Somewhere in the Middle
by Sharon Teitelbaum
Renovating our lives from the inside out? What does that mean in the currency? For some of my clients, it means they've left behind their fast-track, frenetic pace and are living more delicately balanced lives that are more aligned with their values and priorities. They are trading a comfortable income for a more modest one, at least in the short term. On most days the personal gains dominate their experience; they enjoy their newly unfolding lives. They can feel proud they had the courage to step off the treadmill and into a more authentic way of living. They appreciate having time and space for what's important to them. They experience daily doses of pleasure and fulfillment that reinforce their decisions, and are staying afloat financially. But some days they panic.
Are these days of panic predictable? Absolutely. Likely moments are when they feel a lull in their work, when they come across an article in a national magazine about an old colleague achieving something big, when their hard disk crashes, when their kids are being unpleasant. And what do many do? They jump immediately to an extreme conclusion. They may think, "I've made a terrible mistake and will end up homeless, on the street, and alone." Or, "I've thrown away my opportunities," or "I'm just coasting," or "I'll never get away with this," or "Who do I think I am?" They may forget to give themselves a grace period, to allow for a time during which the outcome isn't clear yet.
Most likely, their back burner projects soon become active again, new work comes in, potential clients call, and the idea of coasting recedes into oblivion. They replace the hard disk, the kids become charming, or at least civil, again, and the ominous specter of failure disappears. But black and white thinking has its cost, bringing unnecessary stress and anxiety into their lives.
Black and white thinking is a classic pattern that shows up when people worry or when they are uncomfortable with uncertainty in their lives. You get a headache and jump to the conclusion that you have a brain tumor. You are stepped over for a promotion and conclude that you will soon be bagging groceries.
In the movie "Parenthood," one great scene shows the father, played by Steve Martin, envisioning his little son's future. In one moment, he sees the son as a young man receiving an award for his great contribution to humanity; the son humbly thanks the academy and the large audience gathered in his honor and acknowledges his enormous gratitude to his father. In the next moment, the father envisions the same son as a young man in a high clock tower with a rifle, taking aim at the large crowd assembled below. In context the scene is hilarious because it captures a universal experience of parenting. There are times when one wonders, "Am I raising a hero or a misfit? A valedictorian or a an illiterate?" The truth is probably somewhere in between! Often, when you make changes in your life, you do so because you are raising a standard. You want more meaningful work, more time with your children, or the breathing room to have a more spiritual inner life. You are trading an old belief for a new one. Some discomfort is inevitable with such a major change because you are out of your comfort zone and in new territory. What's more, when the old standard you are leaving behind happens to be 'The Standard' that the mainstream, dominant culture adheres to, your level of discomfort can be intensified!
For the clients I mentioned earlier, a lingering belief in the old standard prevails. The new one hasn't yet withstood the test of time or proven itself to be viable. I call the old standard "living at the speed of business," which comes from an old ad campaign in which FedEx touted themselves as "moving at the speed of business." I DO want my package to move at the speed of business – but not my life! Many of us have lived the experience of "moving at the speed of business." We feel exhilaration to be part of an organization or project that is evolving at that pace and intensity. Some thrive in it and believe it is the only way to live. But for others, it is simply not sustainable.
If living in the fast lane has been a dominant principle for you in your past, you may feel great hubris to chart a different course now, trusting your life to have its own healthy, self-generated flow rather than a driving pace fueled by adrenaline and stress. Some days may come when anything short of working full tilt, stressed to the point of hyperventilation, seems like underachievement. You may be tempted to interpret the discrepancy between your current life and your old life as failure or letdown. But don't believe it!
You may have traded a higher profile for a richer experience. You may have chosen meaningful work over highly paid work. You may have stepped off the fast track in order to be on your own track. Your own track may eventually lead you into more highly compensated work than you ever imagined, but you don't know that yet. Don't give in to the temptation of thinking in all-or-nothing terms. The truth is probably at neither extreme, no matter how vividly these polar opposites appear. The truth is more likely to be somewhere in the middle.
1. Name an arena in your life where you are inclined to jump to extreme conclusions.
2. What is one of the extreme outcomes that you jump to?
3. What is the equal but opposite outcome? In other words, if your disaster outcome is that you will die penniless on the street, the equal and opposite outcome would be that you will achieve fame, fortune, and a great following.
4. What is the middle ground outcome?
5. Notice the next time you jump to conclusions of disaster, and name what you are doing.
6. Look at three possible outcomes: the disaster, the opposite, and the middle ground.
7. Choose the one that lets you work most effectively. Hold that one in your thoughts.
Sharon Teitelbaum may be contacted at http://www.stcoach.com
Sharon Teitelbaum, www.stcoach.com, a Master Certified Work-Life and Career Coach, works with high achievers, people at mid-career, and professionals seeking greater career satisfaction and work-life balance. She coaches by phone and in person in Boston. Her newsletter, Strategies For Change, offers practical tips for work-life success. Getting Unstuck Without Coming Unglued: Restoring Work-Life Balance is Sharon's most recent book. Sharon also also delivers keynotes & workshops on work-life issues. Clients include Children's Hospital Boston, Merrill Lynch, Arnold Worldwide, professional organizations and alumni groups. She's been featured in national publications including The New York Times, Forbes.com, and Working Mother Magazine. Married for 30 years, she is the mother of two amazing young women.
Copyright 2003, Sharon Teitelbaum. All rights reserved