12 | Do You Ever Feel Like You Are Drifting Through Life?

Sometimes drift comes through the endless pursuit of goals we hope will make us happy. Or it might come as we passively float along the path of least resistance, hoping something motivates us to take action. There are many different ways we can find ourselves drifting through life.

We never drift to a destination we have consciously chosen. It’s through deliberate movement in the right direction that we get to where we want to go. Sometimes we need to pick up the oars and start gently rowing in a new direction.

In this episode of The Gentle Rebel Podcast, we explore ways we might find ourselves drifting in life. We will think about where we might be drifting right now and how to turn our drifting into repeat blooming.

Drifting through life

Late Blooming | 5:05

Do you feel like a late bloomer?

“The more I learn about late blooming, the more I think we’re all late bloomers. Our society pushes us to achieve early, to all of our detriments. I can remember feeling like a late bloomer in my 20s, and I certainly feel like one now, in the midst of a career change in midlife! Really we should be embracing late blooming, or as I like to call it, repeat blooming. Life just feels so much better when you believe that it has more than one act.”

Kendra Patterson

Late Bloomers don’t just approach life at a slower speed. Their orientation to the world is different from what we might consider normal modes of operation. Kendra encourages us to find reassurance in the differences between conceptual and experimental types of people.

Conceptual Types | 10:56

Conceptual Types have a clear picture of how they want things to look. They work seductively. In other words, they know where they want to go and have a clear plan.

Weinberg and Galenson (2019) looked at the lives of Nobel Laureates in Economics. They found that Conceptual innovators made their most significant contributions to the field in their mid-20s.

Experimental Types (The Late Bloomers) | 11:24

Experimental Types start with a step and build incrementally. Often without a clear picture of where each step will lead them. They connect dots as they go. Discovery underpins their creativity. They work inductively (accumulating knowledge from experience).

In the research, Weinberg and Galenson found that Experimental types made their most significant impact during their fifties. That’s thirty years later than their conceptual peers.

The future emerges from a pathway of incremental curious exploration for experimental types. We connect dots and build from one experience to the next. As such, life is naturally slower to unfold and evolve. This is why experimental people are often “late” or “repeat” bloomers. It also explains why experimental types might sometimes feel like we are drifting through life.

Society’s Preference | 12:07

Society doesn’t openly encourage an experimental approach. The effectiveness and efficiency of conceptual thinking are far easier to measure. You either succeed or fail with the goal you have set yourself.

Society also celebrates and glorifies stories of youth and early bloomer success. This puts a countdown timer on a person’s sense of self-worth. And if we miss the imaginary boat, we might resign ourselves to the belief that our fate is to drift through life instead.

Lots of us struggle with the linear nature of the conceptual approach. Maybe you do too?

The Impossible Question | 14:50

Where do you see yourself in five years?

How do you respond to that question? You might find it hard to answer if you’re an experimental thinker because it’s almost impossible to know.

A common assertion in personal development is that you should “begin with the end in mind”. But what if the end is not that simple? Or at the very least, we need to approach it in more creative ways.

For many of us, our deepest desires are not endpoints. Instead, they are inexplicable moments and feelings brought about by an openness to a life of slow meandering and repeat blooming. Along an evolving and experimental pathway of incremental steps? It doesn’t mean we drift through life, but rather that we have a different approach.

The Stories We Tell Ourselves About Life’s Drift | 18:55

Society celebrates people who followed a conviction about what they wanted to do with their life from an early age—those who “pursued their passion” with relentless drive and determination.

We say “follow your dream” with the unspoken assertion that everyone has one. We were born to do a tangible, concrete thing with our life. And some people find this idea of “finding their purpose” exciting and enjoyable.

But for others, it can be a significant source of underlying anxiety. It can feel like we’re doing it wrong. Like we’re drifting through life as perennial underachievers.

But what if we made room for all of these orientations to progress? Realising that for many people, success is not the destination; it’s the joy of discovery, exploration, and experimentation along the way.

A Different Way of Being | 20:13

Before we restrict the idea of drifting to experimental types, it’s important to point out that conceptual goal-driven people fall into drift patterns just as quickly.

For the conceptual types, they might drift away from themselves through an unhealthy attachment to up and to the right. They tether to goals as the source of their identity. It can look like growth, but it might take them off track in a very linear way—the pursuit of MORE, BETTER, FASTER etc.

When the more, better, faster becomes the aim, they lose sight of what matters deeper down.

Whatever its source, the first part of responding to the drift is awareness. To recognise how it feels and what it’s telling you. And to ask yourself, what do I want instead?

And to come home to the stuff that truly matters for us as individuals. Away from the stories we tell ourselves about what we should do and who we should be if we want to fit in.

The Treadmill of Pursuit | 23:02

Humans are excellent at adapting to new realities. It’s an ability that has been key to our survival as a species. But this can also lead to a life of drift as an endless quest for elusive happiness.

“The hedonic treadmill, also known as hedonic adaptation, is the observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes.”

Wikipedia

Hedonic Adaptation can leave us drifting through life without realising it. We adapt to each accomplishment, pleasure, or success and seek the next. We are pulled along by the feeling rather than any more profound sense of meaning or connection to core values.

