Freedom in the present moment comes from letting go of the need to know what will happen in the future.
From trusting that you will make the right decisions if you listen to your heart, your gut instincts and feelings, and ignoring the constant chatter of the “monkey mind”.
Freedom comes from letting yourself ‘be’. Accepting who you are. Not forcing yourself to be something you’re not.
Caring for others is an essential part of life, but can’t we do that without sacrificing our own happiness in the process? We shouldn’t be required to live up to other people’s expectations if they are no longer in alignment with who we are and what we want out of life.
The New You
Freedom comes from accepting that we are in a constant state of change. As our cells replenish, our bodies are recreated. As our life experiences affect us, so we become new beings, with new desires, new needs, new curiosities.
Much has been made by the popular media of the ability of musicians to ‘reinvent’ themselves: Dylan, Bowie, Madonna. This is a natural process for all of us. It seems absurd that anyone would think it’s normal to stay forever the same, like a relic frozen in time.
It saddens me to see successful musicians, actors or entertainers or other public figures who’ve reached a ripe old age still trying to conform to the image that made them famous when they were teenagers. I can’t imagine it’s much fun.
It may well work out fine for them financially, but think how much more interesting they might have become if they didn’t slavishly live up to the expectations and demands of their more conservative fans, and explored more interesting territories.
Are You Stuck in The Waiting Room?
Christina Rasmussen has written a book about dealing with grief called Second Firsts. She says that after suffering the loss of a loved one, many people are stuck between their old lives and their new ones, and feel unable to move forward. She compares this to being stuck in a Waiting Room:
“We begin living in a gap between lives—the life we’ve left behind and the life we have yet to enter. I like to call this space the Waiting Room. When we’re in the Waiting Room, we’re still attached to the past—which is already gone forever—even as we’re trying to figure out what the future looks like.
In this place, we struggle with our new reality, thinking that it is our new life. We are unable to see ourselves clearly and make decisions as we used to. The brain’s ability to plan and reason is temporarily gone.”
This could also be the case (albeit in a less traumatic way) if your life has changed in other ways and you need to move on to a different way of being. It might be that you are currently going through some kind of transition in life, but you are reluctant to say goodbye to the old way of life. Basically, you don’t want to leave your comfort zone:
“While you wait in the Waiting Room, you get increasingly comfortable. This is your safe place. Some Waiting Rooms are actually quite cozy after we settle into them. Metaphorically speaking, if you can imagine it, they look like living rooms with nice, big couches and flat-screen TVs.
You go to your Waiting Room initially to be safe while you adjust to your loss. But soon enough, your brain begins to associate stepping outside of this space as dangerous. We want to avoid pain, so the brain tries to anticipate bad situations before they happen. We stay in the Waiting Room for fear of risking future loss. Unfortunately, the longer you stay, the harder it is to start over.”
According to Rasmussen, leaving the waiting room involves taking small actions every day towards the new life you want, and:
“….gradually learning to let go of your fear as you practice doing things that are different from your too-comfortable, self-protective routines.”
Even a tiny action that takes you outside your comfort zone can help. To find out more, you can watch a fascinating video interview with Rasmussen over at the Good Life Project.
Tips for Going Through a Transition
Going through any kind of transitional period can be really difficult, even if you’re not dealing with grief. Here are a few tips for coping with it:
- Most importantly, be patient and compassionate with yourself.
- Take small steps each day if possible, and try to maintain some kind of forward momentum.
- Expect occasional setbacks, and give yourself permission to temporarily retreat back to your comfort zone if it feels necessary.
- Be willing to let go of what no longer works for you. Notice what makes you feel good now – it may be different than what used to make you feel good in the past.
- Recognise that the fear you are feeling is more to do with imagined future scenarios than present realities. Don’t allow it to hold you back from what you really want out of life.
Are you a different person now, to the one you were two years, or five years, or ten years ago? Did you find the transition easy or difficult?
Or are you transitioning towards something new in 2014? Let me know in the comments.
This is Part 4 of the Refresh Your Mindset Series.
Part 2: 8 Habits That Will Help You Refresh Your Mindset
Part 3: The Uncertain Creative
Subscribe to get the full guide as a PDF.
11 replies on “The Art of Not Knowing”
Being stuck in the “waiting room” might also be indicative of waiting for the wrong train.
