In a recent circle of 7 friends, all had experienced a sense of a crossroads in their working lives. Whether it was balancing motherhood and breadwinner status or feeling burnt out and dissatisfied with a business model, each had had to consider how they were oriented in their lives. This means asking yourself questions like:
What are my values?
What do I believe?
Am I acting in accordance with those guideposts?
What am I working towards?
…which can really make you feel lost, awash in a sea of conflicting currents and self-doubt.
That reminds me of a friend’s writing that explored the science of wave directions and how South Pacific exploratory tribes knew different types of currents/ waves. A different type of orientation.
There is some skill to be learned, standing in this sea. First, there is the learning not to drown in panic, but tread water and safely consider the temperature and weight of your uncertainty. Before action, there is always assessment.
Then there is the skill of finding your direction. My business coaching friend Shanna said recently that even when you don’t know what the perfect next step is, you can make a move that is ‘directionally correct’ and prepare yourself to adapt. I liked this a lot, as a slow decision maker, and one who hates to be wrong.
You can get to a point where you look back and see where you’ve been, and calmly ask, ‘who was that person who [made that choice]?’ as my friend Jessica did. This does not mean Wrong. It means you’ve evolved and your current self is no longer the same self that made that previous decision.
I daresay that there are people who are given good principles and neglect them (Mr. Darcy), but most of what I’ve witnessed is people shedding unhelpful or unproductive values and forging their own answers to the questions above. I envisioned this process recently as a woman discovering a coat she wore, taking it off to see how it was made, and proceeding to take off article after article of clothing, until she saw herself for herself.
I’ve had such soul-work as my focus for a good few years, and recently Brene Brown’s work of values-rumbling has really clarified the process for me.
Looking at her list of values, I am motivated by notions of fairness and justice, responsibility, and trust. I have written entire novels to highlight the forgotten stories of people who clung tenaciously to their integrity in times of great confusion and intimidation. I write these stories in part to cling tenaciously to the idea that I will be one of those people, in time.
When my eye passed over the word ‘trust’ on Brene’s list, it stood out in capital letters: TRUST. And there are probably equal parts belief in and terror of this quality. Somewhere along the line, between age 3 and age 21, I’d say, I found it nigh impossible to completely trust another person. But my vision of the world operates because there is trust within and among communities to cooperate. So—TRUST it is.
I can reach out and point to those values as much as I want, but I think the crucial step is moving in their direction. And this is where the values that make up the stars in my sky meet the horizon, the firmament of my daily experience.
Earlier this year, I took part in a leadership seminar called Spiral Leadership. Its founder Abigail Morgan Prout uses the metaphor of the nautilus spiral to talk about how one can cultivate this sense of direction. Starting at the center, you cross barriers and reach ever-increasing fields of influence:
1—Attunement brings you self-awareness and alignment with your convictions.
2—Daring to Share forces your thoughts and beliefs, untried, out into the small orbits of your friends and chosen family.
3—Finding Resonance requires you experiment with different audiences in order to find the community that affirms those beliefs and encourages you to greater courage and vulnerability.
So back to that crossroads we are all at… what if it’s really a yellow brick road, a nautilus shell, with us at the beginning, and the wide world to help us grow?
It would be a shame to never go anywhere.