My coaching sessions of late seem to be carrying the recurring theme of anxiety. People are stressed. People are anxious. It’s everywhere. And unfortunately the vicious irony about anxiety is that is has a ripple effect that sets off a chain of continual, anticipatory anxiety. The more anxious you feel, the more anxious you feel about feeling anxious, and then, the more anxious you feel. Etc. etc. etc.
In a session the other day, I was with a young woman whose life plans have been derailed and she suddenly finds herself totally at sea. She had a plan, she had a purpose, she had a direction. Now she feels lost. She no longer has a plan. Her purpose was linked to her plan, so as a result she feels she has no purpose. Her direction was set, but no longer seems to be the direction she wants to go in.
She is very anxious, and as she sat in front of me, in a complete state of panic and uncertainty, I simply asked her, “so what?”
Here eyes almost popped out their sockets when I said it, and I could see she was ready to run. But I continued.
“So what if you plans have changed – nothing is permanent and no one, particularly at the age of 22, has their whole life perfectly mapped out. So what if you don’t know what your purpose is right now? So what if you changed your mind? So what if you have decided that what you were doing is not for you?”
So frikking what?
Her eyes began to return to their sockets as my questions started sinking in. The ugly – or beautiful – truth is that life is messy. Plans change. Life happens.
I think we have spent so long hearing that we need to do the work and figure it all out, that we have falsely assumed there is a finite answer. A definite plan. An indisputable purpose. And if you don’t have it all figured out, and if you aren’t living your life to a specific purpose, then who are you and what exactly are you doing with your life?
I had coffee with a friend this morning and she asked about a girl I know who has just, at the age of 22, gone overseas to start au pairing. She wanted to know what her plan was and was quite disappointed to hear that at 22 she was only just starting her journey. Her words were, if she was 18 that would be fine, but to start this journey now at 22 is something else. The disapproval was palpable. But if I had questioned her on it, I know she wouldn’t have felt the judgement consciously. It’s because of that lie we are fed. Let’s be honest, is 22 really so “old” to be starting an adventure? How many people in their 40s have mid-life crises because they wish they had adventured more and done more? Nonetheless, I digress.
I think we have been sold a lie. The lie that if we have a goal, and set our course, and find our purpose, life will be peachy, and we will be happy. It’s a lie because how many plans are actually that neat and tidy and attained in such a linear fashion? How many of our life paths follow the exact plan we set out?
And how often do we feel we aren’t there yet, which results in horrible anxiety?
I think the problem with planning and setting goals is that you continually put success off until you reach that milestone. The problem with that, is that we are continually chasing something and live with a sense of “I am not a success yet” … which means until I reach that I am failing. I am not a success. I am stressed and unhappy. I am anxious.
I am not saying you shouldn’t set goals or make plans, but I do firmly believe that they should be more like journeys than definitive endings, because life doesn’t always go according to plan. Goals cannot be seen as binary, either-or objectives. Either you reach your goal or you’re not successful. This implies the nirvana of success/ happiness is the holy grail that only our future selves can enjoy. It is a faraway accomplishment that we haven’t yet realised.
We have to be agile. We have to enjoy the journey. We have to stop creating our own stress and unhappiness. So what if you aren’t thin yet. So what if you haven’t put on 10kgs of muscle yet? So what if you aren’t a millionaire yet? So what if you aren’t exactly where you want to be yet?
Life is a journey. It is a process, and every stage and obstacle should be acknowledged for the segment of your journey that it is. We need to fall in love with the journey. If plans get derailed, we need to acknowledge that and see the learning in what we have done. If it means we have don’t complete a course because we feel that it is not the right thing for us, it is not a loss. It is learning. It is part of the process, and our lives should not be isolated to single, solitary triumphs.
There is power in so what. So what if your plans have changed? So what if you are starting your journey at 22? So what if you aren’t there yet; you’re still somewhere.
Achieving that success is only a momentary triumph. It doesn’t define you. It doesn’t suddenly mean you have got all your sh!t together. It doesn’t suddenly mean you are happy. And it certainly doesn’t mean that you suddenly have a purpose.
There is power in so what. It makes us ask ourselves what really matters. It helps us rethink our situation from that anxiety causing catastrophe, to recognising that it is simply a bump in the road on our journey. So what if you aren’t there yet? So what if you fell off the rails for a bit? So what if you messed up? So what if you are a continual work in progress? (In fact I hope I never feel I am no longer a work in progress.)
When we ask ourselves so what, it allows us to assess, reframe, and get back on track to our destination. It may mean we take the train and not the bus. Or we take the windy road instead of the direct route, but so what? Life goes on. And it is messy and muddled and surprising and unpredictable. And if we can travel that journey without the stress of feeling we need to have it all figured out every second of every day of our lives, we will be less anxious and less likely to sink into the sulky mud of self-defeat and self-inflicted anxiety.
Cut yourselves some slack, enjoy the journey, and when you come across those detours where you feel you have made some irreversible bugger up, ask yourself “so what!?” So what now? So what are the consequences? So what am I going to do to fix it? So what is next?
The relief and self-love you will feel when you embrace the power of so what will make your journey so much more enjoyable. It will make your purpose easier to see and feel and enjoy. It will make your goals feels more realistic and attainable. It will silence your inner judgement.
So what are you waiting for?