I think sometimes there is a good reason why you don’t seem to be able to take action: because deep down you sense that what you are planning to do is just not the right thing. Maybe you need to take a closer look and try and figure out if it is really what you want…. I’m not saying this will necessarily mean you have to decide on a complete career change. Sometimes, even small adjustments in what you want to do can make a whole lot of difference…
I began starting to think this way when I saw myself acting very differently in two similar situations in my life.
I always wanted to draw and figured I could be an illustrator to make a living. Every once in a while I managed to get a job doing illustrations but those were always few and far between. I didn’t seem to be able to take the actions necessary to find new clients and follow up on existing ones. I never really managed to get a decent portfolio online.
In short: every hurdle I needed to pass seemed impossible to conquer.
But when I’m really honest I would have to admit that I never really enjoyed doing the illustration jobs I managed to get. The results where ok, I guess, but more often than not I felt I wanted to do something else than what the client had in mind.
So do I really want to be an illustrator?
Two years ago I started taking Argentinean Tango lessons and by now me and my girlfriend (and dancing partner) are completely addicted. We take lessons twice a week, practice at home regularly and go to the weekly “practica” (a sort of exercise ball) every time. The only thing we dreaded doing was going to a “milonga” (a real ball). Quite frankly, we didn’t really dare to go and when we finally did we completely froze up and had a huge row afterwards, blaming each other for what went wrong. Months later we decided to try it again and the same exact thing happened: the worst kind of dancing and a fight when we got home. We realized something was very wrong here and when we both cooled down we tried to analyze what was going on and how we were going to deal with it. Yesterday, we went to a milonga for the third time and we didn’t have a fight at all 🙂 Sure, the dancing could have gone better – we’ve only been doing this for two years, which in Tango is peanuts – but we managed to work through our fears and insecurities and pass this hurdle.
Now I realize these two examples are not exactly the same thing, but I think what is important here is that I never ever doubted wanting to dance. I enjoyed every minute of it, except for the problematic milongas. On the other hand: working as an illustrator never really satisfied me personally. I liked drawing but that’s where the fun ended.
Lately I’ve been thinking maybe I should look at this a bit differently: in stead of doing what once seemed “sensible” – at least being an illustrator is some kind of “real” job – I need to focus on more personal work and start from there. I don’t really know where this will take me yet, but I do feel much more enthused by that.
So yes, Milo: I guess I am in a transitional period. (a Clear-minded exclusive)
Love this! And I totally agree. Even harder when you’re in a partnership I guess, but really glad you and your girlfriend were able to look at the dancing objectively and work out what wasn’t working. (That’s a very cool hobby by the way!)
I felt the same when I started out as a copywriter, the enthusiasm that was necessary for making a go of it just wasn’t there. Now I still do some copywriting, but I’ve widened out the scope of what I do to also include content strategy and a more editorial style of writing.
Maybe illustration will continue to be part of what you do, but just not the main focus/source of income? Any way I hope you keep doing it in some shape or form!
“While you wait in the Waiting Room, you get increasingly comfortable. This is your safe place.” When I read these lines, I thought of the dreamland of unlimited possibilities. You get a euphoric feeling in this place because you imagine your potential being realized to its fullest in so many different ways.
In contrast, the world of action feels colder and scarier. There are consequences to choices and actions, namely failure. But, one can learn from failure. And, as you take action, you develop your own warmth and strength, much like exercising on a cold morning. I’ve found that small tasks, like reading and responding to a forum, help get me up to speed for bigger tasks.
Yes Greg, and isn’t exercising on a cold morning so difficult to do sometimes? But such a rewarding one if you can just get started. Glad you recognize the importance of moving from dreamland into the world of action, even if just through small steps!
I can so relate to this piece. I lost my fiance a year and a half ago and have been living in the waiting room since he died. I have been making choices all the while to help me begin to envision a new future, and am stepping towards it in small ways each day.
I left my career as a designer and have spent this time living with his amazing family for added support while i heal. They have been a godsend and allowed me time to dream of what i truly want.
What i envision for my new life both challenges and excites me – to live my dreams of being an artist and writer and essentially to be who i am and share my wisdom for a Living. The small ways i have worked towards that are to continue working on anything artistic that excites me… Including jewelry design, welding, clay sculpture, photography, painting, and more. I also write a blog about my grief journey, and am now a featured writer for Widow’s Voice, an online publication for Widows. I’ve entered my work in a few
Local shows, won an award last fall – my first. Slowly, bit by bit, i am creating a future. Thank you so much for sharing this Milo – some great info I will share with my fellow widowed friends. I may have to pick up Her book, and will definitely be catching up on your other posts!
