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The Courage to Stop

When you think of courage, what comes to mind?

Doing something outrageous.

Taking a big risk.

The proverbial leap of faith.

Daring greatly.

Living outside your comfort zone.

Yes, all of these things.

But when you think of courage, does your idea include just stopping? Does it include being still, easing up on the craziness, saying “no” to your to-do list, letting balls drop?

For me recently, this was a big paradigm shift in how I think about being gutsy, of having courage. I had been spinning madly in both my professional and personal life, and it was starting to take its toll. I was feeling stressed, frustrated, I’d cry at the drop of a hat, and in spite of it all it seemed like nothing worthwhile was coming from all my efforts. And to top it off, I was facing a couple of months of logistical chaos: several trips out of town, moving to a new house, and trying to keep on track with my clients through it all.

So I did something that, for me, was unheard of.

I stopped.

I stopped doing everything that I was “supposed” to do, and gave myself permission to just relax. I stopped marketing, stopped blogging, stopped attending networking events, stopped making appointments, stopped tweeting, stopped Facebooking, stopped doing anything that did not, in the present moment, feel like something that I WANTED to do.

I gave myself permission to sit and stare into space for long periods of time. I gave myself permission to sleep in instead of working out. I took naps, read books for fun (!), went for walks and collected colorful rainbows of leaves, met friends for happy hour, and went for bike rides in the middle of the day when I would normally be working. I gave myself permission to leave “white space” in my life, and to use it however I wanted to use it in that particular moment, not based on what I “should” be doing but on what my energy felt drawn to.

And strangely enough, it was hard to do. It was hard to not feel guilty about what my critical brain wanted to call “wasting time”. It took a while to quiet the voice that kept telling me that I really ought to be doing something more productive. I’m so ingrained in the idea that everything I do needs to have a tangible, work-related output that simply being, without doing someting attached to a specific measurable result, requires ongoing self-talk and encouragement.

I had to keep reminding myself that stillness is just as important as frenzied activity. That holding space for play, rest, and even “spacing out” is a vital piece of living. That you can’t chase down peace of mind by working harder or spinning faster or doing more things.

My fear was that in letting balls drop bad things would happen. My business would shrink, I’d lose my tribe, I’d let someone down, I’d miss a vital opportunity, I’d fall so far behind that I’d have to start all over again, or worst of all, I’d never get back on the rails again. (Inner critic, anyone? Jeezus, that damn voice!!)

The beautiful thing was that none of my fears were validated. I found that in finding the courage to just stop for a while, to let balls drop, I found my center again. I feel more creative, engaged, and grounded than I have for a while, and ironically, in spite of my doing nothing at all to make it happen, new opportunities have shown up in my work.

There’s something courage-building and self-esteem-solidifying that happens when you decide to trust and follow your own energy rather than a to-do list—when you ask yourself what do I need right now instead of what should I do right now? Do I need rest, do I need connection, do I need fun, do I need beauty—what will feed me in this moment? What does my soul ask for, right now?

And listening to your energy, giving yourself the stillness and space to hear what is being called for, builds a deeper sense of trust in yourself, a more solid depth of courage that serves to keep you centered and in touch with yourself when you decide to pick up one of those dropped balls again.

Slowly, and with clearer intention, I’m picking up some of those balls that I dropped again (thus, this post.) But I’m being more choosy about which ones I want to have in the air again. And I’m making sure that I leave more white space in my life.