There are turning points in people’s lives that occur in a natural progression – transitioning from college to the working world, from being single to being married, from taking care of yourself to being a parent, and even eventually taking care of your parents as they age. You might even be getting back into the workforce as your children become more independent. All of these times can feel incredibly uncertain and are usually accompanied by two big questions:
- Who am I?
- What do I want?
The stages of life are much like the stages of a caterpillar’s metamorphosis with one key difference: the caterpillar surrenders to the experience of caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly, trusting its DNA to do its job. Humans have this annoying need to examine and plan for each stage of their evolution. So how can you learn from the butterfly and allow for your evolution without overthinking it?
When you hit a crossroads where you are no longer a caterpillar, but not yet a butterfly, here are some tips for moving forward despite uncertainty:
Moving frantically from one life stage to the next can leave you feeling both stressed out and tired. Take your time. The caterpillar never hurries to become a butterfly.
Celebrate Where You Have Been
When you’re at a crossroads about what to do next, spending some time reflecting on what gave you joy in the last stage of your life will help attune your inner compass and move you forward. For example, if you loved packing healthy lunches for your kids each day, maybe nutrition is your next adventure, or if you loved posting travel pictures from your vacations, maybe photography classes would thrill you.
People have turned to nature for generations to find stillness and a deep connection to their true inner self. Experiences like a walkabout—which historically refers to a rite of passage during which indigenous male Australians would live in the wilderness to make the spiritual and traditional transition into manhood—have always been a part of self-discovery. Spend some quiet time in nature.
Opening your mind will help you to become curious about the things in life that matter to you. Play with having the perspective of a child. Often searching for life’s next adventure is looked through the lens of the “shoulds” of your upbringing. The cultural, societal, and even political values you once chose don’t need to define you as you move through life. Looking through a child-like lens can help you see your choice with a new perspective.
Don’t Ask the Experts
At some point in your life, you stopped thinking that you were capable of choosing wisely for yourself. If you don’t know who you are and what you want, what makes you think anyone else will be able to tell you? Of course, you can ask opinions about what your strengths are and how others see you, but ultimately, it comes down to you. Your life. Your choice.
Time spent in meditation allows you to connect to your mind, body, and spirit. You begin to identify yourself, much like a wave, and then see how the wave is part of the ocean. It connects you to the endless possibilities that lie in the pure potential of this connection. It also gets you out of the fight-or-flight part of your brain that impedes decision-making.
Seek Direction, Not a Destination
Sometimes the need for a clear end goal can leave you paralysed. Getting started on a trajectory that can lead to multiple good outcomes can stop the analysis paralysis that accompanies a search for your perfect next steps. Sometimes settling for perfectly good allows you to remove some pressure and begin. When you get to the top of the mountain, it rarely matters what path you took.
Decide and Get on With It
Hesitation is your enemy. When you have decided on a path, begin walking it. If you want to go back to school, register. If you want to get back to work, send your resume out. Intention requires action.
Remember You Are Still You
Sometimes it’s easy to get confused between a role you play and who you actually are. If you are a mother, when your children are grown and need you less, you are still their mother. When a doctor retires, he is still a doctor. When your parents need you to care for them, you are still their child. Remember, with every transition, you are still you. The caterpillar is still the caterpillar even when she becomes a butterfly.
When you get stuck, even temporarily, trying to figure out who you are and what you want, remember there is no deadline to make a change, and with any luck you will always be evolving and changing. Stay present and trust that who you are is exactly who you need to be right now.
Where you are going next will become apparent when the time is right. Instead of worrying, which is like paying interest before you have a loan, practice being present. Life has a way of working itself out once you get out of your own way.