Today I pulled this image from from a deck of Archetype Cards by Caroline Myss. I bought them one day last winter with some credit I had at a new age store downtown, and every now and then I spread them out, take one, and see what it has to say to me.
Luck seems to be a theme for me this week. We recently received as a gift a book called “Shlemazel and the Remarkable Spoon of Pohost,” by Ann Redisch Stampler. Here’s an illustration from the book of Shlemazel with Chaya Massel, by Jacqueline M. Cohen.
The book tells the story of Shlemazel, a man who thinks of himself as unlucky and thus, sits doing nothing much of anything on his porch all day while the village around him bustles with activity and purpose. He has no power, no sense of purpose or direction.
I’d venture to say that early in the story, Shlemazel embodies the Shadow Attribute of The Gambler, “relying on luck rather than hard work.” But when Moshke the tinker takes an interest in teaching him a lesson, Shlemazel indeed comes to appreciate the value of rolling up his sleeves and doing. He discovers something he loves – baking – and someone to share his life with – Chaya. He also makes connections in the community that he didn’t have before, when he just sat off to the side watching. He has a place. He belongs.
I might be reading into this, but here goes. I have had several clients lately who feel disempowered, like nothing ever works out for them, or there just aren’t any good jobs to apply for. They feel, in a word, unlucky. This perspective holds them at the mercy of something, be it the job market, their own fears or those of their partner or family, financial constraints, lack of experience, whatever. Here’s a story about one of them.
Lucy (not her real name) is in her mid-twenties. She wants nothing more than to be a farmer. She has a few years of solid experience managing a farm in a different state. The first time we met, Lucy was discouraged, disconnected from the farming community in Vermont, and confused about what next steps to take. She had rent to pay and didn’t want to live in a shack, as she had done in her last farming gig. She was waiting tables and making ends meet, deeply questioning whether managing a farm as a way to make a life and make a living was a reasonable, “realistic” dream. Should she go get a 9-5 job and keep the dream live? Or give up altogether? Doubts were eclipsing her vision. Worst of all, she had stopped allowing herself to imagine the possibilities that had once brought her so much excitement.
But when she spoke of her farming dream, that excitement was so palpable. I pointed out one of my initial observations: “It’s not everyday that someone walks into my office and tells me she is passionate about raising and slaughtering livestock, planning and harvesting crops. You have this totally special thing that makes you you. Giving up on that is not an option.” I could see that this felt true to her. But she was stuck as to next steps. “I have called all the farms around here I’m interested in,” she told me, “and none of them are hiring. I can’t afford to make $15 an hour anymore.”
Leaving it at that would have Lucy relying on whims of luck: that some great opportunity would materialize out of thin air, that she would learn of it in a timely manner, that she would apply and be deemed the best candidate for the position. Sure, she could wait tables and hope something big changed or came her way. But it seemed like a bummer – to me, to Lucy – to proceed in such a powerless, essentially passive relationship with her future, her life. We began exploring other approaches.
I asked her to talk to me about why she loved farming. Her crescent eyes lit up then, so smiley I could hardly tell their color. She became kind of wistful and energized all at the same time, romantic almost. Then her tone took another downward turn. “Maybe I should just go back to the farm I used to manage. They would probably take me back.”
This is another very common impulse when we’re searching or feeling stuck: to go back. The past takes on a rosier hue from a distance. It wasn’t so bad, we tell ourselves. But was it really “not so bad”? This is always a good time for a reality check. So I asked Lucy to tell me more about that farm, and she quickly began listing all the things that had driven her crazy about it (not to mention that she had had to live in a shack!). She also recalled that before she got there, she thought of it as her dream job, her dream farm, the “perfect” fit. We talked about how useful this was, identifying a time in the past when she decided something would be “perfect,” and how once she stepped into it, it became… real. How this would be true for whatever came next, as well, if she didn’t recognize it as a potential leg-trap.
We spent the rest of that first hour together brainstorming names of farms, non-profits, and individuals for Lucy to contact. Not to ask for a job, but to make a connection, to have conversations or informational interviews. To talk to people who love what she loves. To pick their brains (please send me an email if you know of a better expression for that!). To stop being so alone with this moment in her work/life. To roll up her sleeves and get dirty. If she was Shlemazel, I must have been Moshke the tinker.
Lucy left my office with several homework assignments and a guiding metaphor. We decided that for now, this process was her way of farming, of being the farmer she was born to be. The next time I saw her a couple of weeks later, she told me that shifting her perspective in that way indeed changed everything. Realizing that farming was not some distant out-there dream, that she wasn’t wasting time or drifting away from what she wanted, had helped her reconnect with her excitement and confidence. A shlemazel no longer, Lucy had tapped into the Light Attribute of the archetype card I chose today. Lucy had become a Gambler: “Willing to follow intuition, even when others doubt you.”