“It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.”
― Wendell Berry
In 2008 when the economy crashed, I was freelancing and had doubled down on working for myself doing communication consulting, adjunct teaching, and trying to build a startup social media company.
Within a week every contract I had was gone. Sometimes everything falls apart. That’s the thing about taking risks. Sometimes ships do crash on the rocks. It didn’t matter how good of a job I had done up to that moment. I was shipwrecked due to forces beyond my control. .
I went from the top of the world to falling off a cliff. It wasn’t long until I didn’t have enough money to put gas in my truck.
Everything I had been trying to build came crashing down and I stood there feeling like a failure.
I remember distinctly what that moment felt like and I vowed that I’d never be back in that place again.
I needed a new direction. But, it’s hard to know where you’re going, if you don’t know where you are.
In navigational terms, a reckoning is using the tools at your disposal to calculate your current position. In simple terms, it’s finding out where you are. The very information that someone who is lost, doesn’t have.
The advantage of bottoming out is that you know where you are. Flat on your face in the bottom of a hole. You may not exactly know how to get out, but you know where you don’t want to be anymore. And it just takes a second to look around and see better options. Sure, it may take work, but you have a heading to follow on your proverbial compass.
But sometimes the problem is that there isn’t a problem. Sometimes the problem is that your back isn’t against a wall it’s that you have too many options and you’re scared to death that you’re going to pick the wrong one.
Well if it isn’t my old friend anxiety.
There’s a funny story about the bishop from Congo that introduced you to earlier that illustrates this point pretty well. He would regularly make trips to the US for meetings and fundraising campaigns. On one of those trips he needed to buy some toothpaste. So, he went to Wal-Mart to get some. For those of you who haven’t shopped in other countries, one of the things you quickly realize is that there are often a lot fewer options to choose from. And so, the decision-making process is fairly straightforward. You just grab one of the three or four options on the shelf and go on with your life. However, what our dear friend the bishop was not prepared for is the hundred or so options of toothpaste available at the local Walmart. And he stood there bewildered trying to decide which one to buy.
He eventually got irritated and left without buying anything.
A man who made difficult decisions daily and talked down armed rebels with a box of Bibles couldn’t buy toothpaste.
We’ve all been there. Just think back to the last time you were with a group of friends trying to decide where they want to go eat. Too many options and you get gridlocked.
If you can go anywhere, how do you know what you want the most?
Where you’re at the bottom, anywhere will do as long as it’s not the bottom. But if you’re not at the bottom things start to get tricky.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood and be one traveler long I stood…
This is probably a good time to talk about navigation.