Lucy's Newspaper Columns

Common Ground is a monthly newspaper column appearing in the New Hampshire Seacoast Newspapers.  Professional photographer Lucy also does the accompanying photographs.

Casting off in new directions

This column appeared on April 10, 2001

It's spring, for many people a time of fresh starts. Graduations, new jobs, the end of the academic year and even weather changes can lead us in new directions. Many people also find that their child and adolescent years have so impressed the academic year on their consciousness that they always experience spring and fall as times of change, whether or not they are actually in transition.

How do we handle a new direction, whether it's our own or someone else's? When the start is our own, we discover pluses and minuses. On the positive side, we experience excitement and a sense of adventure and growth. On the negative side we may undergo periods of apprehension or discouragement. Other people may, often unintentionally, intensify these feelings in us when they reflect their own fears of change in comments like, "Whatever makes you think you could succeed at that?" Some new entrepreneurs hear so much negative advice that they temporarily distance themselves, when possible, from friends or family members whose dire predictions may undermine their energy or confidence.

When the life change we are contemplating is not our own but someone else's, we may become the advice-givers. We can be helpful but, on the other hand, we may offer counsel that is neither helpful nor wise.

For any new start--in business, academics, relationships, health-- I suggest that we keep three principles in mind:

1. Ebbs and flows of one's enthusiasm, optimism, and motivation are normal.
2. Achieving a significant desired change may take longer than we think. It also requires steadiness of purpose.
3. It is difficult to predict who will succeed and who will not, and thus it's best to steer clear of such predictions.

Regarding the first, anyone on a new course may vacillate between worry and optimism. It helps to remember that these ups and downs are normal and may also be linked to the person's body clock, varying with whether the individual is tired or rested.

Considering "longer than we think," this is where knowledge and persistence come in. Motivational speakers and writers frequently state some version of, "Most people give up too soon." Ironically, people who give up too soon may not lack persistence but rather may lack information. They may have no idea of how long an enterprise such as theirs is likely to take. In our culture there are misleading myths about people achieving stunning successes in "no time flat." In real life most people do not know what length of time reaching certain goals will require. They cannot always learn this from others, either, since those who have attained similar goals may either forget such information or be unwilling to disclose it.

In advising others, if and when we do so, it's best to keep in mind #3 above, avoiding gloomy predictions of potential failure. An obviously talented person may change goals or go off on another tack, while a seemingly less skilled individual may possess or develop the steadiness, persistence and intelligence needed to arrive at the destination.

Just before starting in a new direction we are like boats in this photograph. Others starting at the same time may, like these rowboats, appear when at rest to be pointed in the same direction. As soon as we loose ourselves from moorings, though, we diverge. We follow different currents, different inspirations, and varied goals. Often we don't know where an open-ended path will lead, since one juncture leads to another; that's the excitement of life.

The boats in this picture float on a pond on the grounds of the Palace of Versailles, outside Paris. The international visitors who row them could represent the diversity of people who appear to be headed in the same direction but who in fact will arrive at an infinite variety of destinations.

How do we reach our own destinations? It helps to focus on goals, aim for steadiness, and remain motivated. Successful people often say, "I work on my enterprise every day, whether I feel like it or not." An entrepreneur friend of mine hangs a home-made poster in her home office; it reads, "There is no such thing as failure."

When encouraging others we can remind them that at any given moment it's fine to be exactly where we are, ready to move ahead. Like those boats, once unmoored we will all set off in unpredictable directions, perhaps especially during the longer and welcoming daylight of spring.

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