Early January days can be the strangest of all.
The days that come after the giant swell of end of year events that is late December – the Christmas season that I so deeply desire to be meaningful but often ends up a tiring experience of mayhem. That week between Christmas and New Years that literally disappears into nothingness where sleeping patterns are non existent, days of the week forgotten and you’re most productive at 2am. The days spent binge watching Netflix when the weather is all kinds of crazy and eventually the cricket and the tennis just take over.
These are the days where the pressures of the working year, at a job or at school or at university aren’t front and centre but perhaps even more unsettlingly lurk around the edges of your down time.
They sit there asking you questions like “how is this year going to be different from last year?”, “what kind of effort are you going to put in this year?”, “what are you doing with 2017?” “when are you going to enrol or confirm your timetable and starting date?” (That’s assuming you know what you want to study and where!)
It’s a voice that on a good day can be exciting and motivating but on an average day can be annoying at best and deeply disorientating at worst.
Follow some of these questions about your decisions through and you can end up with even more challenging questions such as “What am I even doing with my life?” “What’s it worth?”, “Am I making a difference to anyone anywhere – am I capable of making that kind of difference?”, “what is my potential and how can I make sure I don’t miss it?”, “Who am I really?”
These questions can come even in the midst of security, when you DO know what you’re doing this year, when you DO know what you want to do with your life when you HAVE a reliable sense of who you are. Questions of identity, belief and purpose never distinguish between doubt and confidence – they’re always there.
These days and their questions are classically experienced in what’s known as liminal space, the space between spaces – a space between what was and what will be. Victor Turner talks about liminality as an ambiguous disorientation that occurs in the in-between times, when old structures and ways of understanding and organising ourselves according to our previous environments, status and roles are gone but we haven’t yet entered into new environments, status and roles by which we can understand and organise ourselves.
For example, you’ve finished year 12, so you’re not a high school student any more but you haven’t started university yet so you’re not a uni student either. You finished one year of uni and you’re deferring but not sure what to yet. Maybe you finished up in one job but haven’t found or started the next, or you’re sure you can’t repeat the year the was but don’t know what you want the new year to be about – yep, been there – it’s the easiest time to feel lost.
For someone with a fairly unwavering sense of direction I’ve been lost a few times. One occasion in particular was a late Thursday night, in the rural middle of no-where, I was a P-Plate driver without a mobile phone (shocking I know) with ¼ tank of petrol and an old Melways and I was lost.
And it just got worse…
It got worse because I misread the map and proceeded in the opposite direction from my destination! There were tears, unsavoury words and panicky prayers. I was lost chiefly because I didn’t know where I was to begin with.
I knew where I wanted to go but I had no idea where I was starting from so getting there just seemed impossible. It wasn’t until I found an intersection displayed on the map that I could finally get a sense of where I was and begin to make progress towards my destination.
I could have driven in any direction, I could have tried a dozen options that would all lead somewhere but not where I wanted to go because I didn’t understand where I was starting from. To get anywhere you need to know where you’re starting from – and that can take some work.
The same has been true in my interior life, I’ve been lost there too.
I had finished my degree, was working in a stable and respectable job, earning money, serving in my local church, contributing to a community, enjoying friendships and living the life I had planned for myself. It became a significantly trying time because I realised my life had been on a kind of auto-pilot. I went to school, I went to uni, I got a job, worked hard, I succeeded and everything about my future seemed ambiguously assumed.
I would, according to many, continue and advance myself in this job, replace my beloved but beat up commodore, save towards a house deposit, go into debt, work the same job to pay off that debt, continue in my local communities and relationships while my friends did the same in their lives and assumedly be happy about it. It was a meaningful life but it felt small, and limited and I was lost.
“Questions of identity, belief and purpose never distinguish between doubt and confidence – they’re always there”
While I usually am quite content with myself and very little change something wasn’t right.
I wanted more.
Not in the material sense of wealth or success, I just wanted my life to serve a larger purpose, to matter more, even if it only mattered more to me; to hold more, to be able to give more, to understand myself more. My life had to be about more than this – right?
I felt lost within myself. Discontent with the good person I was, I wanted something else, something more real, something which would demand more passion, more development, that would yield greater clarity about the person I was and something that would require me to work hard for something worth working hard for.
What I realised during this trying time was that perhaps the best thing about being lost like this is that it actually gives us the opportunity to decide, discover and explore where and who we actually are and where and who we might want to become.
Knowing where to start a journey or task is hardest when we don’t know where we’re at to begin with. You’ve heard people say “Just start from where you are” but that assumes we know where that is. “Just start with who you are right now”, again, hard to do if it’s your sense of self that is lacking…
So here’s my proposal: wether you know who you are and who you want to be or whether you’re a flipping no clue as I have been – or a bit of both – take the time and the opportunity to locate yourself.
Disorientation and dislocation from your sense of self, sense of purpose and well being can be helped by first orientating and locating yourself with where you are currently.
Spend some time considering who you are and where you are in your own story. Who are you really? Where are you really? What do you value? What is your character made of and reflecting? What do you believe and why do you believe it? What do you want? Why do you want it?
Before you go hurtling towards a degree, a job, a partner and a future, take advantage of this opportunity that lost-ness provides and get to know yourself. Explore your ideas, beliefs, hopes and fears; question your purpose and why you should serve it, wonder about the ‘what if’s’ and the ‘but why’s’ that lost-ness gives us.
Better still do this with people who can witness you going through this kind of knowing and learning journey. People who can reflect back to you what they see in you now, in your potential and what kind of you YOU are choosing to become.
For me the starting place to do this has been a NEXT experience.
NEXT is an epic one year experience that allows you to do just this – take your certainty and lost-ness and lend them to a year of exploring these three things which will help you locate yourself and better enable you to continue deciding WHERE you’re going next and WHO that you is becoming along the way;
- WHO AM I?
- WHAT DO I BELIEVE
- WHAT IS MY PURPOSE/VOCATION?
Through our emphasis on personal coaching, identity formation, values clarification and character development NEXT students can approach their future with confidence, conviction and clarity.
NEXT @ a Glance:
- Learning in an established cohort of young adults
- Accredited study towards a Diploma in Theology
- Explore questions of spirituality, identity and theology with skilled and engaging facilitators
- Electives in justice, creative arts, youth work and biblical studies
- Optional integration with an internship or practical missional placement
- Grow through spiritual retreats, camps, festivals, faith practices and personal mentoring and individual coaching
- Fee help available
NEXT offers you an amazing opportunity, the opportunity to stop and intentionally look at who you are where you’re at right now so as to know better who you are and where you’re going. NEXT is the opportunity to navigate the challenges of life, faith and purpose through accredited study with other people just like you.