Listening to your gut—or not.

Suppose you’re in a car with me and we get lost. No problem—just ask me which way to go. Then do the opposite.

As my wife will tell you, I have no sense of direction. “But what’s impressive,” she says, “is that never stops you from having an opinion.”

Are you unsure which way to go in your career? Maybe you’ve got a few options, and you’re weighing the pros and cons.

“I have always found it advantageous,” said Sigmund Freud, “to consider all the pros and cons.” Except, he said, for any decision that’s important.

Big decisions require more than logic. Let’s talk gut. Sometimes called your second brain, your gut has more neurons (nerve cells) than you can shake a stick at—more than your spinal cord.


You can know something with your gut, with your body, before your regular brain kicks in.

Your bodily sense of a problem or situation can be subtle, says psychologist Eugene Gendlin (author, “Focusing”). But notice how your bodily sense of “Monday” is different than “Friday,” just as July feels different, not just hotter, than September.

You probably have a bodily sense of your career options.

A few years ago, I was offered a senior position at a large company. I was tempted, so I went to a career coach to talk it through.

That’s a useful exercise. Even if the coach says absolutely nothing, you get to hear yourself think—with both brains. It’s not just what you say, but how you feel in your body while you’re saying it.


I talked to the coach about taking the job for a year or two, then going back to consulting.

“Sounds like you’re already plotting your escape,” she said. “Like prison.”

“Yes,” I said. “But it would be a very comfortable, minimum security prison.”

So I turned the job down. I’d known all along I didn’t really want it, without knowing that I knew. It’s easy to miss the subtle signals; they get drowned out by the noise of everyday life.

Tip: Your gut may be absolutely right, or dead wrong.

Consider your track record. Let’s assume your gut is more reliable—and worth listening to—in some areas of your life than others. But which areas? Work? Romance? Money?


If you’re not sure, start making predictions, based on your gut, and keep score—e.g. that job will work out, this relationship won’t, and if we just turn left at the next light, we’ll end up home. Or in Montana.

© Copyright 2013 Paul Hellman. All rights reserved.

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