I left Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria devastated my dreams. I was afraid, suffering, in despair, and just when I thought life couldn’t get any harder, and another blow knocked me down with a “ding” on my whatsapp: a message from my business collaborators backing out of our 3 year relationship. With that came hopelessness that nothing in my life was going to get better if I stayed in Puerto Rico. I am writing this as I freeze my buttons off in Chicago.
Maria taught me that I may know how and with what I go to bed, but I may never know how or with what I will wake up. A couple of weeks ago, I was a woman who had more that she needed, yet here I am with only two bags living in a 10 X10 room and feeling like the luckiest person in the world.
Despite feeling lucky, I also felt paralyzed. I worried that I didn’t know what to do with my life, or know how to answer my kids’ questions, or know a plan for the future. We have all felt stuck: in the wrong job, the wrong relationship, in the wrong city. But, hurricane Maria literally blew my life away. Everything I worked for is gone. My fear of the unknown grew into anxiety and feeling utterly overwhelmed.
People get stuck when the mindset is fuzzy, the skill set is deficient, and the tool set is inadequate. None of this is true about me. I have a bag full of tools on how to figure life out and the mindset to understand how to solve for any challenge. Back in 2014 I was given the gift of deliberate creativity at the Creative Problem Solving Institute Conference (CPSI). I have never spoken to anyone attending CPSI whose experience has not been transformational. I know, it is a titanic word to describe a 5-day conference, but it is an endorsement and it’s what you get out of CPSI.
Relying on the process of understanding challenges, looking for possibilities and solving for the right problem, I figured my problem was that I was starting off with the wrong foundation. I put a lot of pressure on myself to make the right decisions and achieve, but sometimes, new facts play a devastating, dream-wrecking role. Before Maria, I always felt like I knew where I was going and I worked hard to get there. After Maria, I realized that life can literally change overnight and that not everything in my dreams list is fixed.
The principle behind CPS that most helped me navigate through this mess was Divergent Thinking, the kind of thinking that understands “there isn’t only one route out a mess”. Divergent thinking helped me avoid sinking-in further while deliberate creativity led me to the realization that I can chase whichever dream I craft. Maria had just created my opportunity to chase it.
As a strategist, I tell businesses that when you don’t know where you are going, you can’t navigate. It is in my DNA to have a strategy, but life doesn’t come with a GPS. I needed to get comfortable with the idea that I did not have a destination yet. I was starting from scratch.
That is when the CPS mindset started kicking in and allowed me to let go of trying to create the perfect strategy, but rather to look at the many possibilities of what my life might look like after Maria.
Had I tried to strategize and be “realistic” when life had become completely uncertain, my dreams wouldn’t have the juice, the oomph, the desire behind them. I broke many of the possibilities into little action steps and that gave me the hope needed to feel better about my circumstance and to take a step forward, then another and another. Having a creative process gave me the tools to create a path, and the mindset to reconnect with hope. And hope is essential when everything is on the edge.
In this process, I have become a more confident risk taker. My story does not yet have an ending, but I leave endings to fairy tales. One can never answer with certainty the question “am I going on the right direction?” But if I can convince myself that there are many possibilities out there, I have a deeper faith and trust that my DREAM will birth the right job, at the right time, in the right place.