365 Days of Courage #9: You don't need to know how it ends before you begin
I have been talking about the importance of getting clear on the story you want to live, the bigger, longer-term vision you have that will help you to stay focused on the days when it would be easier not to.
The Story of You
When you're ready to make changes in your life or your career, it's incredibly helpful to have a story or vision to guide you - to have an idea of what you want the next chapter of your life to be like.
How do you want to spend your days?
Who are the people that you want to be in your life?
What kind of work would you find meaningful?
What energizes you?
What drains you?
What are you passionate about?
What bugs you?
What are you curious about?
What have you always wanted to try?
What tends to happen, though, is that we think that we need to know every single detail of the story before we can do anything about it. Which stops us in our tracks. It keeps us in a state of analysis-paralysis which can last for months, years, even decades.
In reality, you only need to know the next word in your story and then the next until you have a sentence and then sentence after sentence until you have a paragraph and then paragraph after paragraph until you have your chapter.
What happens as you write and live your story is that life co-writes with you - it will put people in your path who lead you in a direction you might never otherwise have considered, or who see qualities in you that you might not have noticed yourself, or you will learn a skill that will change the course of your life in ways you could never have imagined.
The gift of this is that you might not even be able to imagine how extraordinary your life could be - but as you write and live your story, you will discover new aspects about your character and your skills and talents. New characters will appear on the journey who will introduce you to just the right person who is able to show you a detour that you would never have known existed if you had been trying to write a later chapter. It takes each word, paragraph and page to take you to the next chapter.
If you write a chapter with a dogged determination that the chapter will end in a certain way, you will miss out on all of the richness and depth that are revealed to you as you write and live your story.
In my own life, back in 1993 when I was a trainee attorney in London, I applied for a six month secondment to the New York office. For some reason, I had this strong feeling that it was something I wanted to do really, really, really badly. It was very unlike me to feel that strongly about anything in those days so this was an unusual - and somewhat disconcerting - feeling for me. When I applied for the six month assignment that started in August 1993, another person got it but I was encouraged to reapply six months later. Which I did and I got it!
I moved to New York in February 1994 for what should have been six months. That experience introduced me to a city that felt like home, to a group of ex-pats who welcomed me so warmly into their lives, to an advertisement for dance lessons at the studio where Al Pacino learned to dance for "Scent of a Woman" to actually taking dance lessons, to a dance competition where I met the man who would become my husband, to three children, to a stand up comedy class, to performing comedy at Caroline's Comedy Club, to reading a book by Martha Beck and training as a coach with her and on and on and on. Day by day, week by week, a city that might have been the setting for a single chapter in my life story became the backdrop for all the chapters in my life during the past 25 years. At age 26, I could never have imagined what the next 25 years would hold for me. Those 25 years grew out of an inkling that something really mattered to me and I acted on that gut instinct and kept reacting as the story unfolded.
What are the things that you find yourself talking about time and time again with friends? I’ve started to call them “Groundhog Day Dreams” - the things you talk about again and again and again and again. The things/people/places that you find yourself strangely drawn to? … Sal Robertson
This week, I want you to take one of those Groundhog Day Dreams and spend a few minutes each day writing a sentence or two to flesh out the details of that dream - to make it clearer and stronger in your mind.
Not sure which Groundhog Day Dream you want to focus on next? Then write a list of all of the things that you want to part of your life story and pick the one that seems to call to you the most right now. The one that sends a shiver down your spine when you think about it. That doesn't mean you won't get round to the other dreams later but, for now, you are going to focus your attention on this one thing. Just for this week, at least!
By the end of the week, you will have a more fully fleshed-out version of your dream and - equally importantly - you will have spent seven days focused on that dream and giving it the attention it deserves.
I would love to hear from you as you do this exercise - let me know what your Groundhog Day Dreams are and which one you are focusing your attention on first!