Thrilled to have connected with Megan Hellerer on IG, and that she was equally excited to share parts of her career journey with us. As a counselor myself (college and early career), and someone who felt terribly underwhelmed in previous roles, Megan’s journey helped me see my own in a new light. I hope you not only give her interview a read but also share it with others. I also encourage you to read more about her course, WTF Am I Doing With My Life? Her next class starts 9/26, so don’t wait to learn more! If you are thinking about a career shift, the time is almost always now.
Thank you, Megan! You rock.
Name: Megan Hellerer
Location: New York, NY
Education: B.A from Stanford
How did you determine what you wanted to study in college?
Let me first say that I don’t recommend my approach! I spent a lot of time thinking about what I “should” do, what I was “supposed” to do, what was the “right” major, and what was practical and marketable, etc., which I would not recommend.
I went into college thinking that I really want to be a writer and/or a journalist. I started as a creative writing major but quickly abandoned that mostly because writing, for me at least, can be such an isolating endeavor that didn’t fit with what I wanted to be experiencing at my life at the time.
I switched to international relations for a few very well-thought out reasons: 1) I thought maybe I’d be a journalist (and I did do internships writing for local newspapers and NBC nightly news in college in efforts to pursue this…and I wasn’t lit up by it.) 2) I wanted to study abroad, and this was one of the only majors that actually gave you credit for doing that, and ) -it was one of the few interdisciplinary majors, so it felt like I didn’t actually have to choose and was sort of punting on a decision I had no idea how to make. (I could take history, literature, writing, econ, art history, women’s studies, and pretty much justify any class I wanted to take, as I could customize my focus area.)
In hindsight, the thing that I could have noticed or followed more deeply, that I truly totally missed and didn’t even enter on my radar, was my interest in psychology and personal development. I was a “peer leader” in high school, which was basically group process therapy for younger students, and had always been obsessed with these topics. It was more a crisis of imagination and just a lack of exposure. Somehow I’d never known someone who was a psychologist or had studied/researched human behaviors, and the couple of times I had heard it mentioned it was mentioned as a “cop-out” major in college.
I hadn’t really learned how to think about or ask myself what it was that I am uniquely well-suited to do, and what really lit me up and made me feel most alive and most curious, which I felt was irrelevant to “work” and “career” (because work was hard and meant to be a struggle and so those things had nothing to do with “work”.)
Can you walk me through your initial job search strategy and how you landed your first full-time role?
Very similar to the above major selecting, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I “should” do, what I was “supposed” to do, what was the “right” and most “strategic” professional experience to have, which I would not recommend. I really had no idea how to look for a job or what I wanted to do, and I really didn’t know where to go for guidance. So, I looked to what others were doing around me, assumed that they knew what they were doing more than I did (they did not), and tried to follow along what seemed like the “right” path. Mostly, I just didn’t want to “mess up” my whole future, and it really felt to me like my whole future was riding on this one first job. (This is most certainly not true, BTW!)
Many people around me were interviewing for consulting jobs (Bain, McKinsey etc.), which was one of the few things that hired way before graduation. I thought it would be pretty great to have a job that far in advance, and so I attempted to go through the application process. I failed miserably, and though I did a decent job of convincing myself that I was excited about it, in truth, I really really was not.
There was not a lot of intentionality or consciousness behind my decision to apply to Google, but there was actually a lot of synchronicity in getting my job at Google. Remember that I was at Stanford, in Silicon Valley, in 2006, not too long after the IPO. Tech was just becoming a “thing”, and Google wasn’t much more than a search and search ads company at the time. I wasn’t particularly passionate about tech, or business, and wasn’t an engineer/technical, but I ran into someone I had known who had just graduated and started at Google with a similar background and was loving it. He offered to submit my resume and I forwarded it to him not thinking much about it.
Soon after that, I was offered an interview and I did not think that I would get an offer. That night, however, my NYC high school was having a rare alumnae event in San Francisco, which I decided to attend at the last minute. Coincidentally, one of the women that I met there was good friends with one of the people that had interviewed me at Google that very day. The next day, I got an offer from Google, for more money than I ever expected to be making right out of school, and it seemed like the obvious, “responsible” choice to make.
So, people really want to work at Google, where you spent quite a few years. Did you have a WTF am I doing with my life moment while working there, or did your transition out and into the coaching world happen more over time?
