you don’t have to know where you’re going


What if all the advice out there about needing a clear vision and destination for your life is misguided at best and harmful at worst?

I sincerely believe that the people giving this advice are well-intentioned. Still, I cringe a little every time I see a variation of it (and there’s a lot of it out there).

Perhaps this is reality for some, but not me. In fact, I’m just one of thousands of people who are living proof that good things happen even when you don’t quite know where you’re going or what you’re doing.

Example: my journey to become a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC).

I first wrote about this over two years ago.

My state (California) was the last to pass legislation on counselor licensing. But it wasn’t mandating that people like me (with a master’s degree in counseling, practicing as a career/life transitions counselor and life coach) had to become licensed.

It was sweetening the deal a little bit, though, by offering to grandparent us into the new license. (Grandparenting was a fancy way to say we’d have to do all work but without the intense scrutiny directed at newbie counselors).

Back then my ambivalence was on full display. Read this and you’ll understand what I mean.

Fast forward to last month. Even though I had to wait over a year to get the letter telling me the status of my grandparenting application, the news is good: all my supervised hours were accepted and I have only one more class to take.

And here’s the very best thing: I’m no longer ambivalent. 

I know exactly why I’m doing this.

I understand how it will bring me to a place of greater integrity about my work.

My knowledge and skills have grown exponentially.

I see how I’ll be able to serve my clients better because of it (more about that some other day).

It’s remarkable how much things can change in two years.

Yet, if I hadn’t gone forward carrying all the ambivalence and resistance with me, I doubt I’d be telling you this story today.

But this isn’t merely the story of today. It’s the story of my life.

It’s the story of most people’s lives.

If it’s your story too, then you can stop comparing yourself to idealized stories of how you’re supposed to be getting on in the world.

I tell my clients this all the time.

So let me take the opportunity to say it here too:

You Don’t Have to Know Where You’re Going.

You can take your time meandering on the back roads.

You don’t have to know what you truly want.

You don’t have to be ready.

You can usually wait quite awhile before you have to make a final decision.

You needn’t commit your all to something.

You can be wishy-washy and uncertain and confused and ambivalent and resistant. (Which characterizes most human beings in transition).

You don’t even have to believe in yourself (as Martha Graham so eloquently said to Agnes DeMille long ago).

Here’s what you do have to do: Show up for your life. Every single day.

Take a few tentative steps and see what happens. Then decide if you want to take more steps. Rinse and repeat as many times as you wish. Or not, if you discover the direction you’re headed isn’t for you.

It will also help if you’re carrying some hope and trust in your knapsack, but even if those are in short supply there are ways to find your way back to them.

What a relief. You don’t have to know. 


[As I was writing this I got obsessed with the idea of sewing meandering trails on an old map. I added a bit of gesso and paint to this one before I stitched over some of my favorite back roads for getting lost (and found). And X marks the spot: places I’ve lived or most loved. This art journal page reminds me how important it is to take time to explore the back roads, both literally and metaphorically, because you never know what you’ll discover.]

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10 thoughts on “you don’t have to know where you’re going

  1. I think it’s interesting that I clicked on your blog title, not knowing that you were a LCPC. My life question right now involves my path to becoming a LCPC, and I think it’s amazing that you wrote this post (and it somehow got to me). I’ll take a deep breath and just follow what I think will be the best path. Thanks : )

  2. YES!!! Patty, I had to do some deep personal work on this. It is indeed OK not to know. To simply trust our wisdom as to the next baby step and let it all unfold. To remain open and full of trust. I do believe that it helps when we’re clear about what it is we want, though. And I’m not talking about things here but about the essence of our desires. For me, it’s always been inner peace and a sense of joy and purpose. I’m holding on to that and checking in with my inner wisdom when i need to take a step, that’s all. No grand plan. I’m happy to let myself be surprised! [and I love your map!]

  3. Hi Patty,

    I believe the point of life is to meander. That’s what Leonardo da Vinci did and that’s why he could contribute so much. He was present to what was going on around him and that sent him in new directions.

    I am not a fan of business or other plans. You need to follow your instincts like back when we were primal folks on the trail.

    Go in the direction of your dreams as Henry Thoreau used to say.

    Folks are galloped along this generic path being trained to see it as the way to go. Yes, I agree it’s dangerous and stupid to be colliding with others on some stupid path.

    How can you have a plan and still be dynamic and vibrant?

    I’ve got a speaker coming to my local biz organization: I am the new membership diva! Her topic is “Just Show Up.” It’s kismet that you have said that today.

    I went on this dreadful job interview once where they wanted me to start every week with my goals for that week and then at the end of the week, meet again to make sure I accomplished them.

    God, I ran out of that interview screaming …


  4. Well Patty you’ve gone it again! You’ve shown us what is possible when we stay present in the moment, go toward what feels fulfilling all the while working toward trusting our hearts to know what we need. I love love love this post for so many reasons and on so many levels. The words you wrote validate an inner truth, and the map you created sparks my creativity! Thank you for sharing this with us!!

    • Yes, Kristie, working “toward” trusting our hearts to know what we need. Trust doesn’t usually just drop in our laps all at once, but we can continually be working toward it. Love how you say that!

  5. I love hearing that I don’t have to know where I’m going. I’m probably meandering on too many roads. Actually, I know where I want to go, but am not clear how to get there when it comes to working towards that new place and generating income in my current practice, plus balancing somewhat of a home life and a little self care. Too little self care. Time, focus and keeping the money rolling in. It’s an old story, but I believe I can get there, bit by bit. I’m not getting any younger as I creep along. So thanks for your inspirational writing Patty. I’m finishing up the final crossing t’s and dotting i’s on my Healing Touch Certification. All the work is done and just jumping through a few more hoops. I’ve put alot on hold just to get that finished so I can focus on this new chapter. So thanks.

    • Sometimes it does feel like we’re creeping along, Kitty, but it also sounds like you’ve got some momentum going. I often think we confuse knowing where we’re going with getting there fast, like if I can’t get there fast then I don’t know where I’m going. I’ve realized I’m kind of slow, and that’s okay. For sure I’m learning to cultivate patience! Thanks so much for stoppping by!

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