What It Really Means to “Go With the Flow”

Written by on 18 Nov 2014

One of my favorite things to do, on this blog and in life, is to redefine traditional advice.


I don’t think traditional advice is bad.


I just think that it’s severely misunderstood.


Take “timing,” for example.


One of the most overused sayings of all time is “timing is everything.”


Ok, great. But, umm, what does that even mean?!




It’s so vague that it’s basically useless. It shares the same throwaway fate as concepts like “the idea of success” or “being realistic.” They are so ambiguous that they actually don’t mean anything at all.


Now, to be fair, there is definitely some real truth here.


Namely, that timing IS important.


But what else is it saying? In what way? By what manner? To what end?


I’ve used a lot of posts on this blog to address many different facets of timing. I’ve talked about the power of serendipity. I’ve talked about what it means to be “ready.” I’ve even talked about abandoning control altogether and opting for the no-plan plan!


That’s because, the power of timing shows itself in my life time and time again.


In fact, just recently, the Timing Titan reared its ugly head once again. But this time, there was a little twist. This time, I had to re-examine one of the most widely misunderstood platitudes about timing.


One that I actually happen to hate.


Which one?




In addition to being wildly misunderstood, this concept plagues control freaks and perfectionists everywhere. It plagued me, too, until I finally learned what it really meant.


This concept is… just simply to... you guessed it...


“Go with the flow.”


::cue mumbles and grumbles::


Ok, I know this concept is not earthshattering, but I know you hate it, too. Ugh, go with the flow! Possibly one of the worst phrases of all time, if you ask me.


I remember the first time I heard someone tell me to just relax and, “go with the flow.”


My first thought was, seriously, do you even know me?!


I’m, like, the least laid back person of all time.


Sure, I’m casual. Sure, I’m usually up for anything. Sure, I’m sometimes a total push-over.


But, easy-going? Or patient?


Hahahaha NOT.


So, for the longest time, I thought that even if this advice wasn’t absolutely bogus, it was definitely not for me.


Lazy people could “go with the flow.” Unmotivated people could “go with the flow.” Quitters could “go with the flow.”


But not me.


And then, something crazy happened that taught me what it really means to “go with the flow.”


Turns out, it has nothing to do with being lazy. Almost nothing to do with being unmotivated. And absolutely nothing to do with quitting.


It has everything to do with listening, watching, and interacting with the world around you.


And more importantly…


The people around you.


It’s about placing yourself in the flow of life, and taking it for a ride.


Here, I'll show you.


It was a lazy Saturday in September.


While most people would probably enjoy a quiet afternoon watching football and lounging around at their boyfriend’s apartment, I was going stir crazy. I had just started my own business, was working from home, and was spending most of my days alone.


In short, I was crying for human interaction.


After twiddling my thumbs for a couple hours while my boyfriend napped, I finally decided I couldn’t take it anymore. I was willing to do anything to get out of that house and see people. This is absolute truth, and was evidenced by the fact that instead of staying in the apartment, I chose to…


Go to Confession.


Yup, rowdy old Confession!


Now, if that doesn’t tell you how badly I wanted human interaction, then nothing will.


So, at about 3:15 in the afternoon, I hopped in my boyfriend’s car (which I asked to borrow, thankyouverymuch!), and headed home to change.


Halfway there, I realized that I had forgotten my house key.


Dammit, Murphy!


So, I called my roommate.


Now, I don’t know why, but in the past year of living together, we have almost never been home at the same time. We seem to have the world’s most opposite schedules. So I figured that she would be gone, I would be S.O.L., and would probably miss Confession in the process.


Double dammit.


But, wouldn’t you know it, this time she happened to be home.




Now, I was on a short schedule and needed to make a quick turnaround to get to the Church before Confession ended at 3:45. I ran upstairs, got changed, and went to Kristen’s room to say hi, thanks, and bye—quickly.


Turns out, she was leaving as well, and was headed out to a bar to watch football. She had planned on taking an Uber (yes, we have those in Dallas), but asked if I could drive her instead.


Now, I had a choice here.


Either I could stick to my original plan and decline her request, or I could “go with the flow” and give her a ride.


She and I hadn’t seen each other in ages, so I decided on the latter.


We hopped in the car and finally got to catch up on our ride to the bar.


By the time I had dropped her off in Uptown, it was 3:45. I was all the way across town, so my first plan for Confession had failed. I was ready to head back to the apartment of disengagement—defeated—when I remembered something rather timely.


There was another Catholic church (yes, there’s more than one, here) on that side of town.


And, after a little Googling, wouldn’t you know it, they happened to have Confessions going until 4:30pm.