Slower Souls and Experimental Trailblazers | 26:45

An “up and to the right” society might view” inside-out becoming” as drifting, procrastination, and wasting time. Unfortunately, this message can seep into the story experimental types tell themselves about themselves.

A life of drift becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy because it’s impossible to bend ourselves out of shape when it comes to these natural preferences.

For example, you won’t reach your potential if you’re rushed into completing things before you’ve had the time and space you need to explore at your own pace. And you won’t hit the standards you want. Such pressure prevents you from bringing the best of yourself to the world. And it buries the truth of who you are and limits your abilities.

Contributing Factors To A Life of Drift | 30:25

Drift is an unsettling and anxious driving force. It leads us away from ourselves. Either as an inability to take the next step (analysis paralysis and fear of doing the wrong thing). Or frenetic action (mindless movement in any direction – it doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you don’t stop).

When we drift, we lose control of our direction. We have no agency over the route we take. Things happen to us and around us. And finding a way back to ourselves can be difficult when the drift takes hold.

Everything Is Breath | 34:10

Clocks, seasons, and years represent time. These are repeating cycles with rhythmic patterns, expansions, and contractions. And yet we often conceptualise time as linear. A path we are on from birth to death.

Everything is breath. An inhale, and an exhale.

The myth keeps going. We hit certain milestones, encouraged and judged by passing time. We even use age as a symbolic representation of who we are. And yet it says nothing intrinsically meaningful about a person.

We know that it means nothing. Just think of your response to the question, “how does it feel to be ten?” or “how does it feel to be fifty?” It feels no different at all. Why? Because we don’t find deep joy in the linear experience. Happiness, flow, and creativity transcend the boxes, labels, and identities into which we try to squeeze life.

The Top Five Regrets of The Dying

Palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware recorded patients’ thoughts in the final twelve weeks of their lives. “When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently,” she says, “common themes surfaced again and again.”

  1. “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
  2. “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”
  3. “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.”
  4. “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.”
  5. “I wish that I had let myself be happier.”

I would suggest that drift infuses all five of these biggest regrets.

Strip Away The Complexity | 38:33

“Many people think they lack motivation when they really lack clarity.”

– James Clear

Drift in life often occurs when we over-complicate simple things.

Make The Right Thing The Easy Thing To Do | 40:24

It’s easy to overcomplicate our goals. We often overthink plans, get derailed by perfectionism, and become bogged down in minor details. Unfortunately, this leads us to sabotage our efforts by clouding the view of the road ahead.

This might be the point at which we decide we’re not quite ready. We need more motivation before we can take the next step.

But at times like this, we don’t need more motivation. Or inspiration. Or willpower. It would help if we had clarity: simple plans and a clear next step in the right direction. Small steps, when strung together, result in big shifts.

The End Goal is The Starting Point | 42:07

Walking in circles sometimes has negative connotations. It conjures an image of confusion, chaos, and an inability to commit to the right path forwards.

But what happens when the path IS circular?

I think this is a constructive way to think about personal growth. It doesn’t happen in straight lines. It always happens in roundabouts, seasons, and loops.

When you embark on a circular walk, your ultimate goal is to get back to where you started. But we all know that is not the purpose of such an activity. We find a sense of meaning en route.

The circular hike is a helpful image to remember when focussing on “getting to the end”. It reminds us that the waypoints are the whole point.

The Waypoints Are the Whole Point | 43:47

If we want a purposeful journey that we can relax into and enjoy, we need an idea of how to get to where we’re going. In the case of a circular walk, it is back to where we already are.

A circular hike requires a plan. First, we need to know where we will travel to find our way back to the start. Waypoints anchor us along the path we have chosen to take. We know we’re on the right road because of signs we recognise as part of the route.

I love this metaphor for life’s projects, hopes, and dreams. Progress emerges through expanding spirals, returning seasons, and repeting cycles.

There’s Always a Way Back | 45:21

But if we set off without a plan, we constantly wonder if we’re going the right way. In such a case, the risk of drifting somewhere we don’t want to be and getting lost becomes very real. We might keep going a bit further, hoping it will work itself out once we get over the next hill or round the next corner.

Sometimes life is a bit like this. We are so fixed on the idea of a destination (the end of the rainbow) that we can lose sight of the present. And we fail to identify the simple steps we can take past meaningful waypoints on our way back home.

We think that if we keep going, we will eventually land where we want to be. Yet chances of that happening are incredibly slim.

At times like this, anxiety and panic eventually set in. “What am I doing? Where am I? All of this feels unfamiliar, and I don’t know which way to go.”

But this is not the end of the matter. If we stop for a moment, look up, and find ourselves on the map, there is always a way back. And even this will become part of that adventure.

Because we find the treasure right here right now: the stories (getting lost), the views (looking up), the perspective (look how far I’ve come), that leave us fundamentally changed when we finally make it back to “the start”.

The Return to Serenity Island | 48:32

At the end of the episode, I share the first soundscape from The Return to Serenity Island, a course about coming home to who we are at the core of our being. Through it, we draw playful maps that help us understand the non-linear contours of who we are and what truly matters to us so that we can grow ourselves (and our future) from the inside out.

This first of six audio journeys is the invitation home through the fog. The fog IS “the drift”, and the lighthouses pull us back home to a safe reconnection with who we truly are.

The Return to Serenity Island
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