"The pain pushes until the vision pulls." - Michael Bernard Beckwith
Finding My Way Forward
I wrote a letter to my younger self – the self who was on the precipice of one of life’s rough spots - the girl who was on the sofa, feeling broken, humiliated and overwhelmed, with parts of her life seemingly crashing down all around her. If at that time I could have reached into the future and pulled some wisdom out of the sky, that surely would have helped! Actually, I did just that. Sometimes a “gift” is handed to you but when it arrives it doesn’t look that way. I smile now at the thought.
I was inspired to write the letter to my younger self after reading a book that I love: What I Know Now, Letters to My Younger Self, by Ellyn Spragins. First, a little background:
In my 20’s it was a series of unrelated jobs, and the next thing I knew I was driving an express delivery truck, which allowed me just enough income to move out of my parents’ house. Well, it was almost enough – I could make rent when I was working 3 jobs at once, split shifts and all. Between all of those work hours I was dating a guy who would be in my life for 5 years. But even though he was my best friend, it wasn’t meant to be.
The day after I downshifted my delivery job from full-time to part-time, in order to create space for career exploration, I badly sprained my ankle. Clearly I’d already used up my allotment of calls for help from my boyfriend. Even though he’d stopped by late that evening and I was on crutches, he wouldn’t - and certainly couldn’t - bail me out of my misery. Nor would he help change the dead light bulb on the 9-foot ceiling of my bedroom, deal with my laundry mountain, or bring me groceries. In a fit of “you know it’s over when…” I realized that change was about to happen really fast. Alone and fumbling in the dark, I got ready for bed. Then I spent a month on my sofa and had a LOT of time to think about my life, including the overwhelming avalanche of non-addressed things that I had let pile up. Yet it was my career confusion that haunted me the most. It seemed that no single workday could match my diverse interests. And without a defined career path, I feared I’d never get traction in the other areas of my life. My career seemed to be cycling in a diverse loop of jobs-to-nowhere; while I’d watched good friends marry, buy houses, and raise kids, all while moving up in their own careers.
Within 6 weeks I would heal my sprain, endure a breakup, and move across town – back into my parents’ home (gasp!!!), an hour away from all of my current friends, and I changed offices at work too. And it was January in Chicago: cue the gloomy music, grey skies and a below-zero wind-chill...
What I know now: this is where I get to write a letter to my sofa-bound younger self:
Hey Karen. It’s me, Karen, and I’m writing to you, from a couple of decades away. No worries – you look and feel really young! One look at you and no one even believes your age. Pretty cool! One reason you look and feel great is that you’ve always taken care of yourself. After this experience you lowered the bar on how much stress you were willing to tolerate. Not that we haven’t had any stress – but you just look to clean up whatever needs cleaning up in your life. So I find you now, on the sofa in that colorful apartment on the second floor of an old Victorian home. You are icing and elevating your sprained ankle (and I would kill to have your legs again!) and for the first time in a really long while you have some time here, carved out beautifully by nature, to contemplate your life.
“What???” you ask. What exactly was beautiful about going for a run with a friend and tripping on the pavement and spraining your ankle worse than a break, such that you can’t even go to work?
What was really beautiful about this, which you are realizing right this very minute – is that you were tripped by some angelic force. It had stormed the night before and tree branches were strewn about the running trail. But you and your running pal both know that there were no branches in your path at that moment - in the place, where you tripped. And it felt like, and looked like, you really tripped on SOMETHING. You felt the FORCE of it, tripping you up.
You, feeling so stuck and overwhelmed in your life, had asked for help with this - and now you’ve got it, more than a little space of time...
But it sure doesn’t feel very helpful right now, does it?
Much of your life is about to change. It had to. Your apartment is infested with roaches - a tad inconvenient? Your boyfriend of five years, who is your best friend, has been second-guessing the relationship since year one. And your career - what career? You don’t have a clue what you want to do for a living and your current job is sucking the life out of you. You are experiencing a trifecta of pain right now: home, relationship, career – all in a mess, and all at once. Adding to it – you are laid up on the sofa, icing your ankle. And you are about to lose your fun friends too, when you break up with the guy and move away. But you suspect that. And you will have to suck it up and move back into your parents’ house because without working you cannot pay your bills right now.
And you can’t do a darned thing at the moment, but sit here and think about all of it!
Well good, because you are going to make the best of it, with all of that thinking…
You will watch every episode of Friends and this will cheer you up. And you’ll get some long-needed rest, on that sofa.
You are about to discover books. You’ve hardly read a book since college. From one of those books you are going to experiment a bit with the topic: intuition. You’ll get really quiet and using intuition you can envision your future a bit. You don’t have the career down yet but you can see your new boyfriend in your mind’s eye and you have identified the “pull” toward your new office and can envision a stepping-stone to your next career move. This is all you need to know right now, because being pulled forward with a vision is so much easier than painfully “pushing” your way through stuff. And you can feel it in every cell of your body – you are being pulled. You have a deep knowing about this, and it’s such a relief!
Right now you are learning about: Humility. Love. Loss. Letting go. Friends who pass through. Endings. Getting quiet. Intuition. Beginnings. Being pulled. Knowing. And a plan that's larger than you. You are getting your energy from this pulling thing because you are tapping into some universal force: some greater intelligence mixed with some destiny, mixed with adventure. Even though breaking up with someone you love and losing your friends hurts, you know – yes, you really know deep down, that everything is going to be all right because you feel it within every cell of your being. And you are even a bit excited about it!
I’ll give you this: all of the bumpiness of your 20’s and 30’s existence – your career and lack thereof, that you’ll move 13 times, the ups and downs of your relationships, the humiliation you feel, the lack of focus and direction you are experiencing, the void of sustainable income, the many roles and industries you are working in - whether in steel-toed shoes or in a suit and heels, and the fact that you, a serial monogamist, have some real relationship navigating experience – all of this adds up to your dream career. I promise.
Karen Knauf is an Ambition Strategy Coach whose colorful career informs her inspiration to guide clients toward their aspired lifestyle and career with refreshed energy, clarity and perspective.
What About You?
What would you say in a letter to your younger self, and at what point in your life?
In what ways have your challenges positively informed the person that you are today?
Have you ever “just known” something about your path forward? In what ways have you been able to rely on your own knowing?