Don't miss the forest for the trees
I was having dinner with a fellow leadership coach, about 20-years my senior, when she told me, "Ah, there are so many things I wish I knew when I was your age!"
What are some of those things, I asked?
"Don't miss the forest for the trees," she said.
"Many times," she told me, "life will send you people or signs telling you to take a different road than you've been on, to embrace this new thing—don't ignore it! Don't run away from it!"
Sometimes those "messages" will be very uncomfortable, but there is a reason: they're calling you to take the road less travelled by.
Taking the road less travelled by, a road that has not been paved, is where greatness is.
Apparently, that's where deep joy is, too, she told me.
I was fortunate to hear about her life story, including spending years in a job she knew wasn't right for her, but there was so much social and internal pressure, both conscious and unconscious, that compelled her to stick with it. The same pattern happens in other areas of life, too ... until one day we wake up and ask, "What the hell have I been doing?" This is the very question she'd asked herself, but it didn't happen until major events in her life took place: death of her parents, failing health, job loss, disastrous relationships, and so on.
"Don't wait for those events," she told me. "Pain, guilt, and regret will be enormous. Wake up now!"
The window of opportunity closes quickly if we don't seize it.
So why did she follow that path if she had "a call" to do otherwise?
A preconceived idea of life.
"I was looking for a set of specific things, not realizing that that is not how life works," she said. "I was too scared to let go of what I thought I wanted in order to get what was meant for me.”
"We can be focused on the things we 'want', but as time goes on, maybe the things we wanted once aren't the things that are meant for us. And that’s a good thing, because there are better things in store … if we let them."
The problem with chasing a specific thing, especially when life keeps creating obstacles or gives us different calls is that we stop chasing it for the right reasons and we get lost in it.
We chase it for our ego, not for our heart.
"I got lost in chasing all these things I thought would make me happy, even as my body screamed at me and people came into my life who told me otherwise, even warned me. But I guess I had to see it for myself. Then, when I got some of the things, I realized that they made a 12-year-old me happy, not an adult.”
Why did she do it?
Lack of courage / presence of fear.
Attachment to a narrative.
"I was preconceived to life itself, too obstinate and proud, insecure, too afraid of change and of letting go of my narrative and my identity (i.e. who will I be without all this, will I be ok?) to do anything about it. After a while, it was about proving a point, sticking to what I knew. I convinced myself to stick with what I was doing and so I wasted 30 years of my life!”
Today, she follows her true purpose at all levels, but it took a long time and a lot of "half-lived life," as she put it, before she decided to step back, let go, and dig deeper … give a different call a chance.
How do we know we're living an authentic life and not missing the forest for the trees?
Play a movie of your life, or even the last year or two, in a detached way, or ask a coach, therapist, or a trusted, honest, unbiased friend who knows everything about you to help you, and answer the following questions truthfully:
Has achieving your goals, even simple ones, been incredibly hard with same obstacles repeating themselves?
Do you keep doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result?
Have you had unexpected encounters or uncomfortable situations or ideas enter your consciousness that you worked to ignore, reject, or dismiss?
Has your body reacted negatively either through tension, health issues, or weight gain?
Can you catch yourself convincing yourself of your old path and shutting down new ideas?
Do things that should be easy, and workable, somehow not work?
Do you find yourself feeling misunderstood or not even understanding yourself?
Do you feel like you’re both a found and a lost soul at the same time?
Are your thoughts, actions, words, and emotions inconsistent?
Has anyone called you stubborn, unaware, detached from reality, or cowardly?
Is your life great on paper, but you have this feeling that something is slightly off? (Stop yourself from rationalizing what's off.)
Are you living in the future? Do you constantly chase projects in the future?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you’re missing the forest! You’re likely not fully integrated and your focus isn’t going in the right direction.
Pay attention, because life might be giving you a different, bigger, more authentic call.
Lastly, think of a forest. When you go into nature, a forest, if you're narrowly looking for one specific plant, let’s say a mushroom, you're going to miss a million other beautiful plants. You're going to miss the wild life (pun intended!), miss everything while you're chasing this one mushroom.
Is that fungi worth you missing your whole, extraordinary, authentic life?