Leveling Up When It Wasn’t Planned

This seems familiar to me.

 

Because this wasn’t the way it was suppose to go.

I was freshly laid off. Having moved into my grandmother’s house only a month prior to help care for her as she was living alone. The long term plan was to also save up for a down payment for my own home in a year’s time and then move out.

But I was laid off. A month after the move.

What followed I can’t explain as some sort of seven step guide. It’s merely my story. But in the immediate months that followed, almost the week right after, I started down a path I am forever referring to as my next education.

My initial jumping off point was I knew I didn’t want to do what I was just doing as a career. I knew I had to pivot. I knew things weren’t going to be the same.

This lead me to reading books by Jon Acuff, James Altucher, Jeff Goins and many more. Books I never dared to read before because I thought they were too self-helpy/salesperson/’I can help you but first pay me money!’ I was only interested in scholarly books or theological books. But the career driven, make your own path, exit the Matrix and do things different books? They were never on my radar.

Until they got on my radar because of the strong desire to pivot.

Well, one thing led to another and within a couple months time I was reading a library copy of Tim FerrissThe 4-Hour Workweek. And I have wrote about this story in particular before, but what I want to detail this time around was having exposed myself to a line of thinking and problem solving and paradigm shifting I had never considered before, I found myself doing mini experiments and exercises in finding what matters most to me and how I can daily change for the better regardless of being suddenly ‘stuck.’

The self education just snowballed into reading more and more similar books, listening to podcasts of the same nature and more. What happened immediately was a thirst for knowledge.

Next came following through with all this knowledge into action. The advice of several of these authors were implemented into daily practices, routines, or otherwise one-off challenges I had again never considered. Birthed out of this time frame was the formation of practices I have maintained in some fashion to this day which have greatly leveled me up.

Journaling,

not only to get the toxic stuff out of my head onto paper, but also, not surprisingly, to greatly improve my writing skills.

A more structured eating and gym regimine,

as I had already been on a journey where I lost 30lbs prior to the lay off. I have since been told by several people given the situation I was in, I had all the excuses in the world of letting a few things go in those regards. Sit around and play video games and eat unhealthy. But I did the exact opposite because having tested out new ways of doing things and seeing the positive results, I trusted learning and implementing whatever someone who has been there and done it has to offer in regards to diet and exercise. This lead to the next 50lbs being lost. And a completely new way of treating food as fuel and exercise as stimulation for the mind.

Reading on top of reading on top of reading.

I remember after graduate school being burned out with books and assigned class reading. But with a new sense of freedom I was looking forward to recreational reading on my own terms. Well, five years would pass by before I got serious about recreational reading. The lay off gave me time to sit down and read masterminds, folks who are so much more in the know than I am, who offered wisdom through their years of being there and done that. It become intoxicating and was leveling me up more.


There are countless other improvements which were made during this knocked off course time period.

What is standing out to me in the period of time the globe is finding itself in at present are the two streams I see daily on the social media feeds.

One stream is fueled to take this time to improve themselves.

The other stream is fueled by panic and fear.

I am once again realizing, having gone lax on some of my own daily regimens, that pregnant in this moment is the opportunity to regain some disciplines all over again. To better myself. To complete a couple trajectories I was on just prior to the events in the world going on right now.

And more importantly, I realize it’s not just time for me to better myself. It is time to help others more than ever.

Because now in the midst of our situation at hand we didn’t plan for, we can pivot, we can improve, we can change, and it can be for the better.

A Character That Wants Something, And Doesn’t Know What They Want

A character that wants something…

But what if they don’t know what they want?

I have struggled to answer this question honestly to people in my life. To myself. Which leaves all parties involved frustrated.

Despite going through life planning curriculum, including Storyline and StoryBrand clarifying activities, and long retreats filled with contemplative prayer asking God what makes my heart leap, what has He stirred in me more than in others, what are my desires?

So why don’t I know what I want?

First, a lesson from story itself.


“Hindsight is a priceless jewel, but I’ve never been one for clarity.” – Listener, My Five Year Plan

Donald Miller’s Storyline process was something I latched onto as soon as it came out. I had the book pre-ordered and it landed on my porch in 2012. The anticipation swelled because I was going to finally put to personal usage the most convincing process I’ve ever heard of structuring one’s life: filter our lives through the process of a good story.

In the intro of Storyline, Miller writes “Great stories have one thing in common: they are clear. As such, Storyline is all about gaining mental clarity. If a character doesn’t know what they want, the story gets muddled. The same is true in life. And if the conflict isn’t clearly identified, the story drags, as it does in life.” (p 7)

A story is good, at least from the start, because it lets us know what the protagonist wants. If it is not clear what the protagonist wants, why would anyone stick around for the rest of the story to unfold?

By not being clear about what we want, there is nothing anyone else can really do to help us when a challenge comes. The potential customer, the potential employer, the potential date, they have no idea how to really say yes or commit or dive in to help clarify what it is we want if we actually don’t know what we want.

How does someone not know what they want? How am I still not clearly saying what I want with all the tools and weeks on end invested towards untangling all of this and organize it all in a clear fashion through the power of a good story?

Enter the Enneagram. The missing piece to my puzzle.

Discovering I have an Enneagram Type Nine personality, I have a quality about me that seeks to bring people together, but at the cost of merging with people I desire to bridge divides and make peace with. Able to reconcile conflicts between people or ideas, a type Nine person is usually setting aside what we deeply want in order to be at peace with others.

Ian Morgan Cron in his book The Road Back To You elaborates on the “unevolved” Nine’s issue by stating how they “neglect their soul’s summons to identify, name and assert what they want in life and to go hard after it. In fact, they can merge so deeply with the life program and identity of another that they eventually mistake the other’s feelings, opinions, successes and aspirations for their own.” (p 69).

