Climbing Back on the Wagon

Shadow Ithaca 1 LOW RES FRAMED It sounds so idyllic – a 3 month sabbatical of learning, expanding, stepping into, letting go. Mountaintop aha’s, seaside calm, early morning café revelations…

Here’s the truth. The real test of those aha’s and revelations happens when we encounter real life.

Real life is what happens when you come face to face with Post #1 on the to write list – the one with the words “1 day” scribbled in red Sharpee next to it, that in real life took a month to write and rewrite.

Real life is that I still run Creating the Future. And that the first day of my sabbatical was also the first day for our new Operations Coordinator, whose job is to transform tasks that Dimitri and I do without thinking into checklists and systems and flow charts. And that that’s hard to do if I’m not there!

Real life is that my nature, as it is for so many of us, is do-do-do. That while I relish being time, that doing is my go-to state. That it takes far more effort to maintain that being state than I’d like to admit.  And even more to the point, that any disruption of that being state brings me right back to doing mode, just as it is when you get the flu and POOF – months of regular gym workouts become weeks (sometimes months) of getting ourselves back to the gym.

We think we have a new way of being. We are so proud of that new way of being! And then our old patterns show up, saying, “Not so fast!”

Shadow4 (LOW RES framed)So it was that a week long visit by my childhood friend Ray two weeks ago interrupted my celebrated new pattern of being on sabbatical amid work demands.

And I fell off the wagon.

After a week of relaxing, completely routine-free, with Ray, I slipped mindlessly into the routine that feels so natural. Planning sessions for social media. For engaging interns. For operational infrastructure. Board meeting prep. Preparing Creating the Future’s annual report to the IRS. My podcast. Our upcoming FlashClass.

The sabbatical list of “write / explore / learn / become / be” instantly became “deadlines / resources / unfinished projects / upcoming classes / things people are waiting for.” Like the alcoholic who takes just one sip until…

Then came the reality I could no longer ignore: this blog. My commitment to share what I was learning and musing became the reality that I had mused on nothing at all.

I am confessing all this because there is a romantic notion of the marvelous things we would create and accomplish, if only we had time, if only we had no other responsibilities.

And really, the “if only’s” are all in our heads, which this week has meant coming face-to-face with me.

First I smiled at the ridiculous notion that there is such a thing as “no other responsibilities.” We live such complex lives that real life is almost impossible to ignore, regardless of what one’s real life is.

Shadow Ithaca 2 LOW RES framedAnd then the more important “aha” – that giving myself three months has allowed me to go through this cycle and come out the other end. It has allowed me the time to be gentle with myself, to laugh instead of chastise, to breathe deep, to “get back to the gym” and, once again, let go of the doing. 

Which has led to the real aha: that “if only I had more time…” lets us believe that time is outside our control.

In fact, I am free, every day, to choose how I use my time, sabbatical or no.

And so, after this week’s board meeting (and a few other loose ends I cannot completely ignore), I will step back into sabbatical, this time with a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door. Like going back to the gym, I am stepping back into rhythms I have already created.

Only this time, I am grateful that I DID fall off the wagon, because I never would have learned that I have gained so much this summer.

I’ve gained the ability to not chastise and lament, to instead laugh and let go and recommit – to be more gentle with myself and by that, be more gentle with the people around me.

I’ve learned that it’s never too late to begin again (which we all know cognitively, yet we still tell ourselves we’re too old or the moment has passed…)

I’ve learned that I can bring parts of this “sabbatical” into my “doing” life if I make that my intention.

And I’ve laughed at the “to do” list that began this sabbatical – the list of things I would write. Not because it was way too much to finish in 3 months (which it was and I knew that), but because it never occurred to me that the list was irrelevant.

St Louis Arch LOW RES framed

That the important part would be giving myself time and permission and freedom to BE, as well as the time and permission to learn just what that means in real life.

In this second week of the final month of my sabbatical, it is time for me to gather together all I’ve learned about me and about life, and to blend it with all I’ve learned from my reading and exploration.

It’s time to write my ass off.

I’ll let you know how that goes.

If you know people who are exploring their own creativity, would you share this post with them? The more we can all learn together and share our experience together, the less alone we will feel when we fall off that wagon next time…

3 Responses to Climbing Back on the Wagon

  1. Beautifully said, Hildy. Especially your experience of discovering that it’s always okay to start over.

    It makes me think about the practice of beginner’s mind, and how freeing it is to bring optimism and possibility to the places and times that I thought I’d lost or failed at.

    Your words are an inspiration. Endless possibility.

  2. Hildy, thank you for this. It captures so perfectly the struggle I constantly face. I head back to work next Monday after 6 weeks off and I didn’t get done what I had hoped which makes me feel like I failed somehow. You have reminded me that it is never too late to start again and that working and writing can live together without separate times for each. I’m inspired to get cracking – thank you!