Hi Sarah, I’m so sorry for your loss. It sounds like you’ve definitely begun to take some really solid steps towards a new life and regaining happiness for yourself.
Congratulations on all of your successes so far and for being brave enough to take each and every step along the way. I think you’d definitely find Christina’s book helpful.
Thanks for commenting and sharing your story!
Thank you for this post, Milo. I am going through a big transition in my life at the moment and it’s easy, as you say, to hunker down in the Waiting Room. I moved to Canada straight after university and worked there as an Admin for two years. I recently made the decision to move home to the UK because, although I generally enjoyed my life there, I felt I was stagnating in my job and I didn’t want to stay so far from my family. I felt unsettled, I guess. This line in particular really spoke to me:
“Freedom comes from accepting that we are in a constant state of change. As our cells replenish, our bodies are recreated. As our life experiences affect us, so we become new beings, with new desires, new needs, new curiosities.”
I moved home in November and back in with my parents which is essentially my waiting room. I’m an English graduate and hungry to pursue a career which allows me to write and communicate with people, as these are the things I love most. However, the job hunt is slow and the more time I remain here the more doubts creep in about whether I should have moved back, if I fit in here now, and whether I have what it takes to get a job I love. I worry that I don’t have enough relevant experience; so I’ve taken on an unpaid internship and started blogging (both of which I really enjoy) hoping that this will help. I’ve received very positive feedback on my writing which has helped my confidence immensely.
Your posts are helping me to realise that I am changing a lot at the moment and reevaluating what I want in life and, more importantly,that this is okay. I’ve been through a few tough episodes in my life over the past few years and have repressed these through fear of change. As a result, I became less confident in my abilities and in voicing my own needs, preferring to play a minor role. But, your posts have thankfully helped me break out of this; letting go of the obligation I feel to please the people and places who I have grown out of is difficult, but necessary in order for me to invest in myself and stride confidently into a new chapter of my life.
So, again, I’d just like to say thank you for this website, I’m working on building upon my strengths and hopefully an employer will see my potential soon! Keep up the good work.
Hi Kathryn Ann
Thanks for sharing your story here. It sounds like you’ve been through a lot and made some tough decisions. I think doing the internship and blogging are great ideas, and it’s good that you’re in the position to do that right now.
In my experience, opportunities tend to develop out of taking a chance on something you want to do or are attracted to doing, and putting yourself out there and doing the best work you can. If it’s unpaid to begin with, that’s fine – paid work will come along if you follow your instincts about what feels right to you.
It can take time though for opportunities to happen though, so try to be patient when it comes to results (which I know is easier said than done as patience has never been my strong point!).
Thanks Milo, really helpful and inspiring to see you doing so well 🙂 and congratulations on your 2nd anniversary out of the 9-5!
I’ve just taken VER (voluntary early retirement) from the day job. Instead of talking about it – I’m now doing it (‘it’ being all things postponed in order to be a wage slave).
Today we paid off our admittedly tiny mortgage and in the next couple of weeks pretty much all of our small financial albatrosses. I feel like I’ve actually stood up straight and lifted my head up for the first time in years 🙂 The drama!
For me at least, it has been more a case of being institutionalised than waiting room. I’ve had a few major stays in hospital and that is my default coping mode – fit in, follow the routine, get through today. Twenty eight years later I’m staggering about not used to the daylight …. well perhaps not THAT bad but – still, that feeling of wagging off prevails 🙂
Transition tips are great Milo. Can I have some tips to help me not want to smack people who think I’m ‘lucky’? Or biff those who assume that I couldn’t possibly have an alternative to sitting in my retirement armchair doing old people stuff? And if I sound like a ninja I’m not – I’m a peaceable, tree-hugging hippy really …
Hi Elaine, congratulations on taking early retirement and paying off your mortgage, that must feel amazing! Glad you’re enjoying the freedom, and extra daylight!
sorry to hear that you’ve been unwell and hope that improves for you and you can relax and enjoy your retirement.
It also sounds like you’ve had a few comments from people who’ve misunderstood your decision – hope you didn’t punch them! Maybe they are just so stuck in their own situations that they can’t understand yours? Although it is more like just being flippant when they say you are ‘lucky’.