It was both a long, slow disintegration and there was also a decisive moment. I left Google, though, with no plan, so I didn’t leave Google “for coaching”. I left Google, really, to save my life. Perhaps that sounds dramatic, but I mean it genuinely. My mental health, and eventually, my physical health, was disintegrating. Nothing in my life was working anymore, and though I appeared functional I was barely functional.
Truly, from day one, I knew that it was probably not leading to my “purpose” or my “passion”. I didn’t feel like, “oh, I am home. This is where I am meant to be and what I’m meant to be doing.” BUT, I also didn’t know that it was even possible or desirable to feel that way at work. I figured I was supposed to feel sort of unfulfilled and stifled and only one part of myself, and performing and being who people wanted and needed me to be. And I was really good at doing all those things!
I hit a breaking point when the product/team I was working on failed and “sunset” and I had to find a new job at Google. I had many internal offers and I couldn’t decide, because, in hindsight, I wanted none of them. I actually tried to quit, and applied to do a volunteer fellowship in microfinance abroad, and was then convinced that that would be the worst possible thing for my career and I’d never be able to recover from it. And, for some reason, I listened and stayed. For four more years.
Those last four years, honestly, there was not a day when I did not ask myself “wtf am I doing with my life?”
I was there for eight years, so in some ways, it was an eight-year process of leaving. It was four years from when I first tried to quit and was convinced to stay and move back to NYC. It was one year from when I first took a sabbatical leave until I officially resigned.
To give you a sense of just how fraught it was for me, even on sabbatical, I was agonizing about going back. Everything in me said DO NOT GO BACK, but my fear-based ego brain was terrified to leave and I kept trying to convince myself that I could go back and it would be different. It’s somewhat analogous to an abusive spouse with the sensation of the golden handcuffs. Not one person was encouraging me to leave, and everyone thought I was totally nuts and kept saying I should just go back and collect a paycheck while I look for other things. I had not had any time off (save a week vacation to the beach here and there) since starting Google the day after I graduated from college. I had no idea how to construct my days when they weren’t dictated by someone else. I was terrified of every AND I had such PTSD from hating work so much that the thought of starting “a job” somewhere else was even WORSE. It sounds so obvious in hindsight, but like an abusive spouse where it looks obvious to everyone else, my nervous system couldn’t understand what it would even mean to exist without Google. It felt to me like I would truly die/cease to exist. I thought I would be disappointing everyone. That it would mean that I was a complete failure. And, that it was “too late” for me to recover from something like this (at 29).
The quitting “moment” was when I called HR to ask if I could extend my sabbatical leave for another month. I can remember exactly what I was wearing, where I was standing. I had no intention of quitting that Friday. But, she said, that they would need me to be back on Monday. Without even thinking, I said, “I’m sorry, but I can’t do that.”
And, THAT was the big anticlimactic moment of me quitting.
I knew immediately that it was the right thing and I felt incredible relief that the decision had been made, BUT I had zero idea of what to do next or how I would support myself. So the next days were spent not rejoicing, but crying terrified in a ball on the bathroom floor.
The smartest thing I decided was to commit myself to not to look for a job or do any interviews or update my resume for 6 months (sold Google stock/dug into savings) because I knew I’d get scared, take the first thing that came my way, and find myself miserable and falling apart again, which wouldn’t serve anyone.
Then, I set out to figure out WTF I was doing with my life, and ask questions and dig in and do some hardcore self-reflection and introspection and getting brutally and radically honest with myself in a way I never had before.
What was the hardest part of getting your coaching business up and running? Any failures or doubts along the way and if so, what did you learn from them?
Getting out of my own way was by far the hardest part of starting my coaching business. It wasn’t getting clients, or marketing, or learning to coach, or my business plan. In hindsight, there were so many “breadcrumbs” and I was clearly being led towards this, as a calling.
We all have a “saboteur” or the fearful self that just wants to keep us alive and safe. However, it was built to keep us safe from threats on our life when we come out of the cave or are hunting and gathering, not threats to our ego, like a failure, or humiliation, or vulnerability. That voice gets really loud when we are doing anything new that doesn’t have a certain and easily anticipated outcome. Today, this protective voice is the biggest sabotage to our success, fulfillment, and aligned achievement.
So, learning to notice, and manage, and work with my “saboteur” and work with my mind was the biggest challenge. It is the most important entrepreneurial skill I know.
For me, it wasn’t even that I doubted my actual coaching abilities. My fearful saboteur showed up more in my questioning of the legitimacy of coaching as a path and as a sustainable business and way to support myself. My saboteur was saying: “Who goes to Stanford and becomes a coach?!” “This isn’t a legit career path” and “There’s no way you can support yourself as a coach”.
