Not Rocking Your Mission?

At the mid-point of the path through life, I found myself lost in a wood so dark, the way ahead was blotted out. —Dante, The Divine Comedy, 1307

At one point, in the middle of my life, I realized I wasn’t where I wanted to be. It felt as if I had wondered into a very bad neighborhood. Reading Dante’s first few lines, he tells us this is not a new problem. The cause of this discomfort was due to the vanishing meaning and purpose in the life I spent years building and designing in becoming a primary care nurse practitioner. It might be comforting to know this entry into the bad neighborhood was due to my own growth and need for change in mindset (not skillset!).

The emerging field of adult development suggests that when we are feeling unanchored or dissatisfied, we may be in need of a re-pot, not a new job necessarily, but a new view from a different balcony. Studiessuggest that adults move through a series of stages that allow them to tolerate more complexity and be less reliant on the approval and authority of others. When we feel stuck, we are often ready for the next stage of growth. However, it can be exquisitely painful to drop the old system of thinking. Like Tarzan swinging in the jungle, one can’t grab one vine without letting go of the other.  You may recognize yourself in these stages of development.

Looking back on the time when I was in that very bad place, I was sensitive to the approval/feedback of others without yet having my own measures of success. Once I began to loosen the grip others had on me, I had less internal wrenching and became a more self-authored person. For those of us who are other-centered, we can feel uncomfortable and unanchored over things we have no control over. While much of the primary care world is gray and complex, we can get fused with the opinion or standards of others. Unrelenting metrics, patient outcomes over which we have zero control become the authority, outside ourselves. When we start to move toward the growth edge, we shoot tendrils out toward wisdom. We begin to become our own authority. When we loosen the grip that approval of others has on us, or metrics that make no sense, it frees us up to move to a wiser place. Developing these tendrils to climb out of the darkness may make us be more compassionate to ourselves, those we care for and work with. 

—Eileen O’Grady, PhD, RN, NP