When "Life Happens"— Accepting Not-Knowing in the Change Process

When my book, Success with Soul-- Loving Your Livelihood, Living in Balance-- came to its day of birth into the world in March 2013, I wrote that its true genesis had been my lifelong drive to live a life where I could do the work that really called to me while being the person I really am. I found that fulfillment in being a life coach over that past nine years.

Now, two months after surgery that removed part of my right lung and successfully left me cancer free, I'm re-examining where I am in my life at this time, while re-integrating the inner movement of my breathing with my outer movement in the world. When you have to think about a part of yourself that's as automatic as breathing, you know something has changed. In my case, I will regain almost full breathing capacity. However, this unexpected life change and the process of coming back to full living fully again, has been a deep transitional experience for me.

Recently, I acknowledged to my own coach that "I feel I'm really in a transition and grappling with the unknown. Why didn't I expect this?" This visceral awareness of made me aware at a deeper level about how hard it is for my coaching clients who must grapple with events beyond their control that bring the need for change into their lives. When your life gets muddied with unexpected and unwelcome events, it's easy to feel lost and without the ability to navigate.

In Success with Soul, I write: What . . . I call the “chaos zone” is a difficult state to tolerate in our western society, because, in general, we don’t value emptiness, non-productivity, and alone time (alone without the Internet, that is). Yet, career and other life transitions that lead to deeply satisfying changes require this alone time to do nothing much but be with the discomfort and fear of not knowing which way to go.

In letting myself go deeper into the sensory, emotional, and existential currents that are carrying me now, I give myself the gift of spaciousness without the demand for immediate solutions. Some of the questions that have come up for me during this transitional time in the aftermath of my surgery are— What do I want to do with my life after such a significant health challenge? What do I feel is changing about the nature and depth of my work? How do I stay with the discomfort of not knowing where I'm going at this time? How can I honor what is changing inside of me? How do I make space for what wants to fill me now?

I've been cut open, in my psyche as well as, literally, my body. If I choose, I can see a purpose within this experience. I can hold two truths at the same time— I love my work as a coach— AND something inside me has responded to this change in my life by shifting gears in how I want to work and how I want to live fully in my life. For this period of time, I'm less on the computer making online connections— and more often outside, walking, gardening, watching clouds, and yes, coaching. I'm enjoying making more time to talk (rather than email) with friends and colleagues, as well as taking in summer by biking in new places with the scent of eucalyptus trees in the air. Like a child, I savor the cool smoothness of vanilla ice cream at the end of a hot afternoon, while it some of it melts and dribbles down my chin.

As William Bridges, author of Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes, notes, transformation to a new state of awareness requires taking time out from a familiar way of life to empty out and let what is calling you from within to emerge organically, in its own time. With new vision based on healing from a serious illness, I'm feeling my way through the emptiness with no GPS, getting past the fear of flying, and letting new signposts emerge as they will.

However, I'm doing this knowing I have the support of my coach, my friends, my family, and my colleagues whenever I'm ready to shift my attention from deeply inner to the next steps on my emerging path. At this point, I have only questions, feelings, and sensations. But in my experience as a life coach, I know that the more I pay attention to these signals from "life happening," the more likely it is that whatever change emerges will be fulfilling and enduring (at least, until the next changes signals come forth!).