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Patricia Thompson PhD

Dr. Patricia Thompson,

It is an honor to get to know you a little bit deeper through this interview. Besides, I wish to thank you for the time you dedicate to answer these questions.

You have accomplished remarkable things in life. However, you mention something meaningful in one of your articles “How You Can Find Yourself By Losing Yourself”:

Being an achiever was an integral part of my identity. Yet, after a while, it started to become confining”

It seems to me that this is a common feeling for some people.

What would you say to a person who starts to feel this sort of discomfort?

I think it comes down to what’s driving you to achieve. For many people, the reasons for their achievements have to do with intrinsic motivation. For example, perhaps they want to challenge themselves to see what they’re able to accomplish. Or, they might have some sort of compelling goal that’s inspiring them to move forward.

In my case, my motivations weren’t entirely intrinsic. In fact, I think a lot of my achievements came simply because that’s what was expected of me. I was seen as “smart” and musically talented so the expectation was that I was supposed to do well in school, get a good education, and use my talents. And, because it seemed like that’s what everyone else expected of me, for as long as I could remember, I didn’t put much thought into why I was doing it.

The problem was, because I was often striving for achievement for achievement’s sake, it made me less prone to seek out experiences in which I might not succeed. After all, if I tried out something and didn’t do well, then that would be very much at odds with my perception of who I was. As you might imagine, that fear of failure was very limiting.

I would tell someone who is experiencing similar feelings to reflect on their “why.” Why is achieving so important to you? Then, as I did, I would also encourage them to think about the ways that that their focus on achievement might be holding them back. Is it causing them to miss out on opportunities? Does it make them have unrealistic expectations in their lives? Does it cause them to overlook progress and the appreciation of the journey if they haven’t yet reached their goals?

The fact is, I’m truly in support of people realizing their potentials and accomplishing the goals that they set for themselves. But, again, the key question is what’s motivating it? When you give yourself the opportunity to take on stretch challenges that you may or may not succeed at, that’s when you’ll experience the most growth in your life. And, I think that when you’re compassionate with yourself, through successes and failures, you set the stage for living a much richer and happier life. I’m proud to say that now, my desire for achievement stems from intrinsic motivation, and it is so much more rewarding and enjoyable this way!

How would you define the term “Joy”? Why is this so important to have success in life?

My definition of joy is a combination of positive emotions – feelings of deep contentment, happiness, and even some excitement. It’s that feeling you have when you’re satisfied with what you’re doing, and positively anticipating what’s next.

Joy is important for a successful life because it can act as a powerful source of motivation. If you are enjoying what you’re doing, it encourages you to do more of it. And, in so doing, you’re able to improve your skill level and achieve greater mastery in your field. The anticipatory aspect of joy can also encourage you to seek out new experiences, so that you’ll continue to grow.Finally, I’ve found that joy is often infectious. When others see that you are passionate about an issue and experiencing a lot of pleasure in your journey, it often compels them to want to take part too. So, it can serve as a catalyst for broadening your network and getting more support along the way

Dr. Thompson, you are also an executive Coach. What does it mean to be an Executive Coach?

As an executive coach, I work mostly with professionals, helping them to be more effective in their jobs. While that might sound straightforward, there are aspects of art and science to the work that I do. From a scientific perspective, I like to use research-based methods along with personality testing to help my clients to gain a deep understanding of themselves. We also set goals, and if people are so inclined, create action plans to help them to achieve them. So, there’s definitely some structure to it.

At the same time, there’s an art to it as well. I strive to meet people where they’re at, and encourage a lot of self-reflection to deepen their insights. We look at their beliefs, triggers, and hang-ups that may be holding them back from fulfilling their potential. We focus on how they want to show up as a leader and in the world in general, so that they have a vision as they are working on self-development. I also often draw on positive psychology techniques during our sessions.

What I love about executive coaching, is that it has a lot of ripple effects. The people I work with spend a lot of time at work, and many are leaders. So, as they get better at their jobs and happier with what they’re doing, it has an impact on the people around them. If they are leaders, it has a direct effect on the people who report to them, because they are now working for someone who is more emotionally intelligent. Also, when my clients are less stressed and feeling more mastery and fulfillment at work, it has a carryover effect into their personal lives. Their family members get to interact with a happier person, who is able to apply a lot of the interpersonal skills they are developing in the office, in the home. That’s why I love what I do – it really has the potential to impact communities.

In your article “How You Can Find Yourself By Losing Yourself” you write the following sentence:

I whispered to him that he could do anything he desired. I encouraged him to go after his dreams and live out his passions. I told him he was uniquely talented, and that he needed to use his gifts to the best of his ability. In other words, I told him to do everything I wasn’t doing.”

Why does a simple thought of leaving our own comfort-zone generates a sense of fear? Where does this fear come from?

I once heard someone say that instead of using the term “comfort zone,” we should use the term “familiarity zone.” We often stay in situations because they’re familiar – but not particularly comfortable!

I think what we are really afraid of, is uncertainty and the unknown. Many of us crave security – and there are definitely good reasons for it. It’s adaptive to keep ourselves safe. After all, if we can predict what’s going to happen in our environment, we can do a better job of navigating situations as they arise. This approach certainly makes sense when you’re in a high-threat situation, but often, in our day-to-day lives we may anticipate more threat than there really is.