Obviously, all of this turned out to be false, and I’m so glad that I didn’t listen to this saboteur’s voice!
What advice do you have for young women who want to launch their own venture, big or small?
1) Learn self-mastery, to work with your mind, so that you can get out of your own way and not sabotage your own success. (see above)
2) Develop your intuition or your inner GPS; build trust in your own inner knowing; cultivate conditions for creativity (Another side of the same coin of #1)
Entrepreneurship is by definition, a creative process. It means creating something from scratch, in the same way a writer creates a book from a blank page, or a painter makes a painting from a blank canvas. Creativity is not a “logical, linear” endeavor and it requires a connection beyond your thinking brain to do it well! (The thinking brain, execution part, comes later!)
3) Take action and let go of results. Be process-oriented, not outcome-oriented.
Your job is not to determine the outcome. Your job is to take the single next right action. People who have the most success are those that are process-oriented, not outcome-oriented. I know this is shocking because we are taught that we must have a very specific plan, but in truth, that is the enemy of invention! My job was not to decide if I would have a full-fledged coaching practice and coaching career. It was to coach 1 single client. It was to go to the next coaching workshop in a series. And then let go of the results.
4) When something is aligned, it will feel “light and right”. Take the path of most ease.
5) Build the thing that you cannot build. If you’re not sure, keep taking one small action at a time until you are.
6)The question is not, “what if I fail?” It should be, “what if I don’t try?”
7) If something is meant to be, you can’t screw it up. If it is not, you won’t be able to make it work.
8) You can always “refund your misery” and go back to whatever you were doing before. Nothing is permanent.
9) There is an opportunity cost to doing work you hate: your fulfillment, your integrity, and your joy.
10) It is not selfish to follow your curiosity, do what you love doing and being fulfilled by your work. In fact, it is the most generous thing you can do for others. What is actually selfish is to withhold your capabilities, your talents and your potential from the world.
Speaking of WTF moments, you recently launched the aptly named course/program, WTF Am I Doing with My Life. Tell me more about it and how it came to be.
I created this course to be what I needed, and couldn’t find, 5, 7, 10 years ago when I was miserable at Google for eight whole years after graduating from Stanford and working my butt off for as long as I could remember. I was living a great life, it just wasn’t my life. I was so ashamed of my unhappiness and inability to “unstuck” myself, that my health even started to suffer and I was deeply depressed and having anxiety attacks regularly.
This course, WTF Am I Doing With My Life?, and my private coaching practice for under fulfilled overachievers, grew out of my own desire and need to help myself navigate towards a more fulfilled, purposeful and conscious existence where I was thriving, not just surviving, when therapy, meditation and the other resources available weren’t doing the trick on their own.
I’m only one human and there are only so many people I can reach in my private coaching practice. There came a point where I realized that I had actually developed a pretty robust and unique body of work, a core methodology, and I wanted to find a way to bring it all together in a comprehensive form that would be more accessible and more affordable than my private coaching. I wanted it to be sort of like “self-study”, or “take-home” coaching, that is highly actionable and essentially a step-by-step guide to conscious career building and success. It has all the tips and tricks, frameworks, concepts, exercises, and visualizations that I work through with private clients, and in fact, now I’m generally requesting that all of my new private clients enroll and complete the curriculum, so that they are super well-versed in my methodology and approach before we even start with 1:1 coaching, so that we can really hit the ground running.
My goal and my big challenge was to make a program that would actually give you the tools to transform your career, not just think about or learn about how you might do that. And, the results have been truly astounding! It’s far exceeded my own hopes of even what would be possible in personal transformation in this medium, and I’m SO proud and impressed by all the WTF graduates.
I can’t wait to see what this new fall cohort will bring!
You’ve coached ambitious, successful, and generally badass women. Why is this work, and supporting women specifically, so meaningful and important to you?
As soon as I started sharing my own story about how deeply unhappy and stuck I was in my “great job”, women started coming out of the woodwork to share their similar stories, and I realized just how many incredibly talented, brilliant, creative, ambitious women were suffering in their careers, It is pervasive, and it is an epidemic.
First and foremost, it became my mission to make sure that no one would have to be as to go through what I did–miserable, ashamed, isolated, and struggling with her mental health to debilitating levels. It became my mission to end “career suffering”. There is so much suffering in life that is unavoidable, suffering in our careers is just not one of those places.
