You Are Exactly Where You Need to Be

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On a family car trip in San Diego, I happened to pick my head up, look out of the window and BAM - this sign showed up out of nowhere. I immediately asked my husband to turn the car around, yes right now, I need to take a photo. Like a message from the heavens, this billboard felt like it was talking directly to me, saying ‘Ashley – it’s going to be ok. You are exactly where you need to be.’

When it comes to job hunting or life planning, we often conjure up the destination metaphor. We talk about paths and navigation and finding our way (and hey, I obviously love that - this whole site is about wayfinding, after all). Yet while there’s no doubt that this is a journey, this kind of thinking also sets us up to believe that there is one final destination that we’re trying to reach. And if we can just get to that place – and quickly! – we will have arrived.

One challenge with assuming an arrival point is that it sets us up to expect everything will be solved/easier/more fulfilling/generally better once we reach that point. But have you ever set an end destination for a particular journey, only to reach it and find that you’re still not happy? It’s happened to me many times before, and each time I’m shocked when I reach the end of the journey and I don’t feel the way I expected I would.

The other issue with an arrival point or end destination is that it sets us up to feel angsty about where we are right now. If the grass is always greener, then right now we’re standing on a patch of dead, brown hay. But while we’re gazing further afield and fantasizing about well-watered hills, we still have to figure out how to work with the ground that’s beneath our feet – something that’s particularly uncomfortable when we’re feeling stuck, unhappy or burnt out.

What if we start seeing the spot we’re standing in as the spot we’re supposed to be in, right now at this very moment?

How might that change in perspective alter the way we approach navigating our journey?

Lately I’ve been presented with an opportunity to work on something that takes me a bit out of my comfort zone. It’s new work, done in a new way, and I’ll admit I’m feeling anxious – mainly because I wish I knew more already and had more practice doing the things I’ll need to do to be successful. Like wistfully gazing across a lush, green field, I have found myself asking, wouldn’t all of this be so much easier if I was at that arrival point already?

But of course, I know I’m not there. And nothing is going to enable me to skip over the work and effort involved in getting to the destination I have in mind. I just can’t accelerate through this discomfort. So, what’s a Wayfinder to do?

One clue offered to me this week came from prolific designer and thought leader Debbie Millman who shared her definition of Confidence. Confidence, she says, is the successful repetition of any endeavor. Take driving a car – we don’t wake up on our 16th birthday feeling confident as a driver. Rather, each day we practice turning on the ignition, getting in gear, steering through traffic and merging on the highway. After enough successful repetitions, we get to a point where we have confidence behind the wheel. But it takes practice, persistence and repetition in order to really feel confident about our skills.

This idea of practice also popped up in an interesting article by Jeff Goins, who lays out a very compelling case for why we should practice (in public, no less!) for at least two years before we expect to see success in any endeavor. When we consistently and thoughtfully dedicate ourselves to practicing our art or our science or whatever it is that’s calling to us, and we do it in a way that makes it possible for others to find us and join us, we’ll ultimately be more likely to succeed.

Taken together, this sage advice helps us understand the spot we’re standing in now, and starts forming our roadmap for this journey – one that relies on practice and patience, and that’s performed at a more sustainable pace. 

In my case, I could look at the fact that I’m not yet at my arrival point and allow myself to sink into those feelings of urgent angst – why aren’t I there already?! I could see the words written on that billboard and assume the message was taunting me for feeling stuck and not moving forward fast enough.

Or, I could consider that where I am today will not be where I am tomorrow, or the next day, or two years from now. That by creating steps for myself, I can lay out a plan to set me up to practice, to repeat the things I’m trying to learn, over and over until I can confidently claim them as my own. 

One final thought: What if the journey we’re on isn’t so much about having a singular North Star destination, but rather like pulling on a thread that slowly helps us see our journey more clearly as it unfolds in front of us? In her book Big Magic, Liz Gilbert shares a story of a poet named Ruth Stone, who would be out and about when a poem would float through her and offer itself as inspiration. Racing to get home to grab her pen and paper, Stone described her process as grabbing that poem by its tail and pulling it back toward her to put down on the page, word by word (read more about Ruth Stone).

Much like Stone pulling a poem towards her, what if we imagined this thread dancing at our fingertips – something we can grab hold of, tether ourselves to, and use to pull us through the murky muck of where we are now. So that each day we make small steps of progress, and each day we are also exactly where we need to be.