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Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers famously sang, “The waiting is the hardest part.”
That’s how many of us feel right now. Waiting to hug our loved ones again, waiting for mass vaccine distribution, waiting for the economy to settle, for kids to go back to school, for paperwork to resolve, for travel restrictions to ease, for, for, for, etc.
I’m there with you too, fidgety with impatience and anxious to surge past this space between what was and what will be next. We’re doing this round collectively, as a world. But you’ve been here before, on your own, many times, and you’ll be here again.
Dr. Seuss titles it “The Waiting Place.” As we discussed in episode 216, William Bridges refers to it as “The Neutral Zone,” and Dr. Martha Beck calls it “Death and Rebirth.” The period between the end of one thing and the beginning of another.
A listener reached out and requested a deeper dive into this in-between phase. The one in which so many of us feel stuck in right now, and I’m happy to oblige. So, this week, I’ll reveal a two-step secret for how to better utilize your time in limbo to maximize your transition and minimize your discomfort.
What You’ll Learn in this Episode:
- Letting go of “if only”
- Band-Aid solutions that prolong grief
- Reassembling your DNA & meeting yourself again
- How struggle sharpens your senses
- Nothingness to not-yet-ness
Listen to the Full Episode
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Podcast: Play in new window | Download
Featured on the Show:
The “becoming” stage between who you are now and who you want to be next doesn’t have to be joyless. In Expats on Fire, our group has fun every single day. We share chuckles and cheer each other on, WHILE we make gentle-yet-steady progress on our individual goals. New members are always welcome, so torch your excuses and join us right now.
- Join Expats on Fire right here.
- Sundae’s Facebook Business Page – Sundae Schneider-Bean LLC
- Sundae’s Facebook Group – Expats on Purpose
- William Bridges – Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes
- Martha Beck – Growing Wings: The Power of Change
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Full Episode Transcript:
Hello. It is 8:30 am in New York, 3:30 pm in Johannesburg, and 8:30 pm in Bangkok. Welcome to the Expat Happy Hour. This is Sundae Schneider-Bean from www.sundaebean.com. I am a solution-orientated coach and intercultural strategist for individuals and organizations. I am on a mission to help you adapt and succeed when living abroad and get you through any life transition.
“This is by far the most misunderstood place there is. Let’s call it, ‘The Waiting Place.’ The Waiting Place by Dr. Seuss. “Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come, a plane to go or the mail to come, the rain to go or the phone to ring, the snow to snow or waiting around for a yes or no. Or waiting for their hair to grow. Everyone is just waiting.”
I used to read this excerpt from Dr. Seuss, Oh the Places You’ll Go and I kind of be judgy. I think about all these people and watched the illustration as they stood around and I thought, “Why don’t you just take charge of your life and do something?” But there are times in our lives where we are in The Waiting Place. And, in fact, based on over a decade of working with my clients and my own life experience as well as a research that I’ve seen around transitions, it can be one of the most misunderstood, under-appreciated phases of life.
I’m specifically talking about the Neutral Zone of transitions. You might have remembered me talking about it in episode 216 with Karen Tan in last week’s episode. We looked at the Neutral Zone of Transitions or Dr. Martha Beck calls it, “Death and Rebirth.” It’s this time between the end of one thing and the beginning of another. We’re not yet in our old life completely, but we’re not yet in our new life yet, and I wanted to dive into this further this week.
One of my clients is living literally in limbo right now, stuck between locations and waiting for her life to be removed from pause and hit play. I think this applies to a lot of people who are dealing with a COVID crisis where you’re feeling like you’re not quite living your normal life, but wishing that the old life was back. Or it could be a life situation, like you’re waiting for your business to take off or a divorce to finalize. All of this can be falling under the neutral zone. Or you can feel like you’re in the waiting place. Sometimes we choose it and sometimes it chooses us.
So today I’m going to walk you through what to expect and what you can do, and what you should avoid. I want you to make the most of this space. So we’re going to talk about, how did it happen? Why is it important to stay there? And what to do? And I’m going to draw on a few sources for this as I mentioned William Bridges’ book of Transitions, Dr. Martha Beck’s Four Squares of Change, what I’ve seen in my coaching practice for over a decade and my own take-my-breath-away transitions.
