"I don't know what I want (in my career / creative passion / relationships/ all of the above)."
"I know what I want to create next but I AM scared and I don't know how to do it so maybe this means I shouldn't do it."
"I sense rumbling change brewing but I don't know what to do with this rumbling so I keep doing the same thing."
"I've been in this not knowing fog for years... How do I know if I'm kidding myself? What if I never birth what's next?"
Myself, I've been in a "creative transition" for about four years. In that time, I have said or thought some version of these statements. I've certainly heard them from coaching clients, readers, and friends.
The belly of the whale, the dark night of the creative soul, the foggy void, it's not a jolly place to hang out -- not knowing is hell on the ego -- but it is a wildly fertile, often spine tingling, and essential passage. The price of consciousness is not cheap. Are you willing to pay? To play?
It can seem like you are always in a transition. Technology has increased the frequency of transitions in our lives. Western educated adults are expected to have three careers in a life time. Few find it odd, at least in the US, to go back to school when you're 35 or 52 or 81, sell a business and start a new one, or take up an new artistic discipline. The divorce rate hovers at 50%. People move an average of every 5 years. It appears transitions are here to stay, and it would behoove us all to learn how to negotiate them with dignity, skill, and even a smidgen of grace.
1. Acknowledge the passage
How many of us keep pretending everything is the same when something in us shouts, "This no longer works. Something is
changing!" If we hang on to the known, the familiar, there is no room for the new. If your car stops moving and you keep insisting nothing is broken, I'll warrant you are driving anywhere until you acknowledge the breakdown. Nothing can change until we recognize our breakdown, until we face what is no longer satisfying or fitting.
2. Forget knowing
The very nature of a transition is YOU DON'T KNOW. Often, you don't know what you don't know. Confusion is actually a
good sign. Trying to know too soon is a spiritual and learning dead-end. Not to mention paralyzing, misleading, and a great way to feed perfectionism and procrastination.
Instead, train your mind to be more comfortable with not knowing. Try this powerful practice. Practicing acknowledging you don't know -- directions, how to finish a project at work, what the capital of Uzbekistan is. Say out loud at least once a day, "I don't know."
Gratefully acknowledge "I don't know" as a mood of ripe possibility, the mood of learning. Learning is why transitions exist!
3. Cultivate authentic trust
Ask: What criteria can I use to create authentic trust in myself during this time of not knowing?
"Authentic trust exists when you are aware that the possibility for betrayal exists. You choose to trust knowing that when a promise is broken or a commitment is unfulfilled, you can take appropriate and effective action. Authentic trust is a dynamic and evolving part of a relationship that needs constant nurturing." From Julio Olalla's program on trust.
When you are stumbling through a personal fog bank of confusion, acknowledge that the possibility for self-betrayal exists. Don't turn away from this because when you do, you fall into blind trust -- trust without parameters, without conditions for satisfaction -- and from here it is so tempting to spin into faulty assumptions, ungrounded assessments, magical thinking: the true crater of gloom (which can last for years).
Create conditions for authentic trust for yourself. If I ask my daughter to pluck the tent caterpillars off the blueberry bushes each day but I don't help her be successful, I don't check in with her, I'm blind trusting her. Which is not to say I don't trust her intentions, it's just she may need help executing her intentions. Same for you. If you decide you are going to spend an half an hour every morning asking for guidance about your future, how will you support yourself? Where have you been fuzzy or blind in your commitments to listen before? What or who will waylay you? Where do you need to stretch or strengthen yourself to
Or if you declare you will take a graphic design course and in the past, you have signed up but then became scared and
quit, what will help you to trust the process this time? What needs to be different? Be specific!
Name in writing what action you can take if you break trust with yourself. How will you regroup? How will you reestablish trust? Look the monster squarely in the face.
4. Design generative stories
We all live in stories -- it is how our brains make sense of our world. Only problem: when we believe our stories are THE
TRUTH or when our stories make our world smaller, dingier, and stingier.
You have the right to play with your interpretation that fear, uncertainty or confusion are a sign that you are on the wrong track or that you are completely screwed. Instead, you could design a story that you are moving to a new level of development, discovering another layer of aliveness, engaging in consciousness. You could ask yourself, "How am I developing new capacities to express my gifts in the world?" and "What practices would support me in finding and taking my next step?"
Surely Christopher Columbus was nervous when he set out to perhaps fall off the edge of the known world. Why shouldn't
we be scared when we set out to do something new, especially when we don't know what this new thing is or if we can do
Being afraid and ready to jump out of your skin is a normal reaction to change. Acknowledge it as such. Try just being
with it, moment by moment. Try being curious about your stories, interpretations, and assessments about why being
uncomfortable is bad or wrong.
5. Consider what you need to learn
Several years ago, Toni posted this on our message boards: "I think I've finally figured out why I've been so horribly blocked about photography. I've been processing my classic money excuses for not taking photographs: they don't hold water. The reason I'm hesitant to take out my camera is plain, old-fashioned lack of technical proficiency! I'm never certain whether the way I'm setting the camera is correct. I know this sounds really fundamental and like a big ol' DUH, but it honestly hadn't occurred to me until yesterday.
I progressed from having a "good eye" right into the darkroom, produced some good prints, and I just assumed I knew all I needed to. In fact, I had skipped over a very fundamental part of the learning process. So what happens now is when I pick up my camera, I'm totally paralyzed. My lack of training is what's been holding me back!"
Notice how many new possibilities open for Toni when she asks, "What do I need to learn to move forward?" versus the
story "I should already know how to do this. Look how long I've been doing it." Notice too how something that was closed or frustrating to Toni became a ripe new path. How often do we prolong our transitions by refusing to learn, by
shoulding on ourselves?
6. Question your Assumptions
Notice too how Toni had been operating under unexamined assumptions -- "I assumed I knew all I needed to know." Unexamined assumptions are usually the single biggest reason we don't see the possibilities open to us.
Investigate what you are saying to yourself about your future. Become aware of thought distortions. A great book for doing that is David Burn's classic The Feeling Good Handbook
7. Accept Desire
I'm working on loving my desire to finish my novel, loving the ache and juice of it. I desire to write a spiritually illuminating, wonderful wacky, laugh out loud entertaining, and fascinatingly characterized novel AND my desire does not mean I will. If I insist my desire be met, then my desire dries up and writing becomes a should. Instead, I can entertain, enjoy, get tickled and tortured by my desire all the while telling myself, "No matter what happens, I am okay, I am loved, I am part of Spirit."
Jennifer Louden is a best-selling author of The Woman's Comfort Book, The Comfort Queen's Guide to Life and three other titles. You can visit her popular website at ComfortQueen.com where over 600 articles about self-care, an interactive Inner Organizer, and a wonderful CQ store await you. Jennifer also works with a few clients at a time as a life coach.