How do you find what you’re supposed to do?
How do you know what you want?
A few variations of those questions came up in last night’s book club discussion of Leap by Tess Vigeland.
While we all had some ambivalence about the book itself, we all agreed that one of the takeaways was that we should all begin to consider this question before we’re in the situation where we have to leap from a desperate situation or are pushed without warning, due to industry upheaval or layoff.
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The Answer Requires A Search
I think the answer to the question comes to us only through asking the hard questions, the deep questions, and then working to peel back the layers of life that have built up over time and through our responses to the challenges and successes we’ve faced.
We have to delve into the forest, inspect the trees and other landmarks marking our path, and get perspective on where we are, what we believe we want, and where we think we’re going.
The answers to the questions we ask ourselves can only come through asking and exploring the questions. Yes, it’s hard.
Searching May Mean Going Into the Woods
Last winter, when I was in the midst of trying to validate what I perceive(d) to be the right new direction for me, I decided I needed an external distraction to get me out of my head (and out of my house).
I pulled up the list of movies playing at a local cinema.
Into the Woods caught my eye and the trailer convinced me the movie would provide the change of perspective I was seeking. Although I was vaguely familiar with the plot from the stage version, I didn’t remember enough to expect the storyline to address the actual questions I was grappling with that week, that day, early that morning.
Sometimes what you thought you wanted to begin with turns out to be something other than what’s right for you, what’s true for you. That’s what happened with me and a career as a lawyer. And sometimes you have to detour off your direct path to make it through some series of obstacles in your way.
Sometimes you have to go into the woods to discover what you really want and overcome the giants that stand in your way.
Getting Lost in the Woods
Going into the woods sometimes means getting lost. When we’re lost, we struggle with perspective and we often seek to stay the course thinking that will help us to survive.
In the first interview episode of the Discover Grow Shinecast, I spoke with Scott Hammond, a college professor, search and rescue volunteer and author of Lessons of the Lost.
He draws parallels from lessons of people who were literally lost in the woods—the survivors and those who didn’t make it out—and offers a framework for working through the occasions when we find ourselves lost in our own lives.
Sometimes when we’re in the woods of our lives, we just get off track a little bit. Other times we follow a path that leads us in the wrong direction or we start out going the right way and then we make a wrong turn or somehow we get turned around when the landscape changes. Sometimes we discover that what we thought was a path or road isn’t a path at all and we’re suddenly in the middle of nowhere with no compass to tell us how to get out. [If you’ve experienced any of those scenarios, check out my podcast conversation with Scott Hammond here.]
Lost is not a single event. It comes in layers that are placed over the victim, gradually impacting their ability to see, taxing their resilience, and drawing down their reserves.
Scott Hammond, Ph.D.
The value of Lessons of the Lost is in the framework Scott offers to help us move through the stages or layers of lostness, which he identifies as:
When you’re lost in the woods (of life or literally) and you hit the point of deprivation, you’re in the final stage of lostness, and you’ll either stay in survival mode or you’ll come stronger.
When you’re in a situation that that isn’t allowing you to thrive, or you sense that something is changing and you may be getting off track, you’re may be in (or moving into) survival mode, which Scott’s own experience (backed up by research) shows is the most emotionally-taxing, resource-demanding state of being.
On the other hand, if you’re satiated by the seeming security of a situation, one where you feel like you’re surviving, even if doesn’t seem ideal, you may be walking along a path which ends in a metaphorical cliff that requires a leap, even if you aren’t prepared for it.
As Tess Vigeland points out
…a refrain I heard over and over from people who have leaped, with or without children [is] that there is a false sense of security in sticking with what you know…..sometimes the risk itself is in staying, because you don’t expose yourself to other possibilities and opportunities. And that can make you even more vulnerable if a job loss comes involuntarily.
We have to move beyond surviving. To do that, we have to let go of the shame we feel over being lost in our situation.
Scott Hammond found shame to be a common feeling among the survivors who were rescued from literal “lost in the woods” experiences. According to Scott’s analysis of their stories, at the point of deprivation, the lost survivors felt shame because they perceived a gap between where they were and where they believed others expected them to be.
That’s true in all of our lives. We can feel shame because we haven’t achieved what we thought we should have achieved at certain stages based on our talents, interests, and the norms of our social circle and our broader society. We compare ourselves to others and feel shame and we compare ourselves to our expectations and perceived expectations of others.
While these emotions [feelings of shame] can be debilitating, this place of depravation can be an essential milepost for change. You must pass it before there is a felt need to become different.
Your Hero’s Journey
The whole experience of going through the woods and coming out to thrive is, when you get down to it, the hero’s journey.
At each stage of lostness, we face obstacles on our hero’s journey and we must marshall the resources available to us to move forward to our ultimate destination (which may turn out to be temporary).
Resources to Help
If finding your calling is something you want to pursue, I hope you’ll sign up for the Shinecast® newsletter to learn more about what’s coming.
I think we all know the answer to the “what do I do [next]” question isn’t going to come from a 300 or 500 or 1500 word blog post, a single newsletter, or even a book.
Figuring out your purpose or calling, or even what’s next within the framework of a general vocational calling you want to continue, is a big picture question and it’s at the heart of the Shinecast mission.
We can’t “shine” in all parts of our life, if we aren’t living true to our purpose in a way that’s integrated across all areas of our life.
We must live real, live authentically, and live whole.
And that often requires a journey through the woods to find out exactly who we are and we want really want and need.