We decided to walk the length of Portstewart Strand and found that with each step, the beach bustle became quieter – as we passed the Windbreaker-in-any-Weather families, the enthusiastic games of “beach volleyball” (quotation marks intended), the romantic wanderers and the new puppies, the sand looked more vast and more ‘ours’. We got to the end and decided to climb up onto the rocks that lead to that derelict red and white lighthouse.
The waves were splashing up on its ribs as the sun beat down strongly for the first time this year. Dan went ahead of me and pointed out the wobbly stones or puddles to avoid. As we went on, still far from the lighthouse, the climb became more difficult (as you will know if you have also ventured here!)
But it started to get harder and harder. I stumbled a few times and it was impossible for me to follow Dan (I blame it on my height!)
Dan’s steps were not mine, nor could they be. The path and rhythm he had found were his: I had to find my own.
It’s what I think most of us are learning to do: we’re trying to find our own rhythm in life. We’ve learned that using a blueprint from others just doesn’t work.
This process can make us feel like we’re too far behind – or too far ahead. Maybe we feel like the only person in the world who isn’t engaged or married. Maybe we feel like we should be further down the road with our career. Or maybe we feel like we’ve gone too far, that we are too much. Maybe we worry we’re not enough, or perhaps we feel like we’re beyond recovery.
The truth is, we all feel too far ahead or behind at some stage or another. But here’s what you need to know: you are where you need to be. And all you are responsible for is being there, and being there well.
How can you make sure you’re in the right place for you?
Find your rhythm. Only you know what you can manage – how many rocks to climb at one time, or where to put your foot next. Get into your own groove. It’s ok if you’re not as far ahead as you’d like to be. Comparison to others will make you feel inadequate and will affect your relationship with the people you’re comparing yourself to. It’s difficult to avoid, I know: but think of it as a waste of energy. Try and spend it on the space you inhabit and the path you are on. Where and who you are is good. Where and who you are is important. Stay the course and run your race.
Speak truth to yourself. I know what it feels like to think that I’m too much or not enough (sometimes both at the same time!): but friend, right now and right where you are, you are just enough. Write it on your hand if you have to. Remind (literally: say it again and again) yourself of truth and challenge your toxic inner monologue. Think it’s too late, or that the voices are too loud? I love the idea of being “transformed by the renewing of your mind”: technically, the creation of new neurological pathways. Practically, a chance for your mind to change its tune. What if it was possible? What changes would you make?
Get to know yourself. The ability to know yourself is a privilege that many people ever truly explore. Others simply don’t have the luxury: I remember my friend Tash saying how struck she was that a sense of ‘calling’ is reserved for those of us who have plenty and are not struggling to survive like some of the people she met in Malawi. In that sense, then, I think it’s even more important that we take the opportunity. While it may feel self-indulgent, I believe it’s the opposite: knowing yourself allows you to hone your contribution to the world. You will be of most use when you are aware of your giftings and limitations.
Three of my favourite tools for this –
1. The Enneagram. An ancient personality test that sounds a little dodgy at first but reveals layers and layers of insight as you move into it. Take the test, read your results, and listen to this podcast. My cousin Sharon wrote a helpful post about this recently: read it here. And as a side note, this is a really useful tool in marriage! Last night, Dan and I were having very ‘us’ moment and laughed about how he was such a 5 and what I had just said was so typical of a 1. But maybe that’s another post…
2. Gallup’s Strengthsfinder: it took me a while to get on board with this and I now wish I had taken the test at the very beginning of my career. My current boss made time for us as a staff team to explore this and it has been such a useful tool for us as individuals – and as individuals working together. The philosophy here is that we all have strengths to nurture, and that nurturing these is more productive than focusing on our weaknesses (for someone raised in the Swiss school system, this is MIND-BLOWING!) Get the book (which includes a link to the test) here.
3. “Let Your Life Speak” by Parker J Palmer. Speaking of mind-blowing, this book profoundly challenged parts of my thinking and enriched others in a life-changing way. It’s a short book that is easy to read, and you can ‘take it in’ at varying levels. Be ready for something profound. Snap up a copy here.
One of my favourite things about my first date with Dan was the privilege of getting to know someone (also: I’m glad it didn’t involve clumsily stumbling over slippy rocks!) I asked him what he did, and why he did it. I asked him where he thought it was going. Who he hung out with, and what he did for fun.
Getting to know yourself is a privilege, too – you have been uniquely and truly wonderfully designed. It’s never too late to begin. As you go about this important work, you’ll find that your own rhythm comes naturally – and that it’s easier to follow it without distraction. It’s an investment worth making: for you and for the world.
So…who are you?