The year ahead

87452878I want to let you in on a big step I’m about to take.

Its something I’ve thought about for a long time, a dream that has been bubbling around in my head for probably at least ten years. And it involves taking what feels like a big risk, one that could either go crazy well or ultimately put me into a big hole that I might need to dig myself out of.

When I turned forty, I had this idea that I wanted to take three months off of work. I wanted to take a break, to give myself a chunk of time to simply rest, and play, and pay attention to my non-work life. But at the time, I hadn’t done much to prepare for it, and so forty came and went and that idea went underground.

Until last year. Last year, I went to the World Domination Summit in Portland (which is a terrific community of people as well as a highly motivational event) and there, listening to some of the speakers and chatting with random strangers who had interesting stories, that dormant seed of an idea cracked open and began to take root.

I’m on the verge of fifty, you see. That seemingly big, significant number that begs to be honored in some way, to be marked, celebrated, and pondered. And I started thinking about what I might want to do to celebrate.

As I considered my options, I began to wonder: what might happen if I took a significant chunk of time off of work? What if I decided to drop it all, just so I could have luxurious amounts of time to focus on other things? And what things would I even focus on?

I went in circles with myself, wondering whether or not to do it. I felt self-conscious and guilty as I envisioned what it might look like to take this step. It seemed incredibly self-indulgent and such a first world luxury, to have the ability (and even the option) to simply walk away from work for a while in order to do…what, exactly? It’s not like I had this big burning desire for an epic Eat, Pray, Love kind of self-exploratory travel year; I had no yearlong creative project I wanted to do, nor a medical condition that required me to ease off in order to heal. I wish I could say that I was going to volunteer for some meaningful service organization, or spend the year writing the next great american novel, or something…larger, somehow. But I didn’t exactly have any such great ambitions about how to spend the time.

Along with the self-judgement and guilt that arose came corollary fears and worries about “what if”. What if I go broke and never recover? What if I stop working and then when it’s time to come back to work find that I’ve lost all my clients? What if I’m making a fatal, unrecoverable mistake by leaving work for that long? What if I take this time away to do whatever I want to do and end up doing nothing but wasting time binge watching Netflix?

The guilt, the worries, and my inner critic were noisy and opinionated about what I should and shouldn’t do. Any time I started to lean towards making the leap, they turned up the volume and the frequency, reminding me how risky it was and then shaming me into staying put. And those voices were good, offering very reasonable sounding worst case scenarios about what might happen if, and plausible judgments about what it would mean about my character—things like “privileged, self-indulgent, spoiled”.

As I pondered what to do, I found myself wishing I had some fabulous, exotic, high-impact thing that was so compelling that it would make the decision a no-brainer. I had this idea that I needed to be able to explain it to other people in a way that removed any potential negative response I might get. It was easy to imagine that people would much rather hear me say “I’m taking a year to go rescue orphaned orangutans in Papua New Guinea” than “I’m taking a year off to just do random stuff and see what happens.” (Lame, commented my inner critic. Totally lame. Can’t you come up with anything better than that?)

Apparently, no. For better or for worse, my ideas are much less grandiose. I want to cultivate a daily yoga practice, and maybe even finally get my heels all the way to the ground in downward dog. I want to develop my photography skills (no pun intended), and create a body of work that I’m proud of. I want to travel—weekend road trips, solo photo safaris, spontaneous ski adventures on those days I wake up and it happens to be dumping snow somewhere. I want to spend time with friends who I rarely see, and work on reconnecting more deeply with both others, as well as myself. I want to build community, and friendships, and give time to a cause that I believe in. All of these things, while nice, aren’t exactly compelling-sounding.

But as I continued to ponder, what became compelling was this: There was a piece buried within me that was yearning for space, and attention, and freedom. I wasn’t sure whether to call it my soul, the “real me”, or true north, but in any case this part of me had begun rattling the cage a while back, and was not about to go away. In a quiet yet persistent way, it would speak to me. Take the risk, it said. You have been wanting this for a long time. The opportunity is there, but you’re going to have to let go. You’ll be okay. That quiet little voice kept nudging me forward, asking for enough space to breathe, and grow, and become whatever it was supposed to become.

I certainly don’t know what that means, exactly. I have no idea what wants to come forth—at least, I don’t have an end in mind, not yet. I don’t know if I’m being called towards a different way of living, or if I simply need time to explore new ideas for a while, or if it’s just that I want a breather. But I do know that I’m curious about what might happen if I were to consciously make room for the things that my energy wants to follow.

All too often, and usually for good reasons, work tends to be the major shaping force in our waking hours—after all, most of us need to earn a living—but at what cost to those other parts of ourselves? Part of the yearning I felt to step away from work, I think, were that there were parts of me that had gone underground, or had atrophied in some way—and I wanted to find them again. Creativity, intuition, curiosity, introspection, empathy, writing, art, connection—what if I pursued those things for a while, rather than a paycheck? How might that enrich my life in ways that an income can’t? What might open up as a result of being open to new things, rather than sticking with a known path?

With the encouragement of my guy and my closest friends, I talked it out, thought it through, planned as best as I could—and then made decision. I’m doing it—I’m ignoring the what-if’s and the inner critic guilt trip, and I’m taking the leap. In less than ten days, I will begin my year with a trip to Bali (okay, there’s a little hint of Eat Pray Love going on) and when I return, I come back to a very empty calendar, with lots of white space factored in for thinking, reflecting, and noticing what my energy wants to move toward. In some ways, this year is about giving light and air to those parts of me that have been withering and atrophying for too long, as well as taking time and space to listen deeply within, to see what is there that, if given the space to do so, wants to emerge.

I’ll be writing here from time to time. Most likely I will be posting more photos than usual, as well as insights and things I’m learning along the journey. And if you want to keep in touch more regularly, I tend to be more active over on Facebook and Instagram, so please join me in either place. I’d love to hear from you too, so please do drop me a line. I’m available for coffee, cocktails, walks in the woods, Skype dates… :)