I’m in my own personal wilderness these days. I’ve got to own that. It’s a start-up wilderness here, an entrepreneurs’ wood, which I’m sure is densely populated although at the moment I can’t see anyone else. At the moment, I feel all alone here. And this is exactly where I need to be.
Antacara is alive and well in that somewhat fragile, cranky newborn kind of way. There are actual accomplishments I can point to – a website, partnerships, even beautiful bags with our logo on them (a critical first step for any new business, right?) – which suggest this is more than a delightful delusion.
And yet… and yet… the road ahead looks from here long and wandering, with so many potential directions to head. Priorities pile up and compete for attention. Hubris and insecurity do a two-step in my head as my mood lunges from expectant to overwhelmed. This vast expanse ahead feels at once open and desolate. On Monday I’m killing it. By Friday I’m on life support.
All I can do is find solace in each next sure-footed step.
I describe the wilderness as a state of profound uncertainty. A beautiful, treacherous interlude between beginnings and endings, lost and found.
The wilderness can be a fixed space: a week, month or year when you feel disoriented by what you need to start or finish. When your transitions offer up so many variables they leave you spinning.
Or the wilderness can feel like an entire emotional state without beginning or end – where your relationships, roles or identity leave you unsteady and confused about what happiness, success or progress actually feel like. The fog of anxiety sets in and it can be difficult to see the sun.
Whether it’s a moment or an overall malaise, there’s a common danger about the wilderness. It drives us into our heads. In the absence of an obvious way forward – a marked path — we look to memory and imagination to fill the gap.
We replay prior pain like a preview reel – our fear trotting out unsavory memories of rejection, failure or loss to protect us from feeling them again. Our imagination then grabs the baton and turns those memories into potential scenarios, conjuring up a sort of same –shit-different-day brand of defeatism that can feel absolutely real. Bound to protect us by keeping us fixed in our place. We get stuck. We spiral. Paralyzed by memories and imagination that echo throughout our lonely wilderness.
Success feels so elusive in the wilderness that we prepare ourselves for failure. Then fail we so often do.
The only real antidote for this paralysis is real time experience. We need to balance memory and imagination with contact with and observation of real life events. In other words, replace past and future with present. Yes, you can practice awareness – we call it attentiveness – but that needs to be in the context of activity, action…dare I say adventure?
Yes, adventure! With a spirit of adventure this wilderness becomes a wonderland rather than a series of traps. We slow down and stop longing to escape, our sense of survival softened by the spirit and practice of exploration.
Thriving in the wilderness requires us to get unstuck by exploring regularly and deliberately through new people, places, and events. To counteract our loneliness, but mostly to provide our addled heads and hearts with the immediate feedback that the new isn’t inherently dangerous, that there’s wisdom and joy in unknowns.
This feedback then encourages us to explore further – to reach out to strangers, read more, work from a part of town we never usually visit. The exploration need not be exotic – it simply needs to keep us in the creative, generative space that is the inherent beauty of the wilderness: the clean slate, the blank canvas.
Conversations and ideas can quiet our mind chatter, remind us to stop listening to our memories. And enjoy the everyday process of making new ones.
The wilderness is beautiful and treacherous place. All we can do is find solace in each next sure-footed step in a new direction.