Southern Voice: Stephanie Weichert
Niggle. The first time I heard that word, I was seated in an oversized auditorium with a few hundred other people, listening to a Scotsman deliver an inspiring message about moving forward in the midst of uncertainty.
After the word was uttered, it hung in the thick air of self-doubt that followed many of us like Pig-Pen’s dust storm.
No, niggle wasn’t an earthworm. In this context, it was the nagging little cloud of fear replete with its own thunderstorm of what-ifs and maybes. For some, it was fear about what to do next. For others, fear about what we hadn’t done. This speaker presented each of the forlorn followers with the chance to purpose toward something important in the persistent presence … of the niggle. Facing fear head-on meant taking the next step with no insider information on the outcome.
Years later I began pondering this word again. Different problem. No clear solutions and the nasty niggle.
My husband, our 7-year-old son, and I were at the tail end of a two-month work tour in China, about to board a high-speed train. We were traveling from the remote city of Chenzhou to Guangzhou, making our way to Taiwan to catch our flight back home to the U.S. Our host, who’d also been our translator, had taken us to the station and ensured we made it onto the train safely. But somehow, she’d neglected to tell us where to get off.
The train was overbooked, and our three assigned seats weren’t together. Our game plan was that my husband would take the heavy luggage and sit with our son, while I would find our son’s seat in the car behind theirs.
When I entered my car, it was packed. Every seat was full. People were even sitting and standing in the areas between the seats. Questions began speeding through my mind, such as, “How will I know when it’s time to get off the train?”
There it was: the niggle.
When I arrived at my seat, there was a man already sitting in it. I looked at him, he stared intently back at me, and then I rechecked my ticket. He didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Chinese, so I had no way to ask him to move. I showed him my ticket. He took his time before grinning and getting up. He stepped into the narrow aisle by my seat, where he remained for the duration of the trip. I didn’t know it yet, but someone had also taken his seat in a different car, and the grumpy-looking woman he’d been sitting next to was his wife.
While sweating out my predicament, I silently prayed for an English-speaking person to help me. It’s not just that I didn’t know when and where to get off the train—I didn’t even know how to ask. Additionally, with the car so crowded, I couldn’t get up to go find my husband and son—I might lose my seat and possibly my belongings. The possibility of my prayer being answered seemed remote; so far that day, not one person I’d encountered spoke English. My phone had bad reception, so I couldn’t use my translation app. I was stuck, going 200 miles per hour with no clear solution for attaining answers.
At some point, I motioned to the woman on my right—the wife of the man who’d been sitting in my seat—to open the curtain so I could have a better view of the dense trees and foliage as we sped along. Realizing I was game for conversation, she began asking questions via a translation app on her phone, which still had perfect reception. Her face softened from a scowl to a welcoming smile.
She was interested in whether I was a tourist and where I was from. As it turned out, she and her husband, who were newlyweds, were traveling to Thailand for a vacation. She asked me a few more questions via the app before pausing awhile to gaze out the window.
Still having no idea where to get off, I showed my seatmate my ticket and used her translation app to ask for help. She showed me her ticket. They matched. We would be getting off the train at the same time. The only thing she didn’t mention was WHEN. I didn’t know if our exit was one stop away or five.
Eventually, the train began to slow down, and she stood up. I silently followed suit. While people tried to shove their way ahead of us, I hastily sent my husband a two-word text: “Off now.” If he didn’t receive it due to the spotty reception, he and my son might miss our stop, and we could be separated.
When the couple exited the train, they disappeared into the crowd and I never saw them again. However, I did find my husband and son, who were frantically looking for me. When my husband saw me, his intense look of concern turned to one of total relief. We’d all made it safely off the train — with all of our bags.
When we set out for the station that morning, we were apprehensive about how things would go. The answers only emerged as we took each next step in our journey. Moment by moment, it came together.
To me, that story is a perfect metaphor for life. Through a persistent willingness to take simple strides forward, our lives will come together. We just can’t see how, yet. However, we can stunt the process.
There are three things that can keep us stuck:
1. The Worry Wall
Recently I read a quote by Zig Ziglar: “Fear is the darkroom where negatives are developed.” Worry is fear’s ugly cousin. It can cause you to refrain from action. Additionally, it robs you of the rest your body needs. Instead of worrying, what if you chose to believe the answer would be there to greet you along the way?
2. Resistance to Risk
Often, the next step includes a certain amount of risk. Risk may include emotional exposure, lack of control over the outcome, or losing something you value. But your risks produce rewards. For instance, you might gain a new friend because you risked asking someone to coffee. Would you be willing to live with a modest degree of uncertainty?
3. Stopping at the Small Steps
The solution to fixing an oak tree-sized problem often comes in a mustard seed-sized package. You may not be able to fix the entire issue overnight, but you can take small steps now. Imagine the problem resolved. If you knew you would not fail, what is one teeny, tiny step you would take today or tomorrow? Your answer may be your first step toward the solution.
Most of us would rather see the big picture before taking the next step. But often, progress requires us to bypass the ugly little niggle, roll up our pant legs, and take a small leap of faith. This next step is central to building the positive momentum we need to move ahead.
Stephanie Weichert, MBA, ACC, is a certified Personal Coach and published author. She is passionate about helping people find joy and turn their dreams into reality. Stephanie recently published her life coaching book, Everything I Would Have Said. Learn more about Stephanie here. All photography provided by Stephanie Weichert.
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