All right, so when you’re in the muck, sometimes it helps to understand, how did this happen? So Martha Beck says is often a catalytic event, something happened and everything changed. It could be you lost your job, your partner left, or your Visa was denied, and it catapulted you into this space where you feel like you landed face first on the ground. Or maybe it’s something you chose, like you left your partner or you moved to another country. Right? Either way, this is the cusp where something is ending and there’s a beginning of something else but what that is hasn’t yet fully emerged and you land in that place, despite all of your hopes and dreams, and you end up feeling stuck or maybe even lost.
And that is uncomfortable, right? Maybe some of you haven’t had a specific change, but it’s either COVID related or you just woke up one day and you’re like, “I’m kind of done with all of this and I don’t want it anymore. But I don’t know what I want instead.”
So you’re kind of stuck with this loss or emptiness but you don’t have any plan on what you can do to get out of it. This phase of transition is marked by intense discomfort. And you know what happens when I’m uncomfortable? I want to fix it. I want to either escape it, maybe I might numb it. I just want to get out. What I don’t want to do is sit in it. But I know unfortunately after what do they call it, they call it “Lerngeld” in German when you learn you pay for something to learn it. I’ve learned that sitting in it is actually probably the wisest thing you can do.
I’m going to say something that’s going to make you want to punch me in the face, right? Okay, sitting in it has value because this time where we are kind of like going from a caterpillar who goes into bug soup, that’s what Martha Beck calls it where you’re in that goop of discomfort. It’s actually kind of a magical time when a new life or a new sense of self is generating.
And that is the farthest thing from your mind. That is the farthest thing that it feels like and it’s probably the farthest thing that you want. All you want is comfort.
But when all of this is said and done you’re going to look back and see the magic and I hope that knowing that on the other side of this ick is something beautiful that that will give you some hope.
And I totally get how easy it is to want to fill the void, to want to make the empty to go away. It’s kind of like that rebound boyfriend situation where you get dumped and then two days later you’re hanging out somewhere and someone cute comes along you’re like, “Hey.” Like, “This would solve my problem.” But what we know is it doesn’t solve anything. It just prolongs grief and healing.
So welcome to the Neutral Zone. It feels life-shattering but it’s what’s going to make you you. We get stripped of everything that we thought we knew, maybe even stripped of our routine. All of the distractions. Everything that made us feel ourselves is gone. And what’s left? You, but raw, unattached to distractions.
And guess what? It’s kind of beautiful. It’s kind of beautiful to discover yourself again in that sort of nakedness. Vulnerability. Kind of meet her again. “Who is she? If I strip all that away, what’s left?”
Something really precious about that process. And yes, it feels vulnerable. And I don’t know about you, but that’s not my most comfortable spot.
The other thing that happens is that when we strip all of that away and we make space to really feel that, we might discover that we’ve been pushing some stuff down. All right, and then woo here it comes, and all resurfaces, right? And then you see things with fresh eyes and it’s all part of this process and if it is taking your breath away, you know you’re doing something right.
I know for me, I’ve made a commitment this year to create more space. I’m very busy and very proactive and productive but I knew deep down that creating space was important. So I’ve done that. I’ve made time for meditation. I’m doing like three or four hours of meditation during my working hours when normally I would be busy. And one day I was doing a meditation, I ended up sobbing my eyes out. And I was like, “Oh, okay. So didn’t know that was down there.” I was so grateful, so grateful for holding that space for creating that space so that I can move through whatever’s obviously stuck down there. And so something new can re-emerge on the other side.
When we allow ourselves to move through that, the other side is a new and richer, deeper, version of ourselves. So this “Waiting Place” actually, if we can have some distance from it, it’s actually a pretty sacred space that I know it feels like an end, but it’s really to the cusp of a beginning. And we’re not taught to be able to cherish that discomfort.
Something has gotten lost along the way. But even though it can make you feel like crap, the joy of that is that moving through it, is a beginning of a new sense of who you are and where you want to go.
So I hope that helps you understand why this pain is worth it. How this happened? It was either something that you chose, it was coming deep from within or something happened to you and it feels outside of your control. But I hope you see now why it’s important to stay there, to sit in it.
And you might be asking yourself, “Okay, even though I don’t want to sit in, I don’t really have a choice,” right? “So what do I do next?”
So you can dive in more detail in William Bridges book Transitions, but I will share a few steps here, so you can get started.
And the first step is: Surrender. And I tell you what, I suck at surrender.
