There are many “right” ways to be in the world. No single path to greatness, or goodness, has been determined. We live in a world of possibility. How magnificent, but also terrifying and overwhelming. At least that’s how I’ve always seen it. If I’m honest the latter, terrifying and overwhelming, loomed larger in my mind than the magnificence. But lately I’ve been doing a lot of work on the next phase of my creative life. What will it look like? How do I want to construct it? Who will be impacted?
At times I become completely paralyzed by the possibilities. I stop dead. I cannot make any decisions. When everything is an option nothing is an option. But that’s because I get mired in the potential outcomes. In those moments I am best to remind myself that the coffee mug of life has many handles. My brother once told me a story of a Rabbi he had while studying in Israel. My brother and I are a lot alike and as a young college student he too felt the weight of all of the possibilities that lay before him. This Rabbi compared life to a giant coffee mug with many handles. There isn’t a right handle – just the handle that’s right for you. I thought that to be so profound and so very simple. This life requires only that I make a choice and then through sustained effort my goals may become reality. One path is not necessarily “more right” than another – except that it has to feel like the best option. Then you just have to choose it – and keep choosing it – everyday until you see results. You have to be patient, focused, and have faith.
But what if I don’t see results? What if I stop seeing results? What if it stops feeling right? What if I put all of this time, effort, energy into something and then I realize it wasn’t right? What if the sky falls? What if it rains? What if I make a plan and it doesn’t work? What if I choose wrong? What if I don’t know what I’m doing?
There are many what ifs – they are never ending. The truth is we never know what we are doing. Beyond a certain point, we don’t have any control over all of those things that might happen. If the sky falls, here’s hoping there’s shelter near by. If it rains, you’ll have to get an umbrella – or get comfortable being rained on. If you don’t see results, look deep and try to figure out why. If progress reverses employ all of your resources to correct the course. IF, IF, IF…No one knows what they are doing. We all just get up everyday and try to figure this weird world out. Some things work and others do not.
The biggest fear of all? What if you’ve made every reasonable effort to make the thing work and it doesn’t, or you realize that it’s no longer what you want? Why then you may have to make the big, scary choice – to grab a new handle and start back at the beginning. Starting a thing, building a thing, committing to a thing – only to have the outcome be less than you imagined, hoped, or worked for? Horrifying. At times of great uncertainty that possibility is enough to not even try.
Except you have to try. You. Have. To. The alternative to not trying is wondering what might have happened. See there – either way you’re back at what if. But the what ifs that are followed by thinking of what we didn’t find the courage to do are so much worse than the other what ifs.
The most completely horrible part of life is that we don’t get to know any of the secrets. But since we don’t get to know all we get to do is choose. That means everything is possible, right? If I can breathe in those moments of being overwhelmed and terrified by not knowing and remind myself that there is no wrong answer, there is not one way. I can just do my thing and not worry so much about what will or won’t happen and just do the thing that makes me feel most myself. I just have to let go of the need to know and just choose how I want to use my voice to make my mark on the world.
Will I make my mark? I don’t get to know. Will I try? That’s the only thing over which I have control.
Here’s the thing though. If something terrible does happen and you have to start back at the beginning you aren’t. There is no replacement for knowledge, experience, and the wisdom that comes from having done a thing. Back at the beginning is not the same as it was when you first started. Now you’re smarter. That new handle you’ve decided to grab is bigger and filled with more information than the previous handle (yes, maybe I’m taking the coffee mug analogy too far but I’ve made it to this point and I’m still feeling O.K. about it).
We have these giant brains which are an endless repository for the lessons that life has to teach us. Whether we realize it or not every experience we have is banked for later reference. The secrets of the universe are held in our souls and our skin – we may not get to know them consciously but we have this magical thing called intuition. If we allow ourselves to get very quiet and still, to stop listening to the shoulds, and be very kind to our inner voice we know exactly what to choose. It’s when we leave that place and go back out into the loud world that we can be thrown off course or let fear take over.
There is a lifetime’s worth of conversation that can be had on the issue of choosing, re-choosing, or not choosing the path of one’s life. The choice is just the beginning after all. Then the real work begins. I guess my point on this second day of the year when I am feeling introspective and also fearful of big work that I am facing in the coming year, is that choosing a path is only the second choice we make. First we must choose how to look at the options. Are they terrifying and overwhelming with the potential for great tragedy and deepest failure? OR, are they the opportunities for greatness and goodness that we have been waiting for?
How we choose to see it will determine how far we are able go.
I wish us all a beautiful year filled with deep breaths and brave choices.