There have been times in my life where I have felt like the strongest version of myself - the most creative, motivated, and insightful version. It's that feeling of "Yes! This is where I'm supposed to be!"...until I'm not again. It's taken me quite some time over the years to accept that this version isn't a constant - I've had times of defeat where I've paradoxically felt like the best version of myself, and times that were peaceful on the surface but where things just weren't clicking within. One of my favorite quotes has been on the forefront of my mind a lot over the last few months, both in my work as a psychotherapist and also on a personal level: "There are years that ask questions, and there are years that answer." The thread that runs through them all it is the courage, as well as the patience, to accept all of our years, especially the ones which seemingly hold no answers about what we are doing, where we should be, or how on Earth we'll ever get there.
I work with all of my clients in a framework for helping them find authenticity: appreciating their own character, avoiding getting lost in relationships, and coming into the strongest version of themselves. Sometimes I wish there was a guide I could hand people to give them the answers they are seeking; that it could only be so cut-and-dry. But then I realize I'd be denying them the work of the journey, serving my own need for a "fix-it" solution, and cheating them out of the years that ask questions.
There are themes that exist within all of us - anchors that reconnect us to our most authentic selves while we are in our in "question years." Let these questions be a guide in finding direction from within when the "years that answer" feel lifetimes away.
"How do I know where I end, and where the person next to me begins?"
Our boundaries are what help us trust ourselves as our own compass rather than the committing to the true North of others, listen to our own wants or needs rather than the "shoulds" of those around us, and feel comfort in eliciting difficult feedback or "negative" emotions - sadness, anger, blame, or disappointment - in our need to stay true to ourselves. Boundaries may feel foggy in years that ask questions, as the opinions, pressures, or needs of others may seem to surpass our own, particularly when we don't know exactly what it is that we need.
But boundaries let us know where our selves can end, before the people we relate to begin. It's a distinction that protects us, nurtures us, and allows for an appropriate level of control within relationships - and keeps us from getting lost in others. Boundaries are defined from within, rather than based on another's preference, and allow us to stay true to ourselves even when we are in the closest or most challenging of friendships and relationships. They are essential in the years that ask questions, and help differentiate our needs from those of others.
"What do I stand for, and am I growing? Am I questioning with openness to change?"
Do you have clarity in what you believe in and what circumstances feel right for you? Is your inner self able to stay constant regardless of who you are spending time with or what situation you may find yourself in? Do you listen to and trust your inner voice? And most importantly, are you committed to growth in your creeds, your preferences, and your life path? This is an area where we must be committed to asking questions and seeking answers, and then be patient with the process of needing to give them up as we grow throughout a lifetime. Clarity in what you believe is a lifelong process, and there is freedom in allowing the answers we've found in the past to dissipate, evolve, or reemerge as we grow.
"Am I staying connected to myself in spite of it all?"
There are years that ask painful questions - questions around death, heartbreak, trauma, unexpected failures, and a general doubt of, "What am I really doing here?" We may get swept away in the pain of these years, the questions of regret, and the confusion of dealing with loss. These years especially are the years that we cannot afford to lose ourselves. If you are kindest to yourself when you are feeling your best, rather than your worst, you are not staying connected to yourself when you need you the most. Be patient in the years that ask questions. Dig into the process, rather than drifting away from connection. Support yourself, find self-compassion, and know that all of your years have meaning, whether they are providing you with questions or helping you find the answers.