I've been thinking a lot lately about closed doors.
We have all encountered closed doors in our lives: those times when the chain is on, the bridge is drawn, and that thing that we really want is on the other side, out of reach. Relationships we hoped to have. Promotions we worked hard for. Groups we longed to be a part of. Jobs we thought would be perfect. For my part, I've tried to pick the locks on a seemingly endless supply of closed doors these past few years, as I've pursued new career paths and relationships, with increasing frustration. Time and time again, it seems, I get excited about a new opportunity, take a step forward, even get my foot in the door, only to have it slammed shut.
Recently, I had the experience of encountering yet another closed door. I had been excitedly researching options for going back to school in a particular area of study that I have long thought would be a great fit for me. I had decided that it was so obviously my path. And yet, as I tried to find a way to make my dream a reality, I discovered that everywhere I turned I was met with closed doors. This program is at a school that is too far away. The one in town won't accept me because I already have a university degree. This one looks amazing and I can complete it online and...oh, it would cost me my first-born (I'm partial to her). As I flailed and cursed about yet another door closed in my face, I suddenly had the thought: "Maybe this door is closed for a reason."
Huh. I sat still for a few minutes, letting that sink in. And then, I breathed a huge sigh of relief.
I still really wanted that thing. I was still frustrated. I was no closer to figuring out what I was going to do next to move my career forward. But I realized that although I may be powerless to open the closed doors, I have the power to change how I think about them and I can change my strategy for dealing with them.
So I have devised a new approach: My Closed Door Policy. These are the steps I plan to take the next time I'm left out in the cold.
1) Feel the Feelings
Allow yourself to get sad, or frustrated, or angry, or all of those emotions at once. Give yourself some time to feel whatever you feel. It's tough when there's something you really want and you can't have it, especially when you've worked really hard to batter that door down. Go ahead and cry and flail and curse. Throw eggs at the closed door. Figuratively, not literally, unless it was a relationship you wanted and he or she left you for someone younger, then by all means (although there are plenty of better doors). It's natural to be upset. Let it out.
2) Stomp the Sour Grapes
Go one step further than just being upset. Think about all the reasons why you didn't really want that thing in the first place. It could be said that this "sour grapes" approach is not the most emotionally mature and is perhaps moderately delusional, but I think there's something to be said for thinking through all the not-so-great things that would have come along with the prize on the other side of the door, that now you don't have to deal with. He was really funny and sweet, but now you don't have to spend every Friday night listening to him play in his terrible band. That job paid well and might have been a good step in your career, but the hour-long commute would have been awful. You really really liked her, but not so much spending time in her disgusting apartment. Also, remember that you can't predict the future. Those grapes looked delicious but I bet they were sour! They very well could have been. The fact is that you just don't know that what was on the other side of the door was as great as it seemed. So this is the only time you'll hear me give this advice: assume the worst. It would probably have been terrible. Phew, guys. Dodged a bullet there.
3) Conduct a Post-Mortem
Hold on a second: DID you really want that thing anyway? Take some time to consider whether what was on the other side of the door was really the best option for you. Sometimes it happens that we're so caught up in the pursuit, so busy knocking on a particular door, that we lose sight of the fact that there are all sorts of other doors we could be knocking on. Think about why you wanted what you wanted, and then consider if what was behind Door #1 was really going to give you that. The answer may very well be an emphatic YES. "YES, I really wanted that thing and I still really want it!" That's completely fair. So now what? Now, conduct a post-mortem. What did you do to try to get it? Why did it maybe not work? What could you do differently next time? What other steps could you take to try to get it? Maybe there's another way in. But if the answer is "NO, you know what, I don't know what I was thinking, I don't really want that thing"...well advance to go and collect $200.
4) Search for the Silver Linings
Assuming you're not quite ready to advance to go, this step is when we quit our stomping about and focus on the positive. The fact is that every missed opportunity leaves room for a better one. So you can't have the thing you wanted? What might you get instead? This doesn't even have to be about creating a whole new big dream. Keep it small: What are some of the positive things about the closed door? I'll give you some personal examples. I didn't get the job = I have extra time with my kids. I didn't win the writing competition = I can work on making that piece even better before it is eventually published, which it obviously will be. That relationship ended = I have more time to write on my website! Even if the positive stuff doesn't make you feel all that positive at first, take some time to think about the good little things that might now come, and start to dream up the new big dreams too. If you like the thought of destiny, maybe consider (as I did) that perhaps those doors are closed because that's not the path you're meant to be on. Think about whether there may be another, better path for you.
A word of caution, however: Sometimes a closed door is so difficult to cope with because we made the door THE ANSWER. We constructed a storyline such as "Once I have this, this will happen" or "I'm supposed to have this thing to make up for the other thing I didn't get" and we overloaded the attainment of that thing on the other side with a whole lot of expectations. Be cautious, in dreaming up the new big dreams, that you don't carry this process forward. This step is about being optimistic, but it's important that you don't simply shift all your expectations on to the attainment of the next thing. For example: This relationship probably didn't work out because he's not the man of my dreams and the next man totally will be and then my life will be perfect! There are lots of ways in to the perfect life. One door (one person, one job, one opportunity) is still just one door. No matter how good that door looks in a three-piece suit.
5) Examine the Evidence
I'm straight up stealing this from my years of cognitive behavioural therapy (the fact that I've had years of therapy despite using this technique should not reflect poorly on the effectiveness of this technique). SURELY this isn't the first closed door you've encountered. What happened in the past? Did you find another way in? Did you find another door? Did you cope? If you're still standing then I'm going to assume a Yes, at least to that last one. If you take the time to look back on the times when your way down a particular path was blocked, you may find that much of the time, in hindsight, it was really for the best. Yes, that relationship ended. But then you met someone new who was better for you. No, you didn't make the team. But then you joined that other club and made some of the best friends of your life. Yes, a couple/dozen/hundred times the doors slammed in your face, but you pulled yourself up by your bootstraps and soldiered on. Just like then, you can get through this now. And there's a good chance that some day you'll look back on this closed door and thank your lucky stars you never crossed that threshold.
6) Have Faith
This could be faith in God or the Universe or some other form of spiritual power, if that brings you some comfort and helps you get through the tough times when life just isn't going your way. I'm personally more interested, though, in the faith we place in ourselves and our ability to move forward and to enact change in our own lives. It can be difficult to have faith. It's one thing when we have the benefit of hindsight, when a new door is open and we can see why it was a good thing that the other was closed. It's a lot more challenging when we are still knocking on doors and figuring out a new path. It's hard to stay patient and optimistic. But try to have some faith in yourself. You've handled closed doors before and forged new ways forward. You will get through this and you will create an amazing life. You can find the keys. Better yet: you can create your own doorways.
As for me and my most recent closed door? Having reached the dead-end of that career path, having had that thought that those doors may have been closed for a reason, I stepped back to reflect on what I want in my life. I thought about other ways I could get there. And I came across a new path with several optional doors that all seem to be open, at least a crack, a path that I feel even more excited about than the first. There's still a long way to go and there are still plenty of other doorbells to ring that may go unanswered. But I'm going to keep the faith, keep my new policy at hand, and keep putting one foot in front of the other, into the open door cracks. Perhaps, this time, in steel-toed boots.