Coming Home: Process the past... Plan the future
When I came back from my first international placement, I was stuck for many, many months. I couldn’t figure out where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do. Bless my grandmother. I took advantage of her hospitality for an uncomfortably long time.
I wasn’t alone in my uncertainties. Many early-career and established professionals find themselves back at home, trying to process what happened, feeling a need to re-examine their priorities and uncertain about their next-best-step.
In this discussion we will do two things. First, we will consider what to do with the memories of events that may have happened. Second, we will look at a strategy for getting unstuck and for moving into the next glorious chapters of our lives.
What happened there anyway...? Unpacking the suitcase of my experience.
When I return from a trip I have three categories of new acquisitions in my suitcases. First, there are the treasures – the souvenirs that I will use or look at fondly for years to come. Next there are some broken things, like a cracked piece of pottery that I hate to let go of because I knew the potter and I don’t know if I will ever see her again. Finally, there are things I don’t yet know what to do with – like the lamp made out of an ostrich foot. It seemed like a valuable buy at the time. (Culture shock can do odd things to our judgment.) It remains in my closet as a touchstone with something that feels important, but I don’t want to put it out for others to see.
What is contained within my physical luggage is also contained in the collection of experiences and memories that I bring back.
I return home with treasures – things like my growth in confidence, knowledge and skills and my new friends and new visions. I also return home with some damaged bits – the memory of mistakes I made, things I said and regretted, the bruises of things that happened to or around me. And finally I bring back some confusion and uncertainty – perhaps about the mix of good and not-so-good that arose out of a decision or action I took.
One of the most important things we can do on ending a mission is give ourselves permission to let go of the broken bits. The shards of that pot won’t ever come together again. Remember the potter, and let the shards return to the earth. The thing that I said or did won’t cease to have happened. Look at it. Learn from it. And let it go. We carry more baggage and broken bits than we need in life. Letting go of some of it gives freedom and creates more space for the wondrous bits.
Sometimes an event or experience is too big to let go of on my own. A few of my friends, a good therapist, a wise person or two are important in helping me process old and new broken bits. There are people with the same skills wherever you are. Look and you will find them. When my car isn’t functioning smoothly I take it to my mechanic. When I become aware of something that isn’t working well in my spirit, mind or heart I take it to someone who has ears that hear and tools to help me repair.
Friends and time may also help to make sense of experiences which, like the ostrich lamp, we don’t know how to categorize or share. Some things I did as a volunteer in Asia many years ago had both positive and negative consequences. My actions were important – perhaps life-saving, for many people in that moment – and they may have contributed, over time, to a weakening of their capacities and identity. I still wonder about those times and about what I did. I may never come to conclusions, but the questioning has enriched what I have done since.
In those days – months – when I was stuck at my grandmother’s, what I needed was someone to give me permission to dream. And then I needed a push to get me off the couch and taking a step towards that dream.
Consider this to be both the permission and the push. Make a fresh cup of coffee or a cold drink, open a fresh page in your journal, and give yourself time to do a bit of work.
Think about three years from now. Let your indulgent fantasies run wild. Where would you really like to be? What would you really like to be doing? With whom? In what kind of financial state? Wearing what? Knowing what? … Fill in that picture vividly, with as much detail as you can create. Write it all down.
When you’ve finished, ask where you would need to be in two years in order to arrive at that three year destination. You won’t have arrived, but you’ll be 2/3 of the way along the path. Describe what the picture looks like at that point, in vivid detail.
Next – what will the picture look like one year from now? When you’ve described that, what will it look like in six months? In three?
And now the real kicker – what will it look like next Monday?
The first and last questions are the most important. Give yourself the freedom to dream, and then give yourself clarity about the first step you can take en route to fulfilling that dream.
And it is important to recognize that you aren’t locked in. If you get three months or three hours along the pathway and you understand that you didn’t get it right – that with new information or insight or inspiration you have a better idea – hooray. Declare victory. Decide on the next step along the revised path and take it. Change as often as you need to – always with your radar tuned up high in seeking more clear understanding of what you and the universe are sorting out as the right destination and pathway.
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron combines practical tools for planning and creativity with a reflective, spiritual approach for people with and without a spiritual practice. Have a look at “the basic tools”.