“Each time a door closes, the rest of the world opens up. All we need to do is stop pounding on the door that just closed, turn around…and welcome the largeness of life that now lies open to our souls. The door that closed kept us from entering a room, but what now lies before us is the rest of reality.” -Parker J. Palmer (Let Your Life Speak)
Recently, I closed the door to my past career. It wasn’t a decisive moment that lead to immediate action. Instead, the door closed gradually, each movement prodded by my neglected interests and a lack of fulfillment in my work.
But every time the door was about to close, I shoved something in the door crack to keep it open.
I have long wanted to move on from my career, but it was difficult to leave the safety net of a job with prestige and financial security. And so, I fooled myself. I took the steps to leave my job, and I began exploring my creative interests. I started this blog and began freelancing, but through it all, my door was a comfort that I could return to when I felt uncertain about my decisions. So my door, in a perpetual state of almost closing, remained wedged open.
During moments of doubt, I slipped through the door by taking short-term jobs in my old line of work. It seemed like a benefit. It paid well. But in retrospect, the money didn’t compensate for the burnouts and dissatisfaction. Long after months of 80+ hour work weeks, I still felt the anxieties and stresses of the job, and barely days after I started to feel balanced and healthy, I began to crave the security of my door again. And it was never very long until the next short-term job followed.
This cycle continued for three years. I went back and forth between two extremes: a technical job with no time for self-care and creative work in writing and photography. I was unable to build momentum in the latter because I ran away when things felt difficult. I always gave in to resistance. I pretended I was taking a lot of risks, but in reality, I was being very risk averse. It was impossible to grow while living in these two extremes, and as the phrase goes, I took “one step forward, two steps back.”
Then, with a slam, the door shut, and it wasn’t me who closed it.
“When I consistently refuse to take no for an answer, I miss the vital clues to my identity that arise when way closes – and I am more likely both to exceed my limits and to do harm to others in the process.” -Parker J. Palmer (Let Your Life Speak)
Parker Palmer wrote these words in his book, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation which is essential reading on the path of finding fulfillment. It’s a guidebook for answering the question, “what am I meant to do?”
And in a moment that most readers will understand, it felt like Parker wrote the words for me. I had experienced those words and had fragments of thoughts, ideas, and emotions about them, but when I read them in Parker’s book, the puzzle came together in my mind. I closed the door dozens of times to my past work but refused to keep it closed. Eventually, I exceeded my limits which had decreased through my lack of interest in the work. And even though it was unintended, the hardest thing of all was that I did harm others through the process.
My door was shut for me, and those first few weeks were difficult. It felt like part of my identity was stripped away. I felt uncertain about the future, and I felt like a failure. And I made those difficult days more difficult by wallowing in self-pity, anxiety, and worry.
Eventually through acceptance of the situation and some harsh perspective on the reasons that my door was forced shut, I began to turn my back on the door, and as Parker says, “my way opened.” I stopped thinking about what I had lost and instead focused on everything that was available to me. All of these projects I’ve long wanted to work on, including this resource, spread themselves out in a thousand different possibilities.
“When way closes behind us, it is tempting to regard it simply as the result of some strategic error: had I been smarter or stronger, that door would not have slammed shut, so if I redouble my efforts, I may be able to batter it down…When I resist way closing rather than taking guidance from it, I may be ignoring the limitations inherent in my nature – which dishonors true self no less than ignoring the potentials I received as birthright gifts…
My anxiety about way not opening, the anxiety that kept me pounding on closed doors, almost prevented me from seeing the secret hidden in plain sight: I was already standing on the ground of my new life, ready to take the step on my journey, if only I would turn around and see the landscape that lay before me.
If we are to live our lives fully and well, we must learn to embrace the opposites, to live in a creative tension between our limits and our potentials…We must take the no of the way that closes and find the guidance it has to offer – and take the yes of the way that opens and respond with the yes of our lives.” -Parker J. Palmer (Let Your Life Speak)
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If you are struggling with fulfillment in your job, considering a career change, or feeling a little uncertain about where you are in life, I highly recommend that you read Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer. It’s a book that can change your life.