What can you learn from what you’re avoiding? Turns out, a lot.

When I last wrote you, we discussed how to keep perspective when things feel particularly crazy in the world.

It’s important to remember that everyone is trying their best, day in and day out. And that a quiet majority of 99.99999% of the world’s population (give or take) quietly abides by the laws of human goodness, and prefers peace over disorder, and wants the best for their loved ones.

Whenever the world seems particularly burdensome, I remind myself to get back to these basics: the mindset or outlook that is governing how I’m interpreting the world around me.

Because our mindset is the staging area for all other choices, actions and words.

And yet, there are times when trying to “correct” my mindset doesn’t feel helpful enough in making a tangible, concrete choice. Like, making a decision about my business, or what to write about, or even how to fill a day.

Sure, checking in on your outlook is essential for understanding the choices and deeds that follow. But when your mindset feels sturdy and square, how then do you go about making a deliberate choice? A critical decision? One that you may be missing, overlooking, or needing in particular right now?

For me, it’s this: begin to pay attention to what you’re avoiding.

Jump back in time with me. You know me as a writer, right? Just five years ago, writing was the very thing that I was avoiding the most. Which is strange. Because I was a writer. And had just self-published my first book.

But that book didn’t make amazing waves of change as I had hoped — and it didn’t magically springboard me to a successful career as an author and speaker.

Quite the opposite — in fact, I was going broke.

I was living in New York City, paying $1,700/month in rent, and earning all of $0/month for the first few months in the Big Apple.

(Yeah. That was my precise income for the first few months I was in NYC trying to make it as a “creative entrepreneur”!)

As I struggled to figure out my next move (“Leadership coaching? Sure, why not. Personal coaching? That too! An e-course on alternative leadership that I never completed? I’ll give it a whirl!”), a friend helped me realize that I needed to get back into the thing I was avoiding the most.

My writing.

It suddenly became clear to me that, in the wake of self-publishing my first book and feeling like I had failed in the writing of it, I was avoiding my writing like the plague. I was hiding from my words because I felt like a failure. I was embarrassed by them. I felt ashamed to write again.

That’s why I was trying to do anything OTHER than write…

Avoidance. 

“What Have I Been Avoiding Lately?”

Over the years that have followed, I’ve learned a lot about what I’m avoiding the most:

  1. Avoiding something means that it matters to me.
  2. Avoiding it means I’ve already chosen it on some level, if only subconsciously.
  3. Until I fully choose it, I’ll keep feeling its lingering presence in the background of my psyche.

What you’re avoiding is different from what you don’t like, what you’re afraid of, or what you plain ol’ don’t want.

Avoidance implies a choice has already been made in the direction of what you’re avoiding. That it’s already calling for your attention. It already matters to you. Whatever it is – a big move, a book project, or a new hobby – what you’re avoiding has already been chosen on some deeper level of your consciousness.

Like me and my writing those five years ago.

When I recommitted to my writing, things began to change. I built a new business offering around writing so I couldn’t avoid it anymore. I self-published my second book, which I enjoyed far more than the first.

I turned my resistance into my refuge, and so much of the fight, the struggle, the resistance and the endless searching seemed to dissipate.

I finally knew what to choose. Because my avoidance was telling me to choose it.

Ever since, at every turn, whatever it is that I’ve been avoiding the most has consistently revealed itself to be the most important thing that I could choose.

In today’s world, of all the things you could choose, of all the things that are hounding after your attention, of all the people and causes that need a helping hand… it’s exceedingly difficult to have a big heart, want to help, and figure out what to choose.

If you struggle as I do to figure out what choice to make next, the place to inquire may be with what you feel like you’re avoiding the most.

Because what you’re avoiding is what you’ve already assigned as mattering to you. It matters so much, so greatly, that choosing what you’re avoiding would mean challenging your fears, worries, guilt, insecurities and all the other (very natural, completely human, entirely normal) emotional baggage that we pick up along the path of life.

Whatever you’re avoiding, take a look at that.

Begin by asking yourself,

“What have I been avoiding lately?”

Approach your inquiry with compassion and non-judgment. Don’t beat yourself up for avoiding it. Question the underlying discomfort — the subtle, subconscious, or glaring reasons why it’s become easier to avoid than embrace.

If you ask me?

What you’re avoiding will help you make your best next decision.

And, better yet, it’s your personal pathway into becoming more of your whole, true self.

The feelings are clues. The discomfort is data. It means to call your attention.

It wants you to know what matters to you.

It wants you to know how much you care.

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