Out of all my posts, there’s one in particular that readers really love— one that people really seem to get. The subject of the post? Why it’s OK to be lost and confused.
“Against every bit of advice that’s ever been thrown at you,” I write in my post, “today I’ll propose a strange notion: that maybe it’s ok (in fact,maybe it’s more than ok) to not have it all figured out.”
When people first read this, they throw up their arms in relief and shout, “Hallelujah! It’s OKAY to be lost and confused! I feel sooo much better now.”
Then they go back to sitting on their couches, watching The Real Housewives of New Jersey, and eating delicious Taco Bell.
About a month later, they send me an e-mail like this:
“Therese, at first I was relieved to find out that it’s OK to be lost and confused, and I’ve fully embraced my confusion like you suggested. But theres just one problem: I’ve been doing this for a whole month and I’M STILL SITTING ON MY COUCH FEELING LOST AND CONFUSED. How the f*** does this help me?
To which I reply,
“Dearest Reader X,
You’re right— this doesn’t help you one bit. If you just sit on your ass and eat bon bons, then in one month you’ll still be sitting on your ass eating bon bons.
I’m afraid, Reader X, that I’ve led you astray. Allowing yourself to be lost isn’t THE answer— it’s only one half of the answer.”
And so today I present to you “Why It’s OK To Be Lost And Confused (Part II): The Other Half of the Story.”
(If you haven’t read the first half yet, go do that now.)
WHATEVER YOU DO, DO NOT SIT DOWN IN THE MAZE
OK guys, so let me ask you a question. If you were lost in a maze, would you just sit down in the middle of it and expect to get someplace?
Of course not. That would be freaking redonkulous.
And yet when I say “embrace uncertainty” and “allow yourself to be exactly where you’re at,” most people think I’m saying that they should sit down in the maze and give up.
Public service announcement: I’M NOT SAYING YOU SHOULD SIT DOWN IN THE MAZE.
In fact, unless you want to stay exactly where you’re at, PLEASE DO NOT sit in the maze. For goshsake, PLEASE GET OFF YOUR ASS AND STOP EATING BON BONS.
“But Therese,” you say, “I don’t get it. You just told me to embrace my confusion. You just told me to allow myself to be lost. AND NOW you’re telling me to get off my ass and navigate my way through the maze? Which one am I supposed to do? You’re giving me conflicting advice.”
Guys. Stop for a second. QUESTION TIME:
I mean, do you absolutely, positively have to decide between (a) allowing your confusion to be or (b) getting off your ass and taking action?
Well, do you?
Or… could you maybe do both?
Like, at the very same time?
Is it possible, do you think, to allow yourself to be completely lost, WHILE AT THE VERY SAME TIME taking actionable steps toward finding your way?
I’d purport that the answer to this question is a resounding HELL MOTHER FREAKING YES.
And this, my friend, is the brilliance of the “and;” the genius of the “both;” the beauty of the paradox. This, my friend, is the sweet spot.
OK, so you get it now, but you still don’t really get it.
“But Therese,” you say, “HOW can I possibly take action if I don’t know where the heck I’m going?”
“How can I allow a paradoxical state of both resting in my confusion and of taking deliberate action toward an endpoint?”
This is a complex question with an amazingly simple answer: You just do the very best you can with the answers you have right now. And as you go along, you continue to strive to find better answers and you adjust your path accordingly.
Because when it comes down to it, what else can you really do?
Here’s the first step: Start right where you are. Go as far as you can see. When you get there you will see even further.
– Napoleon Hill
Here’s the thing: you’ve got to start somewhere— and even if you start off in the middle of a maze, the path will eventually become clearer. Sometimes it happens by trial and error; sometimes by a stroke of luck; other times it just naturally evolves with time. But if you actively shape your path and keep asking the right questions, and if you also allow yourself to rest in this grand mystery of life, then you’ll be amazed at how it’ll all come together with time. (Hint: that being said, some methods for finding your way are better than others— check out The Unlost Guide to Finding Your Truest Career & Life Path for more details.)
Five years ago, doing the best I could do with the answers I had at the time meant working as a cocktail waitress. I knew it wasn’t my “life’s path,” but I had no idea what WAS. Also, I had to make a living— so I did the best I could do at the time.
Four years ago, doing the best I could do meant taking off for Australia without an inkling of a plan.
Three years ago, it meant getting a “real job” in accounting and buying a house.
Eight months ago, it meant starting this blog.
And today here I am, working in my cubicle during the day and pursuing my passion (yes, this) on nights and weekends. Here I am, living in a house with my two little dogs and wondering where this path might take me. Here I am, fully surrendered to the unknown and yet taking step after step after step to move in the direction of my heart. And with each step I take, my path becomes a little bit clearer and my future unfolds in front of me a little bit more.
And THAT’s what I’ve come to see as “having my shit figured out.”
It doesn’t mean that I’ve got all the answers or that I have my whole life planned out. In fact, I’m pretty sure that would be impossible.
Instead, it simply means that every day I’m taking action to the very best of my ability and my current understanding, doing the very best I can do with the answers I have right now. It also means that every day I’m embracing the uncertainty of my path— and in doing so, I’m making space for possibility and for grand potential to unfold.
And the more I realize that I’ll never have it all figured out; the more I simply do my best and allow my life to fall into place piece by piece by piece, the more I ironically feel like— damn. I think I’ve got it all figured out.
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[Image by Tim Green]