Jewish Journal


June 17, 2010

Dead Ends Can Lead to New Paths


If you’ve ever felt stuck, helpless, like your life has come to an end and you do not know what to do, you do not know what comes next, or you do not know which way to turn, then you know exactly how I had been feeling for a while. It’s quite horrible, really, and so there’s a term for it - psychological IMPASSE. It’s as if everything you know no longer applies. It just no longer works. So you try harder, put in more effort, give it your all and still nothing happens. Living has become impossible. As if the rules for Life have changed and no one saw it fit to tell you.

I know I’m not the only one who, in these past months, has felt something akin to this.

We are in this period of intense global change – multi-paradigm shifts, all at the same time. The result in layman’s terms – the (bleep) is hitting the fan. And everybody is affected either at a macro level or more directly in our personal lives. For me it’s been the ending of one phase of my life and the need to begin a new chapter. Took me a while to figure it out, but then it was clear that it was time for me to really be getting on with what I know I’m meant to be doing.

Easier said than done!

When the change around us is comprehensive, we need to change ourselves. As I was working though my own need to change myself, my modus operandi, and my beliefs about myself and the world, I came across a rather remarkable book: Getting Unstuck: How Dead Ends Become New Paths by Timothy Butler (Harvard University Press).  It is brilliant and perfect for the time, and I strongly recommend it for anyone and everyone.

According to Butler, one of the signs of IMPASSE is the feeling of self-doubt that begins to creep up on you. Life as you’ve done it is no longer working and you are beginning to doubt yourself. Maybe you made the wrong choice. Or, maybe you don’t have it in you; you’re just not good enough. I found myself questioning things I had never ever doubted before. Maybe I was in the wrong profession after all. Or maybe, it’s impossible to raise kids single-handedly and do things I wanted to do. You know, take my work to a whole other level.  Perhaps I should just wait till they grew up… Or maybe I should chuck it all in and get a “regular” job.

My “old” ways of doing things were no longer working, and I couldn’t find the way out. I certainly could not create new possibilities with old methods, beliefs, or ways of thinking. This is a classic symptom of IMPASSE, according to Butler. A trigger event (usually some significant change or loss) brings us to a dead end and we are forced to look at life differently because if we continue to “use the old ways it will just mean more pain.”

While it can seem like a traumatic experience, one to be avoided at all costs, IMPASSE actually is a very powerful means toward “breakthrough.” It signifies the coming to an end of one chapter of life, or of a particular role, or way of being. When we are caught in an IMPASSE crisis, we are required to let go of the old and step into the new.

It is unquestionably human nature to sink into the comfort of the familiar, even when we know in our hearts that it’s doing nothing for us. The pain of IMPASSE forces us to awaken, to be open and vulnerable, to release the clutches of past habits and patterns and to embrace the path forward – even when we don’t know what to do, or how to do it, and there are no guarantees. 

For me, IMPASSE was forcing me to give up patterns that I had used all my life. Those patterns had always “worked” for me. But now, for what I wanted to do next, for where I needed to go, those patterns were the problem.  I have always been the self-sufficient, I can do all by myself, let’s take on the world and win, kind of person. And that had to change. Moving forward, I am going to have to really open up to input, guidance, and support from others. Lots and lots of it! It’s my new path… Write and tell me about yours. misha@mishahenckel.com

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