And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.Matthew 2:9
“If you build it, they will come.” So began Ray Kinsella’s journey in the 1989 movie, Field of Dreams. If you are reading this, you likely saw that movie when it came out and possibly even followed the arc of that famous line through the business world as it became a mocking reference to any ill-planned venture that failed to find customers. The voice from the cornfield calling Ray Kinsella to a cryptic mission of faith, madness, and redemption, inspired and cautioned many an aspiring leader, reminding us that, just because you build it, does not mean they will come.
We live in a world of signs. Signs that tell us where to go and where not to go. Signs that tell us the names of things or mark locations of events. Signs that tell us about our health and signs that tell us about the people around us. Some signs are clearly posted and some cleverly hidden. Some signs are foisted upon us and some require that we look for them. The concept of a sign is a powerful metaphor for direction and destination.
Against all rational thinking, Ray Kinsella listened to the voice from his cornfield and it gave us an entertaining and inspiring movie. That’s how fiction works, right? And yet, there is a part of it we believe. Even if we’ve never heard a voice calling us explicitly to some mysterious mission, we’ve all heard a call, felt a tug, or had an inclination. We intuit much and choose to respond, or not, depending on our situation. To some degree, we all follow the signs.
However, the way we do, or don’t, follow them makes all the difference. Ray Kinsella’s bold trust in something he could not see, and a voice no one else could hear, led him on the adventure of a lifetime. For students of such entertainment and signs of our own, perhaps there is a playbook for following them more effectively.
Looking for Signs
Think of the signs of our lives as radio signals. They are flowing all around us and we just need to be ready, and able, to receive them. We must be attentive to the signals, the indicators, offering guidance through the opportunities and challenges of our lives. Few of us will see a burning bush that gives explicit direction, but we might hear a voice whispering in a moment of stillness. Rarely will we be given a carefully written set of instructions, but we may see a billboard.
To see the signs, we must be looking. We have to have our eyes open. The deals, people, asks, opportunities, and roadblocks of our lives are often accompanied by their own set of, mostly hidden, directions. The tiny indicators are there telling us where to turn, how to push forward, or what to expect. Sometimes we pick up parts of them, get a glimpse, or feel the nudge. But often, we are too busy feeling our way through things to see the signs clearly. The fogginess of emotion, doubt, or isolation, can keep us from seeing clearly.
Mine is not a call to go off the deep-end trying to see meaning in every snowflake or overanalyzing words or intonations. With the right bit of obsessiveness, looking for signs can tip into superstition. There are plenty of indicators without chasing the tarot cards of the world. We can’t always see what’s around the corner, but it often casts some kind of shadow. The place to start is to be rationally attentive.
Once we’ve tuned ourselves to the signals, we have to make sure we’re ready to receive. Think of it this way, being attentive is acknowledging that the signs are there. Now that we have our eyes, and ears, open to the indicators, we must be prepared for what they offer, suggest, or demand.
The good news for us is that each stage of life provides ongoing preparation for the next stage. Moving from child to adolescent, to adult, then on through the phases of life through which we pass, we grow into a person able to navigate what comes our way. The bad news is that the user manual has many gaps and the wisdom of others is not always ideal or available when we need it most.
The only way to be prepared to see and receive the signs is to be a perpetual student. We cannot be passive. Our quest is an imperfect one but it must be intentional and ongoing. We must look for opportunities to grow, work diligently on specific skills, and see the wins and losses as lessons to be remembered. Ongoing preparation positions us to respond when the signs become clear to us. Preparation also enables us to see some signs that we would not have recognized with less education, fewer skills, or narrower perspective.
If you feel that your life is an ongoing conspiracy of misfortune or missed opportunities, spend a few minutes contemplating the last line above.
Discerning Your Signs
How did Ray Kinsella know he really needed to do what the voice from the cornfield was telling him? How do we discern the signal from the noise to determine if it is a sign, a distraction, or a dead end? Fortunately, the signs we receive rarely come in isolation and are often part of an ongoing revelation that unfolds along the path. Think of the signs we receive in terms of possibility that evolves rather a single right or wrong answer.
Many of us begin the discernment of any decision with a gut check. Does it feel right? This is one of the reasons that outside counsel can be problematic as it is, by its nature, outside of us. Though we all have similar experiences, none of us can truly stand in the shoes of another. The sum of our preparation, personality, and priorities makes our lives unique. Despite this, outside perspective is important because it is part of our ongoing preparation. Every input, good and bad, contributes to our becoming and we should seek it.
Any signs we see should be framed in the context of how we see our own readiness. Are we ready? Do we have the skills? Do we have the resources? Do we have the resolve, persistence, courage, and character, to act upon an opportunity or cope with a challenge? Is the time right? Part of what helps us determine the “right” time is assessing the difficulty of the call relative to our preparedness. There are stretch moments and there are bridges too far. There are things that line-up in almost miraculous ways and there are barriers that pop up along the path telling us we’ve taken a wrong turn.
Flow and Resistance
There is a certain kind of fluidity when we’re aligned with our signs. A flow that helps move it forward in ways that seem almost effortless. However, that doesn’t mean that it will be easy or that there won’t be resistance. Will and persistence will remain critical but we need to assess the nature of the resistance we encounter.
There are two types of resistance (the barriers), we encounter as we follow our signs: resistance that causes injury and resistance that makes us stronger. When we’re in the zone, the flow, the alignment of our energies seems to make things happen and there is a peace and joy that follows. Here, the barriers we face are worthy struggles that strengthen and embolden us. They teach us about our self and our journey. They help us in our preparation.
Resistance that does damage indicates misalignment. I am referring to the choices we make on the paths we choose. Injury is a sign that we need to pivot from our current course. We may need to muster courage and will to take the hit before we change direction. More signs. We want to embrace the resistance that helps us grow though we may need to endure the resistance that hurts us.
Way of Life
In the case of Ray Kinsella, he listened, started down the path, and received affirmations at key points on his journey. He had to stay attentive and be prepared at each step along the way. Like preparation, discernment never ends. For Ray, trust in the voice, the sign he was receiving, was paramount to his courage and his resolve. Without that faith, there was no way he would go the distance.
Now we’re in it. We’ve seen the sign and discerned our path forward. Now we’re beginning to really see it. Signs of the times. Signs of life. The signals will keep coming, you’ll keep looking, discerning, and adjusting. Following the signs is not a one time or two time event. It is a way of life.
The new year is here. What signs do you see? What signs might you be missing? If they’re not obvious yet, keep looking and keep preparing. You are being called to something for which you are already prepared. Look closely, it may be hiding in plain sight.