Parker Palmer famously wrote in Let Your Life Speak that “Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.”
Sound strange? I’ll explain in a minute. But, what it boils down to is that we not forget to listen to unexpected sources of direction, to the “still small voices.”
In the last year or so, I’ve had a lot of choices to make that could each have shifted my life, personally and professionally, in very different directions. Complex decisions are a reality of life and certainly a theme of emerging adulthood, which psychologist Jeffrey Jensen Arnett calls “a period characterized by change and exploration for most people, as they examine the life possibilities open to them.”
Long story short, a decision has finally been reached (insert sigh of relief here), and three surprising sources of direction helped make that possible.
Listening to childhood. Recently, when talking with a friend, who I’ve known since we were about 14, we came to the conclusion that our childhood dreams cannot and will not ever really go away. My friend, for instance, spent years wanting to be a doctor, got burnt out during undergraduate pre-med classes, considered other career paths, and has recently returned to considering medicine. Personally, I spent years wanting to be a writer and minister, got discouraged and confused about how on earth to go about doing that, tried to escape the dream, and just recently — and joyfully — started dreaming again. (Still discouraged and confused sometimes, but maybe that’s a post for another day.) I think we all have to ask ourselves if we had a childhood dream. And, as long as it’s a realistic goal (i.e. not “become spiderman”) we have to at least take it into consideration.
Listening to gut feeling. Someone once taught me this trick: For at least one full day, “try on” one of your choices. After that, switch and “try on” the other choice for the same amount of time. Go about your everyday life believing that you really have chosen whichever option you’re “trying on” and asking yourself, “How do I feel about this? Excited? Sad? Scared? Do I regret taking this option?” When I gave this a shot, let’s just say I spent one day excited and one day rather sad. The gut feeling was clear.
Listening to little things. Even with a dream and a gut feeling identified, I somehow wasn’t quite ready to face down fear-of-commitment issues and take action. That is, until snack time came one day and a little Sun-Maid raisin box, which always comes with a fortune-cookie-esque saying on the flap, said this: “Know whether it’s time to act or time to wait.” Every now and then, I believe in miracles — especially raisin-sized miracles, the kind we often don’t even notice. And right then I believed. It was time to act.