Not doing something is, in fact, an action.
I’d often give my life-coaching clients who were feeling totally lost and confused this practice: take a week-long sabbatical. No internet, no email, no social media, and if possible, no work. Also? No self-help books.
Most of the seriously smart women I worked with who were feeling totally lost and confused were always trying to do something about their lost-ness and confusion–read a lot of self-help books, re-work their schedules, spend hours on the internet surfing websites that talked about living a better life.
A happy accident: this “doing” included hiring a life coach, a move that ended up working out for them if they were jamming with me, primarily because I’d ask them to slow down. I’d ask them to stop trying to get so far away from “lost and confused.” I’d ask them to instead try to figure out what “lost and confused” was trying to say, and I was willing to be with them in the lost and confusing places so that they weren’t doing it all, alone.
The Doing Problem
The problem is that when you’re feeling totally lost and confused, you’re feeling murky and uncertain and there’s a lot of second-guessing and doubt. You start taking strides in one direction, then you feel like no, that’s all wrong, I don’t want that, I don’t know what I want, who am I, anyway? Ugh I hate all of this.
All of that doing often ends up becoming a distraction from clearly seeing what’s really going on. You need to discard distraction.
Internet, email, social media, and being frustrated with jobs we hate are almost always a distraction from what’s really going on. We turn to the internet, email, and social media to numb out. We turn to frantically trying different personal growth options so that we can feel like we’re “doing something” about the problem.
So I’d ask clients to drop away from all of that, for one week.Spending a week without all of the habitual distractions would usually open up some kind of insight: Oh–so my marriage isn’t working and it’s because I’m the one sabotaging it, or A-ha–I’m feeling creatively stifled and wish I could just bust out the paint brushes, or Actually, the real issue that I see so clearly, now, is that I feel completely fake and inauthentic around my friends.
Boom. Fucking terrifying, all of those realizations.
When the truth is ready to come knocking at our door, that’s when we avoid getting quiet with ourselves. One of the reasons I’m such a fan of life coaching is that when a client has these realizations, when they reconcile themselves to a difficult truth, they have the coach and they’re not alone.
When people see clearly into the truth, lost and confused–the murky, fumbling, don’t know what you want variety–dissipates pretty quickly.
When you actually see the truth about who you are, or your creative longings, or your marriage, or your desired career, the choices don’t become easier, but at least you’re no longer fumbling in your own exhaustion.
Harder Before Better
“Wait, Kate–what? WHAT? What did you just say? It’s going to get harder?”
Yes. Hollywood sells you on seeing the truth and having the a-ha breakthrough. In my experience and in working with clients, I’ve usually found that it (temporarily) gets harder, before it gets better.
For example: Realizing that your entire life feels inauthentic opens up the harrowing question of figuring out, perhaps for the first time, who you actually are. Understanding that all you want to do is quit your job and paint means butting up against all of your fears about not having enough money or being rejected by the art establishment.
It will get harder, yes, but I believe that if someone stays the course, it will get better. And it will have been worth it if you commit to this one very important thing: seeing what’s on the other side of harder. If you give up before then, you miss out on the gold that’s on the other side.
So, To Recap
You get quiet with yourself, minimizing the outside distractions.
You temporarily don’t try to search for any “answers” whatsoever.
You pay attention to what seems to emerge as truth without attaching to anything as “the” truth, an absolute truth.
You accept that this space feels wiggly and feral and awful, at the same time that it might also arouse your curiosity.
You will know when the truth-truth-truth emerges, mostly because it’ll keep coming back up to be faced.
Lost and confused–the murky kind–dissipates as you understand what’s true.
Things feel tough for awhile, as you start responding to what you know is true.
And, if you pay attention, you learn something of incomparable value along the way–who you really are, and what you really want, and that nothing in life can actually break you.
You learn to trust yourself.
You learn to prioritize what matters to you, most.
This becomes your freedom.
When you trust yourself and your life pivots around your freedom, the gratitude and joy you feel just for breathing? It floods you.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but that’s what I want: to be flooded, regularly and routinely, with reverence for life.
Have you taken some time for the “not doing”? Lovely. Now, there’s this time.