“When I came to Katherine, I had been unhappy in my job for a long time, but I wasn’t sure how or what I should do to move on from it in a productive way.”

“I knew I needed a change, but I lacked clarity about what I really wanted. I lacked confidence about my ability to make a change. And I was scared of how a change might affect my life.”

“Rather than taking steps forward, I was caught in analysis paralysis, spinning around in my head without making forward movement.”

Sound familiar?

When my clients come to work with me, they’re often standing at a gate, and they don’t know what to do next. Gates are moments that mark the threshold between the familiar and unfamiliar, between the known and unknown worlds, between life as it is now and life as it will be once you make a big decision or complete a task. You know that you’re standing at a gate if a nagging voice inside says you must make a change, but you feel unrelenting doubt and indecision. 

My job is to help my clients cross through their gates, feeling reinspired, reenergized, reconnected, and clear. In addition to practices that help them get clear, I find that having some context— recognizing that they’re standing at a gate and learning a few universal truths— helps my clients feel oriented and more easily take their next steps. With that in mind, I’m going to share with you four truths about the gates.

Truth #1: There are no guarantees. 

Modern-day culture sells a false sense of control and certainty. Marketers— including career coaches— tell us that we can control the future if only we have the right tools. But, as you well know, the world we live in is perhaps more uncertain than ever before. Pandemics. Climate crisis. Neofascist governments. Mass awakening and uprising. The days of graduating from school, joining a company, and working there your entire career are long gone. If anyone tells you they’re selling certainty in a bottle, look the other way.

Although each gate promises something valuable to those who dare cross, you cannot predict with certainty what you’ll find on the other side. 

Truth #2: To say “yes,” you must also say “no.” 

Beside the gate, you’ll find a gatekeeper. In the old stories, gatekeepers appeared as mystical beings, three-headed dogs, dragons, or wise teachers. In reality, the gatekeeper is within you. 

The gatekeeper says: “To pass, you must pay a price.”

Western culture purports the notion that there’s something wrong with us if we don’t have everything we want. But the reality is that to pursue a calling, we have to make sacrifices. To pass through a gate, you must let go of something that has been important to you. The Latin root of the word decision— cis or cide— means “to cut or kill.” Death, loss, and tradeoffs are inevitable parts of the journey. That’s why gates are so scary. 

The price we pay is often external and internal. You may need to invest time, effort, or money to pursue your dream. You might need to let go of a belief or behavior pattern that no longer serves you. You may need to make a physical move, shift relationship dynamics, or do things differently than how your friends or family always have. You may need to let go of people-pleasing, say “no” to a request that you wish you could say “yes” to, or disappoint someone you love. 

To pursue one dream, we often have to let go of another. 

Truth #3: Passing through the gate will change you.

On the surface, a calling is about creating external change: fighting for justice, changing careers, starting a business, caring for yourself, finding the holy grail. However, the outer destination is only part of the equation. 

Deep down, a calling is about becoming the person who can rise to the challenge, the person you’re called to be in this next phase of your life. This doesn’t mean becoming a “better person” or any less yourself. It means becoming a different person— including and transcending the person you’ve been until now— and becoming more fully yourself than you’ve ever been before. 

To pass through the gate and become the person you’re called to be now, you will need to say “no” to one part of yourself so that you can proclaim a wholehearted “yes!” to another. 

That’s why, in addition to demanding that you let something go, the gatekeeper asks: 

“Who are you now?” 

Passing through the gate has an alchemical effect. When you cross the threshold, you are forever a different person: A person who shares their ideas, a person who takes care of herself, a person who leads, a person who pauses, a person who says “no,” a person who says “yes.” 

Truth #4: We learn the skill of crossing through the big gates by crossing through the little ones.

Although there’s a myth out there that change happens in one “big leap,” the truth is that big change usually comes in baby steps. To pass through the big gates, we usually must pass through countless little gates: saying “no” to an obligation that distracts you from what’s most important, closing the computer and going to bed on time, committing to a morning practice, paying attention to what you need and want, putting yourself out there, having those difficult conversations with your partner or your boss, the list goes on.

The big gates only come every once in a while. Life is mostly lived at the little gates. The way to prepare yourself for the big gates is to choose consciously at the little gates, to cultivate the habit of making clear, full-hearted decisions, moment by moment by moment. 

Each choice you make is your best guess. You cannot be certain what will happen once you take your next step, but you can learn from what happens. You choose your next step, gather information about what happens when you take that step, and then make your next choice based on that information. Each step informs the next. Getting clear often requires that you pick one path, take it a few steps until you realize that it’s not quite right, pivot, choose a new direction, hit false starts, and try again. You cannot predict what the path will look like until you start walking it. 

Keeping in mind that clarity happens at the little gates, I want to share a practice to help you quickly get clear about your next baby step. I call this the Orientation Practice. 

The Orientation Practice

The Orientation Practice weaves together many of the practices that I teach into one simplified, relatively-easy-to-remember sequence. It can take some time to master, but each time you return to it, you will hone your ability to navigate around the bends and bumps along your path. 

I invite you to practice now. Here we go:

  • Grab a paper and a pen.
  • Pause, settle your body and embody a compassionate witness perspective.
  • Then, write what comes up in response to the following questions:
    • What do I feel?
    • What am I telling myself?
    • What do I need?
    • What does the situation need?
    • What’s my next step?
    • How will I resource myself to take this step?
  • Then, take your next step.

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

With much en-courage-ment and gratitude to you for taking your next step,

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