As a recently divorced mother of two, my life feels a bit disorienting. In going from “we” to “me,” I am realizing that not only has my relationship status changed, but so has every factor of my life: my living situation, my parenting role, my need for a career path, my financial security, my social network, and even my very sense of self. So many transitions at once have left me feeling scattered and uncertain. I have no idea what my future beholds, let alone which step to take next.
My situation has the tendency to make me feel stuck. How do I solve problems when I’m not even sure what they are? How do I find a path when I’m not even sure what it looks like? I feel like a hiker embarking on a trail with no map. I can get paralyzed by fear that I will end up lost in a thicket of trees if I dare take a step. I’m not even sure I have the right gear for the journey.
Whether you are divorced or not, life can feel this way at times when you are faced with any transition in which the answers are not clear. In fact, sometimes you can get ahead of yourself trying to solve problems when you haven’t even identified the problems themselves. This predicament calls for the need to discern between the problems and the facts or circumstances that you cannot change. Only then can you attempt solutions.
For example, I have identified the following facts in my life: I have two sons who need my care until they graduate from high school here in suburban Boston, the youngest in 2021. In addition, I live in a largely married community with few resources for single women.
These realities narrow my scope, enabling me to focus on what I can and must: my need to discern a career path that enables me put my kids first and make ends meet, and a necessity to reach outside my community to build new friendships and a social support system. Suddenly, the actual problems are identified, making potential solutions more apparent. Of course, if my circumstances change, then so do the problems.
Note that I did not say a single solution, but rather potential solutions. This necessitates a sort of informed experimentation that serves as a continual refinement process, what Dave Evans, former Apple engineer calls wayfinding: “When you can’t know what you’re doing – you can’t navigate like GPS would because you don’t have a map and you don’t have all the information – you need to wayfind. And wayfinding means taking one step at a time knowing something about the direction you’re going, trying a few things, tuning it up and then doing it again and again” (Evans, NPR, Morning Edition, “Design Thinking Could Help Those Who Want to Get Unstuck,” January 2, 2017).
Looking back over the last couple of years since my separation, I can see that I have been “wayfinding” without even knowing it. For example, I have pursued various avenues as career paths, from personal training to a paralegal position, trying to find the right “fit” for my current situation, skill set, and personal interests. It has been tempting to view each “unsuccessful” endeavor as a mere dead end sign, when in fact, each one has been more like a detour serving to get me back on a clearer path.
As Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling, discovered on her long and arduous journey toward becoming a successful author, “Had I had succeeded in anything else, I may have never found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged.” Through redefining failure as “the stripping away of the inessential,” Rowling was able to see the steps she took before writing her prize-winning novels as building blocks to her eventual success.
As I look into the clouds of my life before me, I can also look back into what has brought me thus far: experiences which have functioned as filters to clarify both my strengths and passions, and my weaknesses and limitations. The latter are not worthy of shame, but rather, helpful in accentuating my unique gifts that I can bring forth to contribute to this world and to my own sense of identity.
I am still not sure what lies ahead, but I have learned that the process of refinement is a trustworthy and revealing one. Finding the courage to stay the course, step by step, and to see the detours as guideposts, is giving me the strength to greet each day with hope in the possibilities rather than fear of the unknown. As Henri Nouwen wrote, “Spiritual maturity is not knowing what to do with the rest of your life, but just knowing what to do next.”
My task today: Do one thing well. And from that committed step, the next will be revealed.