I was at a women’s group last week, a small, select gathering of people working to solve global challenges, and one of the members was talking about the funding for her project ending at the beginning of next year. Still a way off, but she was considering her options for what to do next.
Well, when I say ‘considering’, I could see that it had become worrisome for her. She wasn’t worried about the project closing; rather that (she thought) she needed to have clarity in this moment about what she was going to do next year.
“I want to do something different, but if only I could pin down what I’m good at… I’d know exactly what to go and do!”
It looked like a real problem to her.
When something looks like a problem to us, the natural instinct is to try to solve it. And that’s where the discussion went.
Some of the women offered her strategies, places to start: “You need to track your values.” “Have you thought about doing a strengths’ audit?” These are decent enough strategies, only they solve a different problem.
I Always Try to Look Deeper
When I’m coaching — or even in an everyday conversation such as this — I want to understand both the experience someone is having, as well as what they believe that makes that experience look true.
In this case, my friend believed that clarity about the future would give her a sense of security now.
She thought that uncovering what she was good at would give her relief from the ‘problem’ of uncertainty. In other words, she believed that doing something would help her feel a certain way.
The premise is wrong.
A Feeling, Any Feeling, Can’t Be Created ‘on Demand’
And, even if it could, a feeling does not lead to an outcome. Whenever we do something because we think it will give us a feeling, we’re on the wrong track.
Which was the misunderstanding my friend had about the way things work. As was everyone who was offering her that practical advice.
Sure, she could do all those things, and more, and they would probably be fun. But, if she (and they) thought that a values exercise or a strengths’ audit was going to give her peace of mind, then they were wrong.
We Already Have What We Need
Peace of mind can exist at any moment — it comes and goes in the natural ebb and flow of the day. Some moments we feel it, others we don’t.
It isn’t related to our external circumstances; to having job security, to knowing what comes next, or understanding our values. Those are all things we layer over our human-ness — like the wrapping paper around a gift — to create an external picture of who we want to show up as.
The wrapping is nice, but it isn’t who we are, and it makes no difference to how we feel. My friend could feel more, or less, secure right now, if she relaxed into the natural flow of her emotions, and didn’t try to force a relationship with an imagined future.
A Year Is a Long Time
Even if she came up with a clear idea today of what she wanted to do next, who knows whether she would still want to do that in six, or nine months time? Any ‘security’ she imagined would come from that was completely made-up. As all feelings are.
She was creating the ‘not knowing’ as troubling, and then worrying it, like a dog worries a bone. The more she worried, the more paralysed she was going to become — and the less action she would be inspired to take. A certain recipe for even more insecurity!
She could just as easily create it as exciting, as a journey of exploration towards an (as yet) unknown destination.
Accept the ‘Not Knowing’
Accepting where we are, in her case, accepting that she doesn’t have all the information she needs, and then taking action from a place of exploration always looks like the more fun option to me. And the more productive.
Are you living in a misunderstanding?
Where in your life are you trying to do something to create a feeling?
Because feelings don’t come from our external circumstances, they don’t come from what we have, or don’t have.
As soon as we can see that, then we can choose to take the actions that inspire us. The actions that lead to the changes we want to create in the world.
Have a fantastic week, knowing that you are in exactly the right place and you can choose to create whatever you feel inspired to create in the world.