The (Emotional) Winds of Change

I don’t know the number of times in my life where I have lost, changed, or been unsure of my direction but I know there are too many to count. Three forks in the road stand out, though, because they were fraught with a maze of emotions that seemed to lengthen and complicate the process of getting from A to B (via T, then H, and perhaps a quick stopover at lowercase p).

The first time I changed direction was of my own volition. In my late teens, I decided I wanted to switch from psychology as a career to become a pilot, only to complete three years of (very expensive and stressful) flying training before returning to psychology. I cried as I confessed to my parents that I wanted to change my path again. The sense of failing was acute and the guilt I felt for wasting all that time and money was paralysing.

The second time was not of my own choosing. It was 2015 and I was severely burned out from clinical work and had no idea whether or not I’d return to it. All I knew was I needed to stop, despite not wanting to. Burn out is a liar like that. It attempts to convince you the answer is to do more not less. Again, the sense of failing was overwhelming and the guilt for ‘abandoning’ my clients was intense. I had no idea what I would do after my break, which brought up the discomfort of uncertainty and a sense of being lost in this unfamiliar world of not doing what I’d always done for the previous seven years.

The third time was a curveball that hit me square in the face because of my lack of preparation for it. I fell in love with the most remarkable human being I’d ever met but she happened to be a woman and that wasn’t in my life plan at all. The emotions I had to navigate to allow this love its rightful place are too numerous and labyrinthine to untangle in this short post but suffice to say my direction felt foreign and risky (and open to judgement and nonacceptance) for a long time.

Change forces us to sit in the soil of hard feelings before we flower through growth.

Where To Next?

Most of us have a strong desire for a sense of direction. It’s no small thing for our psyches because it’s wrapped up in our sense of purpose and meaning. It’s not just ‘this is the next step I will take’ but also ‘and this is why I’ll take it.’ Pretty good reasons for the all the feels to be attached to the question of where you are headed next.

But there’s this subtle implication that you are lost if you don’t have it. That you are missing something, or missing out, or missing the point. Our Western culture of quick fixes and filtered perfection would have you believe that you can simply pick up a can of direction (if there’s any left in stock) down at your local Bunnings amongst the fertilisers and gardening tools in aisle 22. In other words, everyone else knows how to find it, and has been there before you, so not only are you clearly lost, but you’re also late!

It’s Not Set in Stone

Here’s the thing about you and your sense of direction though: both of you are dynamic. As you evolve, so does where you’re going. When something is no longer working, your sense of direction needs to bend to protect you and keep you close to your values. When your world is turned upside down because of unexpected and painful events, so is your sense of direction. And when you’re in a season of healing and recovering, so is your sense of direction. It can’t and won’t always remain the same. Nor will it always be clear, available, and yours for following.

Signposts Along the Way

These are the things worth keeping in mind as you’re considering your next steps:

  1. There is no single direction that will be right for you for every hour and every year of the rest of your life. You can’t go wrong because change is inevitable through the process.
  2. There’s no single right way to get there. There are always multiple roads, each confirming what does and doesn’t work.
  3. No one’s opinion is more important than your own because no one else is living your life.
  4. You’re allowed to not yet know where you’re headed next (although the fear centre in your brain that loves certainty will tell you otherwise).
  5. Your direction is in the action of taking one next step, and then the step after that, and the one after that. It’s a series of small decisions tied together.

Start Here …

And if you’re looking for something a little more concrete in terms of where to start, try these:

  1. Write a list of the paths you know you don’t want to take. Knowing what you don’t want to do is as valuable as knowing what you do want to do.
  2. Ask yourself, ‘If there was no failure, what would I do?’ Sit quietly and see what comes up for you.
  3. Write a list of what it’s costing you not to take that next step. Most times, we can’t truly know what a path is like until we step on it. How is standing at the beginning without ever crossing the start line working out for you?
  4. Get clarity on the things you love to do and then consider what the various combinations of those things produce.
  5. Be open to the opportunities that are presented to you. Sometimes it’s not about us seeking out a direction but following a direction that finds us.

Your path is the one that fits for you, and you only. Go gently, but please go! You’ll only know when you take the next step.