I had dinner with a close friend this week. She is a former lawyer who at ten years call left the profession to embark on an entirely new and unrelated career. She did not leave the legal profession because she was not good at it. On the contrary, she was very good at it!
When she took the bold step of leaving her firm she was amazed by the number of people who came up to her in confidence and told her how much they wished they could do the same thing.
They wished they could, but they couldn’t. There were two main reasons why they couldn’t. Here they are:
The first reason was money. They had family commitments, a mortgage, fiscal responsibilities that made it impossible to move.
The other reason was courage. “I just don’t have the courage to make a big change like that.”
I’ve told this story to illustrate two very common rut stories. In executive coaching we sometimes talk about rut stories and river stories. Rut stories are the stories we tell about our lives that keep us stuck. River stories are the ones that set us free.
I think almost all of us have rut stories we are holding on to. They are powerful stories. Some people would call them reality. Family and fiscal responsibilities are a reality. I’m not a courageous person is a reality.
Said like that, reality, becomes a sheer cliff face. No minor obstacle but an insurmountable one. A dead end. No options beyond this point.
Rut becomes river when we ask the question: what if that wasn’t a dead end? Imagine that the huge fiscal responsibility wasn’t an insurmountable wall, but was more of an obstacle blocking your path forward. How might you work around that? How could you design a professional life that both satisfies you internally and makes you enough money to care for your family? How might that work?
Rut stories are powerful. We give them meaning. We believe them. The process of transforming rut to river begins when we reflect on the limitations we impose, when we examine them, when we suspend reality – just for a moment – and new possibilities arise. Out of possibilities can arise action. Action leads to change. Rut to river.