“After observing O Sensei, the founder of Aikido, sparring with an accomplished fighter, a young student said to the master, ‘You never lose your balance. What is your secret?’
‘You are wrong,’ O Sensei replied. ‘I am constantly losing my balance. My skill lies in my ability to regain it.’”
–Wendy Palmer, The Intuitive Body
There have been several times in my life when I woke up to realize that I had been blown significantly off-course:
- I was 25, just back from living in Mexico, and staying with my parents for a couple of months while I tried to go off my anti-depressant medication. I was feeling depressed, crying at regular intervals over nothing I could explain, and having full-on panic attacks I was convinced I wouldn’t survive.
- I was working for a popular social enterprise startup in San Francisco on a project I was excited about in a job that many people wanted. And yet I was feeling more and more unhappy at work. I struggled with my boss, was in charge of tasks that I was good at but didn’t enjoy, and felt incredibly underappreciated.
- I had just broken up with a boyfriend and realized that what I was most upset about was not being able to join him on his family’s farm that summer. I had lived in San Francisco for almost 14 years at that point and my entire life was there, but I wasn’t sure if I was staying because it was familiar or because it was the right place for me. I felt disoriented and unsure of where I was supposed to be.
How it happens
It used to be that when I was blown off-course, I didn’t notice until I was thousands of miles away from my path.
The process was kind of like this: My inner wisdom would whisper some direction or guidance in my ear. I’d pay it no mind.
It would speak up a little louder. I would promptly ignore it.
It would tap me gently on the shoulder. I’d pretend I didn’t feel it.
It would punch me in the arm. I’d pay no attention.
Finally, in desperation, it would stick out a foot in front of me. I’d trip and fall flat on my face, whining about how badly it hurt and why it had to happen to me.
I have a high pain tolerance, so it used to take a lot of suffering to get my attention.
For example, when I went off medication, it was after a decade of trying to pretend that there was nothing I needed to question or examine, nothing worth changing about my approach to life. When I was finally humbled enough to seek help, I recognized that though I am a capable and talented person, my way of doing things wasn’t working so hot for me at that point in time.
I became willing to take a really good look around me, admit that this wasn’t really where I wanted to be, and listen to my inner wisdom so I could begin to find my path once again.
Fortunately, over time I learned how to listen to that wisdom earlier on, so it doesn’t take quite so much pain to get my attention anymore. Now I often notice the tap on my shoulder, the voice in my ear, and—more and more frequently—the whisper I just barely detect.
Why it happens
The thing about our inner wisdom is it often tells us what we don’t want to hear.
I didn’t want to know that medication wasn’t going to cut it for me forever, that I needed to seek help, and that I needed a new perspective, new skills, and new tools.
I didn’t want to believe that my job, which I had loved at one point, was no longer the right place for me, that it was time to step into the unknown again, and that I needed to start over and do something new.
I didn’t want to hear that my time in San Francisco was coming to an end, that my hometown was calling to me, and that I was going to have to pick up all the roots I had laid down and transfer them 2,400 miles across the country to Atlanta, a city that at that point was a near stranger to me.
It’s very easy to ignore our inner wisdom and let ourselves be blown off-course, in ways both big and small. And the good news is, this is a totally human thing to do. We all do it. It’s part of being the flawed and amazing beings we are.
Yes, it really is a good thing
Like O Sensei said, it isn’t about never losing your balance, it’s about developing your ability to regain it.
It’s good to get blown off-course because each time you are, you get a fresh reminder to look up, observe your surroundings, and re-check your instruments. And the more you check your navigational equipment, the more adept you are at reading it.
We aren’t taught anything in school about how to listen to our inner wisdom, how to decode its whispers, or how to be true to ourselves. So we have to learn it on our own, through observation, help from others, and yes, being blown off-course.
Even being off our path is an important part of finding it.
Not sure how to read your instruments?
Don’t worry—few of us are. If you’d like to learn without falling on your face quite as many times as I did, join me for my new course that I’m super excited about—Passion Quest: 5 Steps to Find Your Calling in a Fear-Based World. It’ll walk you through the process that I discovered by helping dozens of clients find what they were meant to do in the world and start actually doing it. You’ll learn all about how to find your way, read your instruments, and discover the path that’s right for you, over and over again.
Because, as the painting on my wall by an artist named Erin says, “Your path is beautiful and crooked and just as it should be.”