The problem is, when you strive to stick with the familiar, comfortable, and predictable, there’s a good chance that you’re limiting the possibility of something new and unexpected happening for you. It will cause you to live a “smaller” life. You may avoid making mistakes, or others’ negative perceptions, but you’ll also likely miss out on the opportunity to become all that you could be.

In my case, when I decided to move outside of the familiar and into the unknown, I experienced the most personal growth. And, it gave me much more confidence and resilience, because I knew that I could survive challenges or discomfort. That’s why I love this quote attributed to John A. Shedd, “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” I think we are meant to learn, grow, and have experiences. And that’s why stretching ourselves outside of our comfort zones is so important.

In your article “Work-Life Balance Is a Myth—Aim for Alignment Instead” you give some useful tips about work-life balance and you write the following:

Aim for work-life alignment by crafting a meaningful professional life that matches up with who you are and what’s important to you

It seems that the main difficulty is to get to know who we really are. Often, we make a decision based on what we have been told or taught by family, society, education.

How can we finally overcome this habit?

How can we get to know ourselves in a world where appearance and people’s judgment are so important?

That’s the million-dollar question! If I had a simple answer to this question, I think we would all be better off for it. However, a good first step is to really get in touch with your values. What is truly important to you in your life? While that might seem like a straightforward question, it’s usually the sort of thing that you might have to reflect on over a period of time.

Then, once you’ve determined what your values are, reflect on how much the way you’re living aligns with them. If you were to die a year from now, would you be content with how you’re spending your time and the way that you’re living your life? Often, thinking about your own mortality can be a good wake-up call that can alert you to some much-needed changes that may need to be made to live a more meaningful life.

I also find it useful to think about people I admire, and the sorts of judgments others have about them. The reality is, I can’t think of anyone who hasn’t received negative feedback from others! Even people who aren’t in the public eye are often on the receiving end of judgment.  Once you realize that criticism from others is pretty much inescapable, it can free you up to live life on your own terms. After all, if you’re going to be criticized anyhow, you might as well be criticized for being true to yourself!

Why do you believe Work-Life balance is a Myth?

I don’t necessarily believe that it’s a myth, but I do think that the way we think about it isn’t always realistic. For many jobs, digital connectivity makes it much less likely that you’re going to be able to work 9-5, leave your work completely at the office, and never have it creep over into your home environment. I do believe that setting boundaries is important, but I’ve found that sometimes people feel like they’re failing with respect to work-life balance if they ever work at home, or do something work-related after a certain hour.  That’s why I think our goal should be to try to craft the sort of careers for ourselves that we don’t feel that we have to escape from.

If you truly enjoy what you’re doing, then even if you have to work on something in “off-work” hours, if it captures your imagination or piques your interest, you’ll feel differently about it. You’ll be less likely to resent what you’re doing, and be more likely to look forward to it. It might take some time to craft a career that you enjoy to that level, but even if you take some steps towards developing a side hustle that inspires you, it can help to bring a sense of excitement to your work life.

Another form of judgment is self-judgment. Mindfulness practice helps people discover and overcome self-judgment.

What is your point of view about self-judgment?

Interestingly, even though you might expect that I think that self-judgment is a terrible thing to do (after all I teach people how to be mindful), I don’t necessarily think that all self-judgment is “bad.”

I think that in the right situation, and in small doses, self-judgment can actually serve a useful purpose, in that it can alert us to changes we might need to make in our lives. For example, if I do something hurtful to someone and I feel guilty about it, I might think “I shouldn’t have done that.” That’s a self-judgment. But, that momentary bit of self-judgment could act as a catalyst that causes me to make changes so that I behave differently if a similar situation comes up in the future.

In contrast, self-judgment becomes problematic when we can’t move on from it. For example, a mindful approach to dealing with self-judgment would be to objectively notice the judgment I made, recognize its impact on me, and then decide if there’s something I need to do based on it. Perhaps I would like to behave differently, make different choices, or unpack the beliefs about myself that may have led to the judgment. However, if I stay in a mode of negative self-judgment, then I’m likely to add layers of shame and self-blame into my experience, and in the process, make it harder to move on in a constructive way. At that point, it may become harmful, and may even become paralyzing, because the negative emotions I’m experiencing can get in the way of taking conscious action.

I think self-judgment can be difficult to recognize because it’s so insidious. By the time we reach adulthood, many of us have had a steady diet of messages that have encouraged us to judge ourselves. We’ve had the media and advertisers telling us we’re not good enough so that we’ll feel a need to buy their products. We’ve had well-meaning parents and authority figures making judgments designed to help to make us better people that become our internal soundtracks. The sad thing is that we often take these judgments as gospel truth, and never question them.

Instead of playing the blame game and focusing on where they came from, I think it’s more helpful to increase our awareness of them, and then, learn how to challenge the ones that don’t serve us, so that we can live a happier life. In my mindfulness course, I provide a lot of tools to help people to be able to get more in touch with their self-judgments, and then do something about them. I’ve seen some really great transformations in clients as a result of doing that type of work.

What are you planning for the next future?

I plan to continue executive coaching, consulting to organizations, and writing. I also hope to add a bit more public speaking to my schedule. But, with that said, I also like to leave myself a lot of leeway to stay present and let inspiration take me where it will. So, I’m sure I’ll also be doing some things that I can’t even envision right now!

Stay in touch:

Simone Santarelli

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