My main occupation and interest is studying the process of change. Through careful observation of those around me, both loved ones and acquaintances – or, increasingly, my readers and listeners – I always seek out the knots hindering their progress (to help them eventually find and undo them themselves).
I only ever write about my own experiences, past and present. I could never be a professional novelist, unfortunately. I can only marvel at the ability of some writers to create entire worlds and multi-layered stories. I’ve tried to write fiction, and am aware of what a beautiful life that would have been, but alas there comes a point where you have to recognize your limitations. I resolved to write only about things I have personally experienced. Sometimes, when faced with yet another challenge, I feel like shouting “WHY?” to Providence, and the only answer I receive is the quiet realization that otherwise I would have nothing to write about. So instead of resentment I find a way to be grateful.
More practically speaking, it’s widely accepted that it’s impossible to have a clear view of oneself through the prism of our own distorted ego and illusions. It’s easier, therefore, to understand oneself through the lives and lessons of others.
I realized long ago that we are all the same. All this talk about “uniqueness” only keeps us from seeing the truth. Superficially, of course we all have our own life stories, each with their own twists, different backgrounds, and (as emphasized by people who like to shift the blame for their shortcomings onto others) our own circumstances. But when it comes to our essence, we are all the same. The differences between men and women are of little importance if you look at others (and more importantly, your self) foremost as people – and not just ape-like creatures living according to its basic instincts and social programming. (Though we do have these tendencies also, until we start to reach towards spiritual enlightenment in mind and body.)
And really, whatever differences there may be between men and women, and however much people like harping on it (more often than not unconsciously in the background), what does it matter is, when it comes down to it everybody (!) wants exactly the same things: to find happiness and harmony with the world around us? Yes, there are many different ways to approach these ideas. For women the path is often (but not always!) different to that of men. The essence, however, is the same. Men and women are equal in their internal aspirations and are both, first and foremost, people. Any other social or gender differences are only at a superficial level.
This is why I have always written for people, as opposed to men and women.
Most exciting of all, for me, is the idea of conscious change. It’s what I call changing lanes.
Please note that growth and pivotal change are not always the same thing. You could go your whole life growing and progressing along the same path that was laid out before you at birth: a family of lawyers might produce offspring that also become successful lawyers. Or someone might be grow up in a small town and succeed at being a big fish in a small pond, as they say. These are instances where people blossom and fulfil their destiny while remaining in their original lanes. And I’m not saying for a second, that this is bad – quite the opposite! It would be a much sadder story if that family of lawyers had a child with no legal aspirations, who nonetheless followed the same career path and ended up lost in some law firm. Or if that guy in the small town decided to just booze his potential away instead.
Whether you’re in your original lane or your newly chosen one, all growth is positive and inspiring.
The question is: what do you do if your current lane (be it the one you were born into or the one that has materialized through a twist of fate) isn’t making you happy?
There are obvious aspects to consider, such as the ability to just keeping going, and maintaining a rhythm. Here, though, I’d like to address the subtleties of the issue: i.e. the not-so-obvious causes of getting stuck in a rut, which I’ve noticed through personal observation.
Reason no.1: Not understanding the lane you’re in for what it really is
This is a very common problem, affecting probably about half of the population. People don’t want to change the lane they’re in because they simple lack the incentive. And yet, they still want thing to change. They want an amazing job, a great salary, a partner they love, a family etc. They want everything to work out perfectly, but all within their existing circumstances and their existing frame of mind. They want to make it as a big-city lawyer in a small town. And, to be clear, by ‘small town’, I mean a certain mindset that is not open to change. Although in some instances, staying in the small town might literally be part of the problem.
I think this results primarily from a lack of awareness of the lane you are in; a lane of consciousness that dictates a certain narrative and backdrop.
The term ‘lane’ refers to a way of thinking and the actions that follow – a culmination of our background, reactions, environment and sense of self.
For example, the path of school, university, graduate school, a good job with high salary is a lane which is actively propagated by society. But are there alternative paths? Is it possible to become a high level specialist without higher education? Of course it is! These words you are reading were written on a computer that was invented by a person without a background of higher education. (The fact that people with higher education also worked on it doesn’t detract from my point.) So does that mean that the traditional path is wrong? No, but being blinkered to other options is absolutely wrong. And worse still is the failure to understand that each path is of equal value. They are absolutely parallel here and now.
