We’ve all had that time in our life.
You know the one, where you’ve all but given up on what you really want, and kick yourself daily for letting things get SO bad. Like most people, you’ve had anywhere from one to a thousand+ of these times.
You may be in one this very moment.
The experience might seem like you’re in a dark valley, where even if you have the desire to get out, you find you're so deep in it, you can’t imagine mustering the energy to climb the rocky slopes required for freedom, nor do you posses the emotional or physical endurance to sustain such an effort.
I've been there. It wasn't pretty.
Here’s what my dark valley experience looked like:
Any of this sounding familiar for you? Ever settled for less than what you really wanted? Ever entertained the idea you're less than what you always imagined you'd one day become?
If the things you’re passionate about and who you envision you truly are seem like a memory, like a fog beyond the reaches of your current reality, you're reading the right article.
I know when I was in that place I wasn’t happy.
I’d lost my heart’s calling amidst the conditioning of what I thought life should be like. I'd come to base my way of being on what the world had prescribed for me and what others wanted... ugh!
But the worst part was I ACTUALLY courted the idea of accepting what my life had become. That it was, “FINE.”
Right now, trust the voice of wisdom inside you shouting, “That's like my life, I need to course correct! And soon!”
Whatever you’re facing, a career-path change, a partnership shift, a creative passion you're considering giving up on, a contribution/volunteer action burning a hole in your moral compass, etc….
You have a CHOICE.
I say, you were absolutely meant to experience something better. To achieve something greater. To BE who you’ve always known you were.
So, here's the QUESTION you might be asking yourself:
"What can I do when I notice I'm in a dark valley?"
Shift your orientation point
Orient yourself toward the people and activities you’re engaging with using the vision in your heart as the fuel that moves the “You-Machine.” It will have an astounding impact on how you show up thereafter.
I personally prefer this, because your other option isn't so pleasant...
You can orient yourself toward life using the dark valley moment as fuel. You can entertain all the worries and doubts that arise from fossilized conclusions in your past. If that were how you oriented your attention to the future, where might it get you? Where has it gotten you so far? Notice, right here and now, if you say, "Well, I've done a decent job, I guess."
Were you intending to do a "decent job," with your limited time on Earth? Were you meant to talk yourself out of having what you really want with comments like that?
By the end of this article, my goal is for you to have taken a courageous look at your journey, and its current state, then see if there's any step you need to take in order to transform your life.
As most of my clients and those close to me know, I take great pride in supporting clients to write their vision statements. I tell them exactly what I'll tell you: it’s the single most important thing you could ever write, because what you use as your orientation point is EVERYTHING.
Repeating the Past
Imagine being lost in a dark, heavily wooded valley. You’re trying to find your way home. You feel the comforting weight of a compass in your pocket. You pull it out and begin the tentative journey home.
You scrabble up rocky slopes, hands pulling at cold earth, fingers aching, feet fighting for purchase. Clouds of hot breathe fill the air with every exertion of your lungs.
Exhausted, you finally win free of the valley. It was difficult, but you did it. You wander in the moonlight for hours until you find yourself following the compass downward into another valley.
You begin to worry, “Where am I going? Is this really the way I’m supposed to go? Some of this looks familiar...”
You follow anyway, trusting the compass you've always used.
Shortly thereafter, you once again find you are stuck at the bottom of a dark valley--the same as before. As you realize the compass that got you here is broken, and has led you in a circle, dread sets in, followed by futility.
This time, staring up at the stars, you’re too tired and cynical to care to work your way out.
All because of a bad compass.
After covering this topic with a client a couple weeks ago, I set out to create a “Broken Compass,” of my own. What would it have looked like to write a vision statement from that bleak time in my life? What might I have said?
I sat down and wrote exactly that. What I came up with is essentially an anti-vision statement, the opposite of what I want and how I'd love to show up to my life's endeavors. I call it the "Broken Compass" exercise. I realized there could be some power in this activity for others, so at the end of this blog you'll have a chance to learn how to do it yourself (just past the contact info section).
If I'd had something like this back when I was at my worst, I might have shifted things much quicker. Instead, it took a very long time and a significant amount of wasted energy before I saw how clearly I wasn't advancing my ideal life vision.
I know it's been the start of a thousand stories of personal transformation, but it's true... I looked myself in the mirror one day and thought, "This isn't me."
I invested myself in my masters degree work. I began to exercise and do the things I love. I read a book about happiness--I couldn't tell you much about what the book said, because the content DID NOT MATTER. Truth is, there's no cure from a book, a seminar, a blog, or a friend's advice for whatever it is that keeps you tossing and turning at night--transformational shifts comes from within when you start to see things clearly for yourself. What mattered was I was reading a book about being happy; I was actively practicing happiness and proving to myself what I really wanted.
Just like I did--do every day--you have a choice on which Vision you demonstrate and bring to life. I wept as I wrote this blog, not just at the memory of how bad things were, but for the joy of where I'm at now.
