Each time a door closes, the rest of the world opens up. All we need to do is stop pounding on the door that just closed, turn around… and welcome the largeness of life that now lies open to our souls. The door that closed kept us from entering a room, but what now lies before us is the rest of reality.—Parker Palmer

I teach my clients a lot about decision-making and granted, there are many important aspects of making good decisions— Listening to your intuition. Conducting experiments. Gathering information.

But sometimes, you do all the right things, and it doesn’t seem to matter. The final decision is outside of your control. The options you wish you had don’t exist. What happens next just isn’t up to you.

I felt this way back when we were applying for my kiddo’s dad’s visa. I’d made a great argument for why we deserved to get it, gathered every possible document, gotten the lawyer. You name it, I’d done it. And yet, the final decision lay in the hands of someone who worked over two thousand miles away, who would never meet us face-to-face, whose desk job it was to make these decisions multiple times a day, kind of arbitrarily.

We had to wait over a year for the decision. And the first time, we were denied. All I could do was take solace in the fact that I’d done what I could. And learn how to relinquish control.

So, what to do when you know what you want, and you’ve taken all the steps, and moving forward in the direction you want is simply outside of your control?

When it feels like you’re trying to beat down a locked door?

When this happens (because, at some point, it will), I have two bits to offer—

First, I grant you complete permission not to like the situation you’re in.

You don’t have to try to sugarcoat it or make it fun or pretty. It’s hard. There’s a lot of hard stuff going on in the world right now, and it deserves to be seen for how hard it is. (And, if you’re tempted to say that your situation isn’t as bad as other situations, I invite you to go easy on yourself and acknowledge that while that may be so, it doesn’t make your situation any easier.)

Now, that said, I offer you a second gift, a challenge—

I challenge you to get curious about how this moment might be an opportunity for transformation for you.

To get a sense of what I mean, I invite you to reflect back on a struggle you experienced in the past. Something that seemed insurmountable at the time but that, looking back, taught you a valuable lesson. Make it far enough in the past that it no longer triggers you.

Reflect for a moment about what you learned from this experience.

In Mandarin, the character for crisis is a combination of the characters for danger and opportunity. For many people, the most challenging moments are also the most pivotal moments of discovery.

Did you know that for a caterpillar to become a butterfly, she first needs to turn entirely into goop?

If a person comes along and tries to speed up the process by poking or prodding at the chrysalis, the butterfly will die.

There are times on the journey when, like a butterfly in a cocoon, you will feel completely stuck and won’t be able to go faster, no matter how hard you try. Despite doing everything “right,” you may still need to be goop for a little while longer.

In the old stories, these moments were often depicted by the hero hanging on a hook in the center of a labyrinth. If the hero tried to wriggle their way off the hook, it dug deeper into their back. All they could do was surrender to the slow transformation taking place within, one part of them dying so that another part may be reborn.

If you feel like all the gates are locked, I invite you to pause for a moment and stop beating down the locked door.

Then, check in with your inner guidance— the part of you who knows what to do, even when you don’t know what to do. And listen to what arises.

You may want to try this now—

Grab a pen and a piece of paper. Take a moment to get centered and tune in to the wisdom of your body.

Then, bring to mind a situation you feel stuck about, and free write what comes up in response to the following questions. Set a timer for three minutes for each of the following questions and write down everything that comes up, not censoring yourself, and keeping your pen moving the entire time—

  • What am I most afraid will happen if I don’t get the outcome I’m hoping for? Offer yourself some compassion, responding like you would a good friend or actually giving yourself a hug.
  • How might this situation be calling me to transform?
  • What does the part of me who knows what to do, even when I don’t know what to do, want me to know right now?

Finally, take a moment to look over what you wrote and look at what you’re taking away from this exploration.

What arose for you while contemplating the caterpillar or doing the journaling?

I’d love to hear from you! Please share below, and I will make sure to respond.

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