When you’re at a crossroads and don’t feel clear on which way to go, have you ever found yourself spontaneously requesting advice from others?
Maybe it’s a low-stakes decision: you’re hemming and hawing at the restaurant and ask the serving staff which dish they recommend or survey your friends as to which movie you should check out on the weekend.
But sometimes, even when the stakes are high and the consequences life altering -
Do I want to stay or go in my marriage?
Is it time to recommit to my current job or start moving in a new career direction?
Do I keep hunkering down in the big city or move to a smaller community?
Sometimes it’s at these moments you find yourself taking frequent polls of your network to gain insight into what you ‘should’ do.
Observing myself, my loved ones, and my clients, I’d say that, so often, when we’re eliciting advice from others, longing for external approval or guidance, it’s because we’re feeling shaky, seeking certainty in the face of excruciating uncertainty, struggling to land in our internal authority - and we feel like we just can’t find it.
Oh gosh, I have so much empathy for those experiences where it’s so damn uncomfortable to just be in your own skin, right smack in the muck of ambiguity, ambivalence, self-doubt, the internal tension of holding strongly mixed or conflicting feelings.
It makes total sense to me that at these moments we can get needy and desperate to project that there is a ‘right’ path or decision and survey wildly outside of ourselves for someone to helpfully point us in that clear direction.
Because right here feels terrible - and it’s GOT to get better ahead.
We want immediate relief: “someone else please orient me on how to proceed, stat!”
Just tell me what to do.
I Know This Terrain….
To give you a quick snapshot into my own history, the nutshell is that much of twenties and early thirties was spent in some variety of agonizing states of indecision and lack of self-trust.
I would grapple for months about deciding whether or not to accept an offer to graduate school. (I applied and was accepted three times before I finally built up my nerve and made it back into academia for a Masters in Adult Education & Community Development at age 32!)
Once I said yes to an offer of acceptance for seven months but could never settle into my choice and bolted away from embarking on a fully funded therapy program only a week before I was set to start. Ack!
I initiated SO. MANY. conversations with friends, family, therapists and mentors about career direction yet certainty and confidence remained elusive.
In romantic intimacy, too, I grappled with a pervasive sense that something was slightly off or inadequate in my partnerships. I longed for a feeling of ‘rightness’ that I perceived I’d know in my gut. I would make pro’s and con’s lists, try and ‘get to the bottom of things’ through eviscerating conversations, and often remain spinning in an utter lack of clarity.
All to say, I really got to know this psychological terrain very well.
Oh god, all too well! (If you relate to this post, trust me, I really feel you).
I would sit at my metaphorical crossroads for days, weeks, months - and rather than simply choose a path and start walking, I would agonize, consider all the options, risks, and benefits; then re-consider them all again - and stay immobilized for so long.
It was truly excruciating.
Even if others encouraged me to ‘stop thinking and start moving’ and reassured me that I’d be ok - that I could always pivot or re-evaluate - I wasn’t able to trust that perspective. I felt a strong and persistent sense of doubt and threat: the stakes felt too high to take a risk and make a move.
I was determined to wait (and wait) to choose and commit to a path until I discerned a greater internal sense of clarity and - spoiler alert - it often never came!
I’m not just speaking from theory on this topic, holy moly, no way.
So, What’s My Seasoned Tip?
What I’ve learned through the years and want to offer to you is this: when you feel most shaky and long for external advice or for someone to illumine your ‘right’ path, instead of acting on this impulse this feeling-state itself provides a clue that you might do well to actually do a 180 and go inward instead of outward.
If you keep procrastinating on making a decision, are mired in analysis paralysis, find yourself endlessly ruminating and ever-widening your social inquiry, yup, I’m suggesting that THIS is an ideal moment to practice trusting that you (and you alone) hold the key to your inner wisdom.
I know it’s completely counter-intuitive and so damn uncomfortable and you just want to gather one more opinion to weigh in on your decision but - like Odysseus, who had to strap himself to a mast in order to not get pulled off course by the seductive call of the Sirens - I encourage you to do whatever you gotta do to pull your focus off of others and transfer it to yourself.
(Nerdy side note: the mythic Sirens sang of predicting the future, which fascinates me - because it seems to me that we avail ourselves to the opinions of others, often trying to ‘figure out’ which path is going to most likely assure us of future wellbeing. We may unconsciously fantasize that someone else could tell us which path will assure a secure outcome).
In any case, at these moments it may feel difficult, even inexplicably terrifying, to shift your orientation from seeking external guidance and to practice placing your trust in yourself.
Someone in this state might turn to me in disbelief and shout: “What the hell kind of coach are you? There is no absolutely, 100% no certainty to be found within me and goddammit, if the wisdom and clarity were in there, then surely I would not feel this bad and I wouldn’t be looking outside of myself in the first place! Go inward? Yeah, right. I’m off to find some ice cream.”
