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January 27, 2015

Things To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do

It’s time to tell the truth — most of us don’t know what the hell we are doing 99% of the time.

Me, you, that gal over there who looks like she has it all figured out, that “perfect family” you know from around town, your parents, whoever. So much of the time, we’re struggling with our next steps or wrangling with what we *should* be doing — with work, in our relationship, with our kids or our friends, our next step in our career, what next year will look like, WHAT TOMORROW WILL LOOK LIKE.

I wanted to write this article after talking with my brother Danny, who is currently in his last semester of college. He’s feeling the pressure of the inevitable, “So, what are your plans after college?” inquiry coming at him from every direction, and mostly from himself. That question makes my eye twitch because I remember it so well from being a college senior myself. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I felt compelled to have an answer so I’d just explain some grand plan I had for the “the next step.” Whether those plans came to pass or not didn’t matter. It was just the pressure of, I NEED TO KNOW WHAT I AM DOING. I NEED A PLAN! I actually didn’t even have a job until the last week of the semester, and I only had ONE INTERVIEW so thank god they liked me enough to take me on. Oh, the sense of relief! “I’m okay now” Phew, dodged a bullet.

IMO, plans are the ultimate control mechanism

Let’s be honest. Having a plan feels good. It feels so organized. When we have a plan, it means we’re okay for now. We can dodge the tough questions because the day-to-day is taken care of. *checks it off the list* This is such an interesting insight because in my experience, 99% of people are constantly trying to scrounge together a plan — even one that they may not actually want — just out of the sheer comfort of having one (including me!).

Once you get your first job, it’s on to the next thing. Is it getting married, starting a family, getting a promotion at work, saving for a vacation, putting away for retirement, etc? All worthy choices, but I don’t know that those choices always get made consciously, we just go with the flow a lot of the time. Which again, is totally fine, until maybe, we stop and look around and don’t recognize how we got there or the plans we put in place weren’t really the ones we wanted.

I don’t know about you, but I have had a few of those WTF moments in my 30s, where you’re just like, I don’t even know what I want to be when I grow up! I don’t know what I should be doing! I don’t know! I don’t know! I don’t know! And EVERYBODY ELSE DOES! [insert self-judgment here]

And I don’t think that’s true. I think most people don’t know what they are doing most of the time. And I think that’s perfectly fine. In fact, it’s the norm. It’s human. You don’t have to have an answer for every single question you get asked at every single moment in your life.

There is no shame in saying, “You know what? I’m not sure.”

At least it’s honest. At least it’s true. And it shows that you know yourself and have a level of introspection. Spouting lip service just to seem in control doesn’t serve us. Honesty with ourselves does. It’s from that honest assessment that, I believe, we can make those more informed, conscious decisions.

Pretending to have all the answers all the time leaves very little wiggle room to actually learn what is true for us. Could you instead, throw yourself a bone and be okay with not knowing for now? I think it’s okay to not know what the hell you are doing.

photo 1-1

Photo: Dominic Gray

Get comfortable with discomfort

Lately, I have a new practice. And that is doing … nothing.

Well, actually I have been doing a whole lot of stuff – like my Best of You gals say – I’ve been #GSD’ing or “getting shit done,” but in some areas of my life, my recent practice has been getting comfortable with non-action.

Let me explain.

Byron Katie says, “It is in the non-doing that all is done.” When I first heard that, I was like, WTF? What does that even mean, and homegirl is cuckoo because the only way things get done is if I do them!

Besides, if there’s one thing that is a huge value of mine it’s taking action. I love taking action. Anyone who knows me knows that I #GSD constantly. Taking action helps me assume full responsibility and puts me in the driver’s seat of my own life – my successes and failures are 100% a result of my effort and intention. And to me, there’s nothing more liberating than that. There’s nothing more magical. Taking action is THE THING that helps me overcome self-doubt and build my confidence and boost my self-efficacy so that I can … take more action! It’s a feed-forward cycle. Read about how I use action to overcome self-doubt here.

But recently, the option of not acting is becoming a consideration of mine. Because what about those times when taking decisive action doesn’t really serve us, because if we did take action, it would only be out of a need to control versus a genuine desire for an outcome.

