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How I Learned to Listen to What My Gut Was Telling Me

5 minute read

I was 24 and living in Manhattan. I owned a great apartment on the Upper East Side and had a fantastic job at a leading investment bank. On the outside, everything seemed perfect. But on the inside, I had this nagging feeling that something wasn’t quite right.

So I left New York City. Listening to your gut isn’t always easy. But when you do, when you don’t give up until you finally truly hear it and then follow it, you will never be happier or more fulfilled. These are the steps that helped me get to that place.

Start small
If you’re not 100% sure what it is that needs to change or if you do know but are scared to take a big leap, make small changes to see how it feels. I started with putting my apartment on the market. I thought to myself, “Maybe it’s the burden of a mortgage that’s causing me stress.” But as I started to look at more affordable places to live, I didn’t get the sense I was on the right track. So I decided to look for another job. I got a great job offer at another investment bank, but that still didn’t hit the mark. They both helped point to what I ultimately realized: I needed to get out of the city (more on that below).

Watch some of the world’s most successful women share the best advice they’ve ever gotten:

Take a break
If nothing is hitting home, like in my situation, take some time to reflect on your life away from the day-to-day grind. You don’t need to fly to the nearest beach or take up yoga (although both would help!). Work within your means and your vacation days: A bed and breakfast a few hours away works well. Luckily (and serendipitously), I had a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Australia planned with my sister. I came home from that trip with more clarity and knew that I needed a break from living in New York City. I also found myself fantasizing about what life as a backpacker would be like and realized that maybe that was it…I needed to travel.

Talk about your change out loud
See how it feels to talk about what’s running around in your head (with people you trust). It may sound ludicrous and irrelevant once you say it. Or it may get your heart racing to think about it seriously. The latter was my experience. The most powerful and influential reaction came from my mom: I told her about my idea of selling everything and backpacking around the world for a couple of years, and her instantaneous reaction of excitement and applause (she claps a lot) filled me with confidence that I could do it. The excitement and support followed from all angles, and everything started falling into place. I finally felt like I was heading in the right direction.

Read more: How to Spend Less Time Working and More Time Enjoying Your Life

Make a list of the things you want to change or experience
It’s something so simple, but if the change is big, you may get caught up in other matters that distract you from why you’re making it in the first place. Or unexpected challenges may arise that can distract you from making the change. I remember sitting at a local bar with my cousin and writing down all the places I wanted to see and things I wanted to do, like climb to Base Camp Mt. Everest and volunteer in the Tsunami-impacted parts of Thailand. That list kept me focused and inspired as I sold everything I owned—and I still have it, 10 years later.

Take a deep breath, and do it
Decide the day that’s going to be “the day,” and stick to it. I can still remember waving goodbye to my family at JFK Airport on July 6, 2005. I landed in Auckland, New Zealand, my first stop. I was scared like crazy, but I had my list. That list turned out to be my strength and my compass when I wanted to go back to my old ways.

Read more: How to Break Free From a Culture of Busy-ness

I finally got to the root of what my gut was saying, nearly five months after I’d left New York. I was in Kathmandu, about to depart for Base Camp Mount Everest the next morning, and I realized that I’d be happiest if I stayed in Melbourne, Australia. Something about that city locked me in. I applied for a job before going up the mountain, and when I came back down, there was an email about a job interview waiting for me. On March 15, 2005, I started my new job in Melbourne—where I now happily reside with my husband.

Listening to your gut will be scary at first; you’ll feel like you’re crazy. In fact, people who you love, trust and value may tell you that you’re insane, stupid or naïve. Shut them out, and follow your intuition; it’ll be the voice deep down in there cheering you ahead.

Tammy is the CEO of ANZ Bank (Lao) Ltd. and a director on various boards in Asia. She is a featured speaker and advocate for gender equality in the private sector.

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