Just as in adolescence, most of us are teetering between “in control” and “out of control.” Each what if? requires a multitude of compromises and leads to more complicated scenarios without obvious answers. Like a childhood ride, around and around we go. It’s dizzying. There are lots of questions and too many choices. And so many obstacles in the way. Caught in the middle zone, although reluctant to admit it out loud, we are confronted with the tremendous terror of not knowing.
The million-dollar question is: How do we live in between? The only answer: in the center of the tension. Somehow, we have to find a middle ground – and wait it out.
This is a place I know so very well. As a self-proclaimed Midlife Diva, I entered into this space as a matter of course, and now as an Elder I live here most of the time; as clients seek new on-ramps, change lanes, and shift gears on the road to midlife greatness and new destinations.
My own visits to the center of the maelstrom remind me that each new life cycling brings us back into the “life is good” phase. But once there, it’s so easy to get comfy. Too much so. In my youth, the inflation of success was so intoxicating. I loved the adrenaline high that fueled my certainty that I’ve got this nailed. I’m on top of the world.
But this phase’s arrogance blindsides us. Once again, we fall totally out of touch with the other end of the continuum, where things may look like there’s no way out: apathy reigns and you want to give up… you can’t find your way. The other side of arrogance can be excruciating self-doubt, emptiness, disconnection from life’s greater mysteries.
Caught in the throes of an inner life-death struggle, we prefer not to take the curves, but rather hold on to what we know and have. So many of us take the slow lane, driving within the speed limit, only to find ourselves stuck in first gear, heading right smack into mediocrity. Stagnation. Entropy.
Just like the life cycle of a business, our lives follow a recurring pattern: one phase follows the next, in time. Or so it was. Now in these VUCA times, there are few, if any, rules or how-to-manuals left on how to traverse these new slippery slopes within a global breakdown of all the trusted patterns and cycles we’ve depended on to navigate our life journey. From the tragic destruction brought on by global climate change, to the demise of the traditional straight-line career paths ending with an assured gold stopwatch commemorating a lifetime — it’s all in disarray.
Most of what we reminisce as “normal” will never return. The only given is that we will move from one life stage or age into and through midlife and into our elder years. What has not changed, even with the stakes higher than ever before for most of us, is we either have to adapt, retool, or die on the side of the road.
Recently I found myself like a deer in headlights, not sure which way to go. My husband and I are grappling with where to live and work next. So many directions fascinate us. We want to be with our children, who are spread across the country from east to west. I crave the country, needing to be in nature, yet the “action” is in the city. New doors are opening to take my work to the next level. The future is pregnant with possibilities!
Fortunately, I know better: I have stay in the center of the maelstrom and wait it out. And I have to sit in my worst fears. I know that if I resist, my fear manifests even more. Instead of staving off the fear of not knowing with my favorite numbing tricks (filling myself with an extra helping of carbs, obsessing over roads not taken, buying something I probably don’t need), I must instead find a safe middle ground. This is a place within – where it’s okay to not know yet. That’s where real clarity is birthed.
This is an excerpt from my upcoming book, Future By Design: 7 Principles for Making Change Work for You.