What to do when you feel paralyzed
“If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.” – Joseph Campbell
I’ve been on a linear path all my life, taking the step in front of me – propelled forward by the motivation of appreciation, acknowledgement and achievement. I did what I thought I was supposed to do, went where I thought I should go. I was smart so I should go to a great school and do great things. I was likable – and desperately wanted to be liked – so I should make myself go out, be with people, join the clubs.
A Well Worn Path
It was a well-worn path with lots of cheerleaders so it made it easy to stay on. And not even question. I’d get cheers from the sidelines, pats on the back and high fives from my supporters telling me what a great job I was doing, how valuable I was, how far I could go.
But something always felt off. I couldn’t ever quite figure it out but it was like there was an emptiness. Something was missing. All the appreciation and success was great, but it somehow felt hollow. And that made me feel guilty as hell.
What was wrong with me? How could I not appreciate all THIS? All that I’ve worked for, all that I have, all that other people would give anything to get?
For so many years, I just put my head back down, listened to the cheering, and kept going – kept pushing forward, hoping upon hope that someday I’d finally feel like I’d arrived. Like all the work I’d been doing, all the steps I’d been taking, all the goals I’d been smashing, would finally pay off. That the emptiness would go away and I’d feel happy and fulfilled.
The further I went on the path, the more I started to realize that the path always felt the same. Sure there were some highs and some low, but because it was a linear path, I could see straight down the line. And no matter how hard I tried to picture myself being truly happy and fulfilled progressing on that path, I couldn’t. Being ok? Sure, I could picture being ok. I could picture being fine.
But I didn’t want fine, I didn’t even want Good.
I wanted Great.
I didn’t want to get to the end of my life and think ‘Meh, that wasn’t so bad.’
When I decided it was time to get off the path altogether – to jump off the cliff and into the fog – I somehow intuitively knew that if I wanted to do life differently, I had to learn to be in life differently.
I’d always been a planner – planning, controlling, doing – are my sweet spots, my default. They come easily to me. Believing, trusting and being? Not so much.
Since it was so much harder for me to believe and be, somehow I knew that’s what I needed to learn first. The planning could come later, and that would be much easier than learning to truly trust and believe in myself and the universe.
Jumping off the cliff without a net (or a plan)
That’s why, when I left my well worn path with security and recognition, despite having been a planner all my life, I didn’t have a static plan.
I knew I would have NO idea what life was going to look like, be like, feel like once I jumped off the cliff. I could make things up about how I thought it was going to go and make a plan based on that, but whatever my imagination could conjure up would never really be right.
And if I did that, all I’d be doing was trying to create a new linear path at the bottom of the cliff, right in the middle of the fog because I didn’t like standing in the uncertainty. But if I did that, I’d end up feeling the exact same way I had before, but with slightly different scenery and a lot less security.
I had been on the path before because I didn’t trust myself. I needed everyone else to tell me when the steps I was taking were right and worthy of recognition.
This time, I didn’t want to try and manufacture a new path ahead of myself simply because I couldn’t trust the journey of forging it with every step I took.
It was uncomfortable. Really uncomfortable.
I’d never lived life that way and it was hard to let go of control. To learn how to be. To allow myself to feel fear and uncertainty and confusion. I felt lost, untethered, like I had nothing to cling to because I was standing in the middle of a bank of fog and couldn’t see anything around me.
It felt like a windstorm, a tornado, had come and spun up everything that was on the ground, sending it spiraling and floating through the air. That’s how I felt: like all the pieces of me were floating around in the air after a storm, and I was just waiting to see how they’d fall – knowing they wouldn’t fall in the same places and in the same order as they’d been before the storm came.
Even that, though, is a bit like trying to create a linear path. Expecting that when the pieces fall, they’ll stay that way. That, whoever I am coming out of the fog is who I really am, set in stone.
With every storm, the pieces fly again. And each time they settle, they settle in a slightly different fashion.
There’s a lot less change now because each storm blows away more and more layers of the stuff that wasn’t me at all. The more I accept the fluidity of who I am and what I want and enjoy, of how this journey feels, the less I need to see what the path looks like.
Because instead of looking for a path to get on, I’m creating my own with every single step I take. And that means that when I step to the right, the path is there. When I jog left, the path appears there too.
I absolutely know where I’m going. I have a very clear vision of where my path is taking me, even without seeing the path itself. What keeps me headed in the right direction is feeling and trusting, rather than seeing and doing.