Lost: can’t see the opportunity
When I was young, I loved career choices. The world was my oyster. Choices were everywhere, and I was in command.
Some people aren’t so lucky. They don’t feel like that. Our somehow they’ve gone through a bad patch and they feel lost. As I have got older, that has happened to me a few times.
What can we do about that? How can we get back that omnipotent feeling that “everything is waiting for you”?
There seem to be three key things to remember.
1. Look after your emotional health
Negative feelings feed on themselves. When we are feeling down, lost or confused, we like to wallow. This doesn’t make us bad or inadequate. It is quite normal to want to wallow. Physiologically, we are primed to focus on threat, and our worry captures 100% of our attention.
The corporate poet, David Whyte, talks of arriving at a ravine in Nepal and being scared witless by the sight of a rickety bridge. Many decisions in life are just like this. We arrive at a ravine. We can see clearly that we want to be on the other side. We are least wise enough not rush onto the bridge, but we are paralyzed with fear. All our attention goes onto the ravine and onto the rickety bridge, instead of working out our options.
The funny thing is that we hang on to bad feelings, as if they are the bridge itself. Yet this is the time to get a grip. At the side of the ravine, we check our pockets and rucksack -knife (check), water (check), food (check), etc. etc.
In ordinary life we have to take the time out to exercise, clean the house, and think about what is going exactly as we want it to. We must, we must, we must (!) sit down each night, write a short summary of the day, and then answer this question:
Why did I do so well?
I can assure you that you won’t want to do this. You will want to worry and tell me how badly everything is going. Just do it! and you will surprise yourself by what has gone well.
It is also more. It takes our attention off the equivalent of the ravine and the long drop down. It focuses our mind on
- What we can do
- What we can do well
- What delights us and
- what the world finds delightful about us!
2. Start before you are ready
When we feel lost, we often feel very tired too. The idea of starting anything feels too much. And anyway, if we haven’t sorted out our emotional health (#1), then we are enjoying our panic attack far too much to give it up.
But if you don’t intend to spend the rest of your life weeping and wailing and gnashing you teeth, you will have to begin to move out of the anxiety, before your are ready.
The way we do this is to focus in what we have at hand. At the edge of the ravine, that is your water, your food, your map, your radio, etc.
In ordinary life, I look for what you love. What brings the light to your eyes? I can give you a magazine and ask you to flick through and point to a picture which represent what you want out of life. You’ll have done it in 1-2 minutes.
Or, I can ask you about when you have experienced flow – that feeling of total engagement where characteristically you don’t notice time, but you do notice being growled at when you were late for your next appointment! That’s flow. When do you feel flow? When do you feel totally engaged doing something you just love to do?
Then we deal with the next thought that pops into your head which is “I can’t”. I have kids and a mortgage. I can’t be an artist – I owe it to my parents to make a good living. I have a student loan to pay off. I don’t have the skills. You are looking at the ravine again! Hold the image of what you want to be, that makes your heart speed up slightly, that makes your eyes light up (you can’t see them can you, but I can). Hold that image. Don’t let it go.
Now we aren’t going to do anything reckless. We are simply going to look around our immediate circumstances for things relevant to getting to the other side. So we take stock. As we took stock of our map, our compass, etc. at the side of the ravine. And we do sensible things. If we were at the side of a ravine and had a radio, we would call in and say where we are. If we are tired out, we’d work out if it is feasible to eat and sleep. We secure everything we need to go to where we want to be. At worst, we may retreat.
But we keep our eyes on what brings us alive?
3. Marshall resources and support
And now for the humdinger, are you the only person in the world who wants you to be on the other side? Are you Rambo all of a sudden?
As soon as you have yourself secure and have established the all important “time out”, ask yourself who else benefits from you being on the other side of the ravine. Who else will benefit? Who else will be delighted? Who else will enjoy getting you across (however you are going to do it – we’ll leave that bridge alone!). These questions might make you feel anxious again. That’s OK. That’s only because this project is something you really want to do and you are about to make it happen.
So, let’s marshal help and resources. If we were at a ravine, it might be helicopter rescue (do it in style?). It might be a long trek around. You might be able to walk down and through some shallow water and up. In the morning light, you might realize you can reinforce the bridge. Who knows? Start bringing together what you need and a plan will emerge.
Once you start to methodically and systematically work on the problem, the universe will conspire to help you.
This can’t be true, I hear you say. This must be nonsense. Well not in my experience! Read on!
Damn the universe, it makes life so easy!
When I first noticed the universe helping me, I did feel nuts. I felt superstitious and I didn’t like the feeling. How can this be? But it happened. The universe kept helping me. When I knew what I wanted, and moved towards it, it came towards me. This doesn’t work if I am dithering. If I start one thing and I am still doodling or daydreaming about something else, I don’t get any help at all. I must be totally confident about my priorities and have ‘left all other worlds behind’.
I would get moving on a BHAG (big hairy audacious goal) and the phone would ring. There it would be. How could the other person know I wanted that? It was freaky and just too easy!
Eventually I decided three things.
- The world is a munificent place. Stuff probably comes down my phone all day long, but I don’t notice when I don’t want it!
- I have good judgement! My sense of what is right or wrong is good. I know which ravines are worth crossing and which ravines other people want to cross with me.
But sometimes I go through a bad patch when I am indecisive. I dither. Do I want to cross; do I not? I am not ready to make a decision. In part this is good judgment. I don’t rush ahead before I know what I want. But the reality is, I am also frozen in fear. Time to take “time-out” to de-clutter my emotional self and figure out what is going on. I know with a small investment, my head will clear. I will keep my dreams clear, focus on what I have in hand, and be on my way again soon.
Everything is waiting for you
In poet, David Whyte’s words: everything is waiting for you, it really is (and would like you to hurry up!)
It is just that you have come to a ravine in your path. You want to get to the other side. You know you need to be there and you are rightly terrified by the rickety bridge and the long drop down.
The most important thing to do is to acknowledge your fear. Don’t pretend you aren’t scared. If you do you will either be paralyzed or you will be reckless. Take yourself in hand, remember your goal and focus your attention this minute on what you have in hand.
- First, attend to your safety and the safety of everyone with your. Take stock of my situation (maps, compass, radio, food, etc. if you were at a ravine), get yourself fed, watered and tell other people to where you are. When your are physically able to think, focus your attention on what you want!
- Then thoroughly enjoy exploring your options. Bring in help if your need it and invite people to be part of the adventure if they want to be (which they probably do!)
Remember the three steps
1. Keep yourself emotionally healthy: ask yourself daily – why did I do so well?
2. Start before you are ready – tick off everything around you that is useful for pursuing your dream
3. Welcome support – list everyone who will be enjoy watching and helping you pursue your quest
And do it for g… sake. It’s funny how the toughest of people are so bad at this. Do it. Whinging is annoying.