Catholics everywhere are cheering, I’m sure…


Anyway, this seemed fairly serendipitous to me, so I flowed on over to that Church to get my sanctity on. I walked in at about five minutes ‘til 4, expecting that I’d walk out—so fresh and so clean—by 4:15.


Boy, was I wrong.


Now, Catholic or not, you should know this about Confession: people don’t really like going.


Shocking, I’m sure.


Anyway, it’s true. It's not like people are usually falling over themselves on a Saturday afternoon ready and willing to voice their deepest and darkest indiscretions.


That's why I was so surprised when I walked in. They must have been giving something away that day, because there were no less than 17 people in line when I got there.


17 people!


I walked back outside to make sure I hadn’t accidentally mistaken an Apple store for a Catholic church.


I had not.


So I had another choice to make.


Either I could bail, or I could “go with the flow” and wait in line.


Well, believe it or not, I chose the latter. I had made a commitment to engage with at least one human being that day, and dammit, I was sticking to it.


But here’s one other thing you should know about Confession…


This is not a short process, y’all.


When I said I would go in at 4 and be done at 4:15, I was assuming I’d be the only person in line.


Either way, not surprisingly, twenty minutes went by and only three people came and went from the confessional.


My impatient nature started to take hold.


I was fuming.




And wouldn’t you know it, someone heard me.


“Long line, huh?” I heard a voice behind me, say.


I was startled. Here's another fun Confession fact: people never talk to each other in line.


Again, you’re shocked.


This might go without saying, but contemplating your guilty conscience doesn’t exactly lend itself to looking other people in the eye, let alone talking to them. It’s pretty much a get in and get out kind of operation. 2000 years of Catholic guilt keeps that ever-so-slight stigma going.


“Uh, ya,” I responded quietly.


He leapt at my half-hearted answer.


“I’ve never seen this many people waiting at once,” he continued.


So at this point, I had yet another choice to make.


I could nod and turn away, maintaining the silence, or I could "go with the flow" and see what else this guy had to say.


If you know anything about me by now, you’ll know that I almost always choose engagement over detachment. I mean, my choices were talk with a human being or explode from frustration—seemed pretty simple to me. I chose the latter.


Twenty minutes after that, we were still in line, but wrapped in the most intriguing conversation ever had in a Confession line.


Hyperbole? Probably.


Fact? Possibly.


I mean, we were in line for Confession, for crying out loud. The conversational standards can’t be that high.


Turns out, my new friend had a crazy-cool job working for the FBI. His company maintained information security by tracking and finding hackers online. He had a personal hand in bringing down thieves, money launderers, and enemies of the state.


It was like talking to Jack Bauer… or Karam from The Blacklist.


Either way, I was hanging on his every word.


I made an offhand comment that he must be really tech-savvy, to which he responded,


“Ya. In fact, I build websites on the side just for fun.”


I almost fell over.


Just that week, I had nearly thrown my computer against the wall during a minor disagreement over a deleted WordPress document.


Clearly, the PC’s fault.


I started tripping over my words, telling him about my new business, and begging for him to help me build my new website.


“Done,” he said, without hesitation.


In the months following our serendipitous meeting, Jonathan and I have been working on my brand new website behind the scenes. We hope to have it ready to launch just in time for the holidays this year. You, my faithful readers, will be the first to hear about it!


I know, I know-- you're super excited.


The updated website would have remained a pipe-dream if it weren't for "going with the flow” that day.


If at any point I had said no to the flow—hadn’t driven my roommate to the bar, hadn’t staying in line at the church, hadn’t continued my conversation with a stranger—I would still be banging my head against my keyboard (if there was any keyboard left at all!).


It hit me...


Going with the flow doesn’t mean being lazy or taking the easy way out. It doesn’t mean having no plan or just allowing things to happen to you. It certainly doesn’t mean you have to be laidback or easygoing about life.


Going with the flow means listening to the flow of energy around you—the people, the places, the opportunities—and responding in a meaningful way by co-creating reality.


It means being present to… well… the present!


Here's the deal:


Doors open for a reason.


Do yourself a favor and walk through them.


Change up your routine, and go with the universal flow.


Trust me—when you’re fully present to life, life will present itself to you in ways you could never imagine.


Now. Go. Flow.




When has “going with the flow” totally paid off for you? Who did you meet, where did you go, and what did you learn from engaging with the flow?


Share your story or your reaction in the comments below.


Did this story resonate with you? Or did it make you think of a story of your own?


I believe that stories unite us. These stories can be traced back to one person, conversation, or observation that provided a turning point in our lives. I’d love to hear if you believe this, too.


If you do believe this, then share it with your friends! Because sharing stories an instinctual, powerful way to touch the hearts of others and change the world around us.

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