Peering Into the Darkness…

Are you feeling overwhelmed? I have been. It seems there’s so much that rests on my shoulders. If I’m not here to do laundry, remind my husband to pay his bills, feed the cat, convince my mother to eat, and make sure members of my team align on the priorities necessary to support our clients – to name just a few – it feels like everything would spin out of control.

And then it does anyway.

Last night I dreamt that I was workshopping with a client to configure a software package that they had purchased. With me was a senior colleague – someone I think of as omniscient with this software – and we were tag-teaming the workshop, as we have done before. Although I know the software, I don’t know it as she does, and there are entire areas which are mysteries to me. I know they exist, but I haven’t led the configuration discussions for them. In my dream, just as we reached one of those black holes, she rose, gathered her belongings, and whispered to me, “I’ve got to go. [Our CEO] just called and I’ve got to join him at another client.” Panic set in. “Five minute break,” I announced to the room as I chased her out the door and down the hall. “You can’t leave!” I cried out. “I don’t know this next part at all!” “You’ll be fine,” she reassured me with a sweet smile and a shrug. “I don’t really know it either.” And then she was gone. I stood there, flat-footed.

Then one of the clients came up to me and said, “I’m feeling like we’ve made a huge mistake with this software. I don’t understand how it all comes together, how we keep track of things.”

Worst nightmare?

I quickly pulled myself together, realized that we hadn’t discussed the reports options that would give that client the feeling of control, and quickly reorganized the agenda to focus on that for the rest of the day. I also shot off an email to my partner at the software company asking for some time that evening to review the area of the software that I didn’t understand so I could lead the workshop on it the next day.

Something about this dream answered a question that I had fallen asleep with last night, a question I didn’t even realize that I had. I realized that I had been holding onto something – an idea that I had been afraid to let go of. I woke up with the determination to let go of it with a vengeance. It means more work, a hit to the ego, probably some confrontation, and some risk. But in the long run, it will be for the better.

Sometimes you have to let go to move forward, a theme I’ve explored here before. You can’t learn new behaviors while you’re holding on to old ones. if flowers held onto what made them successful as seeds, they’d never bloom.

I have a theory that college is, for many of us, just finishing school (a very expensive finishing school). Not for all of us, but for many of us, it takes us away from the things that we’re used to – our high school friends, our parents, the places we hung out. It forces us to figure out how to live on our own, how to set boundaries, how to set priorities for our time and our money without our parents there to do it for us. It lets us redefine who we are, to some extent, without being trapped in the assumptions our high school peers and teachers have about us. Many of us study things in college that may not open the door to a job and, in my mind, if it weren’t for the crushing debt, that would be fine because it’s not really about gaining job skills but gaining life skills. It’s about letting go of the child that you were and learning to be an adult. Some people I went to high school with never left high school. They still hang out with the same people, they’re still holding on to who they were, even 30+ years later. Hey, if it works for them, fine. I preferred to let go and move on.

My sister and I were talking last night about letting go of mom. She was so sick last year and we had to force her to eat, to exercise, to take her medicine. But mom’s an anorexic and we can’t change that; she just feels more comfortable a good 15-20 pounds lighter than she should be, she always has and, without committing her to a nursing home – which she doesn’t need otherwise, thank goodness – we can’t control this. In the past my sister has fought Mom’s lifestyle because, if she gets sick again, my sister ends up taking on more responsibility. Now she’s ready to let go and take it as it comes.

Sometimes it feels like giving up. The fear that accompanies the thought of letting go can be paralyzing. Making a big change can feel like standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon, one foot lifted into the space in front of you – that first step is a doosy.

At Toastmasters last night, a newer member gave a speech about embracing change. He described a choice he recently made, a choice that will change his life, force him to dance a high wire without a safety net. He described the feeling he has now as staring into the darkness in front of him until the light comes through, an image that struck a chord with me.

Time to let go again.

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