“When you really pay attention, everything is your teacher.”
We all have times when our view of the way ahead is blocked. We feel stuck in some way and just don’t know what to do. It can be frustrating, even scary, especially if we’re used to having a plan and a destination.
This is when tunnel vision can set in, and all we can see is the blockage. We worry more and the blockage builds up further, sucking us in like a big black hole.
Aaarrgh! Is there no way out?
There was a time a number of years back when I was experiencing perhaps the biggest block of my life. I was stuck in a bunch of ways, and had no idea what to do to make it better. Next steps to take? Who knew?
But I did know I needed to remove myself from a bad situation, and I did. I admit, it was scary. But I noticed that once I shifted my focus from that bad scene to the question of what’s next, ideas and inspiration started to make an appearance.
Inspiration can come in many forms.
It can be found in a chance conversation with a stranger, something you’ve read or heard, or an idea that seems to just pop into your head. It could be an old clipping you come across in a drawer or a scribbled note you had tucked away.
Hey, it could even be inside your fortune cookie! (Here’s a recent one: “Success will not attack you. You must attack it.”)
It’s no exaggeration to say that a random sharing of an article by a friend, at my biggest stuck point, led to the creation of my Redesigning Your Life business, in which I coach folks who want to create a new way of working that both feeds their soul and pays the bills.
At the same time, it encouraged me to find a new way to use my previous work experience, leading me to start a virtual recruitment business that allows me to work for great companies from my home office.
All sparked by that random article that got me thinking.
If you’re feeling stuck or blocked, asking for inspiration, ideas, or answers is an important first step. But asking won’t get us anywhere unless we pay attention to possible answers.
Want to experiment with this?
Take a journal or notepad and write about the block you’re experiencing, the decision you need to make, or the problem you want to resolve. Spill it all on the page.
Then just put it out there – ask for help or inspiration in your notes, or mentally, or into the mirror – and expect an answer (or answers) to come your way.
Next, let it go and go about your business. Focus as much as you can on the good things in your life (yes, there are lots of them) and pay attention.
This is not a passive process – it’s an action sport.
Transform a shoebox into an ideas box. Fill it with random articles of interest, snippets of ideas that come to you, quotes you like, photos you love. See what rises to the top, put the pieces of the puzzle together.
Your best path may hit you like a bolt of lightening, or you may need to ponder the puzzle for a while.
One way or the other though, you must make some choices and take action to see what fits, what works for you. As billionaire and famous note-taker Richard Branson so succinctly put it: “Listen. Take the best. Leave the rest.”
Before this starts sounding too fluffy or abstract, let me share the very concrete example of Chip Conley, founder of Joie de Vivre Hospitality and now Head of Global Hospitality & Strategy for Airbnb. In his 2010 TED talk, Conley shared a very difficult time in his life.
After the dotcom crash years earlier, his San Francisco-based business was in trouble. He found himself in a bookstore one day, combing the business section for ideas that might help.
But he found himself wandering over to the self-help section before too long, and inadvertently came upon the inspiration and answers he needed – in the form of Abraham Maslow’s work on the hierarchy of needs.
Conley had been intrigued by Maslow’s work during a college psychology class and learned through his bookstore visit that Maslow had started work, before his premature death, on applying his theory to organizations.
This sparked a thought for Conley and he began to explore how he could apply Maslow’s hierarchy to his business.
He considered the hierarchy in relation to the needs of his employees and customers, and the application of what he learned transformed his business, which grew substantially, even in the aftermath of the dotcom bust. (For more on this story and how a visit to Bhutan influenced his approach, have a listen to his compelling talk here.)
Bottom line, Conley paid attention to seemingly random information, and used it to move his life and business forward.
So where will your inspiration come from? Only you can find out, by paying attention.
You can actively fuel it though, through reading, listening, joining new groups, exposing yourself to new ideas and art, spending plenty of time in nature, and taking good care of yourself.
With increased attention and an open mind, new ideas will form and new connections will be made. Then it’s all about taking action and experimenting, seeing what works and what doesn’t, and nimbly course correcting.
Be patient and consistent, and before long, that blocked space should be way behind you.
Most importantly, have fun with it!