Helping clients navigate life and careers
by Dr.Magdalena Bak-Maier
Magdalena integrates neuroscience, education and psychology with healing and therapeutic approaches into a unique practice to support individuals and teams to be well and do well. Her work has three interwoven strands: teaching and writing, method development and facilitation. She weaves the constellation approach into the way she works with clients, and the way key internal forces of their mind, heart, body and spirit come together. To help leaders navigate and manage the external world of people, work, self-care and purpose, Magdalena created a powerful framework called the Grid. Combining Grid with the constellation approach facilitates spiritual awareness and interconnectedness. As a migrant, queer leader and integrative practitioner, exploring identity and how trauma impacts healthy agency are important to her. Magdalena is also chief trainer on Grid for Coaches ICF accredited training.
Helping clients navigate life and careers with integrity
Irrespective of our age or circumstance, we are all thrown into life and asked to navigate it. This call to personal leadership unites us all and is by no means trivial. We begin this journey from a specific place that reflects our circumstances and histories which need to be acknowledged. Then, each moment the unfolding future invites us to respond. But how can we do that and make meaning of it all? And so we seek meaning, purpose and a path that satisfies or at least comes close to how we want to live. We yearn for significance that helps us feel that our life and time counts.
In the face of so many global challenges from climate change and social and racial inequality to an ever-growing sense of anxiety and isolation especially visible in the Western world, re-discovering one’s agency to answer life’s call is a key practice to master. Each life stage brings new questions and issues arising to meet us and explore. I am passionate about supporting people as they navigate their life’s choices with integrity. I help clients feel empowered to steer and face the important challenges of our time; each moment and stage needing to also make sense in the larger narrative of their whole life.
Working with many leaders each year, one key question often arises: What is my path and how can I stay true to who I am instead of what the world/others expect of me. These questions sit at the heart of personal leadership.
It is commonly assumed that choosing a given path is up to the individual. However, a slightly different picture seems to emerge through the lens of constellation work. This is why in my work with leaders, I use systemic constellation to illuminate, clarify and resource clients on their journey. Below I share three examples of what I have discovered in my practice to give a flavour of the work and its value to the client and their mission.
Befriending the call or our purpose
Clients who are in career “transition” often approach me to better understand their purpose or help them find a way forward that aligns with their values and what is meaningful to them. To help them, I use a simple yet very revealing map: a constellation that includes them as a person, their current role, and their purpose or calling. I invite the client to choose different objects to represent each of the three elements that they arrange into a map and explore.
It is not uncommon to see the client be distinctly aware of their calling. The purpose object representing this often ends up within the client’s peripheral field of vision and sometimes directly in front. When this is the case the current role/work often ends up being placed in a way that symbolises either a stepping-stone or possibly an obstacle. Helping the client become aware of the emotions that arise in relation to these elements offers rich insights. Simple sentences of acknowledgement towards each element help settle any apparent discomfort and anxiety that purpose or calling can stir up. These somewhat simple yet profound interventions help the client acknowledge what is and find an authentic way forward.
A woman in her early thirties came to see me because of recurring challenges she experienced in her current career. The challenges tied to the apparent lack of support from her boss towards an initiative she wanted to get off the ground at work. We began building the map described above to which we then added the boss and the larger organisation she was part of. Looking at the three initial objects, the client felt great deal of tension in her stomach towards herself. She described heightened heartbeat and apprehensiveness being where she was which she called “being and feeling stuck”. What brought noticeable relief was to simply say to herself: “This is difficult”. Other words that spontaneously arose in her included: “This is not for me”, “I feel pulled”, and “I am allowed to feel what I feel”.
Figure 1: Call to align within
Standing in the constellation was visible easing the tension she came with. The longer we explored the field, the more I could see her breathe more freely and calmly giving us both a sense there was much conscious and unconscious work going on that was helping my client settle into her experience. The work unfolded towards the client becoming aware that she often judged herself unfavourably for taking initiative and at the same time longed to prove herself to others in action. After the sentences, she found more freedom and trust in life and how she could navigate it in a way that was aligned to who she was as a confidant and wise woman leader.
I invited her to try out some sentences of acknowledgment and sense into how they fitted with what was true for her in this system. For example she told her current role: “It is time for me to move on”, “I have given you my best”, “It is difficult for me here”. The client welled up with tears of relief as she faced the truth of her situation on a deeper level. The tension she had felt between wanting to leave the company and staying in it whist not feeling she quite belonged there became visible in relation to her purpose. Seeing and expressing this, enabled her to speak to her purpose and her emerging future words that further settled her and have her strength: “I see you”, “Thank you for being here”, “I’m beginning to grow in my awareness of you”.
A few months later my client wrote to me that a new role had opened up that felt right for her. She had applied for it and got it. She was able to depart her employer with healthy closure and far greater awareness of her place in the new project she would be heading up.
