5 Practices for Getting Lost and Finding Yourself

blue table, candle, watch, ink, key, words - getting lost and finding yourself again-blog post by Patty Bechtold, therapy for women, at wiselifetherapy.com

Five Practices for Getting Lost and Finding Yourself, with Journaling Prompts

During the past year I’ve been quietly celebrating 21 years as a therapist and life coach for women. It’s one of those significant milestones that deserves space here on my blog but I’ve struggled to know what to say about it.

Also, I’ve felt a strong pull to capture the through line of these 21 years, since it’s an experience that’s rich with meaning and history for both me and the women I work with.

Now, as I’ve started delving into it, I’m somewhat surprised to discover that it’s fundamentally about getting lost and finding yourself. And after 21 years I even have a series of practices and journaling prompts to share that may help when you’re feeling lost.

Have you ever considered getting lost and finding yourself?

Perhaps you’ve heard the saying: You need to lose yourself to find yourself.

In my experience, getting lost and finding yourself is rarely something we choose for ourselves. More likely, words, wisdom is getting lost and finding yourself, blog post by Patty Bechtold therapy for women @wiselifetherapy.comit arises organically and situationally during challenging times and complex life transitions. Still, it’s pretty common for human beings to resist feeling lost, to push it down and try to maintain the status quo.

But as they say, sometimes the only way out is through. You have to give in to the lostness to get to other side. From a mythological and depth psychology perspective, this is called the Dark Night of the Soul.

Emotionally, these are bottom of the barrel experiences. But as the stories go, it’s in the act of hitting bottom and losing hope that you finally see the way out, return to possibility and find yourself again.

In real life you may not need to dramatically hit bottom to return to yourself. In fact, these relatively simple practices, with journaling prompts, may help you through both major and minor life transitions.

  • Release the need to know everything
  • Move from problem solving to problem finding
  • Open up to unexpected wisdom
  • Allow yourself to go with the flow more often
  • Trust that you will discover something important about yourself

Before I describe each practice, I want to say something that might surprise you.

Often, a major through line of therapy and coaching is the process of getting lost and finding yourself again.

Okay, maybe that isn’t really surprising. If you’ve been in therapy or coaching the experience of not exactly knowing where you’re going probably won’t be new to you. In fact, soon after I opened the doors to my first clients 21 years ago, I began to notice that many of them told me in some way that they were feeling lost in life, that something was missing in their lives or themselves. 

The words they used might have been different. Maybe they said they felt confused, ambivalent, anxious, uncertain, empty, unsatisfied, adrift, lacking, distracted or off-course. Still, the feeling of being lost came through loud and clear.

Of course, it makes sense that when you’re feeling lost in life and seeking help, a big part of you is hoping to find your way back to yourself.

So here’s the surprising part.

As a therapist and coach I’m right there with you, getting lost myself.

therapy office, couch, words: getting lost and finding myself, 21 years as a therapist and life coach for women. Blog post by Patty Bechtold @ wiselifetherapy.comOften, there’s an expectation or hope that therapy/coaching will fix your problems or fix you. In real life it doesn’t quite work that way. As your therapist or coach I’m not there to fix your problems. In some ways I’m there to get lost in them with you. (And by the way, you don’t need fixing.)

In fact, I believe that getting lost together creates a meaningful path towards a more satisfying future. In this work you get lost and find yourself through partnership and deep connection, with a big side of hope and wisdom. 

We’re a community of two (or 8 to 10 in a women’s group). We go nowhere and everywhere, fellow travelers and close companions on the journey. Mostly we venture forth without much of a road map, trusting that the relationship we build will uncover clues and sign posts that point the way back to ourselves. 

Getting lost and finding yourself in therapy or coaching helps ease your way through the process. 

Others have said this before me, including therapist and author Stephen Grosz. 

I love the title of one of his recent books—The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves.

Here’s a quote from the book: 

Analysis [therapy] is a form of not knowing. It is two people not knowing together and slowly building a picture.

Not knowing can be hard to accept in day-to-day life.

From an early age you’re often asked questions that you’re expected to (but unlikely to) have answers for.   Classic questions like: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” or “Do you want to get married”or “How many children do you want to have?”

