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Staying Afloat On The River Of Life

Each carabiner has a “thing” about your life hooked on it. Things like jobs, kids, belongings, relationships, feelings, and schedules. Each carabiner represents “things” you’re carrying.

As you float down your river, you tend to get more things clipped on your vest. You get a job (add a clip.) Your wife has a baby (add a clip.) You buy a house (add a clip.) You receive a promotion at work. (Yes please I’ll add that clip – and the bigger paycheck, thank you very much.) No one is hired to do your job, so you keep those responsibilities (keep the clip on from your last job.) Your kid starts soccer (add a clip.) You buy a jet ski (add a clip.) Your aunt gets cancer and you want to help (add a clip.) Your dog dies. In theory you let a clip go but if you shove all your dog’s items in the hall closet (even if you’re not getting another dog), you still keep the clip. You hurt your knee, PT or surgery is in your future (add a clip.) Your boss offends you (add a clip.) You remodel the kitchen (add a clip.)

When things change, there is usually a loss. Even with amazing changes like a new baby, there is loss of freedom and being an independent couple who spends as much time as they’d like focusing on each other. Following the loss, we may experience grief. Feelings of sadness can confuse us because the change is positive. On the other side of grief, there is opportunity. A new normal. Something ending makes room for something new beginning. This can be unexpectedly great.

In the last few years I have gone through tremendous change. Change I did not want or anticipate. Challenges and change I fought against for years. Change that left me swirling in a tornado of unknown feelings and paths.

In my deepest grief, God gave me a spiritual upgrade. The opportunity for growth was there and among the new discoveries were new passions and purpose beyond what I could have hoped or imagined. God is so good. Change has been hard but also fruitful. 

The River Analogy

Life is like a river. The river is always moving, it has long winding paths with twists and turns. And let’s face it, sometimes rapids.

Imagine this: You are floating down a river in your own tube. You’re wearing a vest, like a fishing vest, that has carabiners (clips) all over it.

Fall is here. A change of season, a change of schedule, and a change in temperature. If you’ve been on planet earth more than a minute you’ve discovered that we all have to deal with change. Some of us fight it, others thrive. Whether you like it or not, change is inevitable.

Weather and schedule changes are one thing, but how do we deal with other changes like job loss, new babies, divorce, marriage, or death. Change can bring with it a swirl of emotions and reactions. When change happens, even welcome change, we can become disoriented, stressed, and scared. There may be unknowns that throw us into an isolating path, or at least that’s how it might feel.

You may be wondering what this has to do with the organizing and productivity business? In a word: Everything. As you experience all sorts of changes related to health, relationships, home, career, business direction, and new life stages you need someone to come alongside and help you navigate, sort of like a Sherpa, providing guidance and encouragement to keep going forward.

As you can see, your vest gets very full and heavy just living life. Many things get added to your vest that add weight, even good things like a jet ski. Because whatever you own, you need to manage. It’s a mix of initiated change and change that happens to you. Oftentimes change adds clips without removing any. It takes intention to remove clips.

Change is the constant process of adding and removing things clipped to us. The key to moving forward down the river is not having more clipped to us that we can manage. In order to not get weighted down, things need to be unclipped. If we just keep adding without letting go, we will eventually sink.

Now back to the river. Imagine all along the shore, there is a wire that floats just above the surface. It is accessible all the way down the river. You never lose sight of it. This wire is called ‘Not Now, Maybe Later.’ This is a place for clips to live that cannot be discarded right now but need to be taken off your vest in order to adapt to change.

An example of this is when my step-father was dying of cancer. My mom had some health complications and my sisters lived out of state, so I was the only close by to step in to help. At the time I was home schooling my two girls. I decided to unclip ‘Homeschooling’ from my vest that year and clip it on the ‘Not Now, Maybe Later’ wire. The wire and choice were still there when I went back to it later.

Our ability to make effective decisions about our clips, determines if we’ll sink or keep moving.

If you don’t keep floating down the river as you’re supposed to, you won’t be able to receive the amazing things in your future. Things that are down river that you can’t see yet. Things that are good. They are not coming upstream to meet you. You must go down to find them. You vest must have some room on it for your future. How can you do that if you’re stuck upriver weighted down by things in our past?

If you are “change- challenged”, don’t worry, there are some things you can do to navigate change differently. Today is a new day. It’s a day for unclipping what’s not needed anymore.

Tips to create conditions where change you can thrive in change:

  • If the change is big, acknowledge your capacity to operate at 150% like most of us do is not realistic. Dial back your commitments (and your expectations of yourself). Hook some things on the “Not Now, Maybe Later” wire.

  • It takes emotional and psychological energy to navigate change. Make sure you have some clips that add energy and are life giving to you.
  • Don’t’ be fooled. Our society puts people on pedestals that have overflowing full vests. Look what they can accomplish! Stay in your own tube and don’t look at other’s vests. One person’s vest may hold 100 clips, another 26, another 5. Mind your own clips!
  • Keep a long-term focus and imagine the future. Adjusting to change takes time. Making short term important decisions amidst major change can have long term negative consequences. For example, if you just lost a parent and want to buy a puppy to help your loneliness, ask yourself, “How am I going to feel in a year when I can’t go to Europe for a month because of this dog?” Maybe your short- term solution is to volunteer at a pet shelter instead.
  • Acknowledge the grief. Don’t fight it. You don’t need to clip it to you, only carry it gently for a while until you’re ready to release it.
  • You have choices in the changes. At the very least, you have a choice in how you respond to the change. How do you want to show up today in this situation
  • What you think about change is critical. What are you telling yourself about the change?
    • Accept that new situations can be uncomfortable.
    • Practice gratefulness
    • See change as an opportunity. Ask yourself, “what is the opportunity in this?”
    • Is there something to be learned?
    • Am I growing because of this change?
    • Ask yourself, “what does it look like to be courageous in this change?”​

  • If you are finding this change is overwhelming, get support from a friend or professional. That’s sometimes why I’m hired. I help evaluate clips. I take clips off.

  • Be curious. Ask questions like: What do I need right now? What are my options? Am I experiencing stress because I’m catastrophizing?
  • Do you need to let go of the expectations?
  • Spend your energy on the present and future, not the past.
  • Be intentional. Adding clips is effortless. Removing clips requires change and intention. Be aware of feeling like you’re sinking. Consider choosing forgiveness, giving belongings away, letting go of unhealthy expectations of yourself and others, reducing your commitments, and making sure you have times of rest.

You do have some control over how you experience the change. Our experience is 99% perception and 1% reality. Remember, even the hardest changes can bring new life and opportunities. Make sure you take off those clips to keep floating down the river to find them.