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Finding Fulfillment

with Empowerment Expert Lauren Hornacek

Hey goal achievers! Kristen here, and I am wondering, are you working super hard but feeling unfulfilled? Are you chasing your definition of success? Or are you chasing someone else’s definition of success? I recently chatted with Lauren Hornacek, an expert at helping us identify what we really want from our careers and ensure we are living fulfilling lives. 

Lauren is an empowerment expert who works with ambitious women who found success in their careers, and yet are left feeling overwhelmed and unfulfilled. She coaches women who know something needs to change but have no idea where to start. Lauren weaves her professional training with her powerful personal experiences into her work as a coach, and her greatest testament is that she’s been there.

I have also been there – working very hard towards a goal that I thought I wanted. And when I learned to get quiet, trust my intuition and take the biggest risk of my life, I found so much more fulfillment. Lauren knows what it’s like to have everything you thought you wanted yet still feel miserable. More importantly, she knows what to do about it. I wish I knew her a couple of years ago, but I’m so glad I know her now!

Lauren leads an intensive program called Finding Freedom. The course is a four-month program created for women who are deeply committed to building a life that brings them joy and fulfillment. She coaches women to uncover their deepest life desires and the limiting beliefs that have kept them stuck. She helps them see all that is possible for their lives and develops a step-by-step action plan to make it happen. Women who participate in her program walk away with the tools and confidence to make their dreams a reality. I am energized to chat with Lauren and start by recalling how we met.

We are both a part of an organization called Ellevate. And it’s an incredible organization for women who want to grow themselves, their careers, and businesses. Lauren and I joined a workshop, ended up in a breakout room together, and started chatting. She reached out to me to set up another meeting, and I was so grateful! We started talking and had a blast connecting and learning about our businesses. As she told me her story, I thought this is the perfect story to share with my audience. I ask Lauren to begin by sharing what motivated her to start coaching.

Coaching to Find Courage: from Client to Coach

Sure,” Lauren starts. “I guess my journey started when I was working in corporate America. I worked in finance for over ten years. Although I learned a lot of valuable lessons through that experience, there came a point where I was completely miserable. I was chronically exhausted, and it wasn’t working out anymore. And yet, I stayed for another three years because I was terrified. I had no idea what the other side looked like. I had no idea what to do next. So, I really, really struggled with that decision. But eventually, I did leave. I tried a few different things after that and it led me to open my own business, where I hired my first business coach. I think I hired her on May 1st to start working together on June 1st. Little did I know that I would leave my (now) ex-husband in that month, about a week before we started working together. So, we go on the first call, and she’s like, ‘Lauren, nice to meet you. What part of your business do you really want to focus on?’ And meanwhile, I’m in my childhood bedroom, and my whole life just got flipped upside down. I didn’t know which way was up, and I definitely didn’t care about my business! I told her what was going on, and my business coach quickly turned into a life coach. The transformation that I experienced in that time period was unlike anything I had ever experienced before in my life! Had I had those tools when I worked in corporate America, or even before getting separated, I think my life would have been so much different. And I would have been able to make decisions with much more ease. So, I should also throw in there; I was not new to self-help. I mean, I had had a therapist on and off for years, and I read all the books, but coaching really offered me something unique and different. After that experience, I just knew that I needed to help other people. I see my friends, my family, especially in the career space, and they’re overworked, exhausted, and in need of guidance and some love as they figure it out. So that’s what I have now made it my mission to do.”

Lauren mentioned that coaching offered her something unique at a critical time in her life, a time full of so much change and uncertainty. I ask her to share more about what coaching provided.

I think when I look back,” Lauren says, “the big difference was the application of the lessons I was learning. You can read stuff in a book, but it takes a lot of effort to really turn around and apply it in your real life, especially if there’s not someone there to hold you accountable and call you out on your stuff. My life coach was tough with me. Sometimes I got off the call and cried because she told me things I didn’t necessarily want to hear. But they were true. And to hear that was what I needed to make the changes in my life. I needed to really dig deep and see what was going on to make the shifts that I needed to feel fulfilled in whatever it was that I did next.”

To do the work that coaching and growth require takes a lot of courage. Lauren mentioned that she hired her coach and at the time, she and her husband had separated, and she was back in her childhood bedroom. So, I’m guessing this was a very emotion-fueled time, and ask her how she had the courage to grow and work on herself in such a challenging time.

I think I was in such a place of desperation that I almost had no other choice,” Lauren explains. “Like I was so sick of feeling the way I felt that I would have done anything you told me to if you told me I would feel better. It was time to really focus and figure it out. I was so sick of being stuck. I was stuck for years.”