Or maybe that’s just my favourite fall-back crutch every once in a while?! ;)
But here’s the medicine I’m offering:
When you most want to find your authority outside of yourself, it’s the most potent, powerful time to develop it within yourself.
It’s IN the very practice of enduring our doubt and anxiety and making our own decision - and then learning that we WILL survive it and somehow be ok, no matter what - it’s through this very process that we build our resiliency, confidence, and greater ability to trust ourselves.
Caveat: I am NOT saying that we humans are islands, that we are meant to go it alone, that we’ll find all we need in hermitage conditions, and that there is no place in difficult moments for nourishing conversation with friends, family, or professionals such as coaches or therapists.
Not at all!
Conversations can offer us listening, nudges, questions, invitations, encouragement, validation, reassurance and open our perspectives in ways that are vital to our forward movement. They can provide resources, connections, and pieces of the puzzle that make something go click! and bolster, expedite, or catalyze our next steps in crucial ways.
But what I want you to put down is the fantasy that someone else has your answer.
Someone else knows your way better than you.
Someone else holds the magic bullet.
Someone else can tell you if you should leave your spouse or move out of the city or get after a new job.
So, yes, benefit from conversations - and profoundly - but with the deeper recognition that what you truly seek will ultimately come from inside of you.
If someone offers a brilliant insight or idea, if it matters to you, if it moves you, if it feels like guidance, please remember that it’s because their words resonates with your inner wisdom.
Ok, so if you’re willing to stop searching outside of yourself (HUGE CONGRATS, this is so freakin’ hard) then the NEXT kicker I want to offer is that instead of endlessly seeking elusive inner clarity, I suggest that your likely next move is to shift from thinking to taking action.
That is, once you’ve gathered all the information that is possible to be gathered at this time, please don’t delay much longer at your crossroads - which really translates to: drop the fantasy that if you just wait long enough, an inner certainty will eventually arise.
Instead, consider bravely choosing a direction and practice trusting that the rest of the information you need is going to come through the DOING - and, in fact, may well only come through the decision, action, movement itself.
Honestly, in my experience, the greatest hell is in the waiting.
The hell is now - not in the future you might get ‘wrong.’
As Marie Forleo says, “clarity comes from engagement, not thought.”
Heck, please trust yourself: if you sense this truly isn’t the time for movement, of course, TRUST YOURSELF. I’m all about honoring a sense of hard-to-articulate mysterious Bigger Flow in our lives.
But, if you’ve been ruminating and feeling deeply stuck at your crossroads - in pain for way too long already - then please consider my encouragement to stop thinking and start moving.
Remember: All You Need to do is Make Your Best Decision
One other way to release a wee bit of internal pressure is to affirm that all you need to do is make is your best decision, not a right decision.
We often fear permanence, regret, making a ‘wrong’ choice that we can’t undo.
But what if you cultivated trust that you (and all affected by your decision) will be ok?
Remind yourself that you will make the best of your choice and intend to shape its outcomes for future growth, learning and good - for you and all impacted - no matter what.
Tell yourself (as often as needed) that all you can do is make your best decision with the knowledge, information and insight you currently possess. [Because that’s the truth!]
To finally get my ass into graduate school, I had to do two things, in order to tolerate moving forward with/in spite of almost crippling self-doubt:
I made an agreement with myself to try the program and commit to complete just one semester. I intended to not constantly second-guess my choice: I would give it my all for the first four months and then re-assess in December. I felt unable to commit to completing the whole program with that much uncertainty bottled up in me (and I think if I’d expected that of myself I might have ducked out before making it through the doors). I also didn’t want to spend every day of semester one in a state of indecision and a lack of commitment - I was already so wrung out from chronic indecision before starting the program!
I also privately declared to the greater powers-that-be something like this: “Listen, I have been waiting for months (again) for some kind of clear guidance from my inner GPS or an unmistakable synchronicity of sorts to illumine whether I should go to this school or not. But instead of bailing on a third possible graduate studies path, I’m going to try this one. If you have a better direction for me, “Universe” , then you know what? SHOW ME. I’m willing to follow a more fitting, authentic path if it’s revealed to me. But, in the lieu of some very direct sign, I’m sick of waiting for 100% clarity, and this is the best option I can discern at the moment.”
Making this declaration and taking a committed step forward was a profound moment of trusting myself:
Not in some other human’s opinion, above my own best guess or wisdom.
Nor placing my trust in the projection of or a legit mysterious Bigger Source of guidance.
Nope. I put my faith in me: I made my decision, trusting my ‘best bet’ instinct, right in the midst of ambiguity.
