In cinema the inciting incident happens early in the film, and serves as the moment or event which sets the rest of the film into action. For me, it was the day that my mom got diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
When something like that happens in your life, it shakes things up. It makes you reflect a whole lot (there’s a whole lot of waiting too). It makes things confusing at first as you learn to navigate unknown territory, but at the same time it helps give you focus. You realize life is short, and you spend more time pondering how you really want to be spending your time.
In the process I came to the realization that just because I was good at something, or knew how to do something, it didn’t necessarily mean I wanted to be doing it, or found it fulfilling. When you’re deep in something it’s hard to get out of it. It takes making an effort on the side—yes, more work—to be able to put some next steps into place. But the good news is, it should be something you’re so excited for, it doesn’t feel like work. In other words, you make it a priority.
One of the challenges we face in making decisions through life is that we don’t always realize all the options and opportunities available to us because we’re stuck in our ways, or our bubble of comfort. We can feel stuck at times. Curiosity is one of the biggest ways to get unstuck. Even if it’s not an immediate answer to something, it’s a distraction that sparks something in our brain. It gets us out of our status quo, even if just temporarily.
During my mom’s nearly 4 year battle with cancer, I was on my own journey. I knew life could change at any moment, and I wanted to be in a place that was both flexible and fulfilling. In the grand scheme of things I was in a “good place” but it was a path I had fallen into, not that I had sought out. I knew there was still more out there.
This less than ideal news was good in terms it made everything I did and choices I made more intentional, from how I spent my time to which direction I needed to redirect myself to. The biggest change happened the year I gave myself the theme PIVOT. I knew it was time to change course. A simple word could also work to be a guiding force as I faced decisions.
Along the way, it became much easier to say NO to things (a surprisingly hard skill to learn while freelancing, as you never quite note what is coming next). I learned just because there are 24 hours in a day, I didn’t have to fill them. On a day to day level I became more precious with my time, and how I was spending it. If I wanted to get to the next thing, I was going to have to put the time in to make it happen.
My pivot happened just in time for me to get settled before shaken up again. Just as in every movie, there are always going to be forces that create tension and conflict in our life, and we have to learn to battle back.
It turns out sometimes having the right challenge is exactly what we need for a distraction. It often can be easy to prioritize the easy path or what you know. But life is a long game, so getting to the root of what drives you and what you WANT to be doing, can be highly motivating in setting priorities. When you feel fulfilled in the work you do, it also gives you a sense a purpose, which makes everything mentioned above that much easier.
I hope that the inciting incident in your life doesn’t have to be as traumatic as mine in order to get you on the path you want to be there. I know there are amazing things out there you want to be doing. You may be scared. You may be making excuses. You may be procrastinating. It’s OK—we all do.
I also want to remind you, that you don’t have to wait for that moment to arrive where you MUST take action. You can start taking small steps today. The big picture can be overwhelming, but when you break in down into small steps, and break those steps into even smaller steps, that’s when you can start making progress. Sometimes it’s going to involve saying YES to things that scare you, and other times it may involve saying NO to something that doesn’t take you closer to that goal.
Consider having a heart to heart with yourself. Take yourself, a notebook, and pen to your favorite café/park/place. You don’t have to have everything figured out, but write down—or draw a mind map—a bunch of ideas linking where you’ve been, to where you want to go. Give yourself permission to get messy, because let’s face it, life gets messy sometimes.
Don’t underestimate how each past experience can help propel us forward. We’re always learning as we go. Weave those stories and connect the dots to help you get to where you want to be. Make your next steps a priority.
Showing up is the first step. (As my friend Olga says to me, “you always show up.”). Don’t take for granted the smallest actions. They snowball over time to really add up.
Just as movies don’t get made over night, neither should the path to your future. Break it down, and make it happen. 💪
p.s. I wrote about my mom here and here. ❤️
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