As Lauren did the work, she found that courage worked on getting unstuck, and I’m curious if that is something that she helps her clients with today. 

Yes,” Lauren confirms. “That is where I focus. My clients typically come to me when they’re like, ‘Okay, I know I need to change, but I literally have no idea what to do. I’m afraid to leave my corporate paycheck behind.’ And what if this? And what if that? They start to flirt with something new, and then they run back to their comfort zone. So that’s where we really dive in. And the one thing I should say too is that yeah, this work is uncomfortable. But you know, you’ve experienced it too. It gets so much easier over time. Now when stuff pops up for me, and hey, I’m human too, life coach or not, I move through it sometimes in five minutes, sometimes in five days, but it’s not the months and years that it was in the past.”

I can relate to that story so much. I also came from financial services. I spent over a decade with the same firm, a firm that I truly believed in and loved. There were many times in my professional career where I had this calling on my heart to start a coaching practice. But I was stuck. The fear paralyzed me, and I was so afraid of giving up a consistent, regular paycheck. Even though I knew I wanted more – I wanted more impact. I wanted to build something on my own. I was still so stuck in my own career. And it really took a moment for the universe to smack me on the face! I went after a next-level position, and I didn’t get the job. That was the moment for me where I thought, wait a minute, I have a choice in this situation. I can choose to keep working and building this career to keep trying to get to that next level. Or, I can choose to start my own business and follow that calling that has been on my heart that I kept trying to suppress and push away. I’m curious, how do we get stuck in the first place?

How We Get Stuck (and Unstuck)

It’s a great question,” says Lauren. “I think it’s a lot of things. I think part of it is just the way we’re all raised in society. We’re kind of raised to think that you go to high school and you must get good grades because you must get into a good college. Then you go to college, and you must get good grades because you must get a good job. Then you must get a good job because you must make a lot of money because you must buy a house, and you must get married, and you must have kids. And there are times and ages that you need to do these things by – at least that’s what we’re raised to believe. And I did all those things! I bought my first house at 25. I was married by 27, and he was a great man. Obviously not the right one, but he was a great man. But I think where we get stuck is we don’t necessarily pause and say, ‘Is this what I want?’ And on a deeper level, like do you want a secure job? Yes. Do you want to make money to pay for your lifestyle? Yes. But really dig deep. Like, what else do you want? Do you want to spend time with your family on the weekends? Do you want to eat dinner with your family during the week? Is going to the gym every day important to you? What hour do you like to do that? There is much more to our lives than this career that we’ve been kind of grooming ourselves to have our whole lives. And that’s where I don’t think we do enough work and digging to say like, what is it that lights you up? And what is it that just feels so good in your soul? Instead of chasing the titles and the money and all of the external factors.”

I chased titles. Because in my mind, I viewed people that were in those positions as totally successful. But there is power in perspective. I’ve started to learn that things are not always what they seem. They might have a title and professional prestige. But sometimes, their personal life isn’t the way that they want it to be. Or sometimes they’re on this fast train to burnout. Even all this money that we think we want isn’t giving us the happiness and independence we desire. It is so critical that we all pause to reflect and identify – what does success mean to me? – because what it means to me is different than what it means to you. I’m curious why Lauren thinks that both she and I have chased this traditional definition of success.  

“I think we just don’t know any better,” she states. “We don’t know. No one ever says, ‘How do you want to feel?’ Like your career counselors say, ‘Okay, you’re looking for a job,’ but they don’t ask ‘How do you want to feel in that job?’ Or even more specifically, ‘What’s the impact you want to make?’ I mean, finances are great, and it was impacting somebody somewhere. But I didn’t really see the impact. So, I wasn’t getting lit up by that part of it. And now we have social media. So, we see everybody with all these followers, and all this money and all these external things, but it does not fill your soul. I still drive a Mercedes that is eight years old. It was my last, ‘I’m going to buy happiness’ purchase. And I can tell you from firsthand experience, it doesn’t work. The reason I still have the car is one; it still looks good mostly. And two; because I spent so much money on it! I’m just not giving it up. So, I’m going to hold onto that thing and drive it into the ground.”

I often wonder if we chase material objects because we are so stuck where we are professionally, and we’re so unhappy that we think it will buy us our happiness. I ask Lauren to share her thoughts with someone who may be in that cycle, of trying to buy the fancy car, the big house, and ultimately, happiness. 

