Are you focused on your entire journey or the next step?

Today is January 27 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “Are you focused on your entire journey or the next step?” Those who navigate the chaos challenge themselves to focus on the next step of their journey instead of the entire path. As anyone who has ever navigated the chaos will attest to, the next step is often the only one that is necessary. “Take the first step in faith. you don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step,” is a quote often attributed to Martin Luther King Jr. The first step requires faith. Moreover, the further you travel life’s path, one step or another will require faith. There are times when you can only see the next step and that is perfectly fine.


According to the Quote Investigator web site “the earliest published evidence of this quote appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer of Ohio in 1986. The newspaper interviewed Marian Wright Edelman who was the founder of the Children’s Defense Fund. Edelman knew King and heard him deliver multiple speeches.” According to Edelman: “I was impressed by his (King’s) leadership, but I think I was impressed even more by the fact that he was an adult, and he was not afraid to speak about his uncertainties, his fears. He introduced me to the idea of taking one step, even if you cannot see the whole stairway when you start. I think because of that, I have a much greater capacity to accept failure and move on.”


Those who navigate the chaos and practice the art of living well seldom see the whole staircase, but they do focus on one step at a time. They are comfortable with uncertainty. As social psychologist, psychoanalyst, and humanistic philosopher Erich Fromm noted “the quest for certainty blocks the search for meaning. Uncertainty is the very condition to impel man to unfold his powers.” If you are obsessed with being certain you are most likely prohibiting yourself from experiencing other aspects of life. If you are waiting to see the whole staircase before you even take the first step it will be nearly impossible to travel life’s path and navigate the chaos.


The question “what are you going to do with the rest of your life?” to any young person in high school, college, or even in their 20s is a classic example of needing to see the whole staircase to move forward. But asking the wrong question here can have serious consequences. Asking “What do you want to do with the rest of your life?” contributes to the rise in mental health issues among college students and recent graduates.


In an August 29, 2019 article "Depression, anxiety rising among U.S. college students" Reuters Health noted “suicidal thinking, severe depression and rates of self-injury among U.S. college students more than doubled over less than a decade.” Analyzing data from two large annual surveys of college undergraduates between 2007-2018 provided researchers with evidence of a “broad worsening of mental health indicators including depression overall, anxiety, low flourishing and suicidal planning and attempts, particularly in the second half of the study period.”


According to researcher and coauthor Jean Twenge this increase in mental health issues among college students “suggests something is seriously wrong in the lives of young people and whatever went wrong seemed to happen around 2012, or 2013 and that was around the time smartphones became common and social media moved from being optional to mandatory among youngsters.”


To help alleviate some of the stress among college students, people should refrain from asking the question “what do you want to do with the rest of your life,” and simply answer “what is your next step?” Changing the question offers individuals the opportunity to think more clearly about what is next instead of being overwhelmed by thinking about the rest of their life. It is simply unnecessary to ask someone about the rest of their life. People change jobs, careers, and locations throughout their life. There is absolutely no need to have any college student or professional under 30 even think about what they want to do for the rest of their working years. Many people under 30 will have jobs that do not exist, using technologies not yet invented to solve problems not yet identified. So, how can anyone predict what they will be doing 30 or 40 years from now?


British author Oliver Burkeman said “if we can find ways to put one foot in front of the other without necessarily knowing where we’re going, we’ll actually end up in some far more interesting, thrilling, and meaningful places.” How often do you focus on your next step instead of the entire journey? Are you so paralyzed with being unable to see the whole staircase that you never take a step forward?