Second, career suffering doesn’t just affect the individual, or the individual when she’s at work, for example. There’s a ripple effect and it affects our ability to show up for our entire lives–our relationships, our friendships, our families, our communities. It’s pretty much impossible to live a whole-hearted, full and authentic life if you are miserable at work. What I quickly began to observe is that when women learned new ways of being with themselves and their careers, their whole lives changed. They were able to cultivate not only more consciousness in their careers, but use those same skills to cultivate more consciousness in their relationships and their whole lives, which led to more connection, more intimacy, and more overall life satisfaction. In a time when people are feeling more disconnected than ever, and our mental health is more of a struggle than ever, “doing the work” around career has a much more far-reaching positive and cumulative effect than on just “career”, or even just the individual.
To take that one step further, I believe strongly that the best way we can serve our communities and our world is to “do the work” to find the career that we are uniquely well-suited to do in the world. We tend to think of “loving our work” as a ‘selfish’ desire, but in fact, it is just the opposite. We aren’t helping anyone when we are limiting our potential by staying in jobs that don’t allow us to contribute fully.
Choosing to live and work in a way that is uniquely well-suited to you is a deeply radical act. To learn how to live and work consciously and intentionally is a deeply radical act. We are not taught how to do this and deeply discouraged because it doesn’t benefit the institutions, traditional structures, and those in power for us to ask these questions about what we really want, and self-determining what authenticity and integrity look like to us because it requires challenging the way things have been done. The way things have been done is not working. Clearly. It’s not working for so many of us, but it is most definitely not working for women.
In short, this work is important and meaningful to me because I believe that it is one of the paths to changing the world 😉
What’s one foundational piece of advice for young women as they navigate searches in these areas of their lives?
If there was only one piece of advice I could give, one mantra I could instill, it would be:
“Forget your ‘passion’, Follow your curiosity.”
There’s so much pressure to figure out what your “passion” or your “purpose” is, as if that is a knowable thing in the short-term and destination that you can achieve–that you must achieve–before you can begin to do meaningful work. You’ll hear “follow your bliss” or “find your passion”. I always felt like, cool, cool, but a) how the hell do I do that, and b) if I knew what that was, I would be freaking doing it, and not stuck here searching for it!, and c) I have many passions!
Curiosity, on the other hand, is the best proxy we have for the path towards ‘purpose’ and the steps that will lead us to purposeful, passionate, fulfilling and impactful work.
I call this the Purpose Proxy Principle (PPP), and it is one of the key foundational tenets of our Conscious Career philosophy.
This sounds simple, but it can be really difficult and requires some reprogramming, as most of us have been taught to regard our curiosity as a distraction from “real” work, and that we play out our curiosity in our hobbies (and these days, our “side hustle”.) That curiosity is kid stuff, and not for serious, responsible adults, and doesn’t have a place in the “working world”.
So, what does it mean to “follow your curiosity”? What exactly would that look like? In the words of Marie Kondo, it means to pursue what “sparks joy” for you, even if it doesn’t seem to be “career-related”. It means to play a game of “warmer-colder” in your daily life, with your activities, your classes, your tasks, your relationships, your social life.
Curiosity is something we feel, rather than to think about what “makes sense” or is “strategic” or “right”. Some people have described it as getting “pinged”.
Passion, and purpose, are things that unfold, as we go. There isn’t a single destination of “I have arrived at my ‘Passion’”, so check that box, and now I may proceed with doing fulfilling and impactful work. You’ll be searching for a long time, be incredibly frustrated, and miss out on many years of what could have been joy-sparking, and impactful, work!
Do you have a mentor? Who do you look to for inspiration and support?
I subscribe to the “it takes a village” approach and strongly advocate that every woman have a “sanity squad” and “a board of advisors”.
A Sanity Squad is more support on who and how you are or the “being” part of life. It pertains to the cultivation of creativity and wholeness of your core self. These people are likely to have similar lifestyle values, philosophical outlooks, and approaches to life and career. This tends to be more for emotional, mental and creative support. These are the people who know the most authentic “you”, and can quickly and easily see when your saboteur has arrived and you are getting in your own way. When you are with “sanity squad” members, you may feel like, “Exhale. All is well and I am exactly where I am supposed to be and I am aligned and on the right path”.
The Board pertains more to the execution, building and “doing” part of life, who will support you in getting into action. This is more for professional support, guidance, and expertise. You typically leave them feeling invigorated and motivated, and thinking, “YES! Let’s do this! I can absolutely make this happen!” They make great brainstorm buddies for growth and new opportunities. They are more likely to have similar or relevant professional experience.
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