The Courage of Being Where You Are (Or Another Lesson in Not Getting Ahead of Yourself)

To look at something as though we had never seen it before requires great courage.
— Henri Matisse

I thought I would get ahead of myself—in the best way possible. I had planned a trip overseas after the Christmas holidays and wasn’t sure of my ability to connect to the internet, so I thought I would take advantage of all of those cool scheduling features in the website/blog/email programs and simply program my blogs to post at certain dates automatically. The blog could keep going, even if I was ‘off the grid.’ I was so proud of myself. It seemed like such a great plan.

Yet, those of you who subscribe to my blog know what happened. My plan bombed. The blogs didn’t post separately on the dates I had carefully assigned them. Instead, they all posted at once, with their assigned dates still intact, and the email program picked up all of the blog posts every day and emailed all of them every day. So that instead of something neatly timed, my email subscribers got the internet equivalent of a weeks worth of newspapers delivered to their houses every day, only, gratefully, much easier to get rid of.   And with sketchy internet and not much knowledge I wasn’t sure how to fix it. I felt like the sorcerer’s apprentice: I had just enough knowledge to get the thing going and not enough knowledge to stop it.

So my first lesson of 2016 arrives in bold print: Stop trying to get ahead of yourself.

This is not a new lesson for me. I have been trying to learn it for years. Even I have to admit how perfect it is that it showed up on the first day of the year.

‘Ahead of myself’ is where I am always trying to be. I am in a rush to ‘get there’ –to be competent, to know where I am, to be finished. I have always been a lousy beginner. Like all things this has its drawbacks and it benefits. The benefits are that I am likely to jump in, to try things, to persevere. But the sorcerer’s apprentice is the cautionary tale. I have always disliked the feeling of being at the beginning, and so I rush forward and imagine I can skip over the messy and main part of the work unknowingly releasing chaos as I go.

And it’s not the work that I mind. I’ll work hard at anything. It’s the not knowing. It’s the feeling lost. It’s the awkwardness that comes with the learning or building new skills, or working through a new plan. And mostly it’s that experience of being neither here nor there.

At the beginning of the year this feeling of wanting to get ahead of myself seems to be even more powerful.  It’s a beginning after all—what’s the plan? Let’s get started! And yet this year I can see that the beginning of the year is less about beginnings and more about transitions. And when I frame it as a transition I can see clearly why I try to get ahead of myself. I don’t like transitions. I don’t like the in-between.

And yet I know that if I can just slow down, (and I really do know), that the in-between is where such good work happens. I know this because when I have had the patience and really, the courage, to sit still in that in-between space I have been able to not only begin big changes, but also work them through to a new place. If you can stay in the in-between place you can actually untangle the threads of what you are trying to grow and change enough to figure out what is next.

So the first work of the beginning, or this transition is slowing down and sitting still. Letting go of the grip of achievement enough to let the pieces of last year come back and like pieces of a puzzle--fall in to a pile on my desk. Then I can begin the work of sorting through the work of the last year – what happened? What worked? What didn’t? Where did I stretch myself and grow? Where did I hold myself back? What did I do that helped me feel more connected to myself? My work? My relationships? My passions? And where did I follow others’ voices or expectations instead of my own?

The reflections and answers to these questions help me know where I currently am, and they provide the building blocks of what need to come next. Last year, nature kindly provided me with a series of blizzards in January where work got cancelled and I was involuntarily forced into a reflective retreat with these questions. But it looks like this year I may have to summon the discipline to create the reflection and work time for myself.

The reflection questions above help me begin to get a sense of where I am now, and to that I add other questions and reflections: What is important to me right now? What are my biggest priorities? What are my most important values? What is my noble or higher purpose? What am I in the middle of working on? What are my greatest resources? Where do I need the most help?

What is reassuring about this exercise is that you can’t do it without getting clarity about what is important to you and where your desires are aligning to others. Life is always a balance of both—there isn’t a greater value on one or the other—the beauty is in being able to make an informed choice. The beauty is in knowing where you are choosing to put your time and resources and why you are doing that.

So, if you care to, join me in the task of integrating the work you did last year and getting a sense of where you are now.  Give yourself the gift of slowing down and sorting through what you want and need. Have the courage for the awkward and messy moments, knowing that if you have the courage to be where you are you will be able to tap in to the power to go where you want to go. You can write it, draw it, put it on post-it notes or flip chart paper. I love plain old sketch books as there aren’t lines so the pages can become anything—and the paper holds up to colored markers which just make anything more fun. This work will become a great source of energy and information for the coming year.

© 2016 Gretchen L. Schmelzer, PhD

Other resources for Reflections and Beginnings: