Sunday, August 22, 2010

Crying Wolf

You know the story. The shepherd boy is bored and lonely, so he yells WOLF! and everybody comes running to help defend against the predator. While this is great fun for the shepherd boy, everybody else is understandably angry about the whole affair. But the boy gives it another go and winds up playing the card too many times. By the time an actual wolf arrives on the scene, everyone ignores the boy's cries, and the wolf eats him. A harsh lesson to be sure.

I believe that there is certainly a lesson in that tale for the "everybody else," but today I am wondering how much I am identified with the shepherd boy. Once upon a time, I kept my cards pretty close to my chest. I didn't share with many people that I was going to a particular college until I had the offer and had made a decision. Same thing for grad school. There have been some major projects in my life I didn't really tell anyone about until they were close to completion. But something shifted several years back.

I started to tell more people what I was up to, and I found that there was support and motivation in the telling. Once I told someone that I was working on a particular piece of music, they would often inquire about it, and I would have another person's energy contributed toward its creation. Plus, just saying the commitment out loud made it seem a bit more real. Over the past several years, more and more people have known about the commitments I'm making, and I gain insight, feedback, and support from an ever-growing array of individuals.

Something else shifted for me over the past year. I started setting my sights on goals that are a bit bigger... paths that I can't discern fully from just the first steps. Committing to those targets is important for me, because otherwise they could just be wishes or dreams that never get realized. But the journey also gives me new information. For instance, I sometimes learn that there are things I don't really like about a destination I had in mind -- things I didn't know when I first committed to it. And in that moment, I have the opportunity to make a choice.

I could continue down a path I don't really want to travel simply because I have committed to it. People are depending on me, expecting me to follow through. That seems like a frustrating and dissatisfying choice that (at best) lacks authenticity. Instead, I have been exploring what was most meaningful to me about a particular goal, and I've been looking for more desirable destinations that offer the same benefits. Which is not to say that I would start a journey over from Square One. Rather, I have gained some knowledge along the way that I didn't have before, and I can see things that weren't possible when I started in a particular direction.

I'm actually at peace with this process. My concern is other people's perception. Since I am advertising my goals more widely, there are more people to notice when my commitment shifts. How many times can I veer off onto another unexpected path and retain credibility? There are some commitments I've made that just don't fit as I learn more about them, and yet I wouldn't have learned that information if I had never made the commitment. But when I choose to continue growing from that point toward something else, does it look like growth to other people or does it look like giving up? When do my shifts in targets for my life look enough like "crying wolf" that no one believes me when I stake a claim on another goal?

There is a part of me that retorts, "It doesn't matter what other people think." But it does. Partnership and meaningful support is such an integral part of creating big dreams that I want at least a few others to get the difference between "going back on my word" and shifting targets to something better for me as I gain more information. The real question doesn't have anything to do with how "everyone" will see me. Life sometimes seems as cut-and-dried as the story: there is the shepherd boy, and there is everybody else. In reality, there are probably people who would come running every time, whether there was ever a wolf or not. And my goals aren't just made up for attention, so the connection between the story and my life is flimsy from the start.

So my answer (to whatever the question is) is to trust myself, and to trust that there will be enough support and partnership in each leg of the journey. I know that I have a purpose, and I know that I never have to defend myself. It ultimately boils down to my willingness to keep connecting with others about what I am creating and why that means something to me. Strange how so many questions seem to have the same answer.

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