If you are human, then you’ve felt it. That stirring inside and the nagging feeling of being just slightly enough out of place in the world to grab your frenzied attention. Sometimes it arises as the inexplicable need to explore and escape the routine. Or the almost sudden realization that your career, college major, or relationship just doesn’t feel “right” anymore – without even knowing what “right” means. Many times we feel it in the form of a comparison addiction – the subconscious yet almost constant measuring up to others’ lives.
“Why do they always seem to have it all together?” “They are so lucky.”
It’s like being trapped by a familiar door you forgot how to open.
This stirring is a calling from within – the accumulated pressure of days, weeks, and years of saying “no” to yourself. The stark realization that the life you are living may not be your own.
In our modern society, schools, and organizations such disruptions are often shrugged off as “phases” or excused by suppressive “you just have to put in your time” career advice. We become socialized by the superstition that we all need a fixed plan that culminates in freedom once you make it to 65.
The calling, then, becomes unwanted, unwelcomed, and unexplored. We try and push on and to explain it away. We trash it for the “practical,” only to meet our unwelcome acquaintance years or decades later and find out it may have been the single most practical and powerful endeavor we could have ever engaged in.
Often times we actively choose not to answer the call because we “don’t know what to do” – not recognizing that “not knowing” is always necessary for “knowing.”
So what do we do when we don’t know what to do?
1. Face the discomfort.
Imagine that you’re in a house. There is a room upstairs that has a warm fireplace and everything that has ever made you feel safe and comfortable in your life is there. You look out the window toward the west and see the dark, ominous clouds of a cold storm blowing in. The trees are shaking and the house is creaking – you can feel the chilled air seeping through the cracks under the windows.
What do you do?
When faced with such a storm we are conditioned to choose the comfortable room and to wait it out in comfort.
Here’s the problem: If we choose comfort and security every time a storm comes in, we will never learn who we are in a storm. We’ll never know how to BE in a storm. We’ll only ever learn how to be comfortable.
Answering the call means walking downstairs, opening the door, seeing and acknowledging the storm and walking straight out into it anyways.
Become comfortable with the uncomfortable. After all, no one ever changed the world from a comfortable bed.
Henry Ford once said, “When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.” It’s a law of nature that resistance is energy. So why do we spend half of our lives avoiding it?
2. Take a week off.
Sound crazy to you? Freaking out about your e-mail just by the thought?
Then you need it more than anyone.
There’s no better way to stop frustration and discontent than to disrupt the destructive cycle that’s creating it. You’d be surprised how much vacation time you’ve built up and how insignificant missing five days of school is when your life’s direction and contentedness depends on it.
Give yourself the gift of time to reflect, to reset, and re-center. We need time to engage in discomfort. You can’t work through existential questions in the two hours after dinner.
If you think your full calendar is making you feel better, you’re fooling yourself. You’re just putting off the discomfort for later, so don’t be surprised when it comes back on Sunday afternoon.
3. Write down your questions.
Once you’ve faced the discomfort and allowed yourself to be in it, it’s time to learn. One of the most important things to do is to document what you’re feeling and perhaps most critically, what questions you have about yourself while you’re engaging in the struggle.
Write down all of the questions. Once you put something on paper, it’s harder to get rid of. Contemplate these questions daily.
4. Temporarily stop seeking advice.
Generally, people are good and want to help. But despite even the best intentions, people are going to give you the advice they wish they had heard. By default, then, they are giving you advice to be like them.
Most of our restlessness arises from the lifetime of “advice” we’ve gotten from society to be who we “should” be.
The best advice you’ll ever get comes from within if you’re willing to listen, to be uncomfortable, and to give yourself the gift of time to work through it all.
You’ll be surprised what can be learned in a storm.
“Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.” – Publilius Syrus