“A leader is someone with the power to project either shadow or light on some part of the world and on to the lives of the people who dwell there.” ~Parker Palmer~

Last time we saw how shadows and light are linked to identity.

Identity is often revealed in the metaphors we use. They are pictures of how we see things.

We all use metaphors and stories as a way to view and explain life. More than a literary device, they are a lens through which we interpret life.

Listen to what people say, and you will have a clue to their metaphor for life:

  • “You win some, you lose some.” This may point to a perspective that life is a game of chance and there’s not much you can do about it.
  • “It’s a dog-eat-dog world” sounds like life is an evolutionary survival of the fittest.

Be aware of the power of metaphors. It’s the way we filter experiences, the way we perceive them and consequently respond to them. Metaphors can become self-fulfilling prophecies. We become the dog who eats other dogs.

But not all metaphors come from within …

Increasing self-awareness includes becoming wise about the culture we live in. Some of our metaphors come from outside and soak into us.

The Western world used to be an agricultural society that used metaphors of farming, growing, and cultivating. But now we are industrialized, and its fascinating to see the metaphors shift. We tend to use manufacturing metaphors — instead of growing, we make:

Make time

Make friends

Make money

Even make love!

This metaphor betrays an underlying assumption that we can make whatever kind of life we want, whenever we want it. “Just reach out and grab it! Make your life whatever you want! You are in charge of your destiny!”

But life is much more complex than that. By mid-life we are very aware that things happen outside of our control. We need a better metaphor for life.

In CREST we use the metaphor of sailing for this journey through life. Its not the only metaphor for life, but one that we have found helps us process a fresh perspective at midlife.  Let’s try it on for a minute:

Every boat has a pilot and a logbook that contains the story of where that craft has been.  Perhaps your journey has been ordinary, in and out of ports, doing regular activities.  Yet the very reason you have a sailboat is because you desire an adventure. Not content to just sit in port, you dream of a journey beyond the ordinary, a journey that goes somewhere.

On this journey you encounter plenty of things over which you have no control: weather, wind, waves, rocks. A skillful sailor knows this reality, and has learned how to navigate through them. You are not passive in this journey, and yet you don’t have complete control.

Now, isn’t that a pretty accurate way of seeing life?

What metaphors have you found helpful?

A good friend in CREST commented:

“I find I have to be careful with metaphors:

  • For a while I was using the word “crazy” to describe my life, as there was a lot going on. Naturally, it made me feel anxious – like everything was out of control. So I’ve changed metaphors, and now I use words like “challenging” and “interesting.”
  • Right now I feel like I’m in transition. I picture myself as a trapeze artist, ready to let go of one thing and grab onto another. But then things took a little longer – so I changed metaphors to feeling like new software is downloading (and taking forever) after which I will need to reboot and start the next thing.
  • One of the conversations I have with God during times of complexity is to request a metaphor to better understand life and how to respond.”

How have you found metaphors work for you? Scroll down and tell us …

Next time we’ll look at a very common metaphor around today – but not a very good one. It might be time to jettison it.

Till next time,

Dr. Dan

P.S. Something else sailors do is swap stories with other sailors. It’s a way of learning through other people’s experience, of camaraderie and identification with friends. In CREST we foster this by gathering midlife adventurers into cohorts for a two-year journey – an adventure of discovery that offers the opportunity for transformational impact and life change.  Keep your eyes open for the next cohort available in your area. We are opening up new cohorts in a few weeks.