Of course we could get pedantic and say that of course you can’t become a lawyer or a doctor without higher education. But let’s not get bogged down in details, the point is: these lanes do exist. They are the basic framework of our comprehension, defining our actions and therefore our destinies. But we also have the power to ‘change lanes’ – we’re not obliged to be carried along by the current. There are so many other rivers, with such different landscapes!
Incidentally, this is why many people can’t answer the questions: Who do I want to be? What do I want to do? What is my vocation? (This last one is a very controversial question, one that you hear a lot these days.) They cannot find a desirable answer within the framework of their current lane, but neither can they imagine any other course to take. Hence the rise in popularity of certain teaching practices, such as “The Secret”, which suggest that you can be whoever you want to be without changing the lane you’re in. Technically, this claim isn’t made outright by the creators, but the message is certainly interpreted this way by many of the readers or viewers, and it’s important not to take these teachings literally. You can’t expect to fulfil your dreams, by thinking ‘big’ but staying in your small town and shuffling your feet. You’ll remain in shallow water, which can be pretty comfortable.
Another point is that I’ve noticed that people misunderstand the concept of changing lanes. Being relocated or losing one’s job is not the same thing as changing lanes; these are just background details. The term ‘lane’ refers to the trajectory your life is following according to the essential question: “who am I?” Our continued effort to answer this question is the foundation of every choice we make (bearing in mind that not making a choice is a choice in itself.)
Reason number 2 (which hugely affects our lives): the inability to see the essence of things
I have always been fascinated by this phenomenon. There are people, a lot of people I must say, who simply can’t see the essence of things. This is something that affects us all, and is another fundamental cause of getting stuck, because it stop us from being able to figure out the right direction to choose.
Here are some simple examples from my own experience, but they are intended to illustrate the scale of problems that people face, which unfortunately are far larger than in these cases.
At 19, I started working as an advertising manager for a local paper. I had no higher education, of course, whereas most of my peers had decided to follow this more traditional path.
It was 2003, and the word ‘advert’ was still strongly associated with Lyonya Golubkov, who basically ‘cheated’ the whole country.
We endlessly rail against Comrade Stalin – and, of course, with reason. All the same, I would like to ask – who wrote four million denunciations at the time of the Stalinist terror?
So there you have it. “Advertising was evil, essentially cheating and robbing honest people. And newspapers are dying out, because I don’t read them” – such was the opinion of my friends. And when asked what I did for a living, all they would hear was “advertising manager”.
Even the word ‘manager’ had a fall from grace at around that time. The concept simply hadn’t existed before then, and so it was at first used inappropriately, which led to further misunderstanding.
Two misunderstood words with negative connotations, which therefore led to negative conclusions. In my circle, right up to my departure on a six-month trip, there was much confusion and speculation as to where I worked, what I did and how much I earned. My job wasn’t accepted and people even felt sorry for me at times. My boyfriend at the time even offered me a job as a shop assistant in his family’s fabric and material shop, which he considered to be an ‘upgrade’ for me.
The reality was that I was actually earning more than my parents, friends and even that same boyfriend. Plus, my job gave me connections and an understanding of the market. At that time, I would have been hard pushed to find a more promising job in my region, one that would have given me as much and taught me as much (gifts that kept giving for the next ten years of my career).
Oh, and by the way, advertising will always give you the first indication of a bad product: if a product is useless, any intensive marketing strategy will bury it, due to the poor reviews it will receive from its initial buyers and the lack of subsequent sales.
Here’s another example. A more detailed one.
Somehow, I had the honour of editing an issue of Lonely Planet in Russian. At the same time I was launching my own project: re-self.ru.
I announced both on various social networks, more or less simultaneously. I already had quite an extensive readership at the time, and I was able to draw some conclusions. The first piece of news prompted nothing but applause and compliments. There was no end to the delight and congratulations I received. I mean, it was for the Lonely Planet, after all!
