I had come to a crossroads at the top of my game or so it seemed…. I decided to cast myself adrift for a year or two to see what might happen. My journey thus far has taught me quite a bit……
When you are unsure of the Path you are on, step off.
I dropped out of the typical life-cycle (birth, school, uni, job, marriage, kids, retirement, pension, next life) and decided to give my artistic side more of a chance, get off my work treadmill and start to live the life I wanted now. What opportunities would come my way if I just tried things that I enjoyed for the sake of enjoyment without thinking of the reward and waited for something to resonate. I was uncertain of my path but I knew I needed to make a change to find my happy and be free (sounds lame perhaps but that was the aim).
So I stepped out of my comfort zone, my habits, my way of life, my consumerism, my always having plenty of cash coming in, always having the answers, with a dose of stress, a lack of time and a groundhog repetition. My fairly mobile treadmill of 17 years where I moved with ease between problem solver, crisis manager, troubleshooter, department head, parachuting in to failing areas when required was all put away into a box to maybe unpack at a later date.
Give your Inner Saboteur a name.
Drifting without a plan just an open woolly…ish goal, did make me question myself. Being honest it gave me a constant ache in my chest for almost a year, I still get it sometimes now (the inner voice, the logic, the left and right brain conflict, creating the self doubt). I craved the comfort of the institutional structure, the culture, the known, the treadmill, even the politics, where I had started to feel spent, trapped, frustrated, like a workaholic possessed and nearly driven over the edge .
Why was my brain goading me and pulling my back into the treadmill abyss before I had a chance to discover what else might be out there for me and move forward? Self sabotage is common, and I know it well at this stage, we are friends and when she arrives we have a chat and I banish her. She is a she to me, I call her Selena the Saboteur and say ” Selena we’ve been here before, thank you for your concern but it’s time to go away”.
Sometimes not having a plan is a plan.
You see the journey I was on was less controlled and tangible with many unknowns and I was staring into the unknown without a compass or a detailed plan just a very rough goal, to see what might happen if I allowed myself to just be. Now anyone who knows me knows that I like to be in control I deal in knowns and identify unknowns with what if scenarios. I plan for the unexpected, the worst case scenario, the risks, the issues, the assumptions and the constraints. The devil is in the detail “I do believe” and I am all over the detail usually, I immerse myself in it, in short I love it. I am a past master of benefits realisation, presentations and action plans.
This time was different though, it wasn’t a work situation it was a life situation (my life). The unknown was so unknown that even I couldn’t plan for it and anyway I was trying a different approach to be open and just go with the flow.
Persist in your belief.
For the first time in my life I was rudderless, but and this was a big but!! Hadn’t I cast myself adrift to see what might happen, what opportunities would come if I tried things I enjoyed for the sake of enjoyment. Imagine that just enjoyment !! without thinking of the reward and waited for something to resonate. 5 years previously that notion would most probably have made me roll my eyes and say “what utter nonsense”. I couldn’t make excuses or lay blame elsewhere, this was all down to me.
I was alone and I didn’t have the answers and when someone asked “So what’s the plan”? I didn’t have one, or “What do you do?” I could have answered in the past tense but I didn’t, I’d respond with “Oh I’m taking a break, exploring opportunities”. I was just taking a chance in life and changing direction but without a clear plan, because I had awoken to the fact that there had to be something else, some other reason for me…..
Admit you don’t have all the answers.
I could retire from the treadmill but not from working, I’d be bored and anyway my intention is to work at something until my last breath. I need to use my mind and be inspired, constantly moving forward, staying current but with something more. This was my quest, my goal my raison d’être, finding the passion that would fulfill my work and intellectual aspirations, allow me to embrace life and at the same time inspire and sustain me to happy. Simple! really? No…. Complicated and very very confusing!.
Don’t ignore your emotions.
On reflection, having managed countless change projects I should have known I would encounter emotional impacts and barriers to change. I have practiced the techniques for successful change adoption many times in a business scenario. Did it occur to me on my self imposed change path to use these strategies to identify, manage, deliver and absorb this unknown change of mine? I am laughing to myself as I type this and thinking “you idiot” but reflection is such a powerful teacher.
Just because there is a chorus doesn’t mean it’s right or that you have to listen!
What I had not factored in was that as I was not part of a team, I would need external change support for the normal emotions that come into play. Listeners, to be a sounding board, to help me calm my inner voice “Selena” who nags away when I give her time “What are you doing, just go back to what you know”. I needed more of “good for you, what’s life for if you don’t live it” and less of the “when are you going back to work?”. I never realised how hard making a personal direction change could be. When you can’t even outline what the change might be, as that is part of the change, the approach to just let go to be free, to see what might be?.
