We pray for clarity, do juice cleanses for it, and beat ourselves up over our lack of it. We feel the pressure for clarity this time of year when everyone is making goals and shedding bad habits. We act as if clarity is a thing that we cannot move forward without, like a car engine or, shoes. But clarity is not a thing; it’s a process.
When a friend asks about your plans for the future, do you respond with phrases such as, “When I’m ready…” or “Once I figure out what I want…” or, “As soon as I know what to do, then I’ll do it.” But do we have to put off creating the life we want until after we possess the elusive clarity?
Fear’s favorite tool is the procrastination hammer, and everything uncertain is a nail.
What if clarity is overrated? One thing I’ve learned from living with an incurable disease is how to get comfortable in the unknown. Every six months I return to Boston for scans and neurological tests to see if I am healthy or not. In between, I try to live a “normal” life.
I like to describe my technique as “Scared as sh**, but moving forward anyway.”
This technique works with the writing process as well. I love writing, and feel so lucky that people are reading. But what’s the next step? I have no idea. Still, I wake up every morning at six, light a single candle, and scribble until six thirty, sometimes seven. I used to think the process was figure out what you want to say, then write it down. But it’s the opposite. I write to discover what I want to say. Is life the same? Can we explore our way into understanding and clarity?
As a coach, I help people find clarity. I’ve spent the past few years understanding the process and developing tools for getting clear. But my clients often say, “Why don’t I know what I want? What’s wrong with me?” There is nothing wrong; the stage before knowing is not knowing.
Once, when I was struggling with the stage of not-knowing, my friend made me walk around the kitchen muttering, “I can’t walk. I can’t walk.”
“Why am I doing this?” I asked.
“You can walk! See?”
“What’s your point?”
“We can walk despite our thoughts saying that we can’t. We can write even when we don’t know what will come of our writings. We can take action even when we don’t know if it’s the right action. When your mind tells you that you need clarity before beginning, don’t believe it. Instead, trust that if you put one foot in front of the other, or pen to paper, something good will happen.”
Instead of clinging to clarity, we could be cultivating trust.
I’ve always found solace in Rilke’s words in Letters to a Young Poet,
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the
questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written
in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given
you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything.”
Clarity is not overrated. It’s freeing and powerful. It’s the idea that we must get clear before we start that is overrated, and limiting. While we’re waiting, we miss the fun of being alive. Instead, let’s play. Stay open and curious. Get dirty. Fall. Rise. Repeat. “The point is, to live everything.”
image credit: Flick’r-Mathias Erhart