NOTE: This is the first draft of the “Boldness” essay in my forthcoming book, Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas. Responses and comments welcome.
Boldness: Genius, might, & magic
Copyright 2012 David J. Bookbinder
I started full-time private practice as the Great Recession was just getting underway. Although this was arguably the worst period in recent history to start a new business, attracting clients took relatively little time.
Many of my clients came because they had lost their jobs and didn’t know what to do. They were discouraged, confused, frightened, sometimes to the point of panic. Because they had mostly grown up in an economic boom period, they had few coping skills with which to handle a recession of this magnitude. Like previous generations who had expected to retire with a gold watch, they found their jobs had been pulled out from under them with what seemed like no warning.
I was struck by how the most discouraged clients tended to be considerably younger than I was, and how they could not imagine picking themselves up and starting over, or even making a significant course correction. There were several recurrent themes: What I did is all I know how to do. Or: I hate my job, but what if I can’t find another one? Or: I was making pretty good money. How am I going to find that again? Or: I’m already so far behind. If I start over, I’ll never catch up. After enough sympathetic listening to establish that I did understand and care about their plight, my response was often a variant of, “Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid.”
The concept of boldness attracting powerful forces came to me from the television show “Inside the Actors Studio.” The show presents well-known figures in film and theater to budding actors, directors, and filmmakers. Following the main interview are questions from the audience, and, at the close, brief words of encouragement from the guest. One night’s interviewee was Anthony Hopkins, whom I have admired for decades. Hopkins, the actor, often plays characters whose conduct and integrity rise, over the course of the film, to something approaching nobility. (It seems fitting that Hopkins, the man, has been knighted.) His parting remark to these future dramatists was: “Be bold, and mighty forces will come to your aid.”
Boldness, for me, has primarily been in choosing somewhat risky hobbies (motorcycling, spelunking, scuba diving, and an interrupted attempt at hang gliding) and making major career shifts. My career path has included construction work, journalism, technical writing, teaching, photography, a plethora of odd jobs, and now, finally, psychotherapy. I have been on a lifelong voyage toward an occupation that felt like the right fit for who I am. I have often run aground, but each time I have foundered on the rocks, I’ve made the necessary repairs and then launched myself again.
Because I have changed careers so many times, I can model boldness for clients who need or want to reinvent themselves but are afraid to try. I’ve also developed strategies to help people find the work that best suits their natures. One such technique is a refinement of the strategy that led me to psychotherapy. Working through this process can help you or anyone you know who is in need of reinvention, but unsure how to begin, to start moving in the right direction.
1. Make three lists. Write down everything you have ever liked doing in the past, like to do now, and might like to do in the future. Spend some time with these concepts. For three days in a row, jot down anything that occurs to you. Make each list as complete as you can – now is not the time to edit or hold back.
On the “liked doing” list, include work, hobbies, recreational activities, travel. Document the enjoyable qualities of your interactions with friends, colleagues, family, strangers. Call up your memories of childhood play: what was the most fun you had, both with others and when alone? Be detailed.
On the “like to do” list, again, aim for completeness. Look at everything you do, and note the things that bring you pleasure, joy, excitement, or that simply occupy your positive attention.
The “might like to do” list is your chance to be outrageous. Let money, time, space, and perceived talent be no object. Daydream. Take chances, at least in your imagination. Don’t leave anything out!
2. Sort into themes. Sift through your lists. Share them with at least one other person and notice, as you talk about the items on each list, which ones make your heart give a little start or generate a flicker of fond remembrance. You are on a quest, and these starts and flickers are the trail markers.
Now think about common characteristics among the items that resonate the most. Use broad, inclusive categories. For example, when I did this exercise prior to deciding to pursue a therapist career, I noticed that many of my list items fell into the categories of seeing (literally or metaphorically), figuring things out, and helping others.
3. Brainstorm. Alone, with a friend, or with the help of the Internet, brainstorm occupations that combine at least two of the categories from step 2. Two is enough, more is better. In my case, mediator, private investigator, attorney, and therapist fit my main categories. Photography, as a serious avocation, re-emerged when I found that literal seeing was also important to me.
4. Be bold. Boldly go where you have not gone before. Seek out and meet people in your prospective field(s) and find out what they do. Put the word out on Facebook and LinkedIn. Take a class in a related subject. Start a side business, or do volunteer work to get your feet wet and make connections. Let mighty forces come to your aid!
Boldness is not the only guide to self-actualization, but without it little of great purpose can come to pass.
In his appearance on “Inside the Actors Studio,” Anthony Hopkins attributed his boldness quote to Goethe, but what the German poet, novelist, and playwright actually said was, “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.” I like the combined message: Begin now, be bold, and powerful forces like genius and magic, along with people who will increasingly validate your new direction, will aid you in realizing your dreams.