In a sleep deprived haze at 1am, I let @princejackpup out to use the bathroom. *Usually* he doesn’t need to go out in the middle of the night, but we had been traveling, Lucy had been crying, and the path of least resistance (and least mess) was to just let him out.
[Quick note on context: we live in an apartment on the first floor with access to a dirt patch that could pass as a backyard that we share with six other units in the building. The backyard is right below our property manager’s apartment. No one ever goes down there because you have to walk down at least two flights of stairs, down a creepy hallway with a low ceiling, and past some trash cans to get there. Jack knows where the backyard is and as long as the doors are open, he will run down, do his business and come back up saving us from going out in the cold, at 1am.]
I waited inside listening for him to sprint back up the stairs, but after 5 mins and then 10 mins, no Jack. Piercing the quiet – a loud growl, and then a series of barks. I rush downstairs to stop Jack from waking up our property manager to find him frozen in the center of the backyard with his lips snarled and body tense staring at the fence. I turn on the flashlight on my phone and I just see the fence. Confused, I try to calm him down, but he sprints away all the while barking and growling at the fence.
I walk closer to the fence with Jack following at my heels and finally see a small piece of ivy growing over the top of the fence and swaying in the wind. I pick Jack up and hold him closer to the ivy comforting him that it is OK and the little ivy is definitely not a threat that any of us need to be protected from. He cranes his neck out sniffing the air a few inches around the ivy and finally agrees – yes, this isn’t a threat and we can calm down.
So many times we get stuck in the middle of a terrible [insert relationship, situation, job, belief, etc] because we have only seen things from one perspective. We are Jack in the sense that we visit a place we have been to many times before and get scared and frustrated by the one thing that is uncomfortable or out of place.
It almost always something outside of ourselves to shift our perspective – to make the uncomfortable known, and help us to see that maybe the thing that we are so scared by is just ivy swaying in the wind.
“Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-two million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.” –
Most of the time, we get forced into these catalytic moments – we have a child, someone we love passes away, we get sick. In those moments, we will sometimes find new outlooks on life, but because the event “happened” to us (even planned), it takes us much longer – if ever – to learn whatever the universe is teaching us.
If we actively seek to open ourselves up to new experiences, we can also engineer these moments in our life, forcing ourselves into the process that I forced Jack into by picking him up and bringing him face to face with the scary piece of ivy growing on our backyard.
- Start by identifying where you might be stuck. Hint: it is almost always the thing that you talk about changing / doing but somehow never get around doing or a belief that you were taught and have never challenged. If you still don’t know what this could be, ask for feedback from close friends, family or coworkers – “what am I always talking about doing but never do?” or “what beliefs am I the most stubborn about?”
- Think of ways to get unstuck. Update your resume to find the job you have always talked about. Find a person that believes the opposite of what you believe and just become friends. Research books that expand your perspective – message me if you want some recommendations depending on the topic! Travel to a new country.
- Take one small step closer to the unknown. Book a flight, read the book or tell a friend what you are stuck on and how you are planning to get unstuck.
- Create a tipping point. Tell enough people what you are going to do or quit your job so that going forward into the unknown is easier than going back.
One of my own moments occurred when I was traveling during my study abroad program in Argentina. I didn’t know that I was “stuck” at the time, but knew that having only been out of the country once prior and never having traveled alone, I needed to expand my worldview. My decision to get unstuck was to stay in South America over the Christmas holidays and travel for two months alone. I talked about it with friends from school and finally by the time everyone was leaving to go be with their families, I started regretting my decision- did I really want to spend Christmas alone?
The beauty of engineering your own moments to get outside of your comfort zone is that you can create your own tipping points – tell so many people (for me it was everyone in the study abroad program) or quit your job so it becomes more difficult to go back than to move forward into the unknown.
Over the two months traveling, there was a lot of moments where I started to expand my perspective around the United States (read about my reflection a few years later on the banana republic in Guatemala here), religion, and what it might mean to live a fulfilled life (read here). A lot of the perspectives I gained stay with me today.
My two months traveling was like the fence getting torn down in the backyard revealing that the ivy growing over the fence was actually part of an amazing park beyond.
What fences are in your life? How can you engineer experiences to get to the amazing places outside of the fences in your way?