When you think about expanding and growing into your best life, what comes up for you? Are you thinking “YES! Woohoo! That is exactly what I want!” or does fear come up instead and shut you down? Thoughts like “I don’t even know what that looks like” or “I don’t even know how” or “who am I to think I can expand”… Any of those sound familiar?
No matter how you feel about expanding into your best life (excited or terrified), change and growth doesn’t come easy. Even if you really want to grow and transform, the transformation process itself can be quite uncomfortable. Because there is this inevitable awkward in-between stage that happens as you step out of who you were and before you have fully integrated into who you are becoming.
And that “in-between” period….THAT’S what I want to talk about.
Just as an example, think about the last time you started a new job. At first it’s awkward and you don’t know what you are doing or what will really be expected of you. There are a lot of unknowns, so you have to fumble through it. (It’s UNCOMFORTABLE) But sure enough, at some point, the unknowns will become knowns and you will settle into the job and everything will be fine. Unless the job just isn’t in alignment with who you are becoming…but that’s a different story for another day.
There is always a certain level of releasing who you were in order to step into who you are becoming. Like a snake shedding its skin. The snake cannot grow bigger without releasing the casing that defined its edges. Same with us. We have invisible lines that define who we are…and in order to expand and grow, we have to let go of those borders to make room for a new version of ourselves.
When we shed that protective layer, that invisible border that defines who we are… there is a moment where we don’t know what’s happening, or who we are. In my coaching tradition, we call it “Square one”, or falling apart. Sounds a bit terrifying, but it is an essential part of the process of growth and change of any kind. Whether you are expanding your business, buying a new house, entering a new relationship, retiring, trying something new, whatever it is...
Now, if you like to be in control, like I do, you may need some extra guidance through this part, because it’s disconcerting. You can feel out of control, lost and alone. Many of my clients show up in my office when they are in this uncomfortable phase of transformation, square one, and it is helpful to hear or to be reminded that this stage of growth is supposed to be uncomfortable.
Transforming is a process of undoing who you have been to make room for who you are becoming. It’s a vulnerable state. There is even a certain amount of grieving that comes with that. In another episode, “Cleaning it up” we talked a little about how you can actively make room for the next phase, but there ARE some things that need to fall away on their own. And as much as you would probably like to, you just can’t manage this part…. I love the analogy of the butterfly applied to the growth cycle of life. Particularly the part about the cocoon. When it’s time for the caterpillar to become a butterfly, what does she do? She intuitively prepares a cocoon for herself where it’s dark and confined and closed off from the world.
Have you ever felt like that? Like you just wanted to wrap yourself in a blanket and disappear for a while?
Now, once she’s in that cocoon, what does she do? Nothing. That’s right. She just surrenders to becoming undone. Literally. She actually dissolves into caterpillar goo. So this is a bit an extreme example, but in order to become a butterfly, she must completely let go of who she has been, which was a caterpillar. And from the goo, a butterfly is born. During this undoing phase, there is nothing the caterpillar has to do but to allow herself to become goo.
This process would be impossible if the caterpillar tried to help it along. Think about it, doing is the opposite of undoing. Doing can only get in the way of undoing. It’s really common during the square one phase to feel like everything is falling apart and you don’t know what to do so you end up trying to do something which actually just gets in the way.
Doing is what we know. And undoing, or not-doing, is counter-intuitive. Which is why navigating through this phase is challenging. If you don’t have a coach, you will need to be your own coach, reminding yourself “there is nothing to do” and “It’s okay” and “We will know what the next step is when we are ready to take it.”
So you see, as uncomfortable as it is, the goo phase, as I like to call it, is a necessary part of the process of growing.
There may be some who find this pleasurable, but most people struggle during this part.
I remember many times in my life when I went through this, but the first one was when I split up with my high school boyfriend. The truth is that we both held on to that relationship a lot longer than was healthy…because it was familiar. We had been together since we were 15 and now we were 21 and our lives were trying to take us in different directions…but we fought it and stayed together and stagnant. When we finally gathered up the courage to break it off… We had been so co-dependently intertwined in this relationship that I didn’t have a clue who I would be without it. I had no idea who I was.
I can remember I felt like I was dying. I literally curled up in a ball underneath my desk and wished I could melt into the floor. I was a mess. I was falling apart. Interestingly enough though, I didn’t fight it. Even though I had zero training in the falling apart process, I just went with it. I just let go and fell apart. I came undone from what I knew. And then, after some time passed, my falling apart phase was over, and I can remember waking up into a whole new world. And I felt brand new. I felt alive! Like I was reborn.
I felt like anything was possible. And it was. Everything seemed brighter. When I think about those last months in the relationship, there was a heaviness that I was carrying around… And when I compare that to how I felt getting out…Night and day! From contraction to expansion.
So, if you are going through some big changes in your life, maybe you bought a new house, maybe you got fired from your job or you just landed a new job, maybe your marriage ended or whatever it is. Just know this, you have to allow what was to dissolve so you can reconfigure into this next phase of who you are becoming. And it makes no difference whether it is a happy change or a painful one, in my experience, the process of change is the same. And it may sound terrifying, I get it. But I promise you, it’s worth it to just let yourself fall apart. The alternative is living in limbo. And many people choose limbo. Like the river is flowing and all you have to do is let go and allow the river to take you, but you just keep sitting on the shore because you don’t know where the river is going. The river leads to life!
Now you may find yourself in the goo and not realize what is happening. You’ve moved into the change or the change was made for you…. First you need to recognize what is happening. Because you can’t always see what is going on when you are in the middle of it. One of the easiest ways to recognize it, is that everything feels harder. Like you are swimming against the current. And every step feels like quick sand… because everything inside of you is telling you to stop. Why? So you can fall apart.
In square one, you feel unsure of everything and all you want to do is curl up in bed and do nothing. You don’t want to have to be responsible for anyone or anything. Nothing makes sense and you don’t know what to do….but it feels like you are falling and you just cannot get your footing. Martha Beck’s mantra for square one is “I don’t know what the hell is going on… and that’s okay.”
Your job in this stage is to slow down or be still. Trust that a metamorphosis is happening and when it’s time for you to do something, you will know. And until then, sit back. Nurture yourself. You want to curl up in bed for a reason. So go curl up in bed if you can.
I think as humans we tend to want to know what is ahead, and yet if we knew it all, it just wouldn’t be nearly as interesting. You are only given what you need for this leg of the journey. You will know more when you arrive at the next step. How do you know where that is? Well, you will know when you get there. So, if you are currently in square one or you know someone who is…it’s time to undo and it’s uncomfortable for everyone. You gotta fall apart before you can put yourself back together.
Now, you may be sitting on the edge of the cliff, wanting to jump but afraid of the unknown…that’s okay…many of us do. But listen, don’t stay there too long. You’ve got a life that is waiting for you. I know you wish you could see how it all turns out, but that’s just not how it works. That’s not part of the game. And thank goodness, because the parts that you could not have planned tend to be the best parts of the whole thing. And if you need a session, you know who to contact!
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