Do Your Pajamas Spark Joy? And Other Key Career Questions



jump for joy 2 pixabay

I have two questions for you, dear readers,

“Do your pajamas spark joy?” And….

“Is there room for your rocks in your container of life?”

These are two questions you should be asking yourself if you want to jump- start your career change process.

Sounds as if I’ve gone nuts, I am sure, unless you’ve read Marie Kondo’s, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and Stephen Covey’s, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Hang with me. I promise I’ll connect the dots.

The topic for today is how creating space in both our home environment and schedule invites in new opportunities and positive change. When our closets and drawers are stuffed full, and our schedule packed with obligations, there is little room for something new to enter in. It’s very difficult to give time and attention to anything other than not falling off the hamster wheel.

Marie Kondo’s book urges clutter-free-wanna-be clients to systematically go through everything they own and ask a simple, yet powerful question:

“Does this ________ (insert book, T-shirt, DVD, pair of pajamas, old love letter, etc.) spark joy?”

She uses this question as a test to determine whether or not an item should stay or go. While it may feel odd to ask if your Tupperware sparks joy, I see merit to the question. I like it because it challenges me to notice what my relationship is to all the things in my environment. Am I hanging onto things because keeping them is easier than dealing with them? Do I have more than I need? Do I get a spark of joy when I look at the knickknacks on my shelf, or are they just gathering dust?

When we have too much of anything, whether it’s clothes, lipsticks, CD’s or old papers, we don’t fully appreciate what we have. The value of the individual item is diminished. The more we acquire, the more time we spend purchasing, cleaning, maintaining and storing things. And periodically we have to go through everything and do the big declutter.

When I was reading Kondo’s book, I did an experiment. I separated my clothes into two closets. The clothes I really enjoy wearing and feel good in (the sparky ones) went in one closet. The others that were low on the “spark-o-meter” were hung in another.

When I opened the “sparking joy” closet, my energy perked up. The clothes looked like they belonged together and I was excited to pick something out. When I peered into the other closet, my shoulders drooped. The clothes were kind of ho-hum and I felt I was looking at a Goodwill rack. They weren’t the clothes I felt my best in. After a week of this experiment, and no change in my feelings, I bagged up the ho-hum clothes and gave them away. As soon as they were gone, it was as if a weight had been lifted. Those clothes had been extracting an energy tax, as well as taking up space.

A home with only what you need and love feels peaceful and light. Here it is easier to focus; there is a feeling of calm and order. This kind of environment will support you in whatever changes you want to make.

Now on to the rocks.

The second part of creating space, the rocks and container part, has to do with getting clear on what is most important to you, and making sure you put these things into your schedule first.

In his 7 Habits book, Stephen Covey uses a parable involving putting rocks, pebbles, sand, and water into a container to illustrate the value of prioritizing what matters most in your day-to-day life. The rocks represent what is most important to you, and the pebbles, sand, and water, are everything else you have to do. If you don’t put the rocks in your container first, but try to stuff them in around the sand and pebbles, you won’t get your rocks in.

Your rocks could represent time for meaningful relationships, healthy living, completing a project, focusing on spirituality, or anything that really matters to you. For many of you, it may be allotting time to reinvigorate your career or change its direction. A rock can even be a space-holder. For example, you may want to have more creativity or adventure in your life, but have no idea what this would look like. You can put in a rock to hold this time for you while you figure out the specifics.

In my own experience, it was only in hindsight that I learned about the power of these principles. When I was in limbo after selling my dermatology practice, I downsized from a 2,400 square foot house to a tiny cabin. I got rid of most of my possessions. I emptied out my container and took time deciding what to put back in. For a while, there was a lot of space in my container. And then one day, rather unexpectedly, a new career direction emerged out of that space.

There’s no need to go to the extremes I did. It’s not practical, nor desirable for most. I see people making powerful changes all the time, and no one yet has moved into a cabin. (And I’ve moved out of mine). But I do hear about a lot of good closet cleaning, renovations, and just plain saying “no” to things that no longer serve a purpose.

So get out the spark-o-meter, go through your house, and see what moves the needle. Find a beautiful glass container, select your rocks, and make sure to put them in first. If you want, label each rock as a visual reminder of what matters most to you. And go easy on the pebbles and sand….


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  1. Ursula King on January 20, 2016 at 5:04 pm

    Thank you for this food for thought. I agree. The irony of joy is that you have leave the window open. A sealed, weatherproofed life maintains it’s horizon but can become airless, stale. And a medical life can become such a sealed space. Uncritiqued effort to maintain the career because of the hard work that went into creating it has to be justified. The hamster wheel keeps turning.

    I took the plunge to reframe my horizon over the past year or so. In an inelegant series of splashes, I floundered in the fear and guilt of wanting to ‘get out’. Privileged by a medical career, and all the things that went with that, I hesitated to throw anything away. Cluttered by habit and uncertainty, it took illness and a family death to create a place for the rock.

    Many times I reached for that rock to fill the space with what I already knew, the familiar but jaded world I had created. But I resisted (with a little help from my friends) and gradually, my world opened up. The hamster reclined on a sun lounge with a funky pair of sunglasses and a bikini, and the wheel got dismantled. Not quite sure what to do with the bits, I kept them ‘just in case’. At first, I used them to bridge my tentative transition. I quickly realised that was only leading me down similar paths, not the substantive change I was seeking. I tried, I failed, I questioned my sanity, and all the while the universe had the good grace just to keep the rock there.

    And now I’m a hybrid self. Happier than I have ever been, and calmer, more present, and, yes, joyful. Still figuring out how to mix my paint pot of options, I am learning to listen to my heart more than my head (that was the hardest part). Creating the space was the key. The rock gave me that. And not for a second do I miss that hamster wheel.

    • Heather Fork on January 22, 2016 at 11:51 am

      Ursula King, thank you for this most creatively written response to the Sparking Pajama post! I loved the way you told your story with such a great use of images and metaphor. You have a gift for written expression. I am really happy your hamster wheel got dismantled and your windows opened up to let in abundant joy. Keep on listening to this awakened heart of yours and I am sure you will be painting quite a lovely life of colors and possibilities.

  2. maduarte on February 19, 2017 at 10:18 am

    “If you don’t put the rocks in your container first, but try to stuff them in around the sand and pebbles, you won’t get your rocks in”
    I disagree:

    • Heather Fork on February 19, 2017 at 3:15 pm

      Thank you Marleen for your comment and reading the post. Do you want to elaborate? I like Stephen Covey’s metaphor of putting our rocks in the container first, i.e., prioritizing what is important to us in life, as one approach to not letting everything else in life crowd out what we are really wanting to do, be or have. But if you have a system that works better for you – great! Please feel free to share.

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I had been a practicing Internist for 20 years when I reached a point when I needed to make a serious change in my career path. While I enjoyed seeing patients, I was not satisfied with my life-work balance. My job was taking me away from my family and left me little time and energy to do other things that are important and meaningful to me. I came across Dr. Fork's podcast; The Doctor's Crossing Carpe Diem Podcast, it is such an informative and enjoyable podcast for any physician who wants to do more with their career and life in general. Then I had the pleasure to get career coaching from Heather, it was truly an amazing experience. Heather has broad knowledge of all the different career paths that are available for physicians, she is so insightful and very easy to talk to. She helped me clarify my goals, examine my own mindset and definition of success. Together we developed a clear plan and actionable steps to reach these goals. I eventually made a career transition to a remote non-clinical position that allows me to do meaningful work which aligns with my personal and professional goals and priorities. 

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