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19 November 2021

Lost and Found, Part II: Retrospecting and Prospecting

Written by
Fred Jones

There aren’t many ways my own story conforms to common maps about a career. I sharply broke with my aspiration as a magazine journalist by the time I was handed my undergraduate diploma. A decade later, though, I remember the extended sigh of relief when I finally had a recognizable job at a well-known company that fit me better into others’ maps. It took the burden off me to explain myself. And, yes, I finally felt more legitimate. 

In the years that followed, I never fit too well in the corporate boxes even as I tried to honor them. I’d become restless and, at times, disenchanted. The pattern that emerged was this: do next what enables me to explore something that matters to me. For most of us, this is easier said than done, and there are few places to turn for guidance about how to make this happen. 

Here’s what I found helpful. Begin by standing right where you are and seeing what you can see from here. Not in the past. Not in the future. Not all in one activity, but over time, including in something like a sabbatical period for stepping away, at least partially, from your life’s work as you know it. 

Looking backward, we can retrospect. We can’t go back in time, but we can make fresh meaning of where we’ve been from the standpoint of now. We can look back and see how what shaped us into who we are matters now, regardless of what it seemed like then. To remember does not so much mean to recall as to put together in a new way, to reconstruct. I can see turning points in my rear view mirror that I could not see before. I know myself on this side of earlier crucibles that challenged me, inducing change that was only visible in sketchy ways then.

We expressively redefine our relationship to these past parts, even things that threw us. James Pennebaker and others researched for years people who wrote their way through traumas and observed how the voice changes over time as more agency developed in relation to what happened. Retrospecting also helps us measure some of the ways we’re like we’ve always been and ways that we’ve changed. As we update the image of ourselves, we not just catch up with ourselves in the here and now. We inevitably move the story forward.

Looking forward, we can prospect. With the backwards recognition of what remains familiar in our lives, we can explore what’s unfamiliar. We can learn to open ourselves to it and see what happens to us. In some cases, we open ourselves to things that have been around us all of the time, things that we were moving too fast or too superficially to really engage. We haven’t appreciated what they are, especially things that seem ordinary or mundane. 

Even better if we can take on this transitional place with a new kind of ambition. Solnit wrote: “The real question then is how to get lost. Never to get lost is not to live, not to know how to get lost brings you to destruction, and somewhere in the terra incognita in between lies a life of discovery.”

Through my R&D project called Meanwhile, I’ve come to call this exploratory path “sabbatical mode.” This mode involves loosening our grip on outcomes and efficient routes to arrival. Wandering is okay. We dampen the habitual energy to produce. We slow our movement to a pace that allows us to take more in and connect more with what we’re experiencing. With sabbatical mode, we step away, let go, open up and try things on and see what happens. Something may give way, we even may be liberated for something else—not a rejection of your life as you’ve known it but a better way to be in it with all the joys and sufferings and everything in between. 

We can, by design, extend this mode into a season of reflection and exploration. As in a sabbatical, whether full or part time. 

In so doing, we might be surprised. We may find that what Hartmut Rosa calls the wire that connects us to our world vibrates in a new way. Really vibrates, with resonance, with meaning. Right where we are with what’s in front of us. We rediscover that we are alive and that to be alive includes room for unknowns, mysteries and being both lost and found all at the same time. We keep walking and wandering. We might find a new pursuit, a new dimension in our life’s work, one that can challenge us and energize the learning our spirit needs all the way until the end.


For more on sabbatical mode and upcoming workshops to support you in life’s transitions, check out Fred’s website – https://www.meanwhile.studio/

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