Yesterday, I spent an hour with a man who is trying to reinvent himself. Like many, his world collapsed with the stock market in 2008. He is sixty, talented, motivated, broke, and stuck.
As we talked, I was struck by how often he referred to himself as a dinosaur. Everything he knew how to do has been rendered obsolete by new technologies and he feels unemployable. According to him, the world has left him behind. In the course of the conversation, he later admitted that he knows what he wants to do next. For a moment, as he shared his dreams, his eyes brightened. Then the shadow descended again. He’s afraid of taking the risk and being homeless.
This is story I hear all the time. Thinking about it, I’m realizing that the hardest part about being at a crossroads is that the hallway is dark. You have to feel your way, step by step, until you reach the next door. By the time you arrive, you’re quivering with fear and pushing that door open is scarier than staying in the darkness with which you’ve become familiar. While you’re in the dark, you hear only the voices in your head jabbering a million miles an hour as they search for a plausible reason for being in the hallway to begin with. Eventually, those voices find a shared thread and reduce themselves to a bite-sized refrain that becomes a story you can swallow. It keeps you sane for awhile. Then it gets in the way.
I’ve found that every time I justify a situation or tell myself a story that becomes an excuse, I relinquish my power to change it. When a story no longer serves its purpose, when it holds you back and keeps you in the dark, it’s time to let it go. His story was age and technology. Most recently, mine was a bad back. It took everything I had to let go of my long career as a sculptor. My entire identity was defined by what I did. Over the last year, I spent a lot of time in the dark, playing my bite-sized refrain and feeling sorry for myself. Then, one morning, I finally understood that I am not my career. So I had to ask, “Who am I?”
The answer to that question was the beginning of Utopia. I’m creating again, just in a different medium.
Recently, Seth Godin responded to the question, “How do you get rid of the fear?” I loved his answer. He said, “Alas, this is the wrong question.
The only way to get rid of the fear is to stop doing things that might not work, to stop putting yourself out there, to stop doing work that matters.
No, the right question is, How do I dance with the fear?
Fear is not the enemy. Paralysis is the enemy.”
If your story is keeping you in the dark, keeping you paralyzed, it’s time to let it go. Only then can you begin to tell a new one.