Why the Most Productive Thing You Can Do Right Now Might Be NOTHING
I’ll bet your life’s pretty crazy right now, isn’t it?
I’m right there with you. The end of the year, family coming into town, traveling, the whole holiday thing – it’s nuts.
For most of us the end of the year is a bustling blur of activity. Personal and professional deadlines rain from the sky and we’re all trying to make something happen right now.
It gets overwhelming – and it can distract us from a special growth opportunity.
That opportunity I’m talking about is spending some time in quiet reflection looking back over the last year with gratitude for another 12 months of conquered goals, survived failures, and amazing experiences.
In other words, I’m trying to sell you the value of spending some time at the end of this year taking it slow.
Stop and take a look around you, and even if what you see isn’t quite what your dreams are made of, appreciate it for what it is.
How I Woke Up to the Wait
Recently, on a particularly hectic business trip that included flying across the country a few times in the same week dealing with things that weren’t fun to deal with, I found myself in one of those overload situations.
You’ve been there – when you’ve just had enough of everything and your brain’s fuel tank is so low, you’re running on fumes.
I had previously read Jeff Goins’ book, The In-Between. Except I read it on my Kindle app – and to be honest I usually only use my Kindle app on planes, so my comprehension level the first time through wasn’t great.
For whatever reason during that particularly stressful business trip, I decided that I needed to go buy a physical copy of the In-Between and re-read it.
I read it cover to cover in my hotel that night – and it resonated with me strongly. In fact, the timing was such that I felt like Jeff had written it for me personally.
One of the points of The In-Between is that most of us live a “push” kind of life. We push to make things happen quickly. We want to get from A to Z as quickly as possible. We’re always waiting for the next big thing.
“I’ll be happy when X happens.”
“Things will be easier once I’ve achieved Y.”
Promotions, home ownership, having children, getting a certain number of clients – we’re always looking for what’s next.
The problem with looking at life in that way is that it often causes us to miss the special times in between. The down times.
The times when you finally sit still and appreciate a sun set. The times when you let the dog curl up and fall asleep in your lap and you simply watch them enjoy your company. The times when you really listen to your kid tell you about their day.
I’m not badmouthing ambition. We need to push. It’s how we achieve things. But if we do nothing but push, we miss major life lessons, special moments, and often significant opportunities.
Sometimes we have to let life take us in the direction it wants to – like floating on an inner tube on a river.
Don’t push the river, it flows by itself
— Chinese Proverb
The In-Between teaches us that the wait is sometimes the event. Although it can be uncomfortable for a driven person with a lot of ambition, often waiting can teach us lessons that pushing never could.
Three Readers Who Embraced the Wait
The In-Between made me realize that while abandoning the push lifestyle completely is not an option for me, I certainly had been neglecting and under-appreciating the value of the wait – the spaces In-Between.
I thought it was a valuable lesson that could benefit others, so I wanted to share that message with others. So not long ago, I emailed all my subscribers asking them to share a story of a time when they didn’t want to wait but were forced to – and it turned out to be beneficial somehow. I received a lot of great stories.
The first three to share their story received a free copy of the Kindle version of The In-Between. Their stories are below.
(I do things like that from time to time for subscribers, so if you’re not one yet, here’s a way to fix that right now.)
Three Reboot Authentic Readers Who Understand The Wait:
A few years ago, Cynthia was planning to move from her home in Mexico to the UK to study a Master in History of Art.
The process was slow and annoying: trying to get accepted by the university, applying for a scholarship, saving money, applying for loans, and the particularly long process of applying for the student visa.
A laundry-list of items stood between Cynthia and her dream. Many of them were beyond her control – dependent upon the actions of other people and agencies. She planned on leaving in six months, but there was no telling if she’d receive her visa by the deadline. It was a tense situation.
But realizing that the results of her application were beyond her control, Cynthia decided that instead of worrying over the results, she would surround herself with people and activities she loved during the wait – and she went on an experience spree.
