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How to Enjoy the Fear of the Future

Make the shift from life crisis to personal transformation.

Many of my friends and colleagues are going through a difficult time in their lives. Their discomfort is not about bill paying though money is tight. Fortunately, they can take care of the essentials. What has them frightened is the loss of direction. When life was going well, everything seemed to be in order. Now that the security rug is pulled out from under them, they feel wobbly and can't get their bearings.

Are they going through a crisis? They are experiencing a crisis only if they choose to call it a crisis.

The truth is that they are experiencing a life transformation. The brain registers the early stages of transformation the same as a crisis, leaving people in panic. They struggle to rise above the anger over the expectations they didn't realize, their disappointment for what has ended, and their fear of an unknown future.

They call it a crisis because they can't answer the basic questions:

  1. Who am I?
  2. What purpose am I meant to fulfill?
  3. What will it take to feel content?

Stir these questions up with an unstable economy and it feels like breakdown is just around the corner.

In my research with high-achieving women, I found this "identity disorder" can surface at any time. Even if life is stable, the confusion doesn't feel good. The urge to know what your life is all about and to know your life's direction leaves you feeling uncertain about the future and discontent with the present. Just when life should clearly provide you with answers, you feel lost.

Unfortunately, many of the women in my research told me when they experienced their restlessness as suffocation or anxiety. Instead of taking the time to know themselves better, they went from job to job and sometimes from relationship to relationship in search of what would feel "right." They drowned themselves in a sea of to-do lists instead of learning how to articulate their desires. The more they wandered, the more likely they were to lose their sense of purpose and if they ever had it, they lost their sense of self.

It is OK to question your life's purpose. It's OK to say, "I don't know who I am." You aren't in crisis. You don't have to physically move to experience your next stage of life. In fact, it's better to sit still and reflect. Take advantage of the pause.

Most of us look too hard to find a unique, profound, and tangible reason for our existence. Instead, seek to discover everything that makes you feel alive and connected right now.

First, know that there is a difference between having a "life purpose," which is a specific tangible destination, and having a "sense of purpose," which is a feeling that provides you direction any day.

Choosing to find a sense of direction over a destination can make your life easier. You can quit feeling disappointed with your life or afraid for your future.

When you release the need to know how your life will turn out, you live for a feeling instead of a goal. You appreciate what sparks your love, gratitude, laughter, pride, and awe instead of losing these moments to your to-do lists.

First determine what having a sense of purpose feels like to you. Savor delicious food. Learn new things just to learn. Find peace in meditation or service. Spend time with people you love. What sparks your laughter, love, passion, and pride becomes the guiding light that keeps you focused as your new life emerges.

When you passionately live with a strong sense of purpose, you can remember what is most important to you no matter what difficulties you face.

Second, a colleague of mine asked me a question when I was struggling with my own life shifts. He said, "What would you do differently if you knew the solution would appear with ease and grace?"

Ease and grace? How could I find a solution by sitting back and letting things happen? That felt like giving up.

I tried it anyway, breathing and clearing my mind as I allowed myself to feel "ease and grace." It wasn't about giving up. I gave into the feeling of peace that comes with the acceptance of not knowing. I quit struggling to control a situation that was out of my grasp.

In the moment of release, I knew that my life was unfolding exactly as it should. There was nothing else I needed to do.

Finally, when you feel like your life is in crisis, please talk to friends about your experience without shame. There is no need to "tough it out on your own." Find a friend who tends toward optimism but won't belittle your trepidation. A good coach can help as well.

Instead of viewing this moment in time as a crisis, consider seeing it as an emergence. You are shedding the skin of the past. A part of you is dying. And a part of you is emerging. The pain feels the same but the result is different. Can you shift into being curious instead of afraid?

Adapted from Wander Woman: How High-Achieving Women Find Contentment and Direction.