Too many questions puts pressure on you to measure up, either by asking you to know things or decide things. Some children, in fact, are expected to be little adults long before their time.

As a child of divorce living in a family with substance use issues, I was often asked questions that were hard to answer; questions that left me feeling confused much of the time.

Many of us have similar experiences in childhood. As a result, you may come to believe that something is wrong with you if you feel lost or struggle to make decisions or can’t find answers to challenging life situations.

What if we lived in a world that accepted the wisdom of getting lost and not knowing?

After all, not knowing and getting lost and finding yourself (as well as all our modern dark nights of the soul) will probably happen multiple times during your life. So why not experiment with claiming all the wisdom to be found there?

Before you do, it will be helpful to turn toward the idea that it’s okay to feel lost. Then, you’ll find it easier to consciously explore these practices:

  • Release the need to know everything
  • Move from problem-solving to problem-finding
  • Open up to unexpected wisdom
  • Allow yourself to go with the flow more often
  • Trust that you will discover something important about yourself

Especially during the times we’re living in it’s more important than ever to cultivate practices that help you normalize and be a little more comfortable with feeling lost. Because you never know when you’ll be called to take the secret path into whatever dark forest appears before you.

Secret path into a dark green wood

Five Practices for Getting Lost and Finding Yourself, with Journaling Prompts

1. Release the need to know everything.

Accepting how much I don’t know was a huge turning point, because I used to believe saying “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure” was a flaw in me. 

I thought there were supposed to be more certainties than uncertainties in life. And I used to consider ambiguity, mystery, inconsistency and contradiction as problems to be solved. Now I know that all of these things are doors that open us up to our deeper wisdom.

Looking back, I remember one pivotal day.

Early in my career I was a counselor for adult students re-entering college and enrolling in a degree completion program. One day I counseled a woman who was getting ready to start the program and I enthusiastically asked about her plans.

She said something like, “Well, I don’t know. I’m not even sure I’ll complete the program. I’ll try it and decide later, so I’m not even telling anyone about it yet.”

This was new to me, an approach to life I’d never really considered: it’s okay to go forward with ambivalence and uncertainty, to give yourself space to experiment without needing to make firm yes or no decisions. 

Journal, cup, candle

Journaling Prompt: Make a list of all the possible positive outcomes of not knowing, putting off decisions and going forward anyway.

2.  Move from problem-solving to problem-finding

You probably already know what problem-solving is. Problem-finding, on the other hand, is a creative process that relies not only on not knowing, but also on imagination, empathy, unbounded conversations and open-ended questions.

Problem-finding looks beyond a single answer or solution. 

In this article, June Kang describes the problem-finding approach:

The essence of adopting a problem-finding mindset is a willingness to question the status quo and more importantly, not to be afraid to truly think about the concept of ambiguity itself.

It’s hard to describe the experience of problem-finding in the moment.

You’ve likely experienced problem-finding before but didn’t have a way to name it. Actually, you don’t always know when you’re in it, but at some point the process begins to carry you along. You get sparks and insights that add up to something, even though you might have trouble articulating what that something is.

Although I’m not a surfer, I imagine problem-finding might be similar to riding a wave, a really good one. As a surfer you never really know when that great wave is coming. Given the nature of nature itself (in this case the ocean), you’re absolutely sitting in ambiguity. And when that wave does come along you have to give into it. There’s no time for figuring it out or applying the pros and cons of a problem solving mindset. Instead, you jump on, trusting the wave to carry you to its natural ending. And then you do it over again.

Journal, cup, candle

Journaling Prompt: Write about a problem you’d like to solve. Instead of seeking a solution, explore everything you don’t yet know about it…What don’t I know about this?

3.  Open up to unexpected wisdom

One of the greatest gifts of getting lost and not knowing has been my almost daily opportunities to drink from the well of unexpected wisdom that exists all around us. 

In fact, I’ve come to see we have all these day-to-day opportunities to receive wisdom from others. And when we slow down it’s almost like it’s in the air and we can begin to miraculously soak it up through our pores, without even realizing it.

This reminds me of something John O’Donahue wrote: 

The senses are our bridges to the world. Human skin is porous; the world flows through you. Your senses are large pores that let the world [and wisdom] in.

