“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”

Vivian Greene

Rain as a metaphor for life’s experiences and challenges

Imagine rain as a metaphor for life’s experiences and challenges. Have you ever been caught out in the rain, been drenched before you’ve had time to look for a dry shelter, or been out in the open with no shelter, umbrella, rain-coat or anything to use as a make-shift cover? If you’ve had an unexpected illness or accident, or experienced a traumatic event or life crisis, this is often what the first few weeks or months feel like. Blindsided and taken by surprise, you scramble to gather information and help. There are other times in life when we are prepared for the rain – umbrella at the ready. Sometimes life’s experiences and changes are planned or we have some warning – but that doesn’t mean we have to like the fact that it is raining and it doesn’t change the fact that we need to deal with the rain.

I’ve talked a lot about umbrellas in the first three posts of this series, using the parts of the umbrella to describe my approach to engaging in a lifestyle that has purpose and inspires you, and that will generate vitality to do what you want and need to do. In this fourth of the series I’ll talk about using your Umbrella of Life to head out into the rain.

Changing streetscape over time

Imagine walking down the street (with or without an umbrella) as you are moving through the changing streetscape of your life. Conceptually, the streetscape changes as you walk through each individual task each day and also from a life-long perspective of the evolving nature of your roles and routines that occur at different ages and stages of life.

Your personal skills change over time. Throughout childhood, your skills change and reshape through each of the developmental stages; in adulthood, you face the challenges of and learn from your work experiences, your family life and community connections. Personal skills and abilities continually change as your life and lifestyles evolve. Today you are the sum of your life’s experiences; tomorrow you will be different.

The environments in which you operate change as well. You may live in several different homes and cities throughout your life. Your social circles change; people with whom you live change as relationships evolve, families take shape and children move away from home. Your economic circumstances undergo several evolutions at different stages of your life. Larger, societal types of influences such as political and cultural contexts also unfold to shape your daily life.

The things that you do in everyday life also change at different ages and stages of life. Your routines, habits and rituals change over the course of your life as do the roles you take on. Life as a singleton, as part of a couple, as a parent, an empty-nester, a worker, a retiree – these roles all demand different tasks and skills and connections with people. The daily life of a university student is very different to the everyday routines of a full-time worker. The ways in which you connect with people change over your lifespan as do your interests, hobbies, and leisure pursuits.

The streetscape of life is constantly evolving – sometimes predictably, sometimes unexpectedly and not always how we would like. Some people say that having a major injury or illness, particularly one that results in a life-long diagnosis, is like being lifted out of the world you know into a landscape that is foreign and uncertain. The old familiar ways of doing things no longer work. You haven’t yet learnt to predict the day’s weather. Will it rain or not? Will you be able to hold the umbrella against the swirling winds?

During a major life event or crisis, the immediacy of financial arrangements, appointments, fear of the unknown future, illness, hospitals, re-routing daily routines, all take over daily life in the short term. As the crisis abates, you are often left feeling that life is in some way deficient, unsatisfying, not as you had hoped it would become. Everyday seems as if you are walking out in the rain without an umbrella; not being able to find an umbrella that will provide at least some shelter and respite. You find yourself having to choose between getting soaking wet and not going out at all.

Responses to the rain – (struggling or singing)

In the film ‘Notting Hill’ there’s a market place scene showing people going about their daily tasks as the seasons progress, to denote time passing in the story line. It shows the same people wearing different clothes in the different seasons; their postures change as they stoop against the wind and scurry through the street in the winter rain where they were previously leisurely walking and talking during the summer days. Different postures, different movements, different clothes, different colours. Same tasks, same people, same market street. (the video clip is here)

When it rains, we go about our day differently. We change what we wear; we walk at a different speed; we take different things with us. But our essential being hasn’t changed. Our values and our aspirations remain the same. And so it is when we experience unwanted or unexpected life events. We need to change the way we go about our daily lives to find an umbrella that will shelter us from the rain.

Occupational engagement – the whole umbrella

This is where the model of the Umbrella of Life all comes together. When the component parts of your umbrella:

  • the canopy – the things you do with their meaning and purpose
  • the spokes – the ingredients of what you do and their interactions
  • the handle – energy and vitality to consistently keep going.

integrate to become a functioning umbrella that provides cover from life’s rain.

This is what the literature calls occupational engagement – not simply doing things (participating), but engaging in the deeper meaning and wider context of daily living activities. Occupational engagement shapes your every day life to give you meaning, purpose, and pleasure.

umbrella of life model

Where to from here? – opportunities for change

This fundamentally changes the way you go about change.

From this perspective, you work downwards from the canopy of meaning to look at the ingredients (the spokes) that support the umbrella and what changes can be made to them to change the outcome. Starting with the canopy can help you focus on the reason and intention of your activities instead of the old familiar ways of doing things.

When exploring all the component parts to your umbrella, you will realise there is much greater scope for change than you previously thought. The first opportunity for change is in exploring what you actually do and how you spend your time. By understanding why you do things and clarifying the intent and the hoped-for outcome, you can ensure that you cover all four domains equally. (See this blog post for more information.) You can also look for different things to do that achieve the same meaning and purpose. Look for any imbalance in your umbrella canopy as this will help you target what is most important at this particular time and how to prioritise what you do each day.

The second opportunity for change is to look at the ingredients of each task. You have more options for change when you look beyond your personal skills and capabilities and look at the environmental factors and the task characteristics. You can build your confidence by trying different types of spokes – to swap some of the spokes that used to work for you for new spokes that now work better. Each change you make needs to have a direct line – a spoke – to the intent of what you are doing, not just a means to complete the task. This concept is explained here.

And lastly, you can look at the energy components of the tasks – their individual energy load and re-charge, as well as the cumulative energy graph over time. (See here.) This helps ensure you have the emotional energy needed to hold the umbrella securely.

Carrying this umbrella can lessen the impact of the challenges that life has imposed on you. It won’t necessarily stop you from getting wet and doesn’t always keep you entirely dry. But it will shield you from the worst of the rain. This should form the basis of every change you make to your daily life – any task, exercise, treatment or therapy that you do needs to relate directly back to one of the meaning and purpose domains – the words or colours on your umbrella canopy.

Looking at occupational engagement in this way ensures your umbrella is colourful, is large enough to provide sufficient cover for the amount of rain (if you are in a tropical downpour you’ll definitely need a golf umbrella), the spokes are strong enough and plentiful enough to stop the umbrella blowing inside out in the wind, and the handle is shaped for you to have a firm grip and sufficient energy to hold it securely against the wind.

Your occupational umbrella will help you see things in a different light and discover new possibilities.

Gene Kelly – Singing in the Rain

More resources

Ready to start working with umbrellas? I offer several options for working online with umbrellas here.

Blogs are good, but sometimes you just want all the information in the one place. This series of blog posts is an extract from my book “Bit by Bit: reclaim meaning, purpose and pleasure in everyday life” available in paperback, ePub or Kindle versions. The book also contains some exercises for you to dip your toe in the water of working with umbrellas.