Creating a Future: Writing Your Unlived Story

 

reprinted with permission (Winter/Spring 2000)
Laurie Mattila, M.S.Ed., Career Counselor

If you’ve received this newsletter for awhile, you’ve seen a variety of people profiled in it. And I hope you’ve reflected on the process and possibility for change, both theirs and yours.

This seemed like the perfect time to invite you to think about the profile you’d like to be writing and creating for yourself in your own future. It’s often easier to think back on what has already occurred in life and to tell that portion of the story. However, to think about your unlived life, and the future story you’d like to live, is just as important. In your imagined future you are still free to incorporate changes that will make all the difference.

I’ll offer questions to guide you along, with the expectation they’ll prompt your own even better questions. Whether you try this in your imagination, in writing, or in conversation, read through the entire list first, listening for one or two questions that grab your attention. Hold those questions thoughtfully as you try to go beyond customary, automatic, safe responses. This is your life and your story, and you can create it, make it up, as you go.

  • How am I being drawn to explore new possibilities?
  • Is there an idea (or more than one) I keep putting on hold?
  • What is postponement costing me? personally, professionally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually?
  • What excuses am I too comfortable using? or secretly glad to have?
  • What am I waiting for? Who am I waiting for?
  • What are the names of all my fears and doubts?
  • What inner and outer resources are available to me?
  • What is the “right” decision for me? the “wrong” decision? the “impractical” decision? Says who?
  • How am I choosing to release my life energy in my world? What risks am I taking?
  • How delighted am I with my choices and my life? Overall and in detail.
  • What might I regret if it is no longer an option for me? Does it truly matter to me now?
  • What are the guiding forces that shape my life and my decisions, day by day?
  • What am I doing that brings me joy, simply in the doing? or the being?
  • What needs to continue? to begin? to end?
  • Who or what supports or celebrates my growth? Who or what undermines it?
  • What opportunities am I most thankful for? How am I living out my gratitude?
  • What calls for letting go? How am I responding?
  • How am I making the world a safer, healthier, more truthful, beautiful, thriving place?
  • What questions still need to be voiced or heard?
  • What needs permission? What needs blessing?

Planning or Vision? Or Both?

 

reprinted with permission (Spring/Summer 2001)
Laurie Mattila, M.S.Ed., Career Counselor

Over the last ten years I can’t tell you how many people have said to me, “What I really need is a PLAN” or “I need to KNOW I have a plan.” Usually the very plan being referred to is already organically evolving, or actually exists; it just hasn’t been formally written or acknowledged. And often it feels too vague to be a Real Plan. Although plans can be maps that make it possible for us to go from the idea to the real thing, misused they can undermine our best selves and keep us from the very things we seek. Either way, it’s not the plan that’s the problem —it’s our expectations of it. Very few people on the verge of doing something that genuinely excites and enlivens them are in a position to create a plan and stick with it to completion. At some point the life and energy of their experience needs to take over and carry them across the emotional / spiritual Grand Canyon. Solo. There is no way this part of a journey can be fully anticipated and planned out in flawless detail; it must be improvised in the moment with extreme trust in self and all that has come before, and love for all that is yet to come. At this point, what counts most is vision, not planning. If you can see it, taste it, touch it, love it, desire it—then you can leap toward it, looking ahead with compassion. And you can make a good thing out of the leap, regardless of what you encounter. No matter how detailed or expert the plan, there will be life out there not anticipated and not planned for. So when it happens to you, and I hope it will, your goal needs to be that you trust yourself and the life you’ve been shaping around and within you. Your goal doesn’t need to be that you have the fearless plan to control it all. Do you really want to meticulously follow a plan made months or years ago, when what you desire is to be a vital part of what is happening around you in this very moment?

