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Mud, messiness and clarity

mud.jpegSometimes when you go through a process it gets muddy before it gets clear.

As a consultant for nonprofits with Aurora Consulting, when we do a strategic planning retreat with clients we often warn them things will get “muddy” for a time but we won’t stay in the mud. I’ve come to see it’s not about needing a new process that keeps things clear and organized. It’s about allowing everyone to dive into the mud, get messy, stir around, and see what comes out the other side.

I can also see how this is true in life. In small ways, such as organizing a closet, to big ways like finding the right path in your life or career.

The process of organizing a closet can make it look and feel like a tornado blew through your house or apartment. Until… it doesn’t. Suddenly you have a closet where you can actually find things…  until you can’t anymore because, let’s face it, life happens.

It’s easier, at least for me, to sit with and work through messiness when it’s as physical and tangible as a closet. You know the end is in sight and generally how to get there. But how do you sit with that mess when the situation is less tangible and the stakes are higher?

What if you are considering a career transition? A role transition with your current employer? Or a life transition like moving to a new city, starting a family, or embarking on a new relationship? Sometimes you just know something needs to change and you aren’t even sure what.

Some thoughts I’ve found helpful in this process: 

Stay in the present moment:

What do you need to do or can you actually do right now? It’s easy to get overwhelmed by everything you have to do or can anticipate needing to do moving forward. But for me, that way of thinking is more apt to make me feel paralyzed. While planning is good, and believe me I’m a planner, often it’s good to focus on the present moment.

If you want to change jobs, is there someone with whom you can do an informational interview? Can you email them right now? If you think you need to move to a new city, can you spend an hour right now brainstorming your top cities or make a list of your criteria? Sometimes the thing to do right now is stop thinking about it. Take a nap, go for a walk, break out of your routine, and see what new ideas pop up later.

Focus on feelings: 

I’ve read several books lately advocating a focus on feelings rather than things. How do you want to feel rather than what do you want. You may be convinced you need a new job. But how do you want to feel? What’s behind that conviction? If you can narrow in on the feelings you might find there are multiple ways of getting more of that good feeling in your life. You’ll also narrow the risk that the new job comes with the same issues.

For example, maybe you want to feel more respected and confident. A new job doesn’t automatically give you those feelings, nor does a promotion or a higher salary. Maybe you’ll even find more of those feelings in your current job or outside of work now you’ve identified how you want to feel. In my life I know I want to feel more energized. So instead of making a goal to do yoga everyday, I make a goal to do whatever feels right in the moment to feel more energized. Some days that might be yoga, but other days it’s a walk, a run, biking, gardening, or even sleeping.

Trust in yourself: 

Unfortunately it’s all too easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of “shoulds.” These “shoulds” can come from your parents, your spouse, your co-worker, media, society at-large. Sometimes they can completely drown out your own inner voice. When I transitioned away from my job in Vermont the whole world was open to me, and all I could hear were shoulds. I should go to graduate school. That was the responsible thing to do. But what would I study? I should travel the world while I had the time and money. But I didn’t want to do it alone. I should move back to Minnesota. But what would people say about that? I was so bogged down by shoulds I couldn’t figure out what to do.

The best advice I got was to trust I will make good decisions. There is no one right answer. But I am smart, capable, and thoughtful. The decision I make will be the right decision for me in that moment. The same is true of you.

I honestly thought when people hit 30 they had it all figured out and it was just living. Coasting through life with a smile and a cup of coffee. Summertime and the livin’ is easy.

Um, not so much. Life is continually unfolding and the muddy parts just keep coming. My twenties were hard, and my thirties are hard in a new way. But they are also interesting, fun, adventurous, and full of learning and growth.

I’m finding if I focus on the present moment, how I want to feel, and trusting myself I’ll continue to, in the words of Ranier Maria Rilke, “live my life in widening circles.”

I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one
but I give myself to it.

When have you found yourself in the “muddy” part of a situation? What has helped you to see your way through? Are you in a muddy situation right now?

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