The Hard Thing About Following the Clues


In his fascinating book, Treasure Hunt: Follow Your Inner Clues to Find True Success, Rizwan Virk describes the difficulties of recognizing clues and which clues to follow…

When I was a kid, I was a big fan of adventure films like Raiders of the Lost Ark, where the legendary archaeologist, Indiana Jones (played by Harrison Ford) sets out with his friends to find the treasure.  It didn’t matter whether it was the Ark of the Covenant or the Holy Grail or some other random treasure – it was exciting to watch the twists and turns that led to the treasure. 

The problem, for all of these heroes, was that although there was a treasure, the map to find it wasn’t presented all at once … there would be one clue, and only by following that clue could the next clue be discovered.   Sometimes, our heroes would encounter obstacles ranging from Nazi soldiers to new construction over old historic sites, which would prevent them from finding the next clue.  Sometimes they would be led down a false path, and would have to backtrack to get back on the right trail.

If only we had the Treasure Map laid out clearly in front of us, we could follow the clues to find the treasure of True Success, just like Indiana Jones.

In our own lives, we are constantly receiving clues in the form or our intuition, gut feelings, hunches, synchronicity and even in our dreams. 

By far the most difficult part of these tasks is not recognizing the clue—but recognizing the path of action the clues may be leading you to try out—a possible path or future that is being laid out in front of you.

Sometimes, the clue needs to be interpreted; at other times, the clue and the directions being implied are quite obvious  Here’s a simple example to chew on.


Living between the Worlds

In the fall of 1997, four years after the initial launch of our product, I left Brainstorm, the start-up that I had co-founded and had been running for four years.

While I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next, I kept seeing images and statues of mermaids in various places in New England—statues at restaurants, pictures on walls, in gift shops, etc. This was made more unusual by the fact that I had been to these places before; I just hadn’t noticed that there were mermaids on the walls and everywhere I looked.

This is a perfect example of how the “invisible hand” of the inner mentor works—it points out things in the environment that may have been in plain sight before but hadn’t been noticed by our conscious minds. The inner mentor then produces the feelings of unusual-ness so that you recognize you are being given a clue!

I had no idea what this mermaid imagery meant, but I kept seeing it—in shop windows, in books, and on and on. Whenever I noticed one, I would have that “funny feeling”—the “odd sensation” that something was in play beyond my normal sight.

This was a symbol, I realized, and, as with symbols that come in dreams, I understood that it might need interpretation before I could recognize where the clue was leading me. As I thought about possible interpretations, I came to the realization that a mermaid to me represented someone who lived in between two worlds—the fish world of the ocean and the human world of land. Many a good movie (Splash, The Little Mermaid) has been made about the challenges and difficulties that mermaids face by being “in between” worlds.

At the same time as I began noticing the mermaids, I had started thinking seriously about going to California to live in Silicon Valley. But I still liked the idea of living in Boston, and didn’t want to sell my condo. I was ruminating on some workable solution to the problem and wanted to become “bi-coastal” for a time—I could try out the west coast while still keeping one foot on the east coast.

Many of my friends, however, doubted that I could live in both worlds—the east and west coast—or cope with the difficulties of doing so, particularly going back and forth every few weeks, not to mention the cost and need for a stable income.

I took the mermaid clue as a confirmation that it was possible to live in both worlds, and I went ahead and spent the first six months of 1998 living on both coasts, traveling back and forth every few weeks.

It turned out to be one of the best decisions that I have ever made, not only because I had such a great time in California. More importantly, it gave me time and space to begin writing, which led to a second career, becoming an author. The mermaid theme of living in two worlds was reflected in my thoughts concerning my career: to be a computer software entrepreneur and a writer—two very different parts of the business world, but it is possible to thrive in both.

This is an example of over-determinedness, or multiple levels of meaning packed into a single one: the clue pointed out something that was an issue for me in my life at that time (east coast vs. west coast), as well as an overarching theme in my life (co-existence in two worlds— business and spiritual), and pointed toward a solution as being right for me at the time.

In fact, “living between the worlds” is an apt description for someone who pays attention to the wisdom that comes to us in our dreams and through synchronicity, and who also lives in the sometimes harsh but rewarding world of business.

To Act or Not to Act—Bring the Right Brain and Left Brain Together

The fundamental question remains: how do you know when to act on a clue and when not to? Therein lies one of the paradoxes of synchronicity—the more you “trust yourself” to follow your intuition, the more often you will get intuition that’s helpful and meaningful.

But how do you get the confirmation that will let you trust your intuition more? It sounds like a chicken-and-egg question. I assure you, however, that if you start writing down your clues, and even take tentative actions to try out the directions suggested by them, you’ll start to navigate with more confidence.

You don’t always have to take literal action based on the dream or clue right away; you can reflect on the more general direction or theme that’s being expressed by the clues and symbols and take small steps to move in that direction, before you look for more validation. This brings us to the Clue Lifecycle, a way to bring the Left Brain (the logical side) together with the Right Brain (the intuitive side) to navigate our own personal Treasure Hunt.


Learning to Navigate in Your Own Way

While it may not be immediately apparent what a clue is telling you, if you learn to trust yourself and “go with the clues,” you’re bound to get very good ideas on the messages and to intuitively feel out the possible paths that you are being “led” on by the “invisible hand.”

Even if you don’t know exactly where a clue is leading you, and don’t take any action right away, by noticing and reflecting on the clues you are receiving, you’ve started on your own unique path to trusting your inner guidance as you build up your Book of Clues.

By learning to navigate in your personal and professional life using your own personalized clues, you are devising your own personalized navigational system. This system, like that of the Phoenicians long ago, will allow you to hone in on areas of importance and fulfillment in your life.

Using the Clue Lifecycle—intuition, interpretation, confirmation, action, validation and reflection—is an on-going process. Once you start it, the process goes on indefinitely, because you are always being led to the right place at the right time in your life. Like episodes of a TV show that reveal a season-long plot over time, your individual Clue Lifecycles will reveal the larger pattern of your Treasure Map to you over time.

You may find yourself following the cycle, stopping the cycle, and letting it go, only to find yourself picking up this thread a year or more later, spurred by a new clue which reminds you of the old one. This intertwining of cycles is very representative of how patterns emerge when we are learning to follow our inner guidance in the real world.

The important thing is to learn to take the first few steps of following that uncanny feeling down unexpected paths using your intuition, your dreams and synchronicity to guide you.

This could be simply walking into a second-hand bookstore and randomly finding a book on a subject you were just thinking about, or taking a moment on your way to work and driving down a road that you’ve been passing by day after day but have never explored. Or it may start by calling someone you haven’t talked to in a while but whose image just popped up in your mind.

Taking the first step like this can lead to interesting adventures that you may not have anticipated . . . and that is what makes it so much fun.



About Author

Rizwan Virk is a successful entrepreneur, film producer, venture capitalist, and bestselling author of Zen Entrepreneurship: Walking the Path of the Career Warrior. His software products have been used by the largest enterprises in the world, and his video games have been downloaded millions of times, including Tap Fish and Penny Dreadful: Demimonde. He studied at MIT and Stanford, and is currently Executive Director of Play Labs @ MIT, a startup accelerator. Riz lives in Mountain View, CA and Cambridge, MA.

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