people, I made some reactive changes before I got much better at figuring out what I was wanting to do next and the environments I work best in.
Sometimes we’re midway through our careers before we realize that we’ve been working in the wrong industry or doing something that simply doesn’t light our fire. What are the keys to a successful pivot?
I talk about this exact thing in my book, Reinvent Your Reality. I had that experience of being very good at climbing what was for me, the wrong ladder. I was excelling in my work at the time, and also was completely burned out working in a role and a culture that was not the best fit for me. I did that twice in my early career before I made significant changes that reignited my creativity for a while. It took me longer, though, to realize that the work itself just wasn’t holding my interest anymore. I’d outgrown it. Coaching was really helpful for me in coming to that insight.
A successful pivot— even the ones that seem to be completely unrelated careers— draws on the elements of who you are and where you’ve been. When I coach clients who are thinking about a pivot, reconnecting to their foundation is always the first step. Meaningful goals are strengths-based, values-aligned and ideally, we can connect them to a larger vision for what we most want in our life. Also, change is hard — so there needs to be self-care built in. All of that is essential before getting into the nuts and bolts of identifying your interests and doing the career exploration work. It’s far more effective to do the foundational work before jumping into finding a new career. For example, in my own case, my previous work is quite different from what I do now. But really, it has pulled out the strengths of my previous career — being trained as a journalist and a writer made me good at research, observing, listening at many layers and asking great questions, my marketing roles were all about strategy and creativity— and married them with the interests I have always had in learning and growth, psychology, mindfulness, personal growth and how our brains work.
Change is hard from both a practical and mental standpoint, and when we’re reinventing ourselves sometimes that pesky little voice in our head known as imposter syndrome creeps in. Do you have any advice for overcoming imposter syndrome?
I have a lot of feelings about the way we talk about imposter syndrome, because in a sense, it’s a human condition. Especially in periods of change or transition where you may be on the “conscious incompetence” side of the learning, it is easy to focus on what we don’t know or haven’t gotten to yet. I think we do need to normalize this. It comes up a lot, too, when pursuing work you care deeply about, when building legacy or impact. We can learn to quiet our inner perfectionist saboteur, if we tend towards that, and that helps, but so does remembering that this is a part of the reinventing process and it will pass. There are so many tools you can use to work with this— one of my favorites is to create separation by giving that imposter voice a name and a character. You can dialogue or journal with it, or just ignore her when she pipes up. One of my clients regularly sends her imposter on virtual vacation — you know, sometimes we just want to give her a week off.
Sometimes we are in love with our line of work, but find ourselves in a mental rut. Are there any exercises or activities you’d recommend to help fall back in love with the journey?
Yes! This is where meaningful self-care and proactively managing your personal energy comes in. When we’re not feeling nourished, mental ruts are very easy to fall into. I am also a fan of job crafting — redesigning your job based on your strengths and interests. So often, those small changes we can make by doing more work in our strengths or delegating the energy-draining projects can make a huge difference.
One of your books focuses on self-care for high performers. What can we do to integrate self-care into our everyday routines?
We need to make it both nonnegotiable and meaningful. I encourage people to throw out all the complicated self-care routines and all the noise about what they think they should be doing for self-care. Really we want to bring the “self” back into self-care — we often know what nourishes us the most and we are the ones we need to listen to. Start there. Do that. And then you can build on it. In the book, the Nourish model builds in balance by choosing something to nourish your mind, body, spirit and environment — and leveraging behavioral science research to establish those habits in realistic, tiny timeframes. That means starting small, making it personally meaningful, and not overloading yourself with all the things. Integrate a couple of changes that have a real impact on how you feel, and then you can always add to that as you go.
Any final words of wisdom?
Reinvention isn’t always a big leap; it’s a lifelong journey. And it is always a good time to reinvent whatever isn’t nourishing your life.