Follow the Arrows

“Follow No Maps” by Jason Kotecki. Prints available.

In January of 2020, I was thisclose to giving up on my twenty-year dream of living in a lake home. Then the pandemic hit, making the decision all but irrelevant, considering the fact I calculated that if we didn’t figure out an alternative revenue stream to speaking, we’d be bankrupt by November. Instead, that became the month we signed a contract to buy our dream house on Lake Michigan.

How did we do that? 

Well, my faith gives all the credit to God, who opened doors and led us every step of the way.

All we did was follow arrows.

The concept of following arrows comes from a book I read by Emily P. Freeman called The Next Right Thing. It was a metaphor that harmonized perfectly with the advice I’d been giving for years on tinkering.

The premise is that sometimes in life, we’re looking for answers to our problems. But instead of answers, we get arrows. These arrows are next steps on the journey.

The problem is that we ignore the arrows, or even worse, let our logic get in the way and smother them with our own agenda. 

Our job is NOT to wait for the entire plan to be revealed before we take our first step. 

Our job is NOT to figure out five steps before we take the first. 

Our job is to stop our frantic search for answers and follow the arrows instead.

One. At. A. Time.

In the process of sharing this concept with others, I’ve seen that some people misunderstand what this process looks like. They imagine an orderly progression of steps that make sense. Ha! It’s almost never like that, at least in my experience. It looks more like this:

What “following the arrows” looks like.

It’s haphazard and maddening, a path littered with false starts, dead ends, and wasted time.

You usually can’t see more than one arrow at a time, and the steps are never as sexy or certain as we’d like them to be.

I’ve told the story of how following arrows led us to our dream home in my short film, Here Comes the Sun. At one point in our journey, we followed an arrow that led us to visit wooded lots with intentions to build. We traipsed through brush and fields with our realtor, eventually coming to the realization that building our dream home wasn’t the right option for us. It seemed like a dead end.

But that assessment is what led us to the next arrow: visiting a Parade of Homes. There we met a contractor, someone we had the feeling we were supposed to know.

Eventually, our search led us to the perfect house and we put in our best offer. We didn’t get it. Another dead end, or so it seemed.

We kept following arrows, looking at other homes, and came upon one that seemed right, but was more expensive. It required us to get more creative with finances and Kim’s parents offered to float us a loan. 

We put in an offer. We didn’t get it. (What the heck, arrows?!) 

A month later, out of nowhere, the original house came back on the market and we were able to get it for a better price. The extra money from Kim’s parents became the seed money we needed to build out my art studio. 

When it came to that point, we reached out to the contractor we met at the Parade of Homes to bid on the renovation. He took forever, and when we finally received it, it was way more expensive than we could afford. 

That led us to consider another guy we hired to install light fixtures who we later discovered also did contracting. Chad has been a Godsend, and the process of working together has connected us with many people who have helped our family in various ways. 

This is just a snapshot of our story. I skipped a few arrows for the sake of brevity, but in reality, the formidable path stretched across two decades. It remains a good example of how the process of following arrows is rarely neat and orderly. It only looks that way in retrospect, because with the power of hindsight, we can see how it all worked together — all the twists and turns and dead ends — in a way that served a purpose.

But in the middle of it, it’s a hot mess. It’s slow, then fast, then slow again, offering up a sharp left turn where you ram into what appears to be a brick wall. But it’s there another arrow is revealed, an arrow you never would have found had you not made it to the brick wall in the first place. 

It requires humility to take what feels like a small, inconsequential step when you’re tempted to wait for a seemingly more significant, more productive one.

It requires discipline to keep reminding yourself that you only have to look for and take the next arrow, not the next ten, or five, or two. 

It requires courage to follow the clear arrow in front of you, when the next one after that is nowhere to be seen. 

It requires persistence to keep going when you are discouraged by the brick walls.

And it requires faith that that the path will eventually make sense, and that the twists and turns and detours all serve a purpose.

Maybe you are in the middle of a dense forest right now, hemmed in by thorny thicket and brambles. Maybe you’re in the middle of a barren desert, with no answers in sight.

It’s ok. Follow the arrows instead.

God won’t let you miss your future.


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