15 Jan / 2016
Lessons from a LONG Vacation.
I was off to a rough start, knee-deep in what author Martha Beck calls “the space between stories.” That weird purgatorial place where a chapter in the book of your life has run out of words and the next chapter has yet to be written.
The blank page. It can be a waste of a tree, or the dawn of possibility. A moment to reflect and be grateful for what was, or a terrifying reminder of the uncertainty of what’s to come.
It is in this space that the fear of the unknown resides, prodding us to mindlessly scribble where the last chapter left off.
The postscript returns us to safety and familiarity. We can remain there in perpetuity, avoiding the blankness of the space between. Yet we will always be haunted by what awaits us on the other side.
Truth be told, I have no idea what I’m doing right now, other than being myself. Two months ago, I even found that (simply being me) difficult to do. I had uploaded the 348th and final episode of Underground Wellness Radio, written one last email to my subscribers, and was DONE. Seven years of my life, over.
In hindsight, I had been done for about a year or so. Mentally, at least. I was scribbling in the postscript, interviewing health experts because it was expected of me. Because I knew I was helping people get their health back. Because I knew I was good at it. And of course, because the money was good. Life-changing, in fact.
But I was depleted. The final paragraphs of my Underground Wellness chapter were lifeless chicken scratches. The once-enthusiastic tone had gone dark and borderline angry.
“If just … one … more … guest … adds … one … more … food to the seemingly ENDLESS list of foods we already shouldn’t eat, I’m gonna lose my sh*t!”
It should have never gotten that bad, but it did. And when it does, it’s a sure sign that your chapter is long overdue to be meet its fate with one final period.
With the end of UW Radio I had entered the space between. What I imagined would be freedom — time to do whatever the hell I wanted to do, without having to read yet another health book that contradicted the last — turned out to be the beginning of an existential identity crisis. Who was I?
Underground Wellness wasn’t just a brand, it was me. And by my own doing it was gone, forever. What do I do now?
At first, the time I had to do “whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted” quickly came to be time to think. Too much time to think. I was stuck in my head. Work can feel like play when you love what you do, but it can also be a distraction from real life matters that need attending to. Remove the distractions and you find yourself eye-to-eye with everything you’ve consciously or unconsciously ignored and brushed aside. But I’ll save that stuff for another post.
Not only did I wonder who I was, but what in the world had happened to me over those seven years? Where did that nice kid from Alameda go? Who the f*ck was this self-important guy who complained about the length of the emails from his loyal listeners?
“Oh geez. Another 10-paragraph email with multiple question marks from a long-time listener. FML! Don’t they know I have things to do? If I sat here and read fan mail all day, I wouldn’t get anything done.”
Yeah, that was me. Sorry.
Eventually I found myself in a familiar situation — plopped down on my back side getting swallowed up by my therapist’s couch. Yeah, the one that feels like it was intentionally designed to make me feel like a small child. Yet I was a full-grown adult living without a purpose for the first time in almost a decade. Deep in the throes of an identity crisis and an apparent addiction to novelty, as exemplified by my tendency to fill my free time with almost-daily trips to the mall. My nieces would probably say my closet is on fleek. (Look it up.) My therapist would probably say I was missing the endorphin rush of another “instant classic” podcast episode and substituting it with bubble jackets, skinny jeans, and Yeezies. Makes sense.
Ironically the cure for my crisis lay in a homeopathic principle I had learned on my previous path; that like cures like. That uncertainty cures uncertainty. There is no better place to learn this than in a country you’ve never been, with no one but yourself. When a bird drops you off in an unfamiliar land, a blank page is all there is. Go with the flow or go home.
Travel is something that I had been putting off for all kinds of silly reasons. I didn’t know anyone who would go with me. I would go when I got a girlfriend. Blah. Blah. Blah. And then there’s my well-chronicled phobia of turbulence and flying in general. But the call to adventure and all of its inherent uncertainties rang louder than ever. It was time to go, to get away, to jump in the deep end of the pool with no control or attachments to outcomes. To accept the uncertainty. To let go.
It was a short swim — three days in London and three more in Rome. (You can see the pics here.) Yet it was all I needed to relax into my space between stories. To add a little color to that blank, off-white page. To turn off the endless chatter going on in my brain and create space for the sweet-sounding interlude playing between my heart’s songs.
It had been nearly a year since my heart had last sung. Since then, everything had been about control and outcomes. How much will it cost? How many people can we register? How much will it make?
I was caught up in what Dr. Lissa Rankin, author of The Anatomy of a Calling, calls Small Self service. Ego-driven service with no heart. Self-depleting service leading to anger, burnout, and identity crises. Ignore it and it will beat you down. Shift it and the possibilities become endless.
Like I said, I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m exactly where I was when I started Underground Wellness, with a strong will to serve and a confidence that God, the Universe, the aliens (or whomever or whatever you believe in) will guide me along the road to where I’m going from here.
Don’t get me wrong, I have goals. Big, hairy, audacious goals, as author Jim Collins would say. The destination is clear. It’s the map that isn’t.
For now, I’m perfectly content to read books and interview the authors for the rest of the year. That’s the song I can play on repeat. The one I love.
Everything else, I’ll have to figure out along the way. I guess we’ll figure it out together.
What I know for sure is that if I want to free, I’ve got to be me. That everything will be okay.
Out of the blank space. Onward to a new chapter. A new story.
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