Here's what I did that shifted EVERYTHING
I helped myself by:
1) Imagining what was possible. You've got to spend time with your vision to create a loving relationship with it.
2) Practicing that possibility in small enjoyable ways such as exercising, reading a self-help book, diving into my learning, writing, talking to friends, etc.
3) Seeking support to create a practice and ensure I engage with meaningful pursuits that reflect my vision.
These are three great steps for orienting yourself toward the future you desire. If you’re unwilling to create the life you’d love, you may end up with a default future full of many of the things you DO NOT want--the unfortunate result of using a "broken compass," to guide you forward.
I can only speak for myself when I say I’m far more interested in what I’m passionate about and the impact I’m here to make. I hope you are too, because your capacity to make a difference in the lives of others depends on it.
All it takes is letting the vision in your heart lead, and letting your actions follow.
(The blog can end here, if you wish. Below, you'll find more information about the "Broken Compass" exercise and how to do it for yourself. I highly recommend giving it a read to see if you're interested. I found it enlightening, humorous, and fun--though certainly nothing you want to hang up in your room or place in a picture frame. Enjoy!)
I’ve given up on my goals and dreams.
My vision was just a waste of time, energy, and resources.
I work a 9-5 job and hate it. I’m not appreciated, passionless about what I’m doing, and I’m quite certain, it isn’t a contribution to anyone. I always wanted so much more, but now, I’m content with misery.
And hey, I get to collect a paycheck, right. Nothing better.
Like an old friend, my brain and I reminisce about the bad times. I have so much evidence from the past holding my attention about how things won’t work, how I’m not good enough, and how all that I’ve ever wanted and needed never cut the mustard. I play video games and smoke pot every minute I’m not at work.
I’ve learned to love this misanthropic life I’ve created. The best part is it takes even more energy to sustain this state of suffering than if I’d worked toward something more meaningful.
My family and friends still love me (not sure why) and regularly push me to go for one of my long buried goals. Blissfully I nod. “Yeah, maybe next month.” I then return to my contented drudgery.
My daughter and I have a sad relationship. There’s no respect, little love--most of our interactions are meaningless. I’ve pretty much given up on myself as a parent. Probably for the best. She needs to see what life and "adulthood" is really like.
Daily, I experience frustration, resignation, and cynicism. What a treat!? I demonstrate that these symptoms are what I’m more interested in by quitting challenging tasks, or avoiding them entirely. I complain ALL the time, too; I want others to know my pain!
My friendships are fizzling. I give them little attention. But when I do, I project on to them all the perceived failures, shortcomings, and judgments I usually reserve for myself. I’m a fraud, so they must be, too. I bet they don’t enjoy their successes anyway. I know I wouldn’t, because if I did, then what!
My favorite excuses are:
I’m too tired, I’m too poor, I’ve got no time, I’m not enough, what’s the point, I have no help, and I’m afraid to fail. But let me set the record straight. I’m not not unhappy...
Really, what more could someone want for their life than to skate by, absorb resources, spend money arbitrarily, and then willingly crawl to my grave at the end of it all and say, “I didn’t come here to do what I was meant to do… and that’s just fine.”
I look forward to every sunset, relief at another day gone by, and despise each and every sunrise, the itchy existence I never scratched. I’ve made disappointing myself and others into a practice—almost an art form!
My life is an unending proclamation of indifference. I fight the urge to care about others and avoid it when possible. I think about all the people I could have helped by pursuing what I was passionate about, but truthfully,
I’m getting what I deserve.
I wouldn’t change a thing! Joy, ease, and fulfillment are for the dreamers.
I’m a realist.
If you want a Hero, you’ve come to the wrong place.
--Here Lies Michael, Proud Cynic and Realist--
EXERCISE: "BROKEN COMPASS" Visioning
1) If you feel brave enough or cheeky enough to do the Broken Compass exercise, make sure you follow it up with a true Vision Statement. I recommend hiring a certified coach to support you with this so you have a clear picture of what you want and have the support in place to put your plan into practice.
2) Bring to mind a time when you talked yourself out of what you really wanted, or into a situation you really hated.
3) As you write, paint the picture of that conversation. Really lean into the discomfort of it and write from that icky place.
4) If you get teared up, signs indicate you're doing the exercise right!
5) Write it in first person, present tense. Remember, it's a default future, so imagine what would be the worst one you might live in (no death or dying because this is between now and that time).
6) Your vision of how rough things might be has to be within your control.
7) Don't worry about this framework. Be creative with it, while also bringing humor. In addition to tears, laughter is also an indicator of doing it right.
8) Allow for humor, satire, and a full envisioning of what you really DON’T want (the opposite of what you’d do for a Vision Statement).
Once you do this, you might find you’ve cleaned out and de-cluttered a substantial amount of “negative” chatter surrounding your visionary future. You might also identify the need to address some past/current behavior patterns that are holding you back. When you see clearly who you are not and what you don't want, it's easier to lay out your True Vision Statement.
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