Learning to Love That Scary Place Called “In Between”

They say it’s the curse of my generation: the impatience with which we eagerly wait for our big dreams and plans to come to pass. We want to do everything, be everything, see everything happen — now. And when it doesn’t, we end up disappointed, questioning our big dreams.

The problem is not with having big dreams, but with the speed at which we expect to see them being realized. Maybe we’ve been raised on too many movies with plot lines that resolve in two hours, no matter how filled with conflict and struggle they may be. Maybe we’ve become so accustomed to being able to order everything from pizza to a new outfit to a plumbing service — on-demand, instantly, at the touch of a button. Maybe it’s the intellectual jobs in consulting, banking, advertising, and tech that our parents worked so hard to send us to university for that teach us that everything is about speed, and if you snooze, you lose. I don’t know what it is, but I know I am not the only one when I say this:

I always thought things would be different when I achieved that one thing I wanted. Like going from being single to being married. Like finishing my three-year scholarship bond and being able to find a job I could be really passionate about. Like being able to leave my parents’ home and live on my own, with no one nagging me not to stay up late and to eat my vitamins. Like getting to pursue a long-held passion. Or like earning a paycheck that gives me enough to save up for a 3-month emergency fund, a new car, and some spare change to go on a holiday every few months.

When that happens, I tell myself, then I won’t be so miserable. When that happens, then I’ll be happy. So you put in the hard work, and you imagine how good it will feel reaching the top of the mountain you’ve worked so hard to climb.

And then one day, if you work hard enough, you reach your destination. For me, it was tying the knot. Leaving a job I’d been bonded to for three years. Moving out of my parents house. Not having to spend 2 hours a day commuting in rush hour traffic. Finding a meaningful job. Earning a steady income even from freelancing on the side and having more flexible hours than I did at a full-time job.

But yet, even though I have more, am able to do more, and I get more freedom to choose how I spend my hours than ever before, I am faced with the same problems: I have too many things on my plate, I’m constantly over-committing, I’m stressed out when I think about work, I’m neglecting my health and personal relationships, and most significantly, I’m still not as happy as I thought I would be.

I am exactly where I wanted to be, yet I find myself struggling to adapt to this new pace of life. I have every right to say “No” and choose the things I commit to, yet I still struggle with turning opportunities down. I have the space to sit back and read a book, but after working in such a hectic environment for four years the quietness unnerves me, and I find myself scrambling to check my e-mail.

And yet… I can’t go back to the way things were. So here I am, being exactly where I wanted to be, where I saw myself being four years ago when I graduated from university. But I am nowhere close to being the person I thought I’d be. I thought I’d be happier, have a few more things figured out.

I’m starting to realize that the problem is not having dreams that are out of our reach. The problem is thinking those dreams are what will make us happy. The problem is thinking that the things in the way of those dreams are the reasons we are so unhappy. They are not the reasons — they are excuses — for us to continue wallowing in our apathy and dissatisfaction with life.

The real reason we’re so unhappy is because we’re looking for happiness everywhere else, when the one place we should be looking is within. The problem with the world — is me. The reason I dream of a perfect marriage is because I cannot come face to face with my loneliness. The reason I hate rush hour traffic and road bullies is because they remind me of what my own anger can be like when it is unchecked — ruthless, and destructive. The reason I measure my career success in the numbers on the paycheck I take home at the end of the month is because I don’t actually feel secure in my own worth. The reason I feel the need to constantly fill my outer life with so much busyness is because I don’t want to confront the emptiness of my inner life.

Until I can come to face, accept — and slowly change — the parts of me that make me the most dissatisfied and unhappy with myself, and my life, nothing will ever be enough. Not that dream job, not traveling the world, and later on, not even that dream house or having children. It’s a long journey to take, one that must be taken if any of us are to find real, lasting joy and contentment… but it’s also a scary one to take.

The author Marilyn Ferguson wrote:

“It’s not so much that we’re afraid of change or so in love with the old ways, but it’s that place in between that we fear . . . It’s like being between trapezes. It’s Linus when his blanket is in the dryer. There’s nothing to hold on to.”

That’s exactly where I am right now. In-between. From the outside looking in, people look at my life and think that I have everything going for me — a dream wedding, a new husband, a great job, work-life balance — but up close, I’m just in this in-between place, learning to deal with doing laundry every week, learning to politely say “No” to clients, and learning to discipline myself to put my time to good use, when it’s much more tempting to sleep in, put some melancholic music on, and just tune the real world out. I’ve moved on from where I no longer was meant to be, but I’m not yet what I should be. In-between. That terrifying place.

Maybe you’re in that place too. I don’t know where we’ll go from here, but if it’s any comfort, know that you’re not alone. I stumbled across another author who used the trapeze as a metaphor for life, and it gave me great comfort. I hope that maybe, it’ll do the same for you?

“Most of the time, I spend my life hanging on for dear life to my trapeze-bar-of-the-moment. It carries me along at a certain steady rate of swing and I have the feeling that I’m in control of my life. I know most of the right questions and even some of the answers.
But every once in a while as I’m merrily (or even not-so-merrily) swinging along, I look out ahead of me into the distance… I see another trapeze bar swinging toward me. It’s empty and I know that this new trapeze bar has my name on it. In my heart of hearts I know that, for me to grow, I must release my grip on this present, well-known bar and move to the new one.
Each time it happens to me I hope that I won’t have to let go of my old bar completely before I grab the new one. But I know that … for some moment in time, I must hurtle across space before I can grab onto the new bar.
Each time, I am filled with terror. It doesn’t matter that in all my previous hurtles across the void of unknowing I have always made it. I am each time afraid that I will miss, that I will be crushed on unseen rocks in the bottomless chasm between bars. I do it anyway. Perhaps this is the essence of what the mystics call the faith experience. No guarantees, no net, no insurance policy, but you do it anyway because somehow to keep hanging on to that old bar is no longer on the list of alternatives.
I have a sneaking suspicion that the transition zone is the only real thing and the bars are illusions we dream up to avoid the void where the real change, the real growth, occurs for us. Whether or not my hunch is true, it remains that the transition zones in our lives are incredibly rich places. They should be honored, even savored. They are the most alive, most growth-filled, passionate, expansive moments in our lives. It can be terrifying. It can also be enlightening in the true sense of the word. Hurtling through the void, we just may learn how to fly.” — Danaan Perry

So here we are. Hurtling through space, not knowing where this will lead us, but knowing this process will change us. Into hopefully better, stronger, kinder, braver people. And when we can change ourselves, that’s when we will really change the world.

“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” — Andre Gide
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