For some of us, the last year has indeed felt a bit like an involuntary hibernation. Our plans: cancelled. Our ideas: for a world that didn’t exist anymore — or is temporarily suspended. Our confidence: sometimes knocked as we had to adjust to a different life.
For the lucky ones of us, 2020–21 is an inconvenience. For others life changed in big ways with destruction that won’t be reversible. Lots of grief that has nowhere to go, hasn’t found meaningful rituals or holding containers yet. And for some, life changed in some ways for the better and we can’t see ourselves going back. Or it’s a big messy mix with the jury still out.
Collectively, we are in the middle of things right now. There are glimmers of hope of something else on the other side. We don’t know what it is yet. Depending on our disposition, we imagine it to be like the past but slightly smoother. Or we imagine it to be worse, things unravelling or going downhill. We might tie ourselves in knots trying to follow all the noisy voices who tell us what the future brings and what life and work is going to be like. Usually from a nicely padded chair in front of the standard thought-leader bookshelf.
But here’s the thing. We don’t know. Nobody knows.
The “in-between” looks and feels messy. It’s because it is. The new thing hasn’t formed yet, and the old thing has stopped working or gone away. When a caterpillar turns into a butterfly, it retreats into a cocoon as the caterpillar dissolves and the butterfly forms. When the butterfly is complete, it comes out of the cocoon, dries off its wings, and flies off.
For us, change isn’t that simple. Some of us had time to recalibrate and reconsider and have used this as cocooning space. Others had the most brutal stress and were struggling just to keep the basics running and had no shred of energy left to get metaphysical. Individually and as societies, we are still in various places in that messy middle. So, might as well embrace it.
Sense the signals. What attracts, what repels. What do you keep coming back to? What have you started? What have you stopped? What do you want to do more of? Less of? Who do you want to be more of? Less of? Take good notes of what comes up. You might not see a pattern yet, but things might click more into place over time.
Follow a few loose threads and see if they go somewhere. Have that random interaction. Play around with that topic that keeps tickling you for an evening — it’s not like you’re missing out on a party somewhere, is it? In some ways, having everything online makes it easier to join new communities, to have that “virtual coffee”, to see who goes to that meetup. If you can, use these opportunities.
Work on your capacity to hold conflicting topics, muddled strands of something yet to find its shape. Life is like that, being able to work with these situations. Be gentle with yourself. Protect the basics if you can, if things are still shaky, stabilise what you can. Change is easier when you have at least a bit of a firm foothold. Also know that speed won’t matter when directions aren’t clear. So if it feels like you’re crawling on your eyebrows, that’s OK. That’s one way of moving forward.
It’s also OK to hold your cards close to your chest for a while. You are not a company, you don’t have reporting requirements. Not everyone needs to follow your explorations in real time. If you have a partner, you probably have a good grasp at what stage of thinking process and with what sort of topics they want to get looped into, and how (if not and you are sharing/building a life with someone, have these conversations!).
For most other people around you — it’s OK not to tell everyone everything immediately. Other people’s change doesn’t always bring out the best in people. Be choiceful what you share in the initial stages. Allow yourself that incubation time.
Get to know who your supporters are. As you start exploring new fields and topics, you will meet a whole new group of people, and they can become supporters, too. Enjoy the process. You are meeting new people that are passionate about things, and chances are a lot of them will be willing to help a new enthusiast.
Protect your incubation and experimentation space. And if you don’t have that space yet, start carving out what you can for this, and start working with that. If you are looking to make change, you will need that.