Sometimes I ask clients to describe their life in one word. Obviously, their life is far more complex than this, but their answers are telling.
What is your one word?
If you were to say, “busy”, I would not be surprised. There’s a rich history behind why “busy” is our default to the question, “how are you?”
Our society has always anchored our value in what we do. Even in prehistoric times you were a hunter or a gatherer. But if you strip away all of the labels – family and work related, who are you? For many of us, that answer isn’t on the tip of our tongue.
Well sweets, I’m here to remind you that you are so much more than what you do. In fact, you are closest to who you are when you are not doing something. I know, confusing right? Usually that is called “lazy” and I’m here to tell you that’s a load of crap.
The challenge is that we learn from a very young age that our value is rooted in our accomplishments. Before we are even potty-trained, our developmental milestones are tracked at every doctor’s visit. Then, before we know it, we’re whisked off to the world of education. There, we prove our understanding of information and concepts over and over again. Then, it’s off to the training world.
That’s a whole lot of do-ing before we’re even old enough to vote.
Ironically, even though we’ve been spoon-fed our understanding of the world for much of our lives, at about 18 years old, we’re supposed to know what we want to be when we grow up.
From the technical school to the university, the new job training to the military basic training, we are set on a path of believing that we are defined by what we do.
When is the last time you were at an event with people that you didn’t know very well? What tends to be a guaranteed topic of small talk?
What we do.
So from the day of your first doctor’s visit as an infant, to that dinner party last weekend, you’ve been on a path of making things happen in your life. And even when you’re not doing something résumé-worthy, you’ve still got a home to maintain, appointments to make and a personal life to care for.
So what happens when there is a pause in all of this accomplishing? We are all very good at doing, but aren’t great at being.
We kinda suck at the pause.
Recently I had two friends reflecting on the pause. The conversations circled around how unsettling it can feel when we are used to going and doing and climbing higher and we look around and realize things have plateaued. They both shared how strange it can feel when we want something more, something different, but how to get there isn’t obvious.
When we don’t know the answer but we feel an internal deadline to figure it out, the pause can be scary.
One friend expressed if it weren’t raising her kids right now, she wasn’t sure what she would be doing. In a world that demands we have a job title and a career to speak of, she was not sure what hers would be or when she might set foot back into the professional world. I could tell she was feeling a tug inside between what she is doing and what she ought to be doing. We reflected on feeling the need to have a plan for jumping back into the paid-working world again. She talked about not knowing where to start, or when.
By the end of our chat, she settled on the fact that perhaps right now she is doing precisely what she needs to be doing at this phase in her life. As for what she’ll claim at a dinner party down the road, that will come with time.
She is in the pause, even though she’s got a non-stop schedule.
My other friend is navigating some major changes in her world. She was on a track to completing an apprenticeship but recovering from an injury has her in a holding pattern. Ironically, while she’s recuperating, she’s been reflecting on her path and getting really clear on the direction her life is going. She’ll either head in a totally different direction or she’ll root down deep in her current goals and see them through.
Who knows what the future holds for her but I know that fantastic things are in store. She is using her downtime to ask the questions, “is this really what I want?” and “what else could I do?”
She’s in the pause, and yet, so much is shifting in her world.
So, what about your pause?
Is it a boredom in your work life or stagnation in your personal life? Is it waiting for a job interview outcome, a medical diagnosis or perhaps news of a baby? It could be a timeline for retirement or the gap between 24/7 parenting and gearing up for an empty nest.
We all experience the pause and we almost always feel a great deal of fear and anxiety while we move through it.
But, I want to take the default to fear and anxiety and flip it on it’s head.
Consider the fact that you will own or rent many residences in your lifetime. If you drive, you already have a few cars in your history and will probably have more to come. You will have tons of clothes and will work on plenty of projects. Now, luckily for us, all of these things are spread out over a lifetime so that we can enjoy all of them as the years pass.
Imagine if every project you will ever work came to you all at once? The prospect is terrifying. Every home you will ever live in? That’s a lot of rent or mortgage to come up with by the first of the month. Every piece of clothing or every car? I don’t know a single person with a closet or a driveway big enough for all of that.
All of it is spread out, with many pauses sprinkled throughout, for our own sanity.
The pause is a wonderful opportunity. The pause is where we process the past, get knee-deep present in the now, and build resiliency and excitement for the future.
The pause is where we have time to consider if current situation is really working for us. The pause is where the ideas for new angles on a project come to us and inspiration for that next chapter takes place. It’s where we get rested enough to have the momentum to jump when an irresistible offer is put on the table. Or, perhaps it’s the time when we gather the courage to reject that very same offer because we have something even better planned.
So, when we look at it this way –The pause is where the action happens.
In other words, don’t fear or fret about the pause, dance in it. There’s more happening there than you think. The pause is the rare and beautiful space in-between where we aren’t being told what the answer is. Imagine that!
Even if you spend your precious energy worrying about the outcome, you’ll soon find out that the end result is almost never what you anticipated. So put your energy into something worthwhile instead.
Here’s one more way to look at it: the pause is where nothing is a guarantee, which means the list of possibilities is endless. How freakin’ cool is that?
Sit with your pause. Breathe through your pause and befriend your pause. Listen deeply and feel everything you need to feel during your pause because there is a good chance you’re doing all of it to prepare you for what’s on the other side.
All my love,