When it all goes sideways

Have you ever had one of those moments when everything that once made sense just doesn’t anymore? When you suddenly feel adrift, wondering if a weird cosmic wobble caused all the planets to slip out of their orbital paths taking you with them?

I call it losing my north.

Recently I witnessed a friend lose her north. This woman knows herself well. She is strong, clear and truly lives from the combined wisdom of head and heart. Someone who considers herself solidly grounded in her life. Yet there she was mapless and confused, being metaphorically tossed onto a deserted island by the wave she thought she’d been surfing.

Why, oh why?

In my experience, people tend to lose their north for a few main reasons. Catastrophic life events are one. Another, more common, is the collision of an awakening self-awareness with the fear-based, power-over perspective still underpinning so much of western culture. That’s what happened to my friend.

Even strong, self-aware women sometimes judge themselves using the dominance-based definitions of ideas like “success,” “stability,” “beauty,” and “enough.”

What we need to remember is this: No matter how challenging it feels, losing our north is an invitation and an opportunity to expand our self-perception and our worldview. It’s life getting us to slow down, step back and reevaluate the connection we have with our north. Possibly rethink our north itself.

A stubborn sludgy bunch…

Written or spoken, words are the most common way we share ideas. With each new generation, the dominant culture sculpts language to reflect its values. These very words, with their culturally laden meanings, are the invisible web with which we weave our self perceptions.

As I mentioned above, western culture is still largely steeped in power-over, everyone-for-himself values. Many of us are working at changing this, but old cultural beliefs are a stubborn sludgy bunch. During this transition, we may still be carrying them around without realizing it.

So, when we drape our awakening, tender, more-willow-than-oak selves over those dominance-infused words, we can end up shattered, cut off from our north.

Learning from the earth’s resilience…

One spring a storm brought a large tree limb down onto a nearby young tree. Her crown was bent so far over, she was nearly touching the earth. She was cut off from her north, the upright stance that gave her leaves access to sunlight. She needed help.

My husband gently removed the tree limb and she raised her crown slightly. He lifted and cut away broken branches, mulching the earth with them. Her crown eased upward a bit more. Over the course of the year I watched her find her new north, growing more upright and moving into a different relationship with the sun. This year she’s strong and supple – fiercely wild in her scarred beauty.

Getting back to your north…

While you may not be a young tree, you can certainly think like one. If you’ve lost your north, accept help. Let shattered, useless ideas become the compost that feeds your continued awakening. Don’t give up. Even if your crown is nearly touching the earth.

Remember your inherent wildness, your fierce self. Part of your legacy may come from a dying, power-over culture. But the other part comes from lionesses, great bears, wide rivers and culture changing women throughout time. Own this. Use it. Let yourself find a new relationship to your north. Celebrate being fiercely wild in your scarred beauty.

Highly sensitive. Renaissance soul. Introvert. Intuitive. I’ve come to embrace these qualities in myself, and for over ten years, I’ve worked to help others discover and trust in their own unique gifts. As a career and leadership coach, I help people understand that you don’t have to fit in to belong and make a meaningful contribution. I enjoy continually adding tools to better serve my clients, including my most recent training as a career development facilitator. Whether it’s through individual or group career or leadership coaching, workshops, or inspirational speaking, my goal is to help my clients find the clarity and confidence they need to embrace and live their own particular and irreplaceable genius. You can learn more or drop me a line at TracieNichols.com.

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