In my online world, which is vast, mostly wonderful, and frequently edifying, I am connected to a lot of people who are either in the midst of major personal evolutions, or they make a living helping other people navigate theirs. And since these two things are not mutually exclusive, I’d venture a guess that many – maybe all – of these amazing people are doing both at the same time – evolving and assisting in the evolution of others.
It is common in this community of evolutionary souls to be told that, in times of crisis and/or doubt, we need to sit with our discomfort. Whether our discomfort stems from fear, or failure, or fear of failure, or a sense that we are not achieving what we believe we should, or anger, or grief, or anxiety, or whatever it is that is making us feel uncomfortable, we are told about the value of acceptance, of not trying to dodge the feelings that are harder to process.
That makes sense to me. I know from experience that all the shit I try to bury and avoid comes back to bite me in the end, over and over, until I either deal with it or make peace with what I can’t change. But (you knew there was a but, why else would I be writing this?) you can tell even in the way I wrote that last sentence, that what I value most, what I believe is the only thing that moves us forward, is action. Even acceptance of the things I can’t change is an action, conscious and deliberate and taken in an effort to keep moving forward, however slowly, however clumsily.
While I believe there is value in “sitting with it,” I also believe it’s really, really easy to get stuck there. I think what’s missing from the advice of many people touting the “sit with it” message is that “sitting with it” is just the beginning. Letting yourself feel what you feel without judgment, letting it be big and uncomfortable and scary is the first step toward growth, but to evolve, you will eventually have to take a second step, and a third, and a fourth. They may be the tiniest of baby steps, but they are necessary. That’s how movement works, one step after another.
I feel like I’m stating the obvious, but I keep witnessing people hopelessly stuck and unhappy. They can tell me in excruciating detail why they’re unhappy (which means they’ve sat with it long enough to know), but then they don’t act. I think it’s because action sometimes feels overwhelming. In the midst of our shit – breakups, bad relationships, soul-sucking jobs, no time to be creative or self-loving or present – we think that in order to take action, we need to have a plan and know our destination. But that’s not true. Sometimes, we just need to do something – anything! – even if it seems unrelated. I think sometimes it works the opposite of how we think it should. Instead of making a plan and then taking action, sometimes it works to take action first and let the plan unfold while we’re already in motion.
Let’s say, just hypothetically, that you’re a writer feeling disappointed and stymied by the less than meteoric trajectory of your writing career. What if – and, of course, I’m just making this up now – at the same time that you’re feeling frustrated by your lack of a writing career, your marriage has been stuck in the “worse” category of “for better, for worse,” and your financial situation is bad enough to keep a sane person awake at night. What if – again totally hypothetically – instead of sitting with all that (or after sitting with it and being overwhelmed and confused and sad for a long time) you decided to embark on a Year of Fearless Love. Not because you thought it would fix everything but because if you didn’t do something, you’d crawl right out of your skin.
That act could change your life, set you off in a completely different, zig-zaggy direction than you ever imagined. It wouldn’t be much of a plan really, certainly not an obvious solution to any of the major things wrong with your life, but it would be a step, leading to the next one, and the next one, and all the steps after those. Four and a half years later, you may find yourself bristling a little at the “sit with it” advice, writing a blog post that makes the case for action.
Lately it seems I keep getting into conversations where, ultimately, I don’t make this point because it seems almost subversive to suggest that maybe action, in some cases, is more effective than stillness. I’d love to hear what you think. I know it’s a nuanced topic. I know one answer doesn’t fit all situations or all people, but I’d love to hear about your experiences, when you’ve needed to just sit and be present with your discomfort or unhappiness, and when you’ve known, absolutely, that it was time to move.
Quick note to let you know that I’ll be taking June off from my blog. It’ll be a month of planning and learning and working on some projects that I’ve been neglecting. I’ll be goofing off on Facebook though, posting art and silliness on Instagram, and fly-by tweeting on Twitter, so be sure and find me out there if we’re not already friends.