When you don’t know what’s next: a note for times of transition

There's a weird myth that says once you've figured out what you want to do, you've figured it out forever.

But speaking for myself (and the hundreds of people I've coached and been in conversation with), that's rarely true. 

For the vast majority of us, life is a series of experiments. An always fluid, ever unfolding and never static journey of discovering, development and change. 

So when you look to me (or others) and think "why can't I just know what I want to do like she does?", believe me when I say, you're not seeing the full story.

My journey has been (and continues to be) peppered with the question:

"What's next?"

This question comes for all of us, appearing at intervals throughout our lives and careers. Times when the old is dying down or away and the new hasn't yet made itself known. Times when you realise a new direction is needed but you don't yet know what that direction is. Sometimes it might be nothing more than a tweak or a slight shift. Other times it might be a full scale turning of the tides.

These times can be deeply disturbing and profoundly uncomfortable. 

It's likely that the small minded 'you' will want it figured out now (or yesterday). There'll be a sense of pressure to know what's next and how it will all play out. There'll be an urgent feeling of needing to "do" something. To take action and put things in motion. Anything to make you feel like you're not stuck in the place of not knowing. 

Unfortunately (or fortunately), that's not actually how life works. 

There's a time for powerful action and there's a time for doing absolutely nothing and sitting in the void until nothing turns to something. And that won't happen until it happens. It could be a week. It could be years. As much as you want the time to be now, life might know you need to wait. 

It might be that life needs to deliver you some more experiences and learnings before you're ready to birth your next thing into the world. It might be that you need to see something you don't yet see. 

And until it's time for those experiences and learnings and seeings, you'll need to master the art of...patience.

Ah, patience. A quality I'd told myself I didn't and could never possess. I remember my acting teacher telling me in no uncertain terms that my lack of patience is what would stand in the way of my success in life. I hated him for that, just as I always hate people who tell me the truth before I'm ready to hear it. I remember feeling defensive and I clung yet more tightly to my right to be a person who didn't wait around in life. 

But patience is something I've been learning to get comfortable with. As someone wrote to me, "I've learned to chill the fuck out and go with the flow." 

It takes courage. Enormous courage, actually, to sit in that empty space. Because we're a culture hell bent on going faster, taking all the action right now and never stopping to take a breath. 

Most of us are also extremely uncomfortable with slowing down, for in the time and space that's created in slowing down, we may notice things about ourselves and our lives that we may not wish to notice. We may be forced to ask more difficult questions and to contemplate what it is we're going after anyway and...why? 

If we slow down enough and long enough, the holes in our beliefs start to show up and we see that our life is built on shaky ground, at best. And when your beliefs start to crumble, everything starts to crumble, because your whole identity has been carefully crafted around those beliefs.

In the slowing down, you may begin to question why you were in such a hurry to figure it all out anyway. Usually it's because we're afraid of what will happen if we don't. But if you can stop moving long enough and stay in that empty space and sit with your fears and look at those questions, you'll find yourself eventually reaching a peace with life the likes of which you've never known before.

In this place, you begin to trust far more deeply than you've ever trusted. You begin to understand that there's truly nothing to be afraid of and you begin to realise that there isn't really anywhere you need to go or anything you need to do.

And ironically, the more you surrender to the truth of that, the more you might find that fresh creative ideas start to emerge from the void. Or not. It truly doesn't matter. Because life isn't after the empty space. Life isn't "when you've figured out what to do next". Life is the empty space. It's here, now. Whether you know what your next move is or not. 

Be in the empty space. It is by far your greatest opportunity for growth.

Love and courage,