That moment was so uncomfortable and a crucial turning point to start building my self-trust and resilience... and my ability to better manage uncertainty and make commitments with no expectation of guaranteed outcomes.
(P.S. I made it through the program and it was a wonderful, rich experience, in the end. Not perfect, not the skies parted on high and I was meant for it, but great).
The beauty of it, for me was: you do the thing that scares you and surviving it shows you what you’re made of - and your internal authority and sense of confidence grows.
Because, at the end of the day, decision-making requires us to tolerate uncertainty, risk, and loss (of current realities or the ‘future paths not taken’): it’s incredible terrain to help us mature.
When we stop trying to outsource and over-think our decision-making, we grow.
If your decision lends itself and you can’t bear choosing a permanent outcome, see if there’s a way to ‘test out’ one path or another or just do a time-limited trial run.
For example, in a partnership, step out of the ambivalence and commit to staying in or experiencing a trial separation for a set amount of time - and see what you learn through that change and committed stance.
Perhaps run a mini-experiment: travel to the place you’re considering living or see if you can arrange an unpaid leave at work and test drive a new career direction for a few weeks or months - get creative and dip your toes in some new pools.
By making a change and moving towards a wholehearted - yet temporary - YES or a NO instead of enduring an ongoing MAYBE/DON’T KNOW, you’ll get new information - and it might be the ticket to the greater clarity you’ve been longing for and your next step.
Setting a time limit on exploring one direction or another can also give your nervous system a crucial break from chronic inner tension: you may find that you are able to settle more fully into the framework of an ‘experiment’ in a way that might be difficult to do if the path ahead felt like your committed-forever-choice.
What If I (Still) Can’t Find Enough Inner Stability to Move?
Like, I REALLY Can’t bear it?
Finally, if you’re turning to yourself and simply cannot find adequate solace, grounding, or a quality of inner solidity to trust yourself to make a decision OR you’ve got this wicked combo of feeling TERRIBLE and ALONE and POWERLESS and/or UNANCHORED or UNTETHERED (you’ll know what I mean if you’re feeling it) it may be a clue that you’ve harbouring some internal trauma - and a qualified therapist, energy worker, or coach may be invaluable.
Additional support can help you connect with yourself and access internal grounding in the present. Perhaps you didn’t get the required ‘good-enough’ conditions to develop a solid ‘inner core’ when you were a young human or you experienced something that was so overwhelming to your immature nervous system that your current situation stirs up unprocessed old feelings of young terror.
A clue that this may be happening is if you’re experiencing sensations, thoughts, and emotions that are disproportionate to what’s actually happening in the present: kind of like, yeah, this is a big decision and it matters and yes, it will influence the trajectory of my life - and perhaps that of others - but it feels like my life or survival or fundamental wellbeing is at stake, yet this isn’t the case. If this resonates, yup, then please consider getting yourself some dang good help.
There’s no shame in needing some additional scaffolding and developmental support in adulthood. If that could serve you well, you deserve it - and nothing’s ‘wrong’ with you.
(It’s amazing to help young parts of ourselves ‘catch up’ so that they’re not trying to run the show. Talk about access to newfound clarity and relief)!
Let’s Wrap This Up
Well, wow, that’a a big one.
If you’re at one of those crossroads or enduring ongoing ambivalence or self-doubt as you face an important decision in your life, I’m sending you a HUGE hug.
You’re not alone, you will get through this, and you can do this:
Listen to yourself - and invite trust in your wisdom and instincts.
Make a move - even just a teeny, tiny experiment or time-bound test run.
If you can’t follow through with either of the above - consider some skilled support to help you develop and access your inner stability and ability to tolerate uncertainty.
If you’ve got questions or comments on this post, please share them below - or send me an email at email@example.com. I’d love to hear from you.
With respect and care,
P.S. If you’re struggling to make a difficult decision, sitting at a crossroads, or feel determined to grow and stretch in some exciting (but maybe also a bit scary or daunting) new ways in your life, please check out my upcoming (free) Virtual Masterclass on Thursday, October 17th: “Make It Happen: Listen to the Life that’s Calling You - and Start Taking Action.” Or please share the word about it with someone you know who might appreciate and benefit. Details here. I’d love to see you there! XO, N
Nicola Holmes is a Life Coach who helps women and non-binary folks step into their joyful power and realize their boldest dreams. She works with individuals, facilitates a group coaching program called The Expansion Circle, and is currently creating her first online program, Level Up: A 6-Week Online Course to Get You Moving on Your BIG Dreams. Nicola’s academic background includes human development and adult learning and she spent two decades working in the non-profit sector. Along with coaching for the past twelve years, she’s mama to two spirited young kids, community-minded, and a voracious reader. Check out Nicola’s Facebook community or join the email party to access inspiration and resources to fuel the changes you yearn for.