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What Do You Have to Do?

23 September 2014

Allison read one of her favorite Mary Oliver poems, The Journey, and considered how brave we have to be if we want to make changes in our lives.

Tags: allison read, balance, change, courage, mary oliver, poetry

When I teach our Choosing Balance and Leadership course, I often end by reading Mary Oliver's poem, The Journey. I've been helping my clients choose balance for many years now. I've learned that while the right set of life choices are different for everyone, I find that there are usually just a few things and sometimes only one thing that has to happen first when they want to start making the changes that will help them to feel more satisfied about their lives.

They have to give up some ideal of perfection or perhaps ask for help and risk looking weak. They have to be brave enough to try something new or to say no to someone. They have to invite someone into their lives or ask someone to leave. They have to quit something or start something.

They almost always know what they need to do and are afraid of a whole lot of consequences if they take that very necessary first step. Often there's that critical voice in their heads or the voices of influential others trying to convince them they can keep "getting by" without making this change.

This tree reminds me that I can make a big change and be okay on the other side.

When they're struggling to find the courage to do this thing, I find Oliver's poem can be a comfort to them. I hope it comforts you and helps you to do that thing you know you need to do.

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice—
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.

— Mary Oliver, from New and Selected Poems, 1992


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