It’s a weird experience, feeling like you are waking up to your own life. It’s even weirder to type those words with the intention of sharing them with the internet. But that’s how I feel. Not that I abruptly un-jacked from The Matrix and have instantly awoken to a new, real world, but gradually, as each day passes, as my practices deepen and evolve, I feel like I’ve been becoming incrementally more in tune with all that my life is. I feel like I see things more clearly. When someone is upset, I get less caught up in the emotion of the moment and I can see the story behind the pain. When all I’m doing is standing in the middle of a forest, I can more clearly see the layers and depth of beauty that surrounds me, the abundance of life around me and within me. What does all this hippie-dippie gobbledygook have to do with my setting out to create 104 weekly blog posts chronicling a 2-year break from the working world and then giving up 30 weeks into it?
For starters, it’s because, in my hard-to-describe state of feeling a little more awakened or alive or some such clichéd word, I am realizing that it no longer feels like I’m “On Sabbatical.” For many, the term “sabbatical” implies that the leave is short term and that there will inevitably be a return to the work once the sabbatical is over. I see no return in my future. From the ashes of my past and the soil in my foundation, only new growth can emerge. The idea of writing a weekly blog documenting my time away from the working world suited me, until it didn’t. What once felt like a worthy practice, an easy launchpad into the world of writing, an exciting endeavor I could one day look back on with interest, now just feels restricting. I don’t want to write because I have to write. I want to write because I want to write.
I find it extremely challenging to write my honest to goodness Truth. I can hear many critical voices murmur as I dare to write without filter, without edit, without restraint. “No one cares.” “Why are you doing this?” “People will judge you.” “What will your parents think?” “You sound like an esoteric cloud-dwelling hippie.” These voices and their siblings offer formidable resistance. Adding to the resistance with my own arbitrary deadlines and rigid framework of “one post about my sabbatical every week” no longer feels useful. Being awake enough to myself to be able to see this is but one example of how it feels like I am no longer “on a break” but that I am metamorphosing into a new being with a new quality of consciousness.
Even writing that sentence, an inner critic says “you sound ridiculous.” But it’s my Truth! I’m feeling ready to start documenting and sharing more of my Truth.
As I continue to live out my days by practicing, among other things, letting my intuition, and the intuition of my partner and children, guide me, weird things are happening. Awesome things. Powerful things. Where to begin?
SETTING INTENTION IN THE NEW YEAR
A week after New Year’s on Monday, January 9, the first day of 2023 when the holiday buzz had finally worn off for most everyone, people everywhere were likely having their first “real Monday” of work in a few weeks. Well, right now, I don’t have a “job,” but I did get to work that morning; even though I had a long list of things I wanted to do for the week, out of seemingly nowhere I felt a strong compulsion to write a letter to my friends. It was hitting me that it was now 2023, the actual year I would be moving from Minnesota to Costa Rica with my family, indefinitely. My available time to share with friends was about to start dwindling at a rapid pace. I felt a sudden urgency to prioritize scheduling a day of connection with each of my closest friends. Here is an excerpt from the letter that went out that day:
Through practices of contemplation, meditation, and reflective writing, my values, the things I most care about in life, are becoming more clear. When I did the Brene Brown exercise of boiling down all of the things I value in life into two words (found here), the two words that emerged for me were: Time and Family.
For me, Family is another way of saying: relationships, community, socialization, friendship, connection, and of course actual family. All of these notions of interpersonal relationship and connectedness roll up to my “parent” value of Family.
When I think of Family, I think of you. Regardless of whether or not we keep in frequent communication in future years, our friendship is definitely something I value right now. And, in a way, right now is all any of us has.
When I think of Time, I know that I don’t want to waste it. But what does it mean, to “waste” time? To me, it means protecting my Time from distractions, and investing my Time living in ways that serve my values. There is no better way for me to do this than to spend my Time with Family.
And so, I’d like to schedule some Time to be with you before I depart Minnesota.
GETTING REAL WITH FRIENDS
In the weeks that followed, I utterly enjoyed my friendships. I hang out with my friends and I enjoy it–obvious, right? What’s been surprising, though, is that time and time again, this phenomenon keeps occuring that I’m not yet totally able to explain. Before, when I would see my friends, we would shoot the breeze, play games, eat some food, you know, typical friend hang stuff. But now when I see my friends, we open. Things get real.
