We see a lot of signs in the world. Many of them are quite clear and others are more obscure.
A stop sign is pretty clear. It’s red, so it’s easy to see. It’s big, so you don’t miss it. It has reflective paint on it, so it appears to illuminate at night. It’s instructions are also pretty clear: STOP.
Hard not to know what to do with that sign, isn’t it? You…well, you stop, right?
When my daughter had received her learner’s permit, the first thing she wanted to do was drive. She didn’t want to read the book first and learn the rules; all she could think about was getting behind the wheel of that car, as well as the freedom driving was going to offer her.
We did parent-taught driver’s education, which meant I was the, ahem, lucky one who got to teach my daughter to drive.
We went through the precautionary check lists, mirrors, seatbelts, etc, and then she pulled out of the driveway for the first time, hands on the wheel in the exact right position, and straightened the car up and drove two blocks down the street.
We came to a stop sign at this point, and she did exactly what the sign told her. She stopped.
And there we sat, stopped at the stop sign…and we sat, and sat, and sat…and while we are sitting there, I hear her quiet, embarrassed voice ask, “How do I know when to go?”
I have to laugh at the simplicity of her question. She followed the instructions. She read the sign and she stopped. Yet, the sign didn’t tell her how she was supposed to know when to go again.
What was such a simple thing to me that I just knew, and I assumed others, like my daughter, would also know, was not so simple to her.
“How do I know when to go?”
We live our lives from day to day, and there are signs there for us too. I’m not talking about the physical signs, like a stop sign, or a billboard, or a street sign, but rather, the more metaphoric signs, the things that happen that, if we are paying attention, will tell us what to expect next.
If our partner is acting crabby all day long, we can take that as an unspoken sign that now is probably not the best time to discuss something of great significance.
If our child is being hyper and will not sit still and keep his hands off of things, we can take that as a sign that perhaps today is not the best day to go to shopping at the mall with him.
If we pay attention, we are given signs, all the time, of the things we can expect to happen in the future. Sometimes those signs are clear – STOP – and we know what to do, but for some of us, we find ourselves asking, “Okay, now when am I supposed to go?”
There are events in this life I like to call ‘pivots’. A ‘pivot’ moment is when something happens to you in your life that causes you to completely turn around and take stock of where you have been, and then perhaps also where you are going. When an event happens in your life, and you find you’ve been spun around, and everything has come to a stop – do you know when you are supposed to go again?
Much like I told my daughter that day in car, “It depends.”
Sometimes, you can look in all directions and proceed with caution and just go. Other times, you may have to inch up, a little at a time, until you can get a clear view of the direction you want to move, and then you can, slowly, move forward – when it is safe to do so.
There may come a time when your path is blocked in front of you and to either side and the only thing you can do is throw it into reverse and move back the way you came, turning around when it is safe to turn, and move in a different direction, taking a different street.
The one thing you cannot do is stay stopped. You simply cannot sit at the stop sign and never move. You have to make a choice and follow it through.
When you come to a STOP in your life, allow yourself a moment to actually stop. Don’t roll through the stop signs of your life without taking the time to stop for a moment, then look around, make sure it is safe and then, this is most important, give yourself permission to go.