An example:

I was talking to a friend of mine last week, and she’s a newlywed – married just a few months. I was asking how it was going and she shared with me something that they were struggling with as a couple.

The first month or so of their marriage was a little rocky. Lots of changes (obvi) and like most do when adjusting to married life, they found themselves arguing at times. Normal stuff. But, what started happening was they started threatening divorce as a way to prove their conviction and as a way to make a point in the argument. The thing was, though, that neither one of them actually wanted a divorce. They were just slinging the threat as a way to get their point across. And it was causing a rift in communication and a lot of fear and stress, and considering it wasn’t actually an outcome either one of them really wanted (after taking the emotion out of it), it was becoming a huge distraction that wasn’t serving them.

In this case, the “taking action” choice would have been to leave the marriage. You can see how in the heat of an argument, this would feel like being in control: “I’m the one leaving YOU!” It feels like doing something. But it’s not actually what you want. It’s a false sense of control, right?

Anyway, my friend told me that after a few arguments like that, they finally sat down and agreed that divorce is not actually what either of them want, and in fact, they both want the opposite: safety in their relationship and the freedom to speak their mind and communicate without the other person threatening to leave.

So the lesson is this: when action is taken as a desperate attempt at controlling a situation (i.e. creating some plan out of thin air to dodge a question when someone asks you, like I did after college) or to get the upper hand (like my friend), it may not be the right choice. Yes, you learn through taking action, messing up and growing, but there’s value in marinating in the uncomfortable.

That’s is my new practice: sitting in the discomfort of something without having to act or have all the answers or know exactly what’s going to happen. It’s really, reeeeaaaaally hard for me to do at times, because when I feel that emotional hijack or something gets me riled up, it feels good IN THE MOMENT to take brash action. It feels like I am back in my power (eff you!), when really I might be worse off after forcing a situation that I didn’t actually want.

The balance of control versus trust

Control is an illusion. And trust is the opposite (and actually the ultimate in control). Trusting life, trusting the process, trusting the journey, trusting YOURSELF that you can handle anything that comes up – THAT. Is magical. When you trust yourself to handle whatever happens as a result of your action (or non-action), it feels liberating. It’s releasing the urgency of needing to have all the answers and instead allowing yourself to simply relax into the process.

Because I’ll tell you this – in my experience, you can be as “in control” as you want, but life will always have other plans for you. It’s inevitable. None of us get out of this world without dealing with some struggle and some challenges. And ironically, it’s in those moments where you feel like you finally, FINALLY “get it” that life gives you that smack across the face to remind you that you still need to grow, and there are still some lessons left for you to learn.

I love this. I hate this.
It’s transformative. It’s agonizing.
It’s liberating. It’s terrifying.

But it’s life.

And what I’m coming to find out is that the more I try to control outcomes and put my perfect little plan into place, the more obstacles get thrown my way. And I don’t know that that process ever ends. And on my good, clear days, I hope it never does because … #lessons :)

Hence my current practice: be open to outcomes, not attached to them.

I want to be able to NOT do, and still feel in my power. I want to be able to TRUST and relax into my process and see where it takes me.

Yes, action will always be a value of mine. It’s magical. But now I have an appreciation for the nuance. I appreciate discerning the times in which taking massive action serves me, and the times in which I should take the path of non-action, like BK said. THAT is what helps me transcend and grow and get better as an individual and in my relationships, business, whatever.

I guess I would call that strategic action. And at times, the strategic move is sitting back, observing and letting the chips fall wherever they are going to: “In non-doing, all is done.” I can do that. I can be patient when I need to be. I can wait until all the cards are on the table. I can stay aware and awake without brash movements. I can allow the process to take place.

The good news? When the outcomes do appear, I trust myself enough to know I can handle it. I can handle anything. It’s all good!

Whadda think? Do you have something in your life you’ve been chomping at the bit to have resolved? Be discerning. Would action serve, or is non-action and patience the answer? Do you have the courage to trust the process? To give up that (false sense of) control you’re clinging to so tightly? Could you, ahem, trust yourself to handle whatever the fallout? Let me know on the JillFit Facebook page!

Because the ultimate in control is really being able to rely on you whatever comes your way. Xo, Jill

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