In my previous post, I wrote about planning and patience as distinct from waiting for good things to happen. What do you do, though, when you don’t have a clear goal? Planning requires a destination, and sometimes all we know is that we need change, but we don’t feel like there’s a clearly acceptable destination ahead.
This week I sat with a young person who is uncertain about how to describe their gender identity. They’ve got a psychiatrist who supports a diagnosis of gender dysphoria but this young person isn’t sure that’s accurate, and the psychiatrist isn’t so clear about gender fluidity. If these are not terms that are familiar to you, that’s okay. What’s important is to understand that for this young person, the enthusiasm of the therapist to assign a particular diagnosis felt like pressure to make a choice rather than feeling like a deliberately chosen pathway. I offered an alternative possibility: insist on the time and space to just be how you are for a while, without regard to diagnosis. This person had been happiest a few years earlier when living in a very androgynous way, but that as an “adult” that androgyny didn’t feel like an acceptable way of being any more. They felt pressured to fit neatly into a gender box, and that pressure was making them unhappy. It wasn’t clear just yet whether this young person wanted a plan that would lead to transition, or instead wanted a plan to deal with the disapproval of their previously comfortable self-expression.
It’s not uncommon to feel constrained by a limited set of unsatisfactory choices. This can happen whether we’re facing identity challenges, career challenges, or relationship challenges. Sometimes those limited choices are unavoidable, but sometimes what we need is to carve out the time and space to consider whether as-yet-unconsidered alternatives are possible. When you need to do that, here are some things I recommend:
1. Identify at least one friend, family member, colleague, coach or therapist you can trust to tolerate the ambiguity with you. You need to have at least one person to talk to throughout this process who won’t prejudge your situation or impose ideas about what your conclusion should be. This should be a patient person, because this process is going to take some time.
2. Set a timeframe during which you are committed to living with the ambiguity. This is a time during which you promise yourself you won’t force yourself to make a choice. It’s a committed period of reflection and exploration. It’s an imaginative and unrestricted period. If you reach the end and need to extend it, feel free to do that. But give yourself at least the amount of time you initially set aside. I recommend setting a time that’s at least a month, and quite likely longer, but obviously this will depend on the indIvidual circumstances.
3. Imagine, and feed your imagination! Brainstorm wtih the person or people you identified above. Tap other people in your life who might have insight about creative alternatives. Read novels and watch movies related to your own situation to spark new ideas.
Once you have a clearer sense of your actual options, then it’s time to evaluate them and choose a path. Only then can you begin to plan!
And if, like I suspect will be the case for the young person I was talking to earlier this week, what you really need to change is society and not yourself, then make an interim plan for living with the friction between you and the parts of your society that are impinging on your freedom while you work toward the revolution, whatever that revolution might be!
Need to talk about the ambiguity and options in your own life?
“This Way” image used courtesy ArtistIvanChew on Flickr, under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license.