Walking Into the Unknown

We can't always see around the next corner

We can’t always see around the next corner

“I really want to go back to grad school this year.  I’m going to do it!”

“I wonder what it will be like?”

“Do I even remember how to write a research paper?”

“Will everyone be younger and smarter than me?”

“I have no idea how I’ll keep up with work and everything else in life and go to school at the same time.”

“It’s probably more than I can afford anyway. Oh, well.”

If you’ve ever had a version of this internal conversation yourself, then you’re in good company. This is an example of how we let our fear of the unknown cut our dreams off at the pass before we even got on the horse. Our imagination paints pictures about how things would or could or should be, yet it is rarely accurate. Even so, we give it the reins and let it lead us down the same rutted path.

On a recent backpacking trip in the Badlands of North Dakota, we realized we’d been walking for some time without seeing a trail marker. Granted, they were few and far between and usually hidden under brush or grass, but this felt a little too far between. We stopped and debated what to do. Go back? Bushwhack? Get out the map and compass? Go forward? As we looked around, we realized that the small canyon we’d wound our way into looked impassable ahead, and the funny thing was that it looked impassable behind us, where we’d just come from. The way wasn’t obvious or clear in any direction.

This struck me as a perfect metaphor for life. The only way to really see what’s ahead is to keep on walking. We could have sat down and imagined and analyzed and thought about it all day, but only by walking did we get ourselves back on the trail. Of course, we used our map skills and knowledge of the terrain to make skillful decisions about which way to walk, but standing still would’ve gotten us precisely nowhere.

Putting thought into action was a resounding theme during my recent retreat on “Balance” with an amazing group of people. In unique ways, each person expressed that taking time to ponder, think, mull and reflect is important, but at some point you have to act on insights and do something.

Choosing to do something when we feel stuck is the quickest way to get unstuck, I believe. Whether we feel trapped in a black mood or paralyzed by a decision, taking action moves us. In the graduate school example above, potential actions could include talking to someone who went to the school you’re interested in, making an appointment with the department chair, filling out a financial aid application, calling up a trusted friend to discuss the decision, or any one of other small but important steps.

Like pulling the bottom apple out of the pyramid at the grocery store, one action sets things in motion, often in ways we cannot possibly foresee. If we can get comfortable with not knowing and acting anyway, we can move beyond the limitations we impose upon ourselves.

Feel stuck? Act.

Walk around the next corner, and trust yourself to know how to respond to what lies ahead.

Interested in going on retreat?  Read about upcoming retreats on “Presence” and “Growth” on my website.

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