What is in the Way?

Recently I was in a class that offered an exercise to write down my desires and vision of my goals, and then to write down about what I see as “in the way.” I had this “A-ha!” moment that is vulnerable to share, sounding perilously close to the kind of thinking I used to make fun of in my more cynical days.

When I think of “what’s in my way,” I imagine a path that’s impossibly blocked off, and I feel discouraged and defeated. When it comes to practical goals, any number of things could be “in my way.”

  • Someone who desires intimacy might feel that what’s in the way are the risks of rejection; previous betrayals; transphobia; and so forth.
  • Someone who desires meaningful work might feel that what’s in the way is financial insecurity; fears of failure; ignorance about what work is available; lack of support; and so forth.

In the past, I let my fears and these risks deter me from taking the steps I wanted. I imagined the risks or met setbacks and interpreted them as a judgment that my desires were wrong or impossible. But the desire didn’t go away, it simply festered and sapped the joy out of living. Only when I started moving toward my desires and dealing with the problems as they arose did I start to feel a sense of true purpose.

I still failed. I experienced shame and embarrassment. I met frustrating circumstances and found ways to avoid important tasks until I realized that avoidance was another layer of this problem. But still, moving forward, meeting these things as they arose, my life became deeper and richer.

Getting back to what’s in my way. During the class, my brain suddenly changed the statement into “what’s on my way” to desire. All of these things I consider barriers are only that if I am unwilling to meet them and work through them. If I think, these are the things I must meet on the path of desire, then are simply the tasks I must accomplish on my journey.

Image of a snowy path on which a person in red flannel walks, between large pine trees. In the distance is a mountain.
Photo by Megan Lewis

In fairy tales, the girl escaping the wicked woman encounters the creaky fence, the tree that wants pruning, the cat that wants milk. They are on her way to freedom, and caring for them slows her down, but befriending these obstacles turn them into her allies for escaping her tormentor.

If we accept that we’ll meet obstacles, opposition, and setbacks, then it’s not so painful to work through them. Some of these obstacles, opposition, and setbacks are bigger and far more dangerous than others. Not all of them are about emotional pain and personal belief, some are systemic, some arise from people who are threatened by our goals.

Yet many things may meet us on our way to desire. We may find people who love our goals, who are ready to support us. We may find unexpected reserves of strength and joy. We may find our aliveness.