The Conversation with Your Life

I told you about my phrase for 2022, but I didn’t tell you about my word for our family this year.

In 2022, my youngest son will become a driver (he’ll get his permit in September), my oldest son will become an adult (in August he’s setting out on his great adventure, moving to Chicago, aspiring to become a comedian), and I’ll become a novelist (my first novel The Unhiding of Elijah Campbell is slated to be published this fall). The dictionary defines threshold as “any place or point of entering or beginning.”

Threshold. That’s our family’s word for the year.

As I reflected on this, I recalled a TED Talk given some years ago by the poet David Whyte, in which he tells the story of his niece’s trek along El Camino de Santiago and the rituals of reflection at the end of the journey. The first ritual asks you to ponder a question: “How did you follow the path to get here? How do you hold the conversation of life…that brought you to this place?”

I was struck by that phrase: “The conversation with your life.”

Our lives are a series of thresholds—doorways from what has been into what will be—and our stories are punctuated by the conversations we have on those thresholds. Not the conversations we have with others nor even with ourselves, but the conversations we have with the thresholds themselves, the conversation we have with our life in that very moment when everything has built up to something that is about to begin.

What if our wisest future emerges from a clear understanding of these past dialogues in our doorways?

I remember a morning in April 1999. For two months I’d been facing a choice: let my natural inclination toward the familiar win out and choose to stay at the University of Illinois for graduate school, or do something entirely new and go to Penn State. I awoke on the morning of the deadline and the first thought in my head was: “If I don’t go to Penn State, I’ll always wonder, what if?” I accepted the offer to Penn State that day.

On a threshold, the conversation with my life.

Six years later, near the end of my year-long clinical internship, finally on the verge of my career, my wife asked why I was procrastinating on revising my dissertation for publication, and I blurted out, “Because I don’t want to be a professor, I just want to see clients all day every day.” I started searching for a position in outpatient mental health.

On a threshold, the conversation with my life.

On a Sunday morning a couple of years later, I was contemplating whether or not to start my own practice or go to work for someone else. I prayed “What should I do?” and a voice like a whisper with me responded: “I don’t care, just take Me with you.” I knew right away that starting a practice at that point in my life was all about ego, and in ego there is not much room for the divine. I went to work for someone else.

On a threshold, the conversation with my life.

Four years later, the insurance company that accounted for most of my income suddenly cut their reimburse rate to me by 15%, eliminating all of my family’s financial margin. I scrambled for ways to increase our stability, ultimately deciding I needed to generate a referral stream beyond the insurance company, but wanting to do so while doing something I loved. I opened up a Word document. I wrote my first blog post.

On a threshold, the conversation with my life.

There have been countless thresholds in the ten years since then, countless conversations with my life while standing in those doorways. Conversations containing phrases like, “I want to write books!” and “I just want the beauty of a small, ordinary life,” and “I will no longer allow people to keep me small for their own gain,” and more recently, “I want to write a novel!”

On every threshold, we are in a conversation with our life.

I share this with you because what I did after watching that TED Talk brought me great clarity, and I believe it might do the same for you. I reflected on all of those conversations over the last twenty-some years, journaled the details of them, and then within seconds was able to summarize the conversation I’ve been having with my life over the last quarter of a century. It goes like this:

“I have to try something new, pursue what I love, trust my belovedness, and embrace the beauty of being ordinary.”

I’ve made it my life mission statement for 2022, and it didn’t come from deciding on a New Year’s resolution or determining my long-term goals. It came from reflecting upon the ongoing conversation with my life.

Are you on the threshold of something and looking for encouragement to take the next step? Or on the threshold of something but not entirely clear about what it is? Or do you have no idea where your doorways are, or where they might lead? If so, I’ve got good news for you. You don’t have to see into the future. You have to faithfully examine your past, your thresholds. And ask yourself two questions: “What is the conversation I’ve been having with my life?” And, “Which parts of that conversation would I like to continue?”

Welcome to the dialogue in your doorway.

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In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.

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About Kelly

Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.