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Clarity is a myth

If you want to be successful, you need to get really clear about what you want.

This advice might seem really obvious to anyone else, but when I was deep in the middle of deciding what I wanted to do next with my career (grad school, a career change, work and parent part-time), it hit me like an a-ha moment.

Of course! I just need clarity.

If I could get my brain into a crystal-clear state, I could create a vision. Once I had a vision, I could make a plan. Once I had a plan, I could set a goal. Clarity was the first destination on my pathway to WORLD TAKEOVER!

So, I set out on a pursuit for clarity that included signing up for online mastermind groups, reading business and self-help books, listening to podcasts, and working with a professional coach. I jumped right into the assignments of journaling, goal setting, vision boarding, affirmation saying, and visualizing that would help that little clarity rock crystalize in my mind.

I have always craved the feeling of really knowing, of being sure and certain that what I am doing for my career is right. I want to feel the way JK Rowling must have felt when the idea of Harry Potter just dropped into her brain like a lightning bolt (get it?!). I want to feel like Babe Ruth, stepping up to the plate, pointing my bat over the left field fence, and planting my game-winning home run on that exact seat in the stands.

I chased clarity, and life kept happening. I woke up each day and did the things on my list. I applied to opportunities that excited me. I put myself in places where I could meet new people. I said yes to some projects and no to others. I talked about my work at meetings, in classrooms, and online, adjusting as my ideas evolved.

Here’s the thing about clarity. I can look back over the past three years of my life--even the years before--and I can retell the story from the perspective of where I stand right now. I can tell you the sequence of events and decisions that led me to getting my first clients, walking into the bank to open a business account, and updating my LinkedIn profile to call myself the founder of Liz Navarro + Co. I can remember with clear detail the catalyzing moments that pushed me in this direction--the TED talk, the lunch meeting, the Quickbooks invoice. I can retell the whole story with clarity, even though that’s not at all how I experienced any of it at the time.

What I actually experienced was a whole lot of guessing and asking myself WHAT AM I EVEN DOING?

Is this the right message? Is this the right project? Should I say yes or no? Is her way of doing this better than mine? Which one of these five ideas is the right idea? I think I could do that job. Maybe I’ll just apply to that company. Oh wait… what was I doing again?

In my day-to-day, Monday through Friday life, I spend about ninety percent of my time in a fuzzy, uncertain, ambiguous state of questioning. The questions I ask myself change year-to-year and month-to-month, but they never seem to go away. After a really successful spring this year with retained clients, I called my business coach and asked if I should cancel all of their contracts to focus on writing and speaking. The following month, I brought on even more clients and didn’t write for the entire summer. For about two weeks at the end of the summer, I sat in complete paralysis because I wasn’t sure which one of my ideas to pursue next.

I’m a strategic, ambitious, goal-oriented person, and I can be really hard on myself when I don’t have a clear vision for my future. I can feel like I’m failing just by not knowing what to do next. And it doesn’t help when the messaging about clarity and success makes it seem like I can't have one without the other. Or, that all successful people have figured out exactly what they want to do.

As it turns out, they haven’t. Over my past three years of being immersed in the culture of entrepreneurs/#bossbabes/business, it seems like at least once a year (if not more) all of us feel completely lost. We get sucked into a giant identity crisis when our work plateaus or stops feeling exciting. All of a sudden we’re back to that point of wondering if we should change careers or write a book or go back to school or move out of the state.

I don’t think the way we mythicize successful people and their great ideas is always helpful. When we hear our favorite people tell their stories of success, it seems like they can always trace their big ideas back to that one phone call that gave them an epiphany or that one paper bar napkin upon which they conceptualized their entire plan for world takeover. (Why is there always a napkin?) I can tell my story that way too, even fooling myself into thinking that I knew what I was doing all along, and that all I need to do is wait for that moment of clarity to arrive to take me to my next big thing.

But here’s the reality:

  • I wasn’t sure if I should give a TED Talk, so I almost missed the application deadline

  • While I was working on “building my business,” I went on a job interview because I wasn't certain I wanted to work for myself

  • I’ve had the clear intention that I would say no to a project, only to say yes on the phone 20 minutes later

  • I have been all-in about ideas that haven’t worked, and meh about ideas that have

  • I have changed my own elevator pitch at least once every three months for the past three years

If you want to be successful, you need to get really clear about what you want.

I want to change the conversation about clarity and success because sometimes, clarity is not returning our emails. And we don’t have time to wait around until an epiphany drops, fully-formed into our brain. I should know; I’ve spent too many weeks in analysis paralysis, letting indecision get in the way of experimentation. Sometimes, all the journaling and meditating and affirming and vision-boarding (while fulfilling practices) don’t deliver on giving us certainty.

That’s where I think I've gotten it wrong--defining clarity as certainty. I was thinking of it as a ZAP of inspiration, when sometimes it looked more like making the better of two fuzzy decisions.

Or playing eenie meenie miney mo with five exciting prospects so that we can just get started on making one happen.

Or deciding to just ride something out a little while longer before jumping ship.

Or saying no to things that feel more draining than energizing.

Or allotting 30 minutes a day to writing before you’ve even decided if you’re writing a screenplay or a memoir.

Or taking a risk with no guarantees based on a tiny, fleeting, gut feeling that maybe it might work out.

I think clarity, as we define it, is a myth. I don’t think chasing after it has served me in being more decisive or happier in my work; I think action has.

As an optimist, I’m probably never going to lose hope that a big, juicy, million-dollar idea is going to show up and plant itself in my brain. But instead of waiting for it to come, I’ll keep experimenting. I’ll keep trying things on to see how they fit. I’ll keep putting myself out there. We all should.

And, when the day inevitably comes (probably sooner rather than later) that I start questioning absolutely everything I’m doing, I’ll remind myself that just like everyone else, I haven’t known what I’ve been doing this entire time.

And it’s all worked out OK.


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