The website, on the other hand, was also met with some interest and praise, but with far less enthusiasm and more suspicion.
And yet in reality, the job of an art editor of a guidebook is technical, devoid of creativity, poorly paid and very routine, while my site is a huge breakthrough, dealing with a variety of concepts such as work, overcoming fears, creativity, to name but a few. Not to mention it is at least ten times more lucrative than being an editor for a guidebook, even in its second month…
So which gets more applause? Are we more impressed by the work itself or the brand?
All too often, we are seduced by illusions that we take to be reality, and then misguidedly set these as our priorities in life.
The re-release of my book “Call of the Orient” received a storm of praise and applause. Someone even went as far as calling it a ‘godsend’. Meanwhile, I’d received three offers to publish a book of “Create Yourself Anew”. The best publishing houses in the country were willing to meet my conditions: I could choose to formalize it all myself, or I had the option of choosing an editor who would choose the best pieces and present them in the best way. They would take care of the cover, as well as promotion. All I had to do was sign the contract… And yet I refused.
Why? Because all these offers came to me through the site, not the other way round. Now I have other priorities.
How many businessmen have sat before me and tried to assert, with 100% conviction, that social networks are no way to reach clients (meaning ‘rich’ and therefore ‘worthy’ clients)? There are at least four businessmen who I’d love to tell I told you so.
Among my readers and clients that found me through social networks, there are a couple of millionaires and an Olympic champion. And these are people I’ve personally communicated with (usually I work in a group format). Oh, and by the way, the publishing houses also found me through social media: an editor read my article and contacted me.
And another example:
I started the project “Return Different”. Oh God, the issues I had to face with this one! For a large portion of my readers I’d gone from being a blogger to a businesswoman; in other words, from “wow” to “yuck”.
And what was the reality of the situation?
I went from being a businesswoman (the training industry is pretty lucrative, by the way) to being practically a philanthropist, i.e. working for free. (That said, this won’t be the case for long, as doing business is in my heart and always will be, as is the idea that making a profit is necessary in order to fund and develop the project you love and believe in.)
Every day I had to overcome thoughts like, “the Russian market isn’t ready for ‘retreats’” and “better target the English market – it’s more promising”. I forced myself to stick with an idea that might not be wanted yet, but was certainly necessary in Russia, just as it was in England, Germany and Switzerland, where people booked their retreats all over the world, three months in advance. There is now a huge demand for retreats in Western Europe and America. And yet, we Russians, who aim to resemble our western neighbours, were rejecting the very experience that was making them stronger.
But there are so many misconceptions surrounding retreats.
Instead of understanding the meaning behind a new idea, people prefer instead to jump to false, negative conclusions. We surround ourselves with curved mirrors and then wonder why everything looks so distorted.
And the most common misconception is that retreats are just holidays.
How did this idea even come about? How on earth can we can fully convince ourselves of something we haven’t personally experienced?
Here’s a letter from a great friend of mine, who gave me permission to publish it here:
Just told my friends about your project, and we were all just saying how amazing it would be to create a family retreat! In Portugal, perhaps, with something for everyone: kids can go surfing or have English lessons , mums enjoy the retreat… or they could go surfing too! Dads would also benefit from the retreat!! Basically, the idea would be to come on holiday as a family and find something spiritually beneficial for each member 🙂
This is a great concept, which, with the right implementation (remember that an unrealized idea is just an empty shell) could yield excellent results. I’d even say with certainty that it could be more profitable than a usual retreat, due to its versatility and universal appeal and its potential for returning clients. However, this is not a retreat. You could call it a wellness break; an educational holiday; an opportunity for stress relief; a sports or family holiday – any of the above. But a ‘retreat’ is something totally different.
The essence of a retreat (feel free to check out our schedule to get a better idea) is not sport, yoga, meditation or even food. You could replace running with Thai boxing, or juice cleanses with vegetarian diets, or yoga with any other conscious discipline of the body. These are all variables.
The essence of a retreat however, its defining characteristic, is an escape from the limits of your current lane. A total change of scenery and a break from the routine of your daily life can help you overcome the inertia of your usual behaviour and thought patterns.
