It’s recently struck me that there seems to be quite a lot that we actually just don’t talk about.
Whether it’s because we are time poor, embarrassed or just plain concerned we will be judged and found wanting, we seem to spend significantly more time talking about all the great things that happen in our life and keep the slightly darker stuff hidden. You only need look at the average Facebook profile to see that everyone is popular, on holidays a lot, out with friends frequently and eating amazing food and drinking lovely wine. If not that, then we are all inspired by something that we have read or seen and this causes us to share it so that others can be similarly moved.
You only need look at the average Facebook profile to see that everyone is popular, on holidays a lot, out with friends frequently and eating amazing food and drinking lovely wine.
So that’s where this post may make some people uncomfortable. You see I want to talk about something that was never mentioned to me prior to my own experience. I don’t think that knowing what was in store for me would have changed my mind but I do believe it may have made the whole transition a little easier if I had recognised that others had been through something similar before me. Surprisingly it seems it is something that many people, particularly my female friends, have experienced themselves – but it just never gets talked about. I’m going to call it the Jack and Beanstalk Effect.
“WTF,” I hear you exclaim! Stay with me while I explain.
As many of you know, earlier this year I took a massive leap into the unknown, quitting my full-time job, stepping down from every organising committee I was sitting on and bowing out of many other activities. I did it because I was tired and I was unhealthy. My body was telling me, in not too subtle ways, that I had pushed too hard for too long and it was time to make some changes.
Me being me then there was no half way in this experience so I stepped back to “spend more time with my family” and I thought that transition would have been like something from a fairy tale – you know the Walt Disney kind where you overcome some obstacle and then everyone lives happily ever after.
I’d actually argue that I was right – it has been like a fairy tale but I’d suggest it’s more like a Brothers Grimm version complete with a Bogey Man, fear, loss of control and a still to be determined unpredictable ending. What was I thinking!
When I stopped work I honestly thought life would be simpler – that time with the kids and in my house would provide me with some sense of calm that had been missing. What I didn’t anticipate was the sense of loss – loss of identity and purpose – or the rising sense of panic and anxiety. Who do you become when you are no longer who you thought you were?
Who do you become when you are no longer who you thought you were?
Initially I also felt completely alone – there were days when I quite seriously asked my husband if he thought I was going crazy. I just couldn’t seem to function without a deadline to chase down, a meeting to talk through or a strategy to scheme up. Amazingly kids and dogs don’t cooperate like professional peers and frustratingly building suppliers aren’t as reliable as providers in the business service industry. Where had that controlled, high achieving, compassionate and ultimately sane woman who I had been gone? And who exactly had replaced her?
Then, just recently something amazing started to happen. When people asked me how it had been to “enter retirement” I started telling the truth – it’s been hard! I’ve really struggled with the transition and have experienced panic attacks and anxiety and it’s actually only now, some three months on, that things seem to be settling down. I’ve described it as being like what I imagine an addict goes through in coming off a substance – coming down from the adrenalin rush and professional high flight has been brutal. Amazingly though the more I have shared this experience the more other people have turned around and said “Yeah – it’s tough! I found I felt isolated/ afraid/ incompetent/ stupid …. The performance appraisal system at home doesn’t often give great feedback”
I’ve described it as being like what I imagine an addict goes through in coming off a substance – coming down from the adrenalin rush and professional high flight has been brutal
So why would I describe this as the Jack in the Beanstalk Effect? From my perspective, taking such a big step in your life is kind of like Jack throwing those beans away. They are thrown out in desperation or exasperation, following a feeling of being somehow duped. What you had hoped would be achieved in your life just hasn’t materialised and then you realise, in chasing it, somehow you’ve duped yourself.
In throwing those beans away though, you then see something magical happen – something completely unexpected springs up. Just like Jack then you turn to face the climb with both excitement and trepidation – you’ve got no idea what is going to be at the top of this thing. You’ve just got to keep going.
When you get to the top though, no doubt after a few slip ups and some serious scrambling you then find there is a hulking great thing that scares the life out of you. It’s big, it’s hairy and you can’t just simply outrun it or turn your back on it. For me this was the complete loss of self. Instead of trying to out run it you need to face it and try to out think it. Only once that is done can you make your way back down the bean stalk to your new “normal” life.
For me I think I’m somewhere towards heading back to the top of the bean stalk. I’ve faced the giant and found a number of tools to man up in the face of it. Ironically meditation, yoga and tea with friends are activities that are now valued as highly by me as once corporate client gatherings or Board meetings would have been. I feel like a more complete person and, as a dear friend said to me recently, despite it all, I am happier.
I just wish someone had warned me!
Yours in sharing the truth and in encouraging to throw your beans x