How many years did I waste swimming upstream?

Many of us believe we’re in control of our own destinies, right? Oh, how mistaken and myopic we are. True, we have the ability to put ourselves in good positions to react to life as it happens, but the version of life we live is an unscripted drama with no shortage of plot twists and cliffhangers. We have precious little control.

Does that scare you? It shouldn’t. We’re safe. In a slight modification to a popular bumper sticker, the universe is our co-pilot.

Perhaps it’s an homage to my cultural roots, as my Indian family relied on the readings of an astrologist when it came to making big decisions, but with age and experience I’ve come to believe that there is a predetermined path mapped out for us; we just need to be able to trust the universe to guide us along it.

Part of the process is to stop resisting.

Several months ago, I was struck by a sudden realization: I needed a new career challenge. I was plenty happy with my company and financially secure, but I felt the pangs of needing a substantial change. As such, I reached out to my favorite reference: I asked the universe for guidance, literally and figuratively.

“OK, I think I’m ready for a new situation at work. I want to grow and be challenged. I want responsibility and need support. I’m open to the right situation. How do I move forward?”

After confessing to the cosmos, I also put the word out among colleagues in other departments that I was exploring new offers. The younger me wouldn’t have been so proactive; I would have dug in my heels and grinded out another 18-36 months in the hopes that my position would miraculously grow to match my desires. Instead, I acknowledged the need for a disruption and let the winds of change push me where I was supposed to go. I didn’t fight the flow.

Within a couple months, seemingly innocuous discussions with co-workers led to that invigorating new opportunity. Coincidence? I think not.

When I look back on my life, I see that the universe has guided me along my path time and again throughout my career. I didn’t always recognize that guidance. I used to fixate on controlling outcomes that I really had no control over. My ego just wouldn’t get out of the way. I worried constantly about what other people were doing and how that might impact my opportunities — a serious drain on my energy and focus, not to mention as pointless as yelling at the sky because of the weather.

Once I realized that the only things I can control are my thoughts and my behaviors, it didn’t make sense not to trust the universe. We can live in fear and anxiety, or we can rest in the knowledge that as long as we show up and do the work each day, the universe will carry us where we need to be — where we’re supposed to be — if we learn to let go of the trivial thoughts consuming us and tap into the bigger picture.

Choosing to trust the universe liberated me from fear, worry, and my own ego. I came to understand that my only job was to live in alignment with my intentions and to be open to the directions the universe offered. Beyond that is outside our control.

Trusting the universe reframes the way we think about failure as well. When you know the universe will guide you, failure loses its meaning. We might be passed over for a job we wanted, but that’s only because it wasn’t right for us. In a few weeks or months, we’ll find ourselves in a fulfilling, challenging new role and understand why the other position didn’t pan out.

This mindset is undergoing a stress test of sorts at the moment within my family, as my lacrosse-playing daughter goes through the process of selecting a college. Instead of being distraught about this particular coaching staff or that potential scholarship opportunity, we’re patiently letting the process play out. It’s increasingly likely that my daughter will not end up going to her original school of choice, and that’s fine — rather than fight against the current, we’re trusting that circumstances will lead us to the best school for her. What other choice do we really have?

In the story I shared about looking for new job opportunities, I didn’t land my current position right away. Five other jobs fell through before I found the right one. But because I was putting myself out there and because I trusted that the appropriate offer would come along, I knew I would find what I was seeking. And I did.

Trusting the universe isn’t about waiting around for opportunities to be handed to us. We can ask for direction, but we need to keep moving if we want to progress. I like to use three questions to clarify my purpose during moments of uncertainty or indecision:

Where am I?

Where do I need to be?

What do I need to do to get there?

These questions shift our focus from desire to action, even if those actions are small. For instance, when I am waiting for answers or guidance, I turn my focus outward. I ask how I can help other people, whether that’s by supporting them in a meeting or bringing them a cup of coffee. Even small movements can set in motion a chain of events that we don’t yet see but which guide us to our next chapter.

When we struggle or find ourselves feeling anxious about the future, our most powerful response is to listen carefully to the inner voice that centers us in trust and calm. That’s the voice that connects us to the universe and to the knowledge we need to forge our authentic paths.