In my last blog post, the first in a series on purpose, I wrote about The Voice of More, “that soft, whispery voice deep inside that flickers into consciousness—more…more—in those in-between moments when our minds aren’t habitually occupied with thoughts and plans and to-do lists.” The voice that asks, “Is this it? Is this all there is?” That voice that dares to say: “There’s something missing….”
The Voice of More is persistent and inconvenient. And because it’s inconvenient, we have a hard time trusting it: Maybe it’s hormones… Maybe it’s some crazy need I have for constant change… Maybe I’m having a midlife crisis… Maybe I want too much… Maybe I can’t be satisfied… Maybe I’ll regret it if I go for it…
I’ve been there, I hear you. And what I can tell you with bet-my-kids’-lives-on-it-confidence is that The Voice of More won’t lead you astray. She may well guide you to places unknown and unexpected, but she won’t steer you wrong.
In my last post, I taught you how to recognize—and trust—The Voice of More: her key characteristics, her various faces. What The Voice of More sounds and feels like, and what she is not. In doing so, I took up the first of two common questions that clients ask me regarding purpose: “How do I trust that feeling—my restlessness, dissatisfaction, and desire?”
This time, I’ll address the question that almost always follows on the heels of the last: “What if I know I want something more, or different, but have no idea what that is? What do I do then? How do I figure it out?
For most of my clients, this can be a deeply unnerving space to live in: that limbo between where you’ve been and where you’re going. It’s at times super uncomfortable, especially if others are depending on you, and when we’re in this place we’re tempted in the face of that feeling to retreat to what we know.
This is when the How Mind too often takes over. The How Mind is that voice inside that reacts to The Voice of More with something like this: So, how are you going to make a change? How will you make it work? How will you support yourself and your family? How will you know you’re doing the right thing? How will you afford it? How will you balance learning a new skill/trade/business/job while keeping all of your balls in the air?
How How How How!
If we’re not mindful of the How Mind, we can easily mistake it for the voice of sanity, responsibility, and maturity. And if left unchecked, the How Mind will do a number on your dreams.
Obviously we do need to know the How of it all. But what most of us don’t understand is that the How will not—cannot—reveal itself until we’ve made a decision to move forward, to do things differently. This is the single most important point of this post, folks: the How Mind is the number one dream-killer. If you’re waiting for the How to magically emerge, full-formed and gleaming, roadmap in extended hand, before you leap—you’ll be wizened and rueful at death's door, consumed by the passion you never set free.
It’s rarely what we’ve done that we regret at the end of our lives. It’s what we didn’t dare to do that we most mourn.
As Goethe said, you can’t know the How before you commit. For when we commit, when we decide to follow The Voice of More even though we don’t know where she's taking us, “all sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.”
And this isn’t mere woo (though I’m a sometimes-lover of woo). The pragmatics here are actually pretty plain: when we commit to something our mindset shifts into a deliberate state that allows us to see or apprehend opportunity that otherwise would have remained invisible to us. It’s like what happens when you learn a new vocabulary word, and suddenly you hear it all over the place. Odds are that everyone else did not just learn the word too. Rather, the word is now front-and-center on your conscious radar, therefore you hear it. In psychology this is called “priming”: you’ve been primed to hear/see something, so you do. Same thing here: when you commit to The Voice of More, she’s on your conscious mind, no longer shrouded in the shadows of doubt and denial. As such, the opportunities and assistance that will bring The Voice of More’s vision into fruition become increasingly apparent. A person you meet at a party whom you might not have thought twice about before suddenly seems like someone you might learn something from. A book you might have overlooked earlier catches your eye. A dream you had the night before becomes meaningful. Something tells you that you ought to go to the event that earlier you might have dismissed. And so on...
So, if you're feeling anxious about your “purpose,” wandering in that seemingly feral place between where you’ve been and where you’re going, scared to move forward but beleaguered by the thought of staying where you are, I invite you to consider this:
This time of not-knowing is an astonishingly fertile time in your life. A period of gestation. And just like physical pregnancy, spiritual/creative gestation—because that’s what this is—is equal parts mysterious and mundane, profound and routine, exalting and humbling.
And like physical pregnancy, this gestation demands a new, ramped-up, radically expanded level of listening. As much—or more—surrender as will: the Voice of More and its rewards of self-actualization and meaningful service move in sometimes surprising ways.
When I was in the height of this period, I found that my well-honed skills of logical analysis and intellectual ordering often failed me, or only took me so far. And so I sought new teachers: I went to an energy healer. I went to a Chinese Medicine practitioner. I spent a lot of time with an amazing therapist, whom I’ve come to think of as a lay-shaman, or a good witch. And I hired a first-rate life coach, with whom I still work.
With the guidance of these remarkable teachers, I learned to pay attention to my feelings in ways I’d never truly done. I learned to anchor my consciousness deep in my belly. To breathe into my mind, instead of reach and strive for resolution with my thoughts. I kept a dream journal. I learned to move my body whenever I needed to figure something out—to go for a run, a fast walk, or to put on some music and dance like crazy in my living room.
