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Through the motions:

Moving forward in uncertain times

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It’s that time of the year again when everyone feels behooved to make resolutions and establish goals. Admittedly, many of us are revising last year’s goals because, to dramatically understate the situation, things did not go according to plan. As another uncertain year begins, I invite you to consider a few shifts that have helped me set inspiring, achievable future targets. Life feels up in the air right now. In case you haven’t noticed, the game has changed in 2021; unfortunately, many of us are still trying to play by the old rules — that’s not working. It’s time to revise our success strategies (and probably also our definitions of success, but that’s another post altogether). The following are a few adjustments to help you make the most of this strange new reality.

First, get agile. In the past, you may have set one-year goals, 5-year goals, or even 10-year goals because the world seemed stable, and setting long-term goals was reasonable. That kind of thinking and planning may be obsolete in a world where the unknown is now commonplace. Deferred plans and delayed progress were a fact for everyone last year, and that trend may continue for some time. Just as project management methodology has shifted from rigid timelines to a more agile framework characterized by multiple iterations and minimum viable products with lots of room for innovation and input, we must also adjust our planning frameworks. This new cadence offers opportunities to incorporate information as you design, develop, and test. Rinse and repeat until you’re ready to deploy. Don’t be afraid to follow a novel model, setting goals that leave room for incorporating fresh data as our world continues to adapt to various changes over the coming year(s).

Along those same lines of adaptability and flexibility, I suggest you allow yourself to pivot and recalibrate when and where it makes sense. This could mean anything from changing your living situation (or location) to your reconsidering career path. If you scan our recent history, you’ll find examples of hitherto unanticipated shifts in culture resulting from larger external events; women entering the U.S. workforce in WWII, for example, or the divorce trend and implosion of the nuclear family in the 80s and subsequent advent of the child care industry. Humans are naturally adaptable and flexible, and this should inspire hope. If you’re no longer feeling connected to an old direction, be it in your career or a relationship, let yourself contemplate other options so that you can decide whether a pivot might better serve you. It’s not easy to give up one path to pursue another, but it can be life-affirming. I have a good friend who decided to pivot into a behavioral health career and has found that the initial time, effort, and sacrifice to make the change has been enormously rewarding. If you are on a track but no longer sure it fits you, pause and leave some space in your life to ponder other paths (or shifts) that might be a better fit. No one can do this for you. And though change is scary, now, when we’re all feeling so culturally unmoored, it is a magnificent time to contemplate it. You’re in excellent company!

Next, to help mitigate the pains of navigating the emotional terrain of uncertainty, consider thinking in terms of priorities instead of goals, intentions rather than targets. This suggestion may sound primarily semantic, but it is indicative of a shift in expectations. Setting priorities rather than goals takes the pressure off of you in a world now characterized by uncertainty. There’s flexibility inherent in choosing priorities over goals, as they can easily be adjusted to fit changing circumstances. This also requires that you have clarity about your values, which is invaluable in chaotic times. Prioritizing what you value and deprioritizing things that are less important is one of the healthiest things you can do for your self-esteem in this strange historical moment.

Additionally, when thinking about what you want in the future, try to imagine of the big picture and the longer trajectory. When planning for the days, months, and year(s) ahead, consider the following three areas. First, how will the achievement of this goal or alignment with this priority impact me? How will it expand my knowledge? How will it impact me physically or financially? How does it complement or contradict my values? Next, expand your thinking and ask yourself how the changes will impact your family and your community. Consider any consequences for your ancestors or descendants. How will changes in your life add to or detract from your participation with your group of friends or neighborhood? Finally, how does this priority fit into the larger planetary or cosmic narrative? Will it affect the planet, the cosmos, future generations, and the larger and longer-term human, spiritual narrative. This means exploring how your choices may be of consequence in the long arc of human history. Many of your goals will have minimal impact (you can see or are aware of) at this level. However, think of all the lives and choices that were necessary for you to be here now. The accumulation of seemingly insignificant or inconsequential choices that made your very existence possible. When you can, slow down and serve others in the ways you’re able, whether that be sharing your art or writing, volunteering, lending an ear, or planting a garden.

Finally, a tried and true strategy for uncertain times and one that has carried me through many challenging situations; when the destination is unclear, take the next best step. This approach assumes you are unsure about the best way forward and have no clue what your target is. In cases where your visibility is limited, do the next thing that feels right. Keep doing that until the fog lifts, and you can see clearly. Sometimes all of us get overwhelmed and have a hard time making long-term plans. Give yourself space and know it’s natural to feel stuck sometimes. When you can’t see ahead, take small steps and wait (and work) for clarity. It will come. It always does.

The new worldview we’re all perceiving requires that we move in different rhythms than we have in the past. Humans are uniquely gifted at making these kinds of large-scale changes quickly, and technology has only enhanced our capabilities. Unfortunately, sometimes our hearts take time catching up. It’s also true that some aren’t fans of ch-ch-ch-ch-changes. If that’s you, buckle up, buttercup, because we’re taking a master class in change now! Try not to get overwhelmed. Remember, this is a unique opportunity to pick up new coping skills and learn to manage your expectations and priorities in trying times. Whether you are rethinking your goals or career path, finding new tools for overcoming challenges or feeling a little stuck, there are shifts in thinking available to support you. It’s an excellent year for rewriting the rules you’ve always followed. The chaos in our culture means that many of us are empowered to create lives that better reflect our hopes and values as things transition.

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