Early on, when I was about two years into doing this work, a client said something to me that opened me up this truth. While I can’t repeat her words, I can tell you that they were beautifully wise and I was profoundly touched. 

It was a full body experience of wisdom being imparted to me by another human being who wasn’t intending it, and it has certainly stayed with me, layered into my body and my heart. Later, I realized that in that moment we had an experience of wisdom flowing back and forth between us even though we didn’t know where we were going.

You could say we were lost on the road of not knowing together and that was exactly where we needed to be.

That moment shaped much of my work going forward. And there have been many similar moments along the way. Looking back, I can see that there are two important parts to actually practicing it.

The first is about believing that we human beings have a deep connection with each other even when it doesn’t always feel that way. The second is about trusting the inherent wisdom within each of us, and opening up to receive that wisdom through empathy and imagination.

Journal, cup, candle

Journaling Prompt: Write about a time when you were given the gift of wisdom from someone else who wasn’t intending it. Focus on your sense memory of that experience as if you were in it right now. Describe the wisdom you received. (Often this comes later, after the actual experience with the other person.)

4.  Allow yourself to go with the flow more often

As much as I appreciate getting lost and not knowing, there have been times when I’ve questioned whether I know enough. In fact, I experienced a crisis of confidence about my work, at the beginning of the Great Recession in 2008.

It was a time when I agonized: How do I help people move from lost to found? How can I help those who will lose homes, lose jobs, lose relationships, lose health, lose security?

I remember thinking I had to know how to fix their pain. I thought: I should know how to do this, maybe I missed something during my training. And then there was that day I had lunch with my colleague, and when I told her this she said she believed it was our mission to try, our obligation. I admired her conviction and yet I didn’t know how I would do it.

But thankfully, something clicked as I moved into the confusion of those times.

I began to understand that it wasn’t about knowing at all, it was about being with each other.

And being with all of it: the mystery, the lostness, the not knowing. Yours, mine, ours.

During the pandemic that’s been an important memory to hold onto. Now more than ever I understand that when we step into the stream of not knowing, it will hold us and carry us. It might sound strange, but it’s the giving in to not knowing that matters most if we’re trying to go with the flow.

Journal, cup, candle

Journaling Prompt: Imagine a wave or current carrying you into the unknown. Instead of fighting against it, imagine and write about what happens when you join with it as if it is an ally. Where does it take you? What do you discover?

5.  Trust that you will discover something important about yourself

Do you want to know the best part of getting lost and finding yourself, of not knowing together and building a picture? 

It’s the day when you finally see that you were always there, even if you’ve felt lost. Not only do you see yourself fully for the first time (even if it’s a transitory moment), you also see that the picture you’ve been building was always there too.

It’s the day when you get a glimmer that you were there all along.

For whatever reason(s) you lost track of yourself and it’s okay, because you’ve already started deepening your relationship with you and getting reacquainted with yourself.

And then you…

  • begin to loosen up instead of holding yourself so tightly
  • experiment with taking off your masks and taking risks
  • find you don’t care so much what anyone else thinks
  • reclaim the parts of you that are quirky and uncommon
  • discover that you are original, rare and quite wonderful
  • learn that your becoming has always been there

Journal, cup, candle

Journaling Prompt: Imagine being in a beautiful place and ascending (easily) a flight of stairs. You greet yourself at the top of the stairs and discover that this is not your future self, this is you right now. Have a conversation (in writing) with no agenda other than to honor and deepen your relationship with you.

Thank you for joining me to explore getting lost and finding yourself. 

During life transitions and transformations, I wish you many experiences of companioning yourself through these practices and slowly building the picture that brings you back to you.

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P.S. If you’d like some additional help along the way, scroll down to sign up for my free course, Finding Yourself Again.

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Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark. That’s where the most important things come from, where you yourself came from, and where you will go. 
-Rebecca Solnit

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Patty Bechtold

Patty Bechtold

I help women find their way back to their deepest wisdom when they feel like something’s missing in their lives or themselves. On my blog I write about the stories, insights, ideas, and wise words I’ve picked up along the way. Thank you for being here.