“Big Houses Often Have More Problems”: Why You Can’t Buy Happiness

Lauren clarifies that it isn’t necessarily buying the nice things that is a problem, but more about buying them for the wrong reasons. And I agree. I don’t think there’s necessarily anything wrong with buying the fancy handbags, fancy cars, and the big house, but where you get hung up is when you buy them for the wrong reasons. “For example,” she starts, “if you want a big house because you think it’s going to make you happy, big houses often have more problems. So really, get clear on ‘Who am I doing this for?’ Just get clear on the why behind the stuff because, trust me, I still like nice stuff. I’m sure you do, too. I’m just much more intentional when I purchase it.”

I took a course last year at the start of the pandemic through Coursera called The Happiness of Well Being. The course talked about happiness and buying happiness. One of the things that it taught me is that often, it’s experiences that can create more happiness because you have the anticipation leading up to the experience, the experience itself, the photos, and the memories. That was an interesting shift in my mind on experiences versus purchases, to which Lauren agrees.

I ask Lauren how she thinks people can start to evolve their definition of success. 

The Importance of Aligning Your Life with Your Values

I think if you have everything you want, wanted, and you’re still not feeling it, or if you’re wondering if the grass is greener on the other side, like you know, in your gut,” Lauren says. “It’s not something I can even necessarily teach you, but you know in your gut when something’s off. And I typically think that it’s just when your values are misaligned with your lifestyle. There’s no judgment there. It’s just saying that the things that really are the core to your soul are not being fulfilled.”

I think that’s huge. And I want to make sure I capture what Lauren said: when you start to align your values with your lifestyle, it can help you feel greater satisfaction and a deeper level of success. Which leads to my next question, how do we get clear on what our values are?

Lauren explains that there are a few different ways and uses her own experience as an example. “So, when I was working in corporate America,” she starts, “between working and commuting, it was over 65 hours a week. When I did a values assessment, I saw that the most important things to me that really light me up inside are time with family. Also, fitness and health and being active. I think the other words that came up were ‘adventurous’ and ‘connection.’ All these things that were my non-negotiables, I had negotiated away and was just spending all that time at work. And when I did come home, I had no time or energy left to do those other things. So right there, you could just see that there was a misalignment working in that type of job and that it was never going to work for me. But how do you figure that out? I think it’s easiest to work with somebody who can ask you the questions to help you dig deep because we all have blind spots. So even when we try to do the work ourselves, we’ll ask ourselves a question, and then we’re good at lying to ourselves even though we don’t have bad intentions. So having someone to work with, like an accountability partner. Someone that’s going to call you out on your values and really get clear on what things you need in your life to make you happy. I do have a values assessment that I go through with my clients. The whole thing only takes 15 minutes, but they answer a bunch of questions. Then we figure out their top values and their bottom values, or the things that they really don’t care about. And it’s very telling the stuff that comes up. Some are values that serve you and some are values that don’t serve you, which is also interesting. Because sometimes, we chase money because we want security. But that can be based on fear. So, it’s really uncovering that and digging deeper. Okay, we want money, we need money, money is okay. But our motivation for the money, that’s where it can get a little wonky, so we just look at that. And it helps you gain more self-awareness about why you’re doing what you’re doing. Then you can make shifts to be in alignment with what’s going to serve you best.”

I wonder if Lauren can share more about how to tell if a value is serving us or not. 

Sure,” Lauren replies. “So, the program that I work with, has this concept that you’re either born with a value in your DNA, or you acquire a value. And that’s going to come through your life experiences from the time you’re born to all your experiences leading up to wherever you are now. But the ones that are acquired, that’s where it can either be a value that serves you or a value that doesn’t serve you. You would figure that out by looking at this value with curiosity, noticing that it is important to you and asking why. Maybe health and fitness are important to you the same as they are to me. But is it a value that serves you or not? Maybe you work out so much because you’re afraid of what other people think or because you don’t want them to think that you’re overweight. And you just want to have the perfect body. But it’s not for reasons that are supporting you. It’s more out of fear and fear of others and fear of judgment. So that’s a value that you would want to look at and ask how we can shift it to something that’s more in alignment with what serves your greatest good.”

Fear has come up a couple of times. Lauren needed to embrace fear to make a transition in her own career and life. I had to embrace fear to make a transition in my career, so the next logical question is how do we overcome fear?

