“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.”
– Marilyn Ferguson
I always joke that impermanence is the bane of my existence. When something in my life changes either with or without warning, I realize I’m banking on the illusion that things will always stay the same. Remembering that the only constant is impermanence is like flying into the window of reality pretty fast, so I like to buffer it with a wee bit of humor to soften the blow. When things I hang a part of my heart on leave or disappear, I’m left with a gap in life as I had known it. A beloved horse dies overnight. My partner receives alarming news from the heart doctor. My favorite restaurant no longer delivers. “Dang impermanence,” I’ll mutter, only partially in jest. It’s hard to cover up the loss, hurt, sadness, grief, anger that’s also not too far below the surface.
I don’t like all the feels that arise when the plot shifts. As much as I may secretly fancy myself a trendsetter, I have mixed feelings about change. That’s really it: change produces such a mix of feelings. It’s a custom blend of excitement and fear shaken up with a lot of “what’s next?” type questions that’s poured over my nervous system. “Oh, shoot,” I think. “What am I going to do now?” What happens next? It’s easy to feel groundless when some of the knowns that have anchored your paths and that you’ve devoted your attention are threatened or are no longer there.
A life lived is certainly a page-turner. There are many flavors of plot twists, some of which John O’Donohue calls ‘threshold moments.’ One minute you’re living out your life, and the next, you get a call that shifts things entirely: She’s pregnant; They’re pulling out their funding commitment; He committed suicide. To quote our friend Emily Horn, “Consciousness is so turbulent.” To quote my rolfer, “Life isn’t for amateurs.”
When change happens, we’re affected with a variety feels in varying degrees of intensity. We move from a job, shift careers, shut down or open a new relationship, start-up or wind down the company, feel a shift in our role as founder and suddenly find ourselves in (or on the brink of) an in-between moment. Most of the time, those moments are filled with more questions than answers. The world can feel turned upside down and we can feel shaky.
David Ryan, former CEO of Carillo, and podcast guest in this episode, found himself at the crux of a needed change with his company and began to ask himself: “Are we doing this thing in service of what it could be, and can we achieve it? If not, then we have to deal with the negative feelings of putting that thing down and moving to the next thing.”
In each of the big shifts in my life, I’ve felt like I was shifting paradigms, shedding skins, molting into something new. Some junctures felt like re-inventing myself, some felt like a metamorphosis was underway. (Metamorphosis is always a bit scary, because, in that cocooned in between time, your old self melts down caterpiller-to-butterfly style.) Leaving one state or one role or one relationship meant to be in the in between, as uncomfortable as it could be, and to sense what was emerging in the larger field of my life.
We commit to the things we show up to every day. We can “eat-sleep-breathe” something for long days upon long days, year over year, and weave excitement and hopes and dreams into this something that orients much of our attention — our life. As we are in relation to our work, our partners, our company vision, we keep signing up by showing up. We stay wound up in the stories and the stories we tell ourselves about why we’re doing what we do. Through growth and expanded perspectives, we may realize that the old story isn’t working, we’re not growing where we are, or we realize we’re not where we’re supposed to be, or that it won’t turn out as we’d hoped. It’s hard to leave when you’ve wrapped your hands and head and heart around something, even if you do feel the ways in which it limits you.
Maybe the role shifts, maybe you shift, maybe you start a family and new priorities cascade many shifts, maybe the market shifts, but whatever happens, you find yourself at the end of the chapter, turning the page.
“I don’t think there’s a founder on the planet that really, really knows what they’re gonna do next when you shut down this thing that you’ve built around you, and you build a house around you,” notes David Ryan. “How do you leave that house without being scared to leave that front door.”
In Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up, Jerry writes, “I find impermanence to be the most heartrending attribute of the passage of time.”
Finding yourself betwixt is a potent space of the human experience. How do we use these moments served up by our startups and our lives to grow? How can we use the in-between time to look at the operating systems we hold and determine what needs a refresh? What is there to learn about ourselves and how we do life? How can we embrace the change, the shifts, as opportunities to lift our head up from the ol’work-piles and rabbit holes we’ve been heads down on and lift our gaze up to the horizon line, to sense what’s calling us? How can we rise to the call of what life is asking of us, above and beyond what we may have previously subscribed our attention to? How can we live aware of what’s emerging in us?