At the Dam of Your Life--A Transition Exercise

At the Dam of Your Life--A Transition Exercise
Thomas Thompson
April 12, 2022
min read

A few years ago I spent part of my first ever sabbatical in Northern Ireland, with a tour group leaning into the beauty, troubled history, and reconciliation of Ireland. 

Towards the end of my time there we went hiking in a place called Silent Valley Mountain Park. After about four miles we came to a dam, used to create the massive Ben Crom reservoir to gather water from the Mourne Mountains. It is the main water supply source for most of County Down and a large part of Belfast.

We climbed the long steps to the top of the dam and looked out. On one side of the dam was the lake of water the dam was holding back. Where the flowing water from the mountains met the dead end of the dam. It represented our past. The things damned up in the back of our life.

Turning around, however, revealed a different view. Life. The flowing water. The horizon endlessly stretching before us. The future. The life we would love. This is the view I had:

Our group spent time in stillness. And then our guide led us in a thought exercise using the dam itself.

We looked backwards across the dam, the water backing up into the reservoir. This represented our past, and we paused to ask ourselves:

“What are the dead-end things I am to let go of? The dead-end stories I’ve been telling?” 

For me, it was regrets, ways of punishing myself, and people I needed to forgive — starting with myself.

Then we turned to the front of the dam. The water flowing forward, giving life and possibility. This represented our future, and again, we paused to ask ourselves:

“What do I want more of in my life?”

I want to be more present. More welcoming. More at home with the unknown. 

And, lastly, “What do I want less of in my life?”

I want to be less afraid, less future, less fixing.

This moment on the dam, one hour north of Belfast, served as a severing. A transition. A divide between who I had been, and who I would be going forward.

In this moment of transition, you stand at this dam of your life, separating your past from what lies ahead.

The next chapter does NOT have to look like the last one.  You are armed with agency, equipped with experience.  And you can use this awareness to adjust what is to come.

Will you pause to let go of the dead ends, and embrace the new life of what’s next?

Using this metaphor of the dam, set aside some time to consider the past season:

  • What do you need to leave behind?
  • Who do you need to forgive?
  • What do you need to say goodbye to…and also bless for getting you here.

And then turn around and look ahead.

  • What would be the life you would love?
  • What would you like to embrace more of?
  • Who do you want to be?
  • What do you want to be doing, and who would you like to be doing it with?

These are not quick questions or easy answers.  But they are the right questions, the ones that begin to carve out the river going forward.

As you begin, start with a blessing from my favorite Irish Poet:

May I have the courage today
To live the life that I would love,
To postpone my dream no longer,
But do at last what I came here for
And waste my heart on fear no more.

John O’Donohue

Thomas helps leaders navigate what’s next in their lives, leadership, and teams.  If he can serve you in this, reach out to him HERE.

Photo by Tejj on Unsplash

I founded Thompson Leadership to come alongside leaders like you. Together, we will unpack your unique leadership, unearth your biggest challenge, and create an action plan to close the gap between where you are and where you want to be.
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