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Can't Find a Path Forward? Make One

Sometimes we don't know what to do. Often the best course is to just do.

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We all have times in our lives when we are confused, uncertain, indecisive. Sometimes this is about how to solve a problem we’re facing—preparing for our first big interview or learning the ropes on a new job, filling out our income taxes or fixing a leaky bathroom faucet. These are straight-forward in that they are about skill, and the first step in acquiring skill is getting information—about interviews, the work tasks, the filling out taxes, the leaky faucet. To solve the problem we start by learning what we don’t know.

But other times our problems are not so much about skills but about emotions that make us indecisive. Here are some of the common ways you can get stuck:

You don’t want to upset others

This is common and big. You kind-of know what you want to do but you’re worried about the reactions of others—parents, bosses, partners, friends. You’re afraid of disapproval or conflict, or being put on the spot and needing to defend yourself, which is especially difficult if you’re not solidly sure yourself of your idea or plan.

You’re not sure what you want

You have a lot of ideas of about what you should do, what might be the best course, and your friends, your partner have given you ideas—take the job, drop the new date. But you get hung up because you have all this advice, all these should in your head, but you can’t pin down what you emotionally want.

You have too many options

Okay, you’re not so worried about how others may react, you know what you want—that you want to say, live and work in San Francisco—but your flooded with too options of possible jobs, possible places to live. You're overwhelmed.

You want to make the right choice

You're struggling with all of the above or a mix of a couple but why you're really stuck is that you are trying to find the perfect, Right choice or solution.

The way forward

There is a famous poem by Antonio Machado, entitled Traveler, Your Footprints; here is an excerpt:

Traveler, your footprints / are the only road, nothing else. Traveler, there is no road; you make a path as you walk.

Sometimes there is no clear path. As Machado suggests, you find the path by walking and making the path, by moving forward in spite of your not knowing. As you move forward it all becomes clearer.

So, you worry about other’s reactions, but you press forward and sensitively but assertively say what you want. The challenge here is seeing what happens next, and if you do get a negative reaction, telling yourself that you didn't do anything wrong by speaking up, and that now you simply have a new problem that you may need to address.

If you are not sure about what you want, you want to listen to your gut, your needs, get out of your head, and move forward based on these emotions. This is not about being impulsive or acting out, but not dismissing this important source of information. As you follow these wants, your path will become clearer.

If you are flooded with too many options, and feeling overwhelmed, the problem is that your anxiety is kicking up, and as anxiety does, making you lose sight of what is most important. Return again to your gut: Take those deep breaths and ask yourself: What do I most want and need right now?

And finally, if you are trying to craft the perfect solution, realize that life is not about perfect solution, but about trial and error. Machado's sage advice is to move forward, don’t dither and expect an answer by standing still. The answers come by taking action, often any action.

Walk forward and discover your path.