Questions persist about whether, when, and how much to plan. My simple advice is this: If it needs to turn out a very certain and
controlled way, then plan in detail and try to carry it out. For me this includes things like travel connections, baking, moving,
formal gardens, and public ceremonies. But it doesn’t include most of travel—the fun, discovery, learning, or surprise; or creative
work, backyard gardening, cooking, celebrating, or loving. Planning and accomplishing do go hand in hand; but attention and spontaneity can be alternate routes to the same destination. Having a plan can result in increased confidence to venture forward into something new or desired. Even a few well formulated words written on a piece of paper, or imagined, can offer the initial guidance that gets us moving. And in the very beginning it can remind us to keep on moving. But as the adventure of our own experience begins to unfold, most plans become less useful and need to be inspired, maybe even supplanted, by a living vision. There is no way to know in advance all that will be needed and when. However, our own ever developing instincts and wisdom are capable guides into and through the unknowns of our lives. What a plan is incapable of providing, we already possess. The more we trust ourselves to follow the inner directives of our own lives, the freer we become to follow the life of our own vision, and to live beyond the plan.
 
 

Gifts In Heart And Hand

 

reprinted with permission (Winter/Spring 2000)
Laurie Mattila, M.S.Ed., Career Counselor

I feel especially blessed to be offering the gifts that are mine to give, and making a living, too. It took me years to uncover this work that I now care about and truly want to do. The path I followed became a convoluted, meandering journey marked by questioning, seeking, sinking, floundering, grappling, doubting, wishing, wandering…. I am thankful I survived.

Looking back, I usually wanted to believe, and sometimes did, that something worthwhile WAS happening, and that SOMEDAY I might actually understand it. Much of the time though I really had no idea what was going on. Instead, I was vaguely aware of an elusive voice buried somewhere deep inside me that kept calling. Like the doll in the pocket in the Vasalisa story, that said which way to turn, I’d pick up faint impressions which I didn’t fully understand, or completely trust. Plus, they were things that didn’t seem to reveal enough of anything particularly helpful. Things like: Read this. Go there. Follow up. You like it. It’s you. You don’t
fit here. It’s not you. It’s O.K.
These are the little snippets of stuff that became my training ground in listening and in trusting. For me, there was no six-day seminar or advanced certificate capable of turning me into the listening, trusting person I needed
to become. It was, and still is, an in-the-moment process, happening over time—always tested, always refined.

Now, on a good day, I care less about some “happily ever after” time because I can say to myself and mean it, “It doesn’t get any better than this moment.” I show up, with gifts in heart and hand. I pay attention to the work in front of me. I use my gifts: I listen, I trust. Maybe, I help set other gifts free. Afterward, I close the door behind me and head home, trusting. And like everyone else, on some days I close the door and just head home.

In this season of gift giving, I encourage you to celebrate and name the gifts of your own being; and to risk knowing the power and joy in choosing to release them for the good of the world and your own pleasure. There are so few easy answers in this work we do together. But there is this amazing process of awakening to self and joy and truth.

I celebrate the opportunity to live and work with love. Join me in sharing this blessing for a new year and a new time:

May you know deep joy
as you set free all your gifts
in a waiting world.

 
 

Work That Is Worthy

 

reprinted with permission (Summer/Fall 2000)
Laurie Mattila, M.S.Ed., Career Counselor

I’ve been thinking more about work that is worthy: worthy of the worker and of being done. Worthy is a word that goes deeper
than worthwhile or even meaningful. It speaks to a basic dignity that could be inherent in most work, although too often it seems
lacking because of the particular way we view work and workers. I feel cheated because I know that the exchange of money—and precisely how much money—frequently determines the worth of the work and also the worker.

We overlook the person making a contribution and fail to see the contribution being offered. We don’t take time to absorb the joy or sorrow work brings, the problems it solves or creates, the way it protects or destroys, how it beautifies or neglects, all that it simplifies or complicates.

On the other hand, we observe and easily make judgments without even noticing that we are judging. In our culture what costs more must be worth more, or somehow better, or at least more desirable. This is true of goods and services, and unfortunately people. I was reminded of this as I read letters to the editor earlier this summer during the hotel worker’s strike in Minneapolis. Several disheartening writers pointed to the minimal worth of the work performed by “unskilled” and “uneducated” hotel employees, thereby justifying sinfully low hourly wages. What made matters worse was the prescriptive judgment for an entire group of people: take some initiative, learn some skills, get a better job and make a life. When the worth of these workers and their work is minimized, everyone suffers.

