Thoughts on Starting Over, Part 5

Making stuff in the kitchen. True joy. And I don’t necessarily mean cooking.

Wow. Where were we? I last posted just a week ago, yet so much has happened since then, it seems more like a month has gone by. This new year continues the theme of the last. Or, as one of my friends recently put it, “You think it’s January 6th, 2021? Nope! It’s actually December 27, 2020. This crazy, awful year just will not end”. Much like a president that refuses to peacefully cede power. Or a virus that intensifies its infection rate by mutating just as we’ve begun the vaccination process. I have to admit, even mostly-sunny me is having some pretty bleak thoughts these days. I’ve gone to bed before the clock struck 8pm, thinking I just can’t take any more of this day.

But let’s set all that aside for now. Shall we? Let’s get back to our Masterclass in Starting Over!

I’ve reviewed parts 1-4 to get my head back into the subject. Hey! Look at all the useful topics we’ve covered! A reminder of those Things to Keep in Mind when you’re faced with – or choose to undergo – a huge change in the fabric of your life.

Don’t hide.

Let things develop as they will.

Maintain (or get) perspective.

From time to time, give it a rest.

Find your invincible summer.

Don’t think. Do.

So that’s where we are. You’ve been slogging through the fallout of big time change. Good job, you! If you haven’t been hearing it until now, you’re likely to now face the question – from yourself and others – with the big one. What next?

Let me repeat that question, because once you’ve gotten over the shock of things changing, it’s the elephant in the room. (There’s that elephant again. Same elephant. Let’s name him Roger. Roger is hanging about, likely with a bunch of blind men alongside, whether referred to aloud or not.) What next?

If a stunning change has happened in your life due to outside forces, it’s unlikely you have an answer to that question. Who was planning for this to happen? Not I! And, for some folks, they’ve instigated a big change without having an endgame. They simply knew a change was needed. Brave. But stressful. And then there are those who instigate a giant, life-changing shift because they know what they want to happen next. They have an endgame.

Here, I pause to smother a giggle. ‘Cause that endgame? It’s likely not to turn out as you planned.

So, what next???

I have only one suggestion for finding your way to The Next Thing. It may take weeks, months or years. A big shift can sometimes call for a complete overhaul in your basic goals and desires. Part of the process is sifting through the ones you’ve held and asking yourself “Is this still relevant?” Many cease to be so, whether you like it or not. Aside from relevance, some are now entirely beyond your reach because the new form of your life does not allow them to come to fruition. Others will settle in to your psyche, claiming their place as part of you despite all outward rearranging. And if there’s little clarity on what to keep and what to discard? What then? How do you decide on a new direction, new goals, new plan?

Let joy be your guide.

When things are murky as pond water, take up those moments of joy with which you’ve been filling your life (as often as you’ve been able). Get a good look at them. What are they all about? Notice how they fill you with anticipation, excitement, curiosity and maybe even a bit of motivation toward further action. Those feelings are important. Crucial.

While engaged in those things that give you joy, do you lose yourself in the doing? And by “losing yourself” I mean are you wholly engaged, without thought or even awareness of all things beyond the moment? This kind of engagement is loosely described as being “in the zone”, “in the groove” or “right there”. It’s Ram Dass’s “be here now” and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s “flow”. Most of us have things we do that allow us to get into that state.

It’s important to note that not all activities that engender “flow” are related to recreation. Yes, you’ll experience it when you sketch, run, knit, take photographs, mess around in your garden, hike in the mountains, build stuff, etc. But keep a lookout for other times you experience “flow”. They happen at work and at home, alongside others and in solitary pursuits. There is a kind of joy in “flow”, more subtle than that we feel when engaging in a fin activity. But I would describe it as joy nonetheless. Observe and note.

If you are truly stymied in your attempts to identify joy, try answering this question: What would you do even if you didn’t get paid for it? It’s bound to dig up some good stuff. For me, the answers include creating experiences for myself and friends (I was affectionately dubbed “Cruise Director” by friends and family long before my present work), connecting people who need or would enjoy each other, and creative problem solving. Your answers might be about activities, but look beneath them to the character of the activity. Bet you find some hidden, perceivable treasure.

As time moves along, keep joy at the front of your attention. These optimal experiences of yours – well, they are excellent way-markers. You may not be able to answer the What next? question out loud, or with a clear answer. But when faced with the query, you CAN call up the response that goes something like “More of that.” It’s s a place-holder, yes. It’s the an answer that can sustain you until such time as everything solidifies into a new plan, goal, work or direction. Doing and noticing joy is collecting information. Remember, you can’t make an informed decision with old, irrelevant information. So what you’re doing now is collecting new information -positive, energizing, motivating information. The next thing can and will truly reflect who you are and what you’re good at if you’ve based it on those experiences of joy.

Long story short: notice what gives you joy, spend time with it, increase as you are able, let it help you define the next new direction. Joy cannot help but lead you to something good. Not right away maybe, and not in ways that you might expect. But if you’re willing, and pay attention, it will give you a fantastic answer to What next?, one that reflects all the things that make you want to get up and then do.

True joy for me: wool, making things. I just kept doing them. Also, I’m in my groove when creating experiences for other people and creative problem solving. Those four joys led me to my “What next?” I just had to accept them as valid guides and then learn to keep them in the forefront of my decision making.

Just one more Masterclass ahead. We’re almost done. In the meantime, spend some time “in the zone”, in whatever offers you that sense of “flow”. Notice how good it feels. In my opinion, it’s the very best thing there is.


    • Well, this has been an unusually challenging week for all of us, I think. And our current gray skies don’t help. BUT! We can try to have a better week THIS week. At least that’s my plan!


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