I spent a little less time thinking and more time drawing and painting, two cherished loves from childhood and adolescence. I found myself inexplicably drawn to trees—I’d spend long stretches of time touching the bark of a beautiful old oak outside of my house, or leaning against the heft of its trunk. I found that my senses were heightened: colors were richer, more lustrous. Angles—of branches and buildings and roads and even arms and legs—seemed somehow more sinewy than they’d ever been.
Things started to feel more alive.
With guidance from my coach, I set about exploring my senses and my creative abilities and interests. In looking back, I see how crucial this was to my process, and it’s now something I task all of my clients to do who are in the midst of this process themselves. Trying to figure out what’s next by scouring the classifieds, researching schools and trainings, taking personality tests, etc., is far less productive—and often more of a distraction than not—than is the tapping of your creative source, whatever that means for you.
So, I joined a dance class (I love to dance), and then another, for the first time since I’d been kicked out of ballet class when I was six, and even though I’d lose the beat regularly (to the consternation and sometimes amusement of my dance partner). I read lots of books and took lots of walks. I started cooking elaborately beautiful meals again, something I hadn’t done for years because I was “too busy.” I bought a sketchbook and returned to my first artistic love.
And I cried. Sometimes I sobbed, inexplicably, for what felt like hours. I see now that I was grieving just as I was creating. We must let go of what doesn’t serve us if we want to make room for what does.
I also paid attention to images. The fleeting images. The weird, non-sensical picture-blips that would pop into my mind’s eye unbidden, when driving or walking or reading or cooking. That kept appearing.
One of these images came to me again and again, for years, when I’d feel most strongly The Voice of More: a vision of my face, with my hands raised and gesticulating, my mouth opened as if in speech, and my eyes clearly engaging someone else’s. No body attached to my face. No other person to whom this face/hand combo was speaking. Just my face, animated and suspended, in this highly alert, outward-moving stance, as if in lively conversation, or teaching.
Somehow I knew to keep coming back to this image. I sensed it was telling me something. I remember one time it came to me when I was on a plane, flying from California to Maine with my kids and husband after visiting my 98 year-old grandmother. This image erupted into my mind, and with it came a catalyzing energy: I got a pen out of my backpack and started taking notes all over my paper cocktail napkin, describing what I saw—my face, the hands, the fuzzy background that seemed to be in the woods or somewhere outdoors.
I kept this up. Slowly but surely, the rest of the picture filled itself in over time: my head and hands grew a body, and I saw myself standing in a room of women, with an easel behind me. I was teaching. They were listening. It was warm and intimate. We were writing, and talking. The energy was palpable.
Soon thereafter, I held my first women’s retreat, in Bloomington, Illinois, while still teaching full time at the university—and, interestingly, while going up for my final promotion to Full Professor (which I received). After that, I created and taught a class out of my home every Tuesday night that delved into my retreat teachings. From among that first group of women, I connected with my first coaching clients.
For two years I built my business, small step by step, while working my day job full time at the university and mothering my wonderful kids. I held more retreats. I signed on more clients. I designed a logo. I built a website. I asked for help and I hired help. Lots of it. I sought and completed professional training and certification. I read tons of books on personal evolution, positive psychology, and the neuroscience of well being. And I kept listening to, and watching for, the images, the visions, The Voice of More urging me on.
Soon enough, I took the leap and landed where I am today: a successful business owner and life coach, doing what I absolutely love, what challenges and pushes me, what keeps me growing, what leaves me feeling at the end of the day that I’ve made a difference in this world while engaging everything I’ve got.
Today, a sense of possibility (instead of predictability) permeates my days. And it’s this, above all, that distinguishes the life I live now from the life I lived before. It was, in fact, the slow but sure encroachment, and eventual engulfment, of possibility by predictability that eventually pushed me over the threshold.
The Voice of More always chooses the path of possibility. She will guide you if you let her.
So, don’t be afraid of not knowing your How during this tender and dynamic and fertile time of not-knowing. Instead, ask yourself the following crucial questions, in exactly this order. I suggest you take out your journal and spend as much time as you need to explore your response to each of these questions:
Why do you want something more? What does it feel like in your body when you think of doing what you’re doing now in five years? What would living a life of purpose and meaning, a life of full potential, feel like?
What is it that you’d like to do? What activities or experiences bring you joy? What do you want to learn about? What fascinates you?
Who do you want by your side? Who can you count on to support you, no matter what? Whom do you want to help? Who can I learn from? Who can help you figure out where you want to go?
When is the right time to take the next step? Is there something especially timely about what it is you want to do?
And then, after you’ve answered all of the above… the How.
But not until the end. The How really is the least important question of all, and if pursued too early in your process, it can distract or even derail you from the insights and inspiration that matter. Discover your answers to the questions above, and the answer to How will fall right into place, sometimes in the least expected—and most pleasant—of ways.
P.S. If you want to do learn more about the specific process I guide my clients through in order to discover and actualize their purpose, go ahead and schedule a free Breakthrough Session with me here: http://kirstinhotellingzona.com/complimentary-session