It would be erroneous to compare this to a spa break or a yoga holiday, where you might retain an element of your usual rhythm. In a retreat there is no time for checking Facebook, drinking your usual lattes, or thinking about your everyday routine.
A radical change of routine, diet and location, without time for idle thought or internet access, allows you at the very least to examine your current lane, and at most to change it. This is an escape from your very own limits, which cannot possibly be done when you have to take care of your children. Firstly, retreats are physically challenging, which forces you to completely focus your attention on yourself. Secondly, how can you switch off from the world if your family is right there with you?
I don’t know how else to get across the idea that a retreat to change lanes is different from a holiday! Otherwise, the rise in popularity for two-week holidays to Turkey or Thailand that appeared in Russia in the 90s would have solved all of our problems.
Perhaps it’s more accurate, then, to regard a retreat as a form of work. I mean, you wouldn’t be able to work at full capacity if your children were around. Only it is a completely different kind of work. By overcoming the inertia of what we’ve accepted as part of our identity, we are then able to free ourselves from what we call “I”.
In most cases, retreats imply individual practice, without your partner. There are of course some exceptions with certain couples that almost seem to breathe in unison, who prefer to experience their retreat together. (Personally, however in tune I am with my partner, I still need a retreat alone once a year, and I’m grateful for his understanding.)
This is why a retreat typically lasts between a week and ten days. An unprepared beginner (i.e. someone who is challenging their understanding of themselves for the first time) might struggle with a longer period and slip back into their usual thought process as a crutch during this shift in reality. A week is enough time to break away from the usual limits of your mind and body, while remaining balanced enough to implement your newly acquired understanding of yourself into your future life.
We also face the misconception that going on a retreat is like joining a sect.
By God, I really don’t understand this at all. A sect? Have people lost their friends and family to sect brainwashing? Have they ever seen this happen with their own eyes? Have they felt like they were in the presence of danger? Most people with this preconception have never anywhere near a retreat. Just as a fear of flying is rooted in an abstract psychological concept rather than concrete experience. How do these phantom fears materialize? Why aren’t non-Russians as afraid and why don’t they use the word ‘sect’ when talking about retreats?
It seems Misha had the answer when I asked these questions out loud:
“It’s because of television, Olesya. They used to show all sorts about sects on TV and now people afraid of them. ”
My God, that’s it. Of course! People listen to their television, telling them that sects are evil, waiting to trap you at every turn. Sects are evil, publishing a book is good (but no mention of creative websites), advertising is bad; planes crash, etc. This is the impact of TV. No more, no less. Even people in sects are afraid of sects…
I am not raising the question of distorted perceptions of reality because I bemoan being at odds with the world around me. I’ve felt like this ever since I began doing things my own way and not following the typical path. Whenever I feel like this, I ask myself the following question:
“Olesya, on the one hand you identify as being a non-conformist and yet you get upset whenever you feel misunderstood by the system. Something doesn’t add up, don’t you think?”
People not being able to see things for their true essence worries me for different reasons. Every time I see people about to make a huge mistake in their careers or personal lives through lack of clear understanding, I’m reminded that we are all equal and ask myself:
“So where am I distorting the truth through improper perception? Where am I missing the essential? Which inappropriate conclusions am I jumping to? In what spheres am I convinced of things despite lack of personal experience? Which of my implanted beliefs are false and stopping me from moving forward? And how can I be sure that I see the world as it really is, without the blinkers of my own misconceptions?”
As for changing lanes… I rarely meet people who change drastically. There are those who change lanes a little, but never get too far from the lane into which they were born, and even these people are few and far between. More often than not, people change their scenery, but not their lane, in that they’ll move houses, leave their job or change their surroundings. The person remains the same inside, changing the external factors but still continuing to do and experience the same things. And yet it’s completely possible to change lanes and thought patterns, as long as you’re able to see clearly the essence of things. By letting go of the proverbial ‘ego’ and trying instead to “be yourself”, you can become anything you want to, as long as you bear in mind the responsibility that comes with each choice as well as any potential consequences. For example, you may even lose the person you thought was your real self. Unless you were still hoping for a change without making any changes?