My rescue boat, sent to me by The Universe

I’m going to tell you a story:

It had been raining for days and days, and a terrible flood had come over the land. The waters rose so high that one man was forced to climb onto the roof of his house.

As the waters rose higher and higher, a man in a rowboat appeared, and told him to get in. “No,” replied the man on the roof. “I have faith in the Lord; the Lord will save me.” So the man in the rowboat went away. The man on the roof prayed for God to save him.

The waters rose higher and higher, and suddenly a speedboat appeared. “Climb in!” shouted a man in the boat. “No,” replied the man on the roof. “I have faith in the Lord; the Lord will save me.” So the man in the speedboat went away. The man on the roof prayed for God to save him.

The waters continued to rise. A helicopter appeared and over the loudspeaker, the pilot announced he would lower a rope to the man on the roof. “No,” replied the man on the roof. “I have faith in the Lord; the Lord will save me.” So the helicopter went away. The man on the roof prayed for God to save him.

The waters rose higher and higher, and eventually they rose so high that the man on the roof was washed away, and alas, the poor man drowned.

Upon arriving in heaven, the man marched straight over to God. “Heavenly Father,” he said, “I had faith in you, I prayed to you to save me, and yet you did nothing. Why?” God gave him a puzzled look, and replied “I sent you two boats and a helicopter, what more did you expect?”

I first heard this on the West Wing. A priest is counselling the President on the possible commutation of a death sentence, which the President eventually doesn’t follow through. Bartlett laments how he prayed for support but none came, and the priest points out that various wise people came to the President that day, what more did he want, what was he waiting for.

It’s a really interesting parable, and one that is quite salient to me. I’m having somewhat of an early midlife crisis with regards to my career and passions and am not sure where to go. I am considering embarking on a Master’s degree, but it is an enormous financial and time commitment at a time when both money and time are scarce. I keep trying to figure out whether it is what I really want to do. Doesn’t help that being outside the academic and psychology arena I don’t really know what the realities of the course and career prospect are.

In desperation I picked up a book in town last week, called Coach Yourself. But before I talk about that book I want to briefly mention another book that I have been reading, called Screw Work, Let’s Play, by John Williams. Now Mr Williams doesn’t seem to have any formal psychology background, but I bought his book because he is a keen follower of Barbara Sher, who I mentioned before: she coined the term ‘scanner’ to describe people who try and do lots of different things. The main premise of Mr William’s book is that you shouldn’t be languishing in a job you don’t enjoy, work should be fun, and there is a niche out there for everyone, such as the woman who started up a mobile chocolate van. The book encourages you to go out and follow your dream, everyone should be in a job that they love. He isn’t the only one championing this. Only last month there was an article in Psychologies magazine about portfolio careers. In this agile world with technology at our fingertips we can be a gardener by day and an artisan chocolate maker by night. And it is true that the internet has opened worlds, markets and audiences previously unavailable to the common person. We can start up businesses with just a laptop in our front room, and we should, we owe it to ourselves. Apparently.

The problem is with these books and articles is their lack of realism. I imagine most of the case studies who give up the shackles of the Big Corporation to become a therapeutic gardener or life coach have a small nest egg to cushion them from destitution. They are probably not living at the edges of their overdrafts and credit card limits. There is also the small matter of the fact that not everyone can give up their day job to follow their passion, even if they have the money to, unless their passion is for clearing up vomit in a police cell, serving lukewarm breakfasts in a service station or keeping the sewers clear. Tough jobs but someone’s got to do them. On a thread on Mumsnet that I started on the topic someone said it was a “horribly middle class idea of wanting to play” and to some extent she was right. It’s a modern problem of wanting the world to be exactly how we like it. It wasn’t that long ago people had to work just to live, now we want to live to work.

Anyway, back to the most recent book, Coach Yourself. This is written by a couple of Actual Psychologists. Now that’s more like it. I like my self help with a dash of evidence based theory. I haven’t actually finished the book, but I am three quarters of the way, and it is the most realistic book have read on the subject. I will probably go into more details in later posts, but the salient points that I have taken from this book so far are: Ambivalence is normal, and there is always a cost to making changes. All these other books and articles go on about following your dreams, as if you know what your dreams are, and it’s so easy, you just need to get off your arse and do it. Seriously, there is one called Get off your “but”. If it was that easy we’d all be doing our dreams jobs, we’d all be thin and healthy. The book I have been reading acknowledges that it’s not that easy, there are costs, and you should be prepared for them. The costs may be to your time, to your energy, to other parts of your life. And we may always wonder if we made the right decision, that is a fact of life. It’s ok to have mixed feelings about change. It says “You don’t have to be 100% committed. 51% is enough.”