The chorus of other voices from family and friends often echoing my own thoughts and Selena too saying “ Why are you doing this? You don’t really need to do you? You could get another job tomorrow with great money? Sure you have everything you need? We were out of tune, with many trying to convince me to go back. I didn’t need to justify myself or indeed want to as that might weaken my resolve, discussion wasn’t on the agenda as far as I was concerned I was taking the time.
My support group started to change almost immediately once it was out there that I was taking time out and changing my path. When there was an issue/problem/crisis for others I was often in the middle of it. I’d jump in the car and drive across the country, responding within hours to messages, but when it was me asking (which didn’t happen often) the responses were thin on the ground, my messages often went unanswered or were just ignored. As I had more time to think it became apparent to me that something had to change here too. Many don’t understand my change in direction or perhaps the risk scares them.
Being different sets you apart, it makes you find yourself among the crowd.
With less stress and more time I became more aware of the lack of support and encouragement coming my way. My decision to make a change and go it alone outside of the institutional confines makes me an unknown proposition, less like one of them, different, as I’m challenging the norm.
Build your own support network.
Concentrating on work, career, money, socialising and stuff doesn’t appeal to me as much anymore. My circle has naturally changed and evolved, it has been impacted by my change. I have made many new contacts and friends and reconnected with old friends, all of whom are as supportive and encouraging and as interested in me and what I am doing, as I am in them. Their support and non judgemental input is critical to my success and when Selena rears her head and threatens my resolve they are always there to help me kick her into touch. Self improvement and self change is tough at any age and is an area that I am looking at more closely. Having support and a network where you can give and take is essential to success in any walk of life.
Leave doors ajar.
I am still in touch with everyone, nobody has been ghosted or dropped as that’s just not my way. You connect in life with people for many reasons and I don’t believe in closing the door on memories, connections or the sparks that once were.
Being good at something doesn’t mean it is right for you.
Just because you are good at something and excelling in your field doesn’t mean you have to continue doing it, especially if it has lost the joy and the passion.
The path may not be straight but give yourself a break and time to find your way.
The 2 years has become 4 years, I have discovered that I love to write poetry, songs, articles, take reportage candid portraits and street-photography. I garden, pickle, bake, run and I am also in the midst of writing a book. I will never lose my love of helping to solve the big poison chalice business, organisational or IT problems and I do occasionally consult on a professional capacity when asked and the task tempts me. The work is stimulating and rewarding and it keeps my knowledge current. I never close doors as opportunities come from the most unlikely places.
Helping others helps you.
Helping others to take control and live the life they want is my main focus, I use many of my real like experiences and skills from my working life and coach. Sorting out problems and the cause and effect is my forte be it a career block, a money block or giving someone the support they need to take control. What I am doing now is so rewarding and it makes me happy. I never realised my change and problem solving skills and experience as well as emotional support potential targeted at a non business audience might be what I was searching for? Without stepping back and waiting I might never have known…..
On reflection I should have been more encouraging of friends embarking on a different path, experience makes you wise and I know this has changed my perspective in so many ways. In life I do believe that you get what you give but the lesson for me is that you need to make sure, when you give you give to the right people and for the right reasons and that if all you are doing is giving with nothing back then you need to take stock. Everything has its’ time and place, some paths, friendships, roles are timeless and some run out of time or may have another time.
Create a life plan and update it.
My advice is to step back at least twice a year and give your life path a health check. Creating a simple life plan is easy, make sure to include and take stock of the fuel that drives your path i.e. relationships, your income and expenditure, you work life balance and most importantly your life goals and your dreams ( with a time period – short and long term), make sure you write them down. Don’t forget to add some fun goals and downtime too the things that make you smile from within.
Use these five headings for each goal to dig a little deeper and take your goal temperature.
Where I am
Where I Want to Be
By When (time)
What Does That Look & Feels Like
Is It Still For Me
If you don’t feel them resonate in your heart and in your head then perhaps it’s time to reassess?. Life runs out eventually, so make sure that you are present in it and living it to the end not just participating……..
Think differently, what you know may not be all you know… Oh the possibilities!
Review is good and whatever it is if it doesn’t make your soul sing if the goal makes you feel stressed or sad or doesn’t appeal anymore, perhaps you need to turn your goals and your life upside down, change your path from what you know, and start from scratch. What’s the worst that can happen if you shake it up and take a risk? I know I’m glad I did and as Rosa Luxembourg said “Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently”.