When we’re stuck, at a crossroads or wanting some clarity on the direction of our lives, we often say we’re waiting for those “lightening bolts” of understanding to strike us. Some of us might call them epiphanies – those transcendent moments when everything becomes clear and we know just what to do, what’s most important, or how best to proceed. We wait for those moments for it to all make sense.
But here’s the thing. What’s the likelihood of that actually happening? You know the statistics on lightening right? How you have a better chance of winning the lottery than getting struck by lighting? And yet, I’ve fallen prey to this seductive notion time and time again and so have my clients – joining the legions of people wandering around the open fields of our lives waving a lightening rod, desperately hoping for that lucky strike. While I will always hold a soft spot in my psyche for this romantic notion, I’ve come to believe it’s actually not a winning strategy.
Like love, you can’t go looking for lightening. It’s one of those things that finds you when you least expect it.
It also has us looking outside ourselves for the answer, which can be an easier and yes, I’ll say it again – seductive – trap when seeking the answers to those burning questions. You’ve heard the infamous story of the guy begging at the feet of the statue, right? The guy goes to the statue every day begging, “please, please, please let me win the lottery!” Frustrated, the statue comes to life one day and says to the man, “please, please, please buy a lottery ticket!”
The answer (the clarity, the understanding), I’ve come to believe, does not live outside ourselves, but inside our daily choices and actions.
I use this example a lot with clients when they are longing for some clarity on “what to do” or “where to go” next. Standing at those crossroads is not for the weak of heart, and it’s only human nature to want to plug in our “next” coordinates into the GPS and get going. So what to do in the meantime for those brave souls who want to hold true to their intentions and stay open to possibilities?
Here are some perspectives and strategies for navigating those times that have worked for me and my clients:
The ecstatic Sufi mystic Rumi once wrote a poem about the pain of being a “chickpea to boil” in the stew of life, continually being whacked down by “the cook’s” wooden spoon so that it may soak up all the spices of life, even through it is so damn tempting to jump ship out of the pot (eventually the chickpea is grateful, but clearly the stewing part sucks). That’s kind of the idea here – shifting your perspective of the “pot” (or stuck place you’re in) from being purgatory to being a teacher, actually giving you something you need for your journey. Let me reassure you, it seems we are in a time of great universal stuckness. You are so not alone if you are feeling this way – I see it every day in my work with clients. People are questioning the constructs of their lives and are reorganizing them around what makes them happy, healthy and more fulfilled. Yes, even in this crazy economy. So you’re not alone. Stuck is the new black.
This can be a great time to mix it up a bit. Take a different way to work. Tackle that basement and get rid of the junk in the trunk. Go out with some new friends. Try something creative – start a blog, take a pottery or photography class, create a garden, build a labyrinth in your back yard. Surprise yourself. Say yes to wild and woolly invitations. The idea is to create some friction, some noise and agitation. If that sounds unappealing, consider the things that can be born out of friction – a single grain of sand creating a pearl, an incredible work of art, an orgasm (yes, I said orgasm). So mix it up by design. Let in some oxygen, shake off the dust bunnies and see what emerges.
While lightening bolts happen as a freak of nature, sudden and surprising, often destructive, lightening bugs are more common and certainly more tame by comparison. And they also offer light on those dark nights. Consider how easily it can be to track a lightening bug on a summer night, following its arc and gentle journey. Now imagine how luminous it would be if you were to collect a whole bunch of them in a jar. They would work together to light up the night. The same could apply to your individual ideas – those fleeting thoughts or images that waft in and out of your consciousness. If you were to capture each of those and hold them in a jar, they might work together to reveal a clearer image or picture that could light your way; answer your question, if you will. Perhaps it could be that easy, that organic of a process. And it would give you something to do in the meantime. Becoming a student of yourself – witnessing yourself – can be a powerful exercise in unearthing a personal vision.
The word “control” – and everything that’s associated with it – comes up a lot in the work I do with women. Most often, it has the tinge of “bad” on it (as in “control freak” or “too controlling”). But here’s the thing…it feels good sometimes – especially in those times we feel most out of control and adrift in our lives. It’s human nature to crave some control in lives in response to chaos and turmoil. It helps us make sense of our world – to bring order to a corner of our lives, to offer some structure, some predictability in an otherwise disorienting time. So during these “crossroad moments” in our lives, give yourself lots of latitude when it comes to that instinct to create order and, well, control. Get some Rubbermaid containers, a label maker and go to town on your basement or that hall closet. Create a new filing system on your C: drive. Sort through and box up all those photos. Color code your spices or DVDs. The bottomline: scratch the itch. You can still hold your intention while you’re scratching…it will just give your hands (and mind) something to do and will offer a reprieve from the heavy lifting of the “what should I do with my life” questions.
Right Foot, Left Foot
When an idea does strike, take a step toward it. It’s not a commitment, it’s just a step. Martin Luther King, Jr. once invited us all to “take the first step in faith,” reminding us that “you don’t need to see the whole staircase” to take that first step. The same holds true for being at a crossroads. Too often I see “analysis paralysis” kick in with clients because they might see that first step, but they can’t see clearly where it will take them. A first step of a career transition, for example, might just be telling your beloved or a trusted friend, “I’m going to leave my job” or “I’m not happy at work and that’s not okay any longer”. It’s making it public. Sharing your intention. Another example might be revamping a resume or populating an excel spread sheet with potential contacts or networks to tap into. It’s not necessarily quitting the job you’re in, as some might think. The key here is small movement toward something more meaningful – even if you can’t see it clearly yet.
If you are at a crossroads and you’re reading this, I hope you’ll share your thoughts and experiences. It can be a lonely and terrifying place, those transitional crossroads (insert a mental image of tumbleweeds at a sign-less intersection in the dessert, sun beating down, wind whipping, vultures circling.) It’s a insanely personal journey, I realize, but somehow it feels better to know that people are standing at those crossroads in another town or country. So lend your voice. Be a lightening bug for someone who may be craving some light.