Consider the amazing variety of work. In one recent day my own ranged from career counseling to grocery shopping, from writing
to laundering, and then from teaching to hauling out trash. There’s more too: a trip to the compost site, neatening, pondering, meal preparation, record keeping, a bit of gardening, making phone calls, scooping out the litter box, and always the miscellaneous I can never remember. What about your list? Give it a few minutes of thought. Although it’ll be different, it will be a fascinating and eclectic mix of contributions. Some paid, some not. Some loved, some liked, and some barely tolerated.

On the surface it often appears that paid work is more worthy than unpaid work, or that generously paid work is more worthy than minimally paid work, or some people’s work is more worthy than other people’s work. Here’s where we need careful rethinking.

I believe worthy work connects each of us to vital life forces and allows us to grow beyond the limits of our imaginations. Worthy
work multiplies the creative energies of the universe for all living things, including our planet earth. It is transforming; it also
heals.

As we go about our days moving from one activity to another, keep in mind, our worth does not fluctuate like shares of stock on a financial exchange. Our worth isn’t what we do, how much we do it, how well we do it, or what we are paid. Or not paid. It is something else entirely—something intangible, and deep within, something that can’t be cheaply manipulated. One contribution does not make us more worthy than another. All contributions matter, IF they help to make the world a kinder, gentler, safer,
truer place. And so does the spirit in which we offer and receive them. How do we honor all workers and their work? How do we make work worthy? Before you pick up the questions, or before you drop them, listen to the last line and the invitation from Marge Piercy’s poem The art of blessing the day: “If you can’t bless it, get ready to make it new.”
 
 

The Risk To Discover YOUR Work

 

reprinted with permission (Summer/Fall 1997)
Laurie Mattila, M.S.Ed., Career Counselor

I’m not interested anymore in doing somebody else’s work, which I define simply as work someone else wants done that I end up doing. Unless work can somehow engage me enough to become mine too, I find it a distracting waste of my time and I try to avoid it.

For many years it was a different story. What I used to do for forty hours or more each week was somebody else’s work. And I was very good at it too. Many of the things I did really pleased other people and in a sense I was fortunate because most of them let me know it. But doing the work didn’t please me. I knew I was not doing my work, but I didn’t know yet what that meant.

The more I thought about trying to change my life and what I was doing, the more trapped I felt by the risk of giving up what I had but didn’t even want. I was overwhelmed by circumstances which felt totally insurmountable. That’s not at all unusual; many people thinking about and exploring change feel similarly overwhelmed. Although we really want change to happen, we want to do it without RISK. The truth is we don’t want change badly enough yet to risk changing ourselves. We’re still in that critical stage of adjusting to the whole idea that change requires us to change too.

Since reading How, Then Shall We Live? by Wayne Muller, I’ve been reminded of the importance of paying close attention to doing the everyday work that lives. Some of my observations, about what exactly that entails for me, surprise me.

Planting seeds and weeding the flower garden is a Yes. Writing this newsletter is also a Yes. Creating a new presentation complete with handouts, hanging up wet laundry outdoors on the clotheslines, talking in the alley with my neighbors… These all resound with Yes.

As I pay attention to my responses, I am remembering what holds real value for me and what supports my true work. Amazingly, things are quite clear. I feel much joy and power in choosing what I will do and what I will let go. Then it occurs to me, will I simply choose what lives for me? No one else will do it for me.

Searching for and finding Your work happens in the moment, not next month, or next year, or five years from now. It happens today and again tomorrow, and every time you say “yes” or “no” or “later” to dozens of opportunities. Keep holding the question:  Does this live for me?

Every rationalized, practical choice away from your true self costs you. So does every choice you risk to be and do who you really are.

There’s no escaping it; both ways cost you. You can take the risk of living your life a stranger to yourself, or the risk of following the unexplored path your heart is calling you to find. Either way, you pay!

Are you giving and receiving what You value? Are you doing Your work? Is it time to listen more to the things that are alive for you, and less to the demands of someone else’s work? Is it time to let some things go, and to make space for what matters and lives for you?

YOUR WORK IS TOO IMPORTANT TO BE KEPT WAITING.