Cron also states, “But Nines are slothful when it comes to fully paying attention to their own lives, figuring out what they want in life, chasing their dreams, addressing their own needs, developing their own gifts and pursuing their calling.” (p 67) This happens because in order to keep the peace, a Nine pushes what they want down to save embarrassment or to avoid attention being drawn to them.

If this sounds bad enough, not knowing what I want because I have the personality tendency to suppress my wants in order to gain acceptance from others around me, Cron punches me and other Nines in the gut about something a Nine can produce to the detriment of their unsuspecting victim: the “Epic Saga.”

As Cron writes:

“Because they sometimes lack drive and focus, average Nines often become jacks-of-all-trades but masters of none. They are generalists who, because they know a little bit about everything, can find something to talk about with everybody. Conversations with Nines are delightful as long as they don’t switch over to cruise control. You’ll know a Nine has done this when, after asking them how their day went, they launch into a long, drawn-out story containing more details and detours than you ever thought possible.” (p 71, emphasis added).

Yikes.

Now imagine instead of asking a Nine like me how my day went, you ask me what do I want? This could be applied to a number of areas, like career, relationships, hobbies, etc. The unhealthy Nine is going to enter into an epic ramble because they have not clearly defined what they want. Or, in all honesty, are afraid of desiring what they want.

I’ve turned several epic saga’s loose on some people in my life recently. What’s happening on the inside is actually pretty clear to me. I have a ton of connective ideas, truths, bullet point facts, for what was asked of me: what do I want?

Well ok, here are a bunch of facts that are truly connected in some way, and now it is my task to give you a fantastic sounding story weaving all of these things together. Ten minutes later as the dust is settling, what I want is not only not clear to the victim listener, but not clear to me if it ever was to begin with.

Which is why what Donald Miller says about what a customer (or date/employer/mentor, this is very flexible in application) is having to do when they first come across our product/request is the most important and condemning truth for an unhealthy type Nine personality. Our customer is trying to figure out within mere seconds ‘what does this person want?’ Me, as an unhealthy Nine, launches into an epic saga. This isn’t good, this is actually disastrous. As Miller says in his book Building a StoryBrand, “so what do customers do when we blast a bunch of noise at them? They ignore us.” (p 7).

An unevolved Nine doesn’t know what they want on a good day. Hence the epic saga ramble pours out.

What a breakthrough. This is it. The linchpin for me.


Healthy Nines or anyone else who knows what they want need to clarify how they ask for what they want. No one does a good job of how to ask, otherwise there wouldn’t be a need for StoryBrand, seminars, or entire avenues of communicative sciences to study and aid people in figuring out how to clearly state what we want to someone.

Ok. I get it now. Finally.

If people don’t know what I want, they can’t help. If I am not saying it clear enough, like we all struggle with to some degree, they can’t help directly. But at its worst I actually don’t know what I want because of my merging, appeasing Nine personality. So I launch into the ramble with a ton of truths baked into it, yet with no clear up front ask. No clear ‘this is it, this is what I want! Now for all the details.’

Can it be God just wants me to help others with what they struggle with too? That would be so Nine of me! But I think so, and I think it’s finally time to live out the story I worked out, to face the challenges worth overcoming, because of the permission I’m finally granting myself.

The Storyline process gets you to come up with a life theme based off what you see God having done in and through your life up till then. Having come up with this theme back in 2012, I am kinda floored at how accurate it is, and how it does tell me what I want. If only I follow through more with it and subvert the slothful type Nine personality in me, I can enter into a healthy version of myself knowing what I want, because it involves more than just me:

God is encouraging talents and passions in me to be used for relationship with Him and people.

Going Through

I’d wish my past year onto no one. Friend or enemy.

I’ve gone through several violent interruptions. Wake up calls I never saw coming. Wake up calls I saw coming. Reflection compounded upon reflection. A lingering pause allowing for second, third, even eighth levels of thinking about what to do now.

But would I wish my past year onto me? Yes. I’d never abandon what I’ve gone through. I wouldn’t trade it in for a ‘pleasant’ year at all.

What people say with cliche verbiage is true. If I didn’t go through hell, if I didn’t go through pain, if I didn’t go through terror, I’d never become who I am today.

The key word above is through. Coming out on the other side of it all doesn’t mean I’ve arrived at the formulaic movie ending where the climactic scene ties all loose ends together as the protagonist is surely changed for the better. Going through means I made it through the terrible occurrences. I’ve made it to some sort of ‘ok, that all really happened?!’ state of being.

The climatic scene isn’t here yet.

Going through is sort of like the part of the movie Castaway where Chuck Noland is finally rescued from the island he was stranded on for years. The suffering is finally over after all that time on the island, and in real time as the audience watched a man talk to a volleyball!

But now Chuck needs to get to Kelly Frears.

Off the island, surrounded by people, but still in a profound loneliness. A pain which needs fixing.

He is, however, not at all the same Chuck prior to the plane crash.

As I see what I’ve gone through over a year’s time, I realize the habits, rituals, and reactions to how things panned out are exactly the things carrying me into the next phase. I’m prepared in a way I never planned to be prepared.

This is exactly the point of another cliche. Lean in. Yes, lean into your situation, even if it is terrible and not what the trajectory was originally. Lean into the lessons learned. Lean into the new habits. Lean into how you survived, and carry the lessons learned not only into your new life but also into the lives of others.

My past year was an apprenticeship I didn’t sign up for. My future now contains endings I didn’t want either. But these climactic scenes will be more meaningful than I ever could have imagined had I not gone through it all.