Overcoming Fear: Just Focus on the Next Step

I think a lot of that is managing your thoughts,” says Lauren. “And having the awareness when fear comes up to see it. You can usually feel it – it comes up – you feel it somewhere in your body. So, let’s say you try to do something new. And suddenly, the alarm bells go off in your head, and maybe your chest tightens, and you get a little short of breath. It happens to all of us. But instead of feeding into that, just go, ‘Oh, I see you. I know what you’re doing. You’re fear.’ Fear tries to keep us safe; it tries to keep us familiar and comfortable. It does not like change at all. So, we have to see it for what it is. And say, ‘Oh, here you are, again, but I’m still going to do the thing.’ My key to success has been to take one step. Don’t worry about all the other steps. Just do the next thing. So, when fear is staring you in the face, and there are like 100 more steps. Don’t even think about the other 99 – just do the next one. And then do the next one. And then do the next one. Over time, that fear diminishes in size. It’s not going to hold you back. Fear is the one place where I see my clients really get challenged. And it is good. It’s part of the process. But they go to do the thing, the fear creeps up, and they’re like, ‘Oh no. I can’t do it’ and they run back to safety. But it’s like no, just see it. Just one more step. Just really simplify the process. Don’t overthink it.”

That is such sage advice because I think all of us have times in our lives where we get an idea, or we start listening to that intuition. There’s that moment of energy and excitement. And you’re like, “Yes, I’m going to do this.” Then, in a nanosecond, that fear kicks in. And all the thoughts and all the “what-if” scenarios come up, and the “what-ifs” are always terrible. They’re not good. What if this goes wrong? And what if this happens? And what if that and that can hold us back from getting to that next level. I love what Lauren has just shared on how to look at that bigger picture and focus on the next step. What’s the next step? And then the step after that. If we can simplify the process and do one thing at a time, I’ve found that the answers start coming as you start moving. We can’t just sit there and brainstorm it all. We have to start taking action. 

Yes,” Lauren agrees. “And to your point, we always go to the negative – always. So, when you notice yourself doing that, or you notice yourself spiraling, because the ‘what-ifs’ lead to spirals, say, ‘What if it goes well? What if it goes better than expected?’ I can tell you right now, sitting from experience, if I had dreamt of what my perfect life would be, I wouldn’t have put all these pieces together. My life is amazing now. It’s so much better than I expected. But if I didn’t make those hard decisions in the past, I still would be stuck in that miserable state.”

I know many of us have wanted better things, and I ask Lauren to share more about identifying the warning signs. What signs do we need to start paying attention to that are telling us we are stuck?

Feeling Stuck? Start Paying Attention

“I would say notice your habits,” says Lauren. “If you’re normally a healthy eater, and you’ve been binging a lot and eating the junk, that’s a red flag. If your sleep isn’t good, that’s a red flag. If you make plans with all your friends, and you keep canceling them because by the time the weekend rolls around you’re too exhausted to go, that’s a red flag. So just start to notice each habit, because if you notice it, when it first happens, you can make shifts in the process, instead of getting completely burnt out and at the end of your rope where you are left feeling completely overwhelmed and don’t know where to start.”

So, start paying attention, I repeat. If the things that used to bring you joy no longer bring you joy or if you’re canceling plans or your health and well-being are becoming impacted, that might be a sign that it is time for a transition. To avoid making mistakes as people make a transition, I ask Lauren what she advises for individuals in that situation. 

Two things I would say,” Lauren begins. The first is don’t be too impulsive. Because we can get to a point where we’re like, ‘That’s it, I quit.’ But then what? And now you’re putting a lot of pressure on yourself to figure it out, like right this second, so don’t be impulsive. Then the other part is to really gain clarity on where you want to go. And if you don’t know where you want to go, then how you want to feel. I use this example a lot. Let’s take dating, right? Let’s say a friend of yours has a toxic, horrible relationship. They break up, move on, and start dating someone else. You, as an outsider – it’s always easier to see other people’s stuff as an outsider – see the same habits occurring. They’re just replicating the past behaviors but with a new partner. And you’re like, ‘Yeah, this is never going to go anywhere.’ Because it’s basically the same guy, just a different man. When it comes to you, especially to your career, do the same thing. You need to get clear on what you want. Don’t leave one toxic work environment for another toxic work environment. I’ve had people who know that free time is high on their value list. And they want to leave financial services and become an attorney. Maybe you can work 40 hours a week as an attorney, but most attorneys I know don’t. You better be intentional and crystal clear about that. If being an attorney lights you up, then go for it. But you’ve got to put some serious boundaries in place to make it work for your soul. So just write it down on paper. When a checklist is in alignment with your core, it helps you to gain so much clarity because you see it on paper. It’s a visual that impacts your brain, and you know what you’re looking for. This may sound crazy, but when I got divorced, I made a checklist for what I was looking for in my next relationship. And he is that to a tee. When I found him, I knew like, oh, this is it. There are other people I dated and I was like, yeah, now this isn’t working out because of the things that I knew I needed to be happy in a relationship. So, write a list, make your dream list, no excuses, put everything on there that you want in a career; including six weeks’ vacation, and I want to leave at five o’clock and I want to be able to work from home when I want. Put it all down on paper. It will make you a better negotiator when you are in the interview room because you know what you want.”