- She started writing for a few local music and arts magazines.
- She went to went to festivals and interviewed musicians.
- She got certified to teach Spanish as a Second Language.
- She went to film festivals and iPod parties with her friends.
- She spent afternoons in cafeterias writing fiction and non-fiction.
- She wrote a short story that she turned into a zine and sold at a local alternative video store.
- She organized and participated in a Writing Jam, where she wrote in front of people showing her process through a projector while music played.
- She did radio interviews about the event and her writing.
What did the wait do for Cynthia?
For six months, she had an amazing time, made a name for herself, and enjoyed the people she loved during a time when many people would have been worrying and waiting for news about their student visa.
As it turns out, Cynthia didn’t get positive news about her visa until just two days before leaving. Can you imagine what a stressful wait that could have been if she hadn’t chosen to embrace the wait? Visit her at CynthiaEScribe.com
Reboot Authentic subscriber, kingpin of The Bounce Blog, and my personal friend Bobbi Emel endured a painful wait that she credits with making her a better person.
A terminal condition claimed the life of Bobbi’s partner unexpectedly and at a young age. If you’ve ever lost someone very close to you, you know that an untimely death of a loved one can throw off literally everything about your daily existence.
Bobbi struggled through all the daily activities of life that used to feel so normal and easy for her.
Bobbi says, “I had to wait a really long time for the grief to subside to a point where I could function at a decent level again. I hated it.”
As a licensed psychotherapist, Bobbi can now look back and see what really happened to her during that time of grief.
She says, “Unbeknownst to me, I was gaining all sorts of resiliency skills during that time: acceptance, endurance, pain tolerance, the knowledge that just putting one foot in front of the other isn’t a bad strategy.”
Waiting for the process of grief ultimately made Bobbi a stronger person.
She learned that people who grieve form a kind of club because they have common feelings and experiences while bouncing back after a loss.
Today, Bobbi runs The Bounce Blog – helping others learn to bounce back from life’s setbacks and develop their own resiliency. Because of a forced wait to become productive again, Bobbi is now able to help others in similar situations.
You should visit The Bounce Blog. It’s an excellent blog and Bobbi is wonderful at what she does.
In 2007 Elizabeth was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Normally a take charge and power through type of person, she quickly found that her normal style of adapting wasn’t going to work with PTSD.
Elizabeth says, “The harder I pushed the worse my symptoms and functionality became. Still, I pushed and rushed for years, all the time sliding back and forth between dangerous lows and just…low. Never better, never happy or healthy, never able to see the simple joys around me.”
Only after accepting that this was a process that couldn’t be rushed, Elizabeth was forced to slow thing down – and wait.
She began to realize and appreciate the power of the mind to heal when given the space and gentle support it needs.
She says, “It was actually in the waiting I found growth, healing, and an amazing gratefulness for the richness of slow, for the power of that liminal space where one’s body and mind rejuvenates, mends, and becomes whole once again. My quiet moments, my moments in waiting, were the very moments that saved me.”
Elizabeth is in the early planning stages of launching her website HelloPaprika.com – which will be oriented to capacity building for non-profits.
As all these stories teach us, there are times when pushing the river doesn’t work. Sometimes we need to trust that it’s taking us somewhere and let it carry us.
(And thank you to everyone who sent in their stories. I wish I had books for all of you!)
How to Stop Pushing the River
Take a look around you. Is there a wait in your life right now that you’ve been cursing at and pushing against? Maybe it’s time to let the wait win. Go with the flow and let the river take you for a ride. <—- Click to tweet this!
Especially during the holidays, please do me a favor: Watch, absorb, really listen, and just be. Then let me know how it went for you.
And if you haven’t noticed, I highly recommend reading The In-Between by Jeff Goins. (That’s an Amazon affiliate link.)
Well? I’m Waiting…
Tell me about when an unwanted wait in your life led to bigger and better things. Let’s talk about it in the comments.
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