My head nearly exploded at this revelation. It’s so contrary to anything else I have read with regards to personal development. And it’s right. If you wait to be 100% committed to anything as daunting as a big life change you will never do it. And it takes me back to my original story. I’m not expecting a sign from God, and even if I was, what would that sign look like? How would I know? How do I know if I am making the right decision? The answer is I don’t, and I may never know. But I’m feeling more ok with that fact.

Now, don’t take this to mean that I have made my decision yet. I haven’t, that would be too convenient wouldn’t it? But, I’m no longer waiting for an unknown sign. I don’t expect a communique from the Universe. I’m just looking into the pragmatics of doing the course and seeing if I feel like it is kind of the right thing. I’m not at 51% yet, but if I hit it, and I can carve out the time and money, I’ll do it. But I won’t be screwing work just yet, someone has to pay the bills.

15 thoughts on “Just what sort of sign are you waiting for?

  1. I know exactly what you’re saying. Husband and I are going through something similar. It’s not that we want or expect our day to day lives to be full of fun and frivolity, we’re not scared of hard work. But surely it doesn’t/shouldn’t be this dreary? The drudgery of day to life, going to jobs we’re not passionate about, paying a fortune to commute on packed trains, feeling like we’re not getting enough fun time with the kids…it’s all just too much. So we’re upping sticks and moving ‘home’ next year. We’ll figure out the ‘job’ side nearer the time. So I guess that’s our version of being 51% committed ;-) Hope you find what it is you want to be 51% committed to soon x

    (phew, glad I saved a fairy)

    1. Like you both my DH is having similar feelings. For him he knows what he wants to do (run his own photography business) but something is holding him back. I think he is struggling with the ‘cost’ of the change, lack of leisure time, making himself vulnerable to failure etc.

      Interested to hear about your plan to move. Hope to hear how it is going on your blog. Very brave move.

  2. Really enjoyed this post. A few years ago now I studied counselling and psychotherapy (Diploma course). I remember reading about Egon Brunswik’s decision making model, it was VERY geeky but very interesting :-) I am fascinated by anything psychology or counselling related, I LOVED the course, it was a pleasure to go to the lessons and do all the reading.

    Hope you come to a decision soon, (says’ the most indecisive person ever, as unfortunately learning how to make well informed decisions has never actually helped me make up my mind haha).

    p.s love the ‘every time you read a post and don’t comment a fairy dies’ so wish i’d thought of that ! :-)

  3. Love this :) Have been in a total ‘where am I going, what am I doing and how on earth do I get the time for anything I want to do?’ one this week. Going to aim for 51% committed and not beat myself up about the other 49.

  4. If it’s any consolation your “early mid-life crisis” has been very helpful to me! I read that Barbara Sher book you recommended and instantly felt less guilty when I learnt I was a “scanner”. Actually I think you should be a careers adviser/life coach….

    Hope you find your 51% soon!

    1. That’s great, glad it has been useful. I found it really helpful.

      I have toyed with the idea of career counselling/life coach. I’m just not sure I’m sold on the idea of life coaches. Part of me desperately wants to see one (if I had the money), part of me feels an intellectual snobbery about them. It’s an unregulated industry. I’d be crap doing it anyway if I can’t even figure out what I want to do!

  5. What a wonderful post. Love the sound of that book. I do often suspect that some career changers do have a nest egg, or maybe in the back of their minds know that when their parents go, they’ll have a bit of a nest egg then, so don’t have to think about the future so much. Not them all of course. And there is merit in doing what you like, but the realities of money are always there too.

  6. Oh no, I couldn’t possibly kill a fairy. Brilliant post. I completely understand the feeling. I’m there myself at the moment. I seem to be cramming in lots of trivial nothingnesses in the hope that one may turn into a somethingness. The idea of only needing 51% commitment is an utter revelation. I may actually sleep soundly tonight with that idea in my sandbag. Great post.

  7. Conversely, I’m quite comforted that I’m at least 51% committed to continuing to do what I do. I sometimes feel like I SHOULD be making a change, that I’ve just not done enough … but you know, for now, this is just fine. It’s not amazing, but the world doesn’t owe me ‘amazing’.

    Not sure how I feel about fairies. Too many of them around here if you ask me. But I’ll let them live for now.

  8. Love this post! Think I need to get a copy. I’m surrounded by some wonderfully optimistic people who are real go-getters when it comes to getting what you want but whenever they suggest something for me to get out of my many dilemmas (general life unhappiness!) I tend to have a ‘but’ because there are a fair few obstacles (I agree with your point about the nest egg). It’s not so easy for some of us to throw our hands in the air and say we’ll just do what we want. As much as I want to do that so I am happier, I need a dose of realism too!

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