I am so glad that Lauren brought this point up because I wanted to be successful when I launched my business. And success in my mind was hitting a certain revenue number my first year in business, and I wanted to be successful to prove to myself that I could do it and to prove to other people that I could do it. That ambition is a good thing, but what I ended up doing was working very similarly to the way that I worked when I was in corporate, and it was a grind. It was hard work. It’s an environment where if you’re not showing up at your desk early every morning, you are going to fail. It was back-to-back meetings and high activity. I paused at the end of last year, and I thought, wait a minute, I’ve built something pretty awesome. I’ve hit and exceeded my revenue goals. But I’m burnt out at the end of the day. I’m not showing up as the type of Mama that I want to be. I’m not showing up as the type of wife that I want to be. So, I needed to get crystal clear on what I wanted. And I went back to what I know works. I rewrote my vision, which lights me up for what I’m building. I got clear on some goals around how I wanted to spend my time personally and with my family. And that’s what I’m working on this year. And yes, I’m still working really hard. But I’m working differently because I’m laying the foundation to be able to have the lifestyle that I want to have in a couple years. So, I applaud Lauren’s feedback around clarity. It’s huge.

“We Don’t Have to be Available 24/7”: The Benefits of Setting Boundaries

Absolutely,” Lauren exclaims. “That is beautiful. Why do we prioritize our work stuff before our family stuff? It makes no sense. Like work is not more important than our family. So why does the family park get on the calendar last? The first thing I do on January 1st is plan vacation six weeks out of every year. I’ve done this for the past four or five years. Even in COVID, I found a way to go away using vacations. I had my career goals and all my business goals in January. I knew what those were. But I put those six weeks of vacation on the calendar because that is a priority to me.”

One of the best things that I did last year is I blocked Friday afternoon golf with my husband on my calendar, and it has become one of the greatest joys of my week. It also serves as a massive inspiration to work hard in the middle of the week. I know that I get this time, and it’s a chance for us to connect. It’s a chance for me to engage in a hobby, and it’s on my calendar, and now it’s become a non-negotiable. I had a client recently that was rescheduling. We were talking about a Friday, and she goes, ‘Oh wait, not Friday afternoon because I know you’re golfing’, and I thought ah, it happened. It’s like my business didn’t fall apart because I want to golf on Friday afternoons.

Lauren responds by highlighting that we have work to do, but we can still make our non-negotiables, non-negotiables. She asks if I feel guilty when I take that time off to play golf, and I don’t! I have a heck of a lot of fun!

“Exactly,” says Lauren. When you schedule time for yourself, it empowers you to do it unapologetically! The work and everything else are always going to be there. You’re always going to have more laundry to do and more to clean. But when you carve out that time just for you, it’s on the calendar. It’s non-negotiable. You can just walk into it and be like, yep, this is what I do. You own it, and you own it powerfully. And look, your clients are already starting to say ‘Okay, nope, we can’t work together on a Friday,’ and they figure it out. People are resourceful. We don’t have to be available 24/7.”

I think people appreciate it when you have some of those boundaries in your own life because they either have them or they want them too. I know I have a lot of clients who are women who are mamas in financial services. One of the big fears they have is if they don’t take an evening appointment, they’re not going to get this client or not going to be successful. But by taking that evening appointment, they compromise that critical, important time with their kids. And so, helping people set boundaries is wildly important. It goes back to having those values, and I ask Lauren to go deeper into how she helps her clients identify theirs. 

“Sure,” Lauren responds. “So, the process that I typically take my clients through is the values assessment that I referred to earlier. It takes about 15 minutes to answer a bunch of questions. Then, from there, all of their values are ranked, but we focus in on the ones that were ranked to 10. And then the magic happens in a debrief session. We spend quite a bit of time – sometimes it can be two hours – diving deep into okay, ‘What are these values? Where did they come from? Why are they important to you?’ And it’s magical, the stuff that pops up. It just creates so much more self-awareness. And it shines a light on that shadow stuff and gets it out into the open, so that we can just move past it and start to make intentional decisions that align with the life we want to lead. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to quit your job or leave your partner. It means we make shifts smaller, larger, that are just going to feed your soul and light you up and get you that fulfillment that you’ve been craving.”

I thank Lauren for a great conversation and ask where to find more information about the wonderful work she’s doing, including her insightful Values Assessment Tool and Finding Freedom program. She suggests visiting her website or following her on Instagram

With that goal achievers, keep celebrating your weekly wins, learning from your lessons and identifying your priorities. So, you can consistently pursue progress in the direction of your goals.