Written by Jenny Blake

Have you ever had a gut instinct that rocked you to the core? You’re in a job or a relationship, and you start getting a physical sense that it is time to make a change. These instincts often start as quiet whispers, and can be confusing and disorienting if we don’t yet know what to do with them. And if you don’t listen to the whisper, get ready: it will likely deliver a very uncomfortable WHACK instead.

Wake up! Our gut says. Listen to me!   

Maybe you feel it as a pit in your belly. A lump in your throat. A flutter in your heart. But what does it mean? If we go straight to problem-solving with our brain, we might miss the true meaning.

Your Gut Has a Brain

Or more accurately, it is a brain.

According to the fascinating book mBraining

  • You have a complex and intelligent brain in your gut that contains over 500 million neurons and has the equivalent size and complexity of a cat’s brain.
  • The majority of nerves connecting the heart and gut brains to the head flow upwards. 90 percent of vagal nerve fibers communicate the state of our system to the head brain. Only ten percent provide communication signaling in the other direction from head to heart and gut brains.
  • Over 95 percent of the serotonin used throughout the body and brain is made in the gut.
  • Your gut brain exhibits plasticity and can learn, form memories, take on new behaviors, and grow new neurons.
  • The gut brain is primal. It develops both evolutionarily and in the womb before the heart and head brains.

“The gut brain is the core of your deepest self . . . your subconscious sense of who you are and who you are not. It’s also the intelligence that is at work dealing with all core identity-based issues and motivations such as needs for safety, protection, maintaining boundaries, and what you will physically or psychologically internalize or reject. Your enteric brain is primal to who you are.”

mBraining: Using Your Multiple Brains to Do Cool Stuff

Knock, Knock. Who’s There? Your Gut, But I Can’t Talk.

Our gut doesn’t have the verbal sophistication that our head-brain does.

Our gut works on hunches; a hypothesis that something isn’t right or there’s an opportunity ahead, and it’s up to us to suss out what that knock on the door of our consciousness really means, and what to do about it. We are left to interpret the meaning of the message, and then figure out how to take deliberate action.

That’s why gut instincts can be terrifying sometimes. We may know it is time to act—to leave the job or the relationship, to move cities, to have a hard conversation, or to face a truth within ourselves—and yet the action itself takes tremendous courage.

Often our first reaction is refusal. Noooooo. No. It can’t be that. I’m not ready for that. I can’t possibly do that. I don’t have the strength to face that head on.

But unfortunately we can’t just stuff feelings back into the inconvenient box they came from. As the mBraining book explains, our gut is the defender of our boundaries and core identity, both critical to our health and happiness.

How Do You Know When to Trust Your Gut?

You can’t always know with 100% certainty. Trusting your gut is like building a muscle—it takes time and practice. Another analogy might be taming a horse: you have to form a relationship with your gut instincts, and building that trust takes time.

If you’re currently wrestling with an intuitive hunch or hit, here are some questions that help me:

How many times has your gut instinct been wrong?

That’s not a loaded or leading question. Think back across the major decisions of your life: when you really took the time to get quiet and listen deep, then took action no matter how hard it felt, what percentage of the time did those gut instincts serve you well? In my case, it’s 99%.

But in the rare instance that your gut was wrong, examine it: what could you have done differently? How might it inform future action? It is likely is that your gut instinct was on track, but the action you took may not have been exactly on track. That’s okay! It’s how you learn, and you can always correct course as we go.

What has more potential downside, taking the risk or staying in place?

Would your gut be speaking up if the answer was to keep things exactly as they are? In his book Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder, Nassim Taleb defines his term for risk work taking, those with high optionality: “The property of asymmetric upside (preferably unlimited) with correspondingly limited downside (preferably tiny).” See my related post, Which Risks are Worth Taking? 

Or maybe you just need to frame the question differently:

What small next step would help alleviate this uncomfortable feeling?

Sometimes it’s not about the big leaps or endings, but rather speaking your truth in a direct and honest conversation. Notice the spectrum of actions you could take: look for small steps within your comfort or stretch zone, without sending you into the panic zone of paralyzing anxiety and fear.

Is taking this action creating “clean” pain or “dirty” pain?

Certain actions are incredibly difficult and make your stomach flip, but you know that it’s a “clean” pain—a necessary step for you to move on and live your best life. “Dirty” pain is dishonoring yourself. It’s when you hurt because you are actively ignoring what is in your own best interest, in a way that is damaging and stressful to your well-being.

Tools for Getting Quiet

Exercise, talking to friends, and writing have always helped me, but the biggest difference in truly hearing my gut (not just my neurotic monkey mind) came from starting a meditation practice. I know, I know—I used to roll my eyes every time I read something like that too. But it really can be as simple as sitting with your eyes closed for five minutes before you start your day.

Check out the Lucent App I co-founded for help facilitating self-awareness and focus each morning—very simple meditation might just be the game-changer for you that it has been for me.

