Where are you going?
Updated: Aug 23
If you're treading water in your career or your relationships, staying afloat without going anywhere in particular....
Sometimes staying afloat is, in and of itself, an achievement.
Let's not discount that.
It's worth asking: How does doing what you're doing take you towards, or away from, what you want for yourself?
Let's consider Jenny* (she/they). Jenny was not at any obvious crossroads. She wasn't faced with some grand decision. A parent of elementary age children, Jenny was going to work in a career they'd worked in for just over five years. It was objectively important work but in it Jenny felt empty, going through the motions with no real luster or excitement.
Jenny's dilemma isn't unlike Jeremiah's.
Jeremiah* (he/him) has felt uncomfortable in his relationships with many of his friends for years. In part, he attributes this discomfort to messages he got from his family as he was growing up: that others would lose interest when he shared his excitement for physics and astrology. Jeremiah censors himself in relationships. As he expects not to be accepted, he uses a lot of energy trying to calculate just what to share and how to present himself. He is frequently exhausted.
Neither Jeremiah or Jenny are considering doing things differently. Yet. There's changes they potentially could make, but those possibilities haven't entered their consideration. From the perspective of the "stages of change," Jeremiah and Jenny are pre-contemplative.
The stages of change? Pre-contemplation, Contemplation, Preparation, Action, Maintenance. Those are the stages that happen with any change in how we do things. Breaking a pattern? You're going through the stages of change.
Let's say someone asks Jeremiah, or Jenny, where they are in six months if they continue in the pattern. If you keep treading water without a direction, where does that take you? They, or you, might just move from pre-contemplation to contemplation. Maybe something could be different.
It's okay, in fact it's skillful, to tread water. If you've been knocked around by waves and exhausted by the pull of life's current, treading water, being still and not making any sudden moves, can be the thing that makes it possible to swim later. Treading water is resting. Resting is a resource.
Where you don't go, while continuing in the pattern you're in, represents an opportunity cost. If Jenny continues in her lackluster career it's at the cost of an alternative path. She might instead be returning to school, taking a deep dive into a subject she's passionate about. Her treading water, remaining in place, is at the cost of that. While Jeremiah continues to assume that being genuine and vulnerable with friends isn't welcome; he continues to mask. It's at the cost of creating intimacy and connection in relationships.
Today, might be the day that it makes sense to tread to water.
It also might be the day you swim.
Written by: Helen Dempsey-Henofer
MSW, LCSW, LISW-CP, ADHD-CCSP
*characters are not intended to represent any real person