The examples are many:
- I went over to a friend’s house during a weekday for lunch. She had the day off and her husband works from home, so on his lunch break the three of us were able to have a chat. Instead of the typical “catching up” chat, they shared a recent story where they’d had a disagreement about parenting, which opened up into a larger conversation about their relationship, how they communicate, and how they make each other feel. There were tears. It felt to me like a big elephant in the room had been addressed and moved through. A day later, she sent me a text saying our talk was “therapeutic” and “reinforced a lot of the reasons why we love each other and are committed to raising the best family we can.”
- A former coworker reached out asking for advice about her career. I agreed to a lunch and she opened up about her dreams and her financial concerns. We explored what her real fears were. A few months later, she left her corporate position and now owns her own business.
- At a guys poker night, a friend mentioned in an off-hand comment that things weren’t going very well at home. Rather than zoom past that uncomfortable topic (like every other guy at poker did), I made sure not to leave the gathering until we actually talked about it. At one point we stepped outside and I gently inquired deeper to see how he was doing with it all. He shared more, and I could see in his body how it felt good to unload some of the tough stuff. At the end of the conversation, we embraced and he thanked me for caring and asking about his life.
- A previous advertising client reached out for a Zoom call to discuss her career change ideas, and at the end of the call said our chat “felt like a therapy session” for her.
- In the middle of recording one of my pilot podcast episodes, my guest felt comfortable enough to share a tear-filled, emotionally charged personal story.
- For the first time that I can remember, I had a phone conversation with my father where we both cried.
- A close friend keeps coming to me with news of his bad days, tough feelings, stress at home, frustrations about parenting. I see the pain. I see how I had been there a few years ago. It’s like I’ve climbed over a fence but he’s still on the other side, and he doesn’t even know there’s a fence there, and I don’t know how to help him get on the other side without telling him how to do it which will only make him avoid the fence at all costs. But at least I can see the fence now, and we’re talking about the important stuff.
- I go to my 20-year high school reunion and, by the end of the night, three different people tell me some version of “you are helping me remember what it is to dream for myself.”
- We had a couples hang with another couple and they offered to talk about their therapy sessions, an eating disorder, and some challenges they have around their home. I got the sense these aren’t topics they discuss often with others; something about the conditions Kristyn and I created brought these more real topics forward.
- And speaking of Kristyn, all this “real talk” has some positive flavor to it as well. I keep getting more in love with my partner. Our support of each other keeps getting more and more layers of foundation. Almost like wrapping a ball in a ribbon or crochet paper. Every time we practice contact nutrition it’s like another layer of protective paper protecting our relationship. It’s becoming fortified. Once I cried to her explaining how thankful I am for who she is and that, just by her being who she is, she helps me live more in my own values. That moment was one extra fortifying layer adding further strength to our partnership.
Writing all this out, maybe crying is a theme here? (˃̣̣̥‿˂̣̣̥)
My friends keep opening up to me. Around me. Am I just seeing this now where I wasn’t seeing it before, but it’s always been there? No. It’s not just perception. Things are unfolding differently now. I’m making choices when discomfort arises. I’m choosing not to avoid, but to linger in the uncomfortableness. I’m choosing to dig into my friends’ tension with them. I’m figuratively holding their hand as we dive into the scary, unfomortable depths of their feelings, their relationships, their desires, their pain.
I focus on staying grounded, on remaining unattached to my sensations and my thoughts. I reconnect to my breath again and again, and I do my best to mirror back to my friends what they share with me, to bear witness to their stories, to aid their personal inquiry. I keep falling into roles of therapist, counselor, couples mediator. Is that just what being a good friend is? Listening, being supportive, being helpful? Or is there more to the story, here? After we have these tough conversations, I keep hearing things like “that felt therapeutic” and “thanks for letting me get that out” and “man, I wasn’t planning on getting this real over salads.”
A NEW BEGINNING
I feel like I’m onto something. I just don’t know exactly what that thing is yet. I know it feels good to show up for my friends, to invite in their reality, and to attempt to navigate the hard stuff with them as their ally. I’m going to keep doing that and see where it leads.
I don’t know where it’ll take me, but my guess is that it won’t take me back to a cubicle selling TV commercials on broadcast news that I don’t even watch.
I’m grateful to my past self for documenting the first thirty weeks of my time away from the working world. It doesn’t feel like a failure that I only lasted thirty weeks out of 104. It feels like that’s how it had to be. That writing was right for that time, and they will forever exist (as long as I keep paying to renew my domain :D) for me to look back on.
Now, though, I have this feeling that there are bigger projects to tackle, more important research and writing to do, more exciting endeavors to pursue, more value to offer the world. What it feels like now is a new beginning. A fresh start where I get to write the rules of my own life. And instead of committing to the rule of “one weekly blog post documenting the journey of my two-year sabbatical,” the new rule is “write often, and write your Truth.”