I wrote in a newsletter earlier this year that chaos is a doorway to opportunity. My dad often reminds me that’s where the best art, music, and writing comes from anyway! Let the message be your muse. 

I’d love to hear from you in the comments:

How about you: how do you “hear” your gut?
When do you know it’s time to act on the information you pick up?


About Jenny

Jenny Blake Headshot - Author, Speaker, Career StrategistJenny Blake is the bestselling author of Life After College, a career and business strategist and an international speaker who helps smart people organize their brain, move beyond burnout, and build sustainable, dynamic careers they love. Jenny combines her love of technology with her superpower of simplifying complexity to help clients through big transitions — often to pivot in their career or launch a book, blog or business.

Today you can find her here on this blog (in it’s seventh year!) and at, where she explores the intersection of mind, body and business. Follow her on Twitter @jenny_blake.

Written by Melissa Anzman


The stories that we grew up hearing, the advice that we listened to whether willingly or not, and the modeling our families showed us – create the fiber of who we are, for better and worse. We start seeing the world through various lens and viewpoints, with some biases and “shoulds.” And for most of us, it gets confusing when we look at our own career.

I was taught to get a good, stable job; make heaps of money so you never have to worry about it; work hard – it gets recognized; climb the ladder; and pick one path and stay on it. You probably have your own story about what your career should be about, where today’s world of work or your own personal work style/preferences, don’t even enter the equation.

That’s why it is so difficult for us to make career changes. It’s why other people sometimes can’t understand our perspective.

But it’s time to shift the lens in which we make career decisions, ever so slightly. Breaking free a little piece of our own stories, will open up opportunities you’ve never knew were possible.

On a daily basis, I hear clients pondering turning down a job offer because they weren’t going to make “enough” money or because it didn’t have the next-level title. And instead, they go back to their job search miserable trying to find their very own purple unicorn.

What if this is the place where we shift our lenses? What if the way we look at opportunities, overt and hidden, change – taking us on a slightly different than originally planned course, but much more satisfying in the long run?

Here are some things to consider when you evaluating your next career move: try these lenses on for size.

1. Determine the skills you can gain in the opportunity

Starting with what you are going to get out of the experience, is a great place to start when evaluating any type of job opportunity. Ignore the money and title for now, and instead focus on the various ways you will grow as an employee and as an individual (or leader) in the role.

Is there a software program that you will get to interact with? A new cutting edge marketing tactic that you will get to employ? Will you be able to lead a small team for the first time?

Look for possible toolbox growth in all types of skills – interpersonal and job-specific, and evaluate how flexing those muscles will benefit your overall career package in the long-run. Consider the opportunities it could open the door on, five or ten years from now – then decide if it matches where you are today.

2. Understand the level of interaction with others that will be required

That sounds funny, I know. But one of the most critical things in your career, is knowing the right people at all different levels. When looking back at some of my horrible jobs, the only thing I came away from them with was a life-long mentor, one of my best friends, a career advocate, and so on.

I wish I could say I had the foresight to understand this earlier in my career, but I didn’t and probably missed out on opportunities to meet some great people and mentors.

For each new opportunity, determine who you will be working with closely and who will be in your sphere of interaction. You can look at levels or titles, but I would recommend looking at the people themselves. For example, if you interviewed with four different people, it’s safe to assume that they will be people that you will interact with often. Based on your interview interactions: can you learn from them; will you be able to collaborate and partner with them; did they seem like they would take the time to teach you; and so on?

Consider the players in a role and the potential friendships, partnerships and business connections you can create and foster for the rest of your career.

3. Get real about the money

This is the part where I tend to get in my own way, the most. When you get used to continuously making more and more money, your ego around money grows bigger too.

When evaluating an offer, get real about the money – quickly. Maybe the amount isn’t what you were making in your previous role, or perhaps it doesn’t come with a 15% increase over what you are used to, but is the number enough to cover your life expenses?

Not is the money ideal or more, but will it sufficiently cover what you need it to and have the type of life you want?

For some, it means being able to work remotely or having a flexible schedule or not having the kind of stress that comes with an “always on” job. Whatever that lifestyle is for you, do the money tradeoffs make it worthwhile? If the answer is yes, then forget about the number.

Overall, evaluating job opportunities is a difficult process. We think the next choice we make is our forever choice – it’s not. We consider where this choice will lead to for the next opportunity – it’s usually not a linear line. And we think that we can never get back “on track” if we make a choice that creates a detour – you can.

Jobs and roles are more than the money and title – even if the story we grew up with tends to leave that part out. Try putting on a different lens when you are evaluating your next opportunity, and see if you get better results.

We’d love to hear from you in the comments below:
What’s one thing you will do today, to change the lens of your career?

melissa anzman

About Melissa

Melissa Anzman is the creator of Launch Yourself where she helps high performers launch their career, business + brand to the next level, make an impact in the lives of others, and earn more income. She is the author of two books: How to Land a Job and Stop Hating Your Job, and the host of the Launch Yourself Podcast. Follow her @MelissaAnzman.

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