What are you waiting for?
Waiting to better like my work
Waiting for them to stop being a jerk
Waiting for my bad habits to leave
Waiting the life I convince my friends to believe
Waiting to see what tomorrow will be
Waiting for good things to happen for me
My apologies for paraphrasing the great Dr. Seuss, author of “Oh, the Places You’ll Go”. You may remember this book from childhood. In it, Seuss warns us to avoid a dark and dreary corner of the world known as the “the waiting place”. It is described in the most digestible way possible but still, it’s scary as hell. He illustrates a dense little forest where unfulfilled dreams taunt us and we are fed a daily diet of regret. Some people call it the comfort zone because you spend so much time here doing the same thing and waiting for a different outcome that disappointment has actually become quite familiar. When did our selfish little selves become so damn patient?
It’s very hard to break patterns, so scary to change lanes, no matter how far off course we’ve drifted. One day becomes every-day, cement that grows more solid year after year. So often, a parasitic past attaches itself to the future. We simply keep doing what we have always done, paralyzed by the hope that one day our ship will come in, laden with a cargo full of better jobs, faithful partners and healthy lifestyles. Unfortunately, time served means squat in the waiting place and the reward for sitting quietly with your hands folded simply earns you more time with your hands folded, creasing the resentment that you hold there like miser with a dollar bill, never letting go. There are no additional prizes.
I made a major life change about 5 years ago. I would love to say it was borne out of strength, determination and willpower, but those are character traits that I cannot claim. Since the lesson is the same, my details don’t matter. Suffice to say I was in a choice-less situation and change was coming for me, like it or not. With my emotional chin barely above water, desperation forced me to take action, to paddle in any way I knew how. I had no idea where I was going or if the direction I took was the right one. I’m still not sure of that today. One thing I did know; if I didn’t do something, I’d sink like a stone. Like everyone else, I was waiting for a lot of things to happen, but waiting to die wasn’t one of them. I flapped and kicked and swallowed a ton of water in the effort but today, I live better because of it. So there it is. Here is the lesson: You don’t have to do much. You just have to do something.
First, face your reality. Painting a prettier picture just means your life is easier to look at, not necessarily better to live with. Stop filtering your photos on Instagram, stop editing your history on Facebook. No one believes you anyway. If you’re the blaming or complaining type, you need to stop that too. No one believes you anyway. Scrub your social media tonight or take a step back altogether. This is going to be a tough journey as it is, no need to bring extra luggage.
When you wake up tomorrow, do something different. Take one step in any direction, as long as it’s not the same step you took yesterday and the hundred days before that. Sometimes that step is simply NOT doing something, which sounds easier but isn’t. In any event, don’t complain about your job, don’t eat crap for lunch, and don’t return the text from the one who hurts you. Stop digging the ditch any deeper. At the end of the day, breathe the breath of the accomplished and congratulate yourself. You did it. You just have to do it again tomorrow, and again and again and again. After that feels normal, you can add another step. You’ll know what it is supposed to be. Detailed plans aren’t necessary.
If progress seems slow, you’re doing something right! If it’s helpful, write down how you feel every day to help you stay on track. Your list might say
Day 1: Shitty
Day 2: Shitty
Day 3: Less Shitty
Day 4: Shitty again
This list may one day remind you that it was easier than you thought and help you make the next change. If you fall off whatever wagon you’re on and go back to old habits, don’t beat yourself up. Take the next deep breath, take the next different step, pull out the list and try again. Trying is not waiting, so it’s a better use of your time no matter the outcome.
A tip: don’t let the court of public opinion make your choices for you. Wasting energy trying to get other people to understand the direction you’re headed in is a mistake I wished I hadn’t made. We come into the world alone and we go out of it alone, so don’t look for crowd funding to support you every day in between. You’ve got this. Believe it. If you don’t, pretend you do until you do.
Finally, a fair warning: exiting the waiting place is an anxiety riddled ride. Anxiety comes from not doing the familiar. Even when the familiar isn’t good for you, your heart craves it and your brain is confused. Acknowledging anxiety reduces its power and remember, no one ever died from being nervous. Like a hangover after an awesome party, anxiety just has to go away on its own. It will.
If you take that first step today, I’m sorry to say you’re in for a difficult six months, maybe longer. But, by next January, you’ll have new normal, a better routine, a healthier lifestyle, one that is familiar as the one you have today. It may not be perfect, it likely will never be perfect but it’s certainly worth trying for and as I’ve learned, there is nothing better worth waiting for.