When 'Clarity' Becomes One More Thing to Worry About...
Where to Next?
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?
Have you brainstormed your options?
These are decent enough strategies, except they solve a different problem…
…the solve a problem she doesn’t have (yet).
When I'm coaching—or even in an everyday conversation such as this—I notice both the state of mind someone is in, as well as what they believe is the ‘thing’ that is creating the challenge for them.
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.
Ahh, OK, now I see why she’s stuck!
We Can’t Create Feelings ‘On Demand’
We can’t make ourselves feel a certain way by doing something or achieving something. We only think we’ll feel that way by creating an imaginary future. We’re linking that imaginary future with an imaginary future state of mind.
Which was the misunderstanding my friend had about how the clarity about her direction would lead to a sense of security.
Of course, she was at a stage of transition, that was obvious.
And she felt a little insecure, that was obvious too.
But, solving one, would not directly impact the other.
Sure, she could do all those practical suggestions, and more, and they would probably be fun, maybe even helpful to open up some new options for her.
But, if she (and those well-meaning friends offering advice) 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.
Fast-forward a year…?
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, nine, or twelve months’ time?
Any 'security' she imagined would come from that was illusory, as are all feelings.
My dear friend was looking into her 'not knowing' and seeing a problem, something she had to solve. And so she was worrying it, like a dog worries a bone. The more she worried, the more paralysing it gelt—and the less action she actually felt like taking. '
Why do anything unless she was certain it would solve her insecurity? We’ve all been there, right?
An Adventure in the Unknown?
When we don’t know, we don’t know. Whether it’s a job, a place to live, a boyfriend / girlfriend, sometimes we just have to wait until we know what’s coming next on the conveyor belt of life.
When we settle into the unknown, it can become an adventure, an exploration, an exciting journey towards an (as yet) unknown destination.
The First Step?
Accepting where we are, as with my friend, accepting that we don’t have all the information, is the first step to having those next steps reveal themselves. When we’re prepared to be curious, to be open, to know that we don’t know, and we don’t have to know, is what is more likely to take us back to a sense of security than a revved up, worried state of mind.
And stepping into action from a place of exploration always looks like the more fun option to me.
And the more productive.
As soon as we can see that it’s OK to not know, that it’s OK to be exploring, that we can’t force security, we can only relax back into it, then it’s easier to choose actions that inspire us, rather than actions that we think will protect us.
And those actions can lead to a world of possibilities.
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.