Many clients seek help when their motivation, determination and commitment to their path especially when they are facing one or more challenges and/or perceived obstacles, or opposition all of which can be daunting and exhausting. It can feel deeply unsettling and overwhelming when a path turns out to be far less straightforward than expected. Systemic issues such as loyalty issues towards family of origin or cultural norms, can be at the heart of these challenges.
A male client started to embark on a journey to run his own business. It was the second time that he had taken this leap. While his previous business was successful at the start, he somehow managed to lose everything. To build himself back up, he felt forced to go back to work for an organisation but he continued to deeply long for being his own boss. As he took the step towards this purpose a second time, he came to see me to deal with his fear of failure and anxiety around history repeating itself.
During an initial mapping I asked him to choose objects to represent himself and his business, and then place all the obstacles in his way that he was aware of. As he placed the objects, we both felt a subtle pull that the system was incomplete. I encouraged him to proceed slowly and with a great deal of love towards what the system wanted him to notice. In the end he ended up placing a long series of objects between him and the successful new business venture he felt drawn towards. At one stage he turned towards me with a smile saying “And now it’s complete!”
The obstacles ranged from small challenges he could easily address with action to others that required more attention and time. One obstacle that surfaced in this constellation was his relationship with his girlfriend. He was afraid of losing her because he was spending too many hours on the business. Another was a fear of losing his reputation if he failed again. I asked him to speak to each of the obstacles, to acknowledge his fears and to reclaim his powerful stance in each situation.
Through this process, my client learned that most obstacles were in fact invitations to discover what my client valued and discern what truly meant the most to him. As we continued, my client experienced significant clarity and relief from the overwhelm and pressure within and around him to get things right. This shifted his mindset and his stance towards a far more empowered place where he felt he had a natural right to give things a go and follow his own path.
What these examples show is that when it comes to making career decisions about the path we want to follow, hidden loyalties to our family of origin can make initiating a change as well as successfully maintaining it difficult. This is where systemic constellation work can help support the client with vital information and key insights necessary to free up additional resources that give strength and confidence.
Connecting the unconscious with the conscious
One of the key principles of constellation work is that every exchange needs to be in balance support a healthy flow of energy. Clients often seek support when they spend a lot of energy pushing, struggling and willing outcomes to happen, yet feel something is in the way. This is when an internal exchange has to be facilitated between what the client thinks they know – the conscious mind – and what exists in their less or indeed unconscious awareness. The following example gives a flavour of what this can look like in practice.
A client of mine felt a long time call to become an artist. She had trained in the craft and invested great deal of time and money towards it. While she and others told her she was ready to become a professional artist, when it came to launching herself into the world as one, my client kept postponing the decision. The idea made her anxious and she found herself second-guessing her decision to follow the path. In other words she was caught in an inner conflict about what she wanted and how her actions were seemingly keeping her trapped.
In our meeting together, we created a simple constellation that included, keeping her art as a hobby versus having a professional studio. Two things became clear as soon as we began: the client positioned the studio above the art as a hobby card indicating a natural progression from one to the other,
Figure 2: Longing for healthy balance
and my client’ positioned herself very close to the studio. Two things became clear as soon as we began: the client positioned the studio above the art as a hobby card indicating a natural progression from one to the other, and my client’ positioned herself very close to the studio. The representative object of her working another job and keeping her art a hobby was behind her and was facing forward into a new future.
Building this constellation helped my client connect with what her unconscious knew and helped her to align her desire to become a professional artist. As she faced into the truth of the path that was already unfolding in front of her she also directly faced into the choice she deeply longed to make. We experimented with what this could be like using a number of body movements and noticing their impact. The work revealed my client being ready with sufficient courage, focus and commitment to gradually transition from working a job she in effect outgrew and becoming the artist she always was.
Our work gave her insight that leaping forward into a studio was not part of her process. Instead, she would focus on a series of concrete steps that allowed her to open her arms to welcome her professional artistic future. The powerful exchange within her helped shift the hyper critical and stuck energy of indecision that was eroding her confidence into clear and inspired motivation to move forward in flow with life. We could both feel the noticeable relaxation that occurred as she made this unconscious movement more conscious.
In conclusion, using systemic constellation work to support clients in search of purpose, calling or a personally meaningful path, is teaching me and my clients patience and humility. Everything has its right time and place, as do we. By acknowledging things as they are, respecting time and fair exchange, we can let life move through us naturally instead of getting in the way. Proceeding with awareness and willingness to open to life as it is, we become strengthened, enriched, and healed.
In the delicate balance of searching for purpose or a path we call our own, our calling emerges whether we’re ready for it or not. Between what we think we know and what we want to do, there is time to be still and notice. A wonderful invitation to deepen awareness. Instead of viewing this time as wasted, we can shift our understanding towards the highly vibrant and complex interplay of forces within the field helping to restore pace and order. The field, which is life, doesn’t let itself be rushed but will gently unfold if we respect it.