I had two Caesareans and I’m pretty sure it’s because I’m not good at surrender. All right, people that are good at surrender can do that whole thing. Not me. I’m pretty sure that my psyche said, “Nope, not going to go there,” and everything clamped down and said, “We’re going to have a little bit more control over the situation.” So I’m the first person in line who doesn’t want to surrender.
But what would that be like to give in to that nothingness? To that not-yet-ness of your new life or your business or relationship or whatever. And while I totally get it, it can be terrifying, I understand how that can feel scary just like the caterpillar when it goes into bugs soup it’s like, “For real? My DNA is just going to reassemble and become a butterfly? I hope this is true.”
Right? What can we do to find meaning? To put like the caterpillar and the bug soup assembles a DNA for this beautiful pattern of the monarch butterfly. How can we create meaning for the things that are not easy? In this moment of pause to reflect on, “Actually, where have I been? How did I get here?” And doing that from that place of pain, from that place of discomfort, I tell you what, you will come up with such richer answers than if you do that five months from now when all of this is over because you’re desperate. And I mean that in the most loving of ways because you are struggling and your senses are sharp.
So getting crystal clear on where you’ve been and super honest with yourself about how you got there. And with those gut-wrenching eyes and lack of all distractions, you can see things in new ways. And the reward for this is it will be the gift for you to see where you’re headed. Because come on, we’re often so damn busy in our regular lives. We do not pause unless life grabs us by the ankles and turns us upside down. So now that it has you by the ankles and you’re swinging, you’re more ready to surrender and commit to the next step, which is Explore.
And exploring is those hard questions you need to answer to discover what you really want. And I know what I want to do is do the “if I coulda” or “if only” right? “If only I could go and see my family. If only things were back to normal. If only he were. If only she were. If only I was.” I get that. That’s what I want to do. That will not be as fruitful as exploring some bigger questions. Like, “Hey, as I sit in this shit. What am I learning? What am I learning about myself? What am I learning about what I value? What am I longing for? And what am I starving to create?”
It is in that gorgeous pain that those answers are crystal clear. And it’s that straight talk with yourself. When I look at myself and I say, “Sundae, what feels unlived?” If you were to answer that right now, right now what feels unlived? What comes up?
What talents of yours are underutilized? And what is unexpressed?
That is exploring. That is doing the work. When you’re sitting in it, that will help you get clear on who you are becoming and what you really want. And it is the reward for sitting in the hard stuff.
And that is the reward of the Neutral Zone. The space between what was and what is to be. If you don’t do the work, you will extend the length and the duration of the Neutral Zone of how long you sit in death and rebirth. You cannot skip this step, but you can live in the step and do the work so that you’ll get on the other side. And the other side is dreaming and scheming. It’s full of hope of who you are becoming and planning for that.
And in many cases it’s kind of like a root canal, right? We know it’s painful, but we also know it’s going to be so much better afterwards. And my hope for today, by sharing this with you is that you walk away not wanting to avoid this Neutral Zone, to avoid or skip death and rebirth but to dig your heels in because it is a rich time of insight. And with hindsight, you will see you are sowing the seeds of your harvest. Because of this, this zone, that all inner transformation begins.
So there you have it. We looked at this Neutral Zone, The Waiting Place, Death and Rebirth, whatever form of transformation that you identify with, and how we got there, what it is, and why it’s so important to stay there. And my hope is that the few tough questions I asked you will give you something to do in this zone to make it more meaningful and purposeful for you.
I want to remind you that although this work is deep and this work can feel hard, It doesn’t have to be joyless. That when you find yourself in the thick of this zone, don’t forget to sprinkle moments of joy intentionally in your process. And that might be capturing a glimpse of the sunrise. Watching the butterflies as they race you on your run. Or the smell of your child as you hold him tight at night.
Because that joy will give you the energy to stay in the thick of it and give you hope for the other side. And the other reminder is you don’t have to do this alone. I’m here by your side and I’ve got communities that can support you. So if you want someone by your side to help you in your zone, reach out and let me know. I’m here for you.
This episode was done at the request of a member of the Expat Happy Hour community. If you’ve got a topic that you’d like to see me cover, contact me with your suggestions. I would love to answer your questions or address that burning topic on a coming episode.
You’ve been listening to Expat Happy Hour with Sundae Schneider-Bean. Thank you for listening. I’ll leave you with thoughts from Ernest Hemingway: “The world breaks everyone. And afterward many are strong at the broken places.”
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[…] EP 217: Life in Limbo […]