The Courage to Move
The Courage to Move
Every once in a while words, ideas or incidents coincide or happen in ways that I can’t dismiss as random chance. This morning it happened in my morning routine when my morning devotional coincided with content in a book I’ve been re-reading. The general theme was “Change” and the specific idea was the difficulty of change in our lives.
Over the years I’ve been a career coach I’ve counseled hundreds of clients who come to me desperate to change their work lives. I take them through a process that I hope will help them perceive themselves accurately, as it relates to their vocational identity and life aspirations. I also “make” them complete a “life aspirations and dreams” exercise so they can begin to think outside the box of what they know and envision the life they want. Despite our best mutual intentions and efforts, I get the impression that a smaller number than I would like actually go after the dreams and aspirations they identify for themselves. Why is this?
In one of my favorite books, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, author and entrepreneur Donald Miller writes about having a life that’s a story worth telling. It’s a provocative and informative book that’s also funny and easy to read due to the author’s writing style. This morning I was reading the chapter on “How To Make Yourself Write A Better Story” and was reminded about why so few people actually pursue the life they want.
Miller writes: “People love to have lived a great story, but few people like the work it takes to make it happen… A general rule in creating stories is that characters don’t want to change. They must be forced to change. Nobody wakes up and starts chasing a bad guy or dismantling a bomb unless something forces them to do so. The bad guys just robbed your house and are running off with your last roll of toilet paper or the bomb is strapped to your favorite cat. It’s that sort of thing that gets a character moving.
The rule exists in story because it’s a true thing about people. Humans are designed to seek comfort and order, and so if they have comfort and order, they tend to plant themselves, even if their comfort isn’t all that comfortable. And even if they secretly long for something else.”
He goes on to connect this to the real situations that I’ve experienced as a human services professional – women who stay in abusive relationships, children who return to abusive parents, addicts who can’t break free of self-harming patterns in life. He notes that, “Though their situations may be terrible, at least they have a sense of control; at least they know what to expect.”
Making real change happen in our lives often requires the intervention of something extreme. For many years I’ve told marketing experts that the universal thing that brings clients to “my door” is pain. I don’t mean literal pain, I mean the kind of longer term discomfort, discontent or mental anguish that leads a person to seek my assistance. Someone has to be experiencing great emotional distress or be desperate for change before they’ll seek outside help. Without pain, change just doesn’t happen because the uncomfortable life someone knows is preferable to the fear and discomfort of an unknown future.
There’s a spiritual corollary here as well. Getting free of the things that “hold us captive” requires a great deal of courage and willingness OR a great deal of pain to take us to the point where we are willing to allow God to do “whatever it takes” to set us free. The founders of Alcoholics Anonymous understood this well. Step 1 in AA requires admitting powerlessness over things that hold us captive, Step 2 is accepting that only a higher power than ourselves can set us free, and Step 3 requires turning control of life over to the only one who can free us.
Whether you accept the theology of AA or not, the principles of extreme pain, desperation, and releasing control are so often integral to substantial life change. I experience this often as my clients who have written plans for substantial career or life changes consider the prospect of lower incomes, risk of failure, disapproval by the significant people in their lives, or a thousand other unknowns, then balk at making the changes that potentially could lead to their greatest joy. For them, the pain of the present hasn’t yet reached the point where they are willing to take the courageous step of abandoning their current dysfunctional way of working and living.
Miller refers to that point of crisis or great pain as the “Inciting Incident”. In my work inciting incidents my client’s lives are often the loss of a job, depression, or a profound identity crisis. Ironically, the people who experience these are often the very people who go on to make significant positive changes in their lives. Without some sense of desperation that causes us to reach out to a higher power and/or take a courageous step toward change too often there’s little hope that we can actually live a story worth telling.
What are the stagnant or destructive patterns that have become “comfortable” in your life?
Do you really want to become free from these?
To what lengths would you be willing to go in order to attain a life that’s a story worth telling?
What might be you first steps?