For some weeks now, I’ve felt like I’ve been holding onto a rock with waves breaking over me, not quite sure what to do next.
This feeling relates to a holiday memory from when I was a young man: I had been on a long swim, the weather turned windy, and I ended up stuck behind a coral reef, clutching to the nearest rock, as the wind whipped the waves into a froth, and I realised I was too tired to make the long swim back the way I had come. The reef was like a wall in front of me, and the breaking waves dropped under its edge before surging over it. Close to panic, I tried to gather my wits, but realised I was fighting a losing battle. It was a dangerous situation.
Luckily for me there was a happy ending. At some point, my body seemed to take over, and I let go of the rock as a wave broke over me. The letting go felt terrifying, but also as if there was no time to be scared. I felt the wave trample me down, and then roughly lift me up, and almost at the same moment I felt my body grating over the rocks and corals that formed the edge of the reef. For a few seconds I just lay there. My chest was streaming with blood from the small cuts the barnacles had inflicted but otherwise I was safe. The waves kept breaking over me, but I felt so relieved to be alive, and when I finally stood up, I felt the sunshine and the stiff breeze with a feeling of elation and well-being.
It’s no coincidence that this story pops into my head now. For the last year, I have been planning a career transition and it finally feels like the time has arrived to launch. I have made the necessary preparations: created my website, set up social media feeds, created my logo, devised my business plan (not written — it’s in my head somewhere). Now I just need to get going. But even though my mind feels good about the plan, I am not quite ready to let go.
I have written elsewhere about my journey over the last year of Covid-19 lockdown which got me to this point. To cut a long story short, I am moving on from my career as an energy market analyst and economist, and focussing on my coaching. This should also allow me to pursue my creative interests (mainly pottery, poetry and travel writing) more actively. My wife and family seem happy with the idea, and I feel like this would meet a real need. It feels like an organic evolution from the work I’ve been doing before, and it feels grounded and pragmatic. I am committed to making the transition.
So why am I still clinging on to the rock, and not just letting go? To understand this better, I did a creative visualisation / meditation to uncover what was going on under the surface for me in making this transition. I visualised the road ahead, and what was either side of it. The road was one of those big American highways, and it stretched far out in front of me to the horizon, which was bounded by red-tinged mountains. The road felt open and gave me a sense of freedom. But when I stopped my car, there was a fringe of dark shadows running alongside it, and it felt rather scary. I walked away from my car and visualised what was lurking out of sight in the shadows. This re-connected me with various fears and doubts that had beset me early on in the period of Covid lockdown.
First among these was how other people would view my plans. As a journalist, I have always worked from a position of defiance: “publish and be damned”. As an analyst, my default position has always been that my views should be forensic, evidence-based, supported by data and rational. Core to this ethos has been working from a position of independence; I have always admired people who are courageous enough to stand up against a crowd, and I’ve always tried to live up to this goal myself. So it felt surprising and rather bothersome to find myself so worried about how other people would construe my decision to make a career transition.
What else was lurking in the shadows? I also found more fear of uncertainty than I expected. I have always seen myself as a risk-taker. Having survived the gamble to let go of the rock as a young man, my career involved several leaps into the unknown, and I see myself as someone who actively enjoys the challenge of change. But at this stage of my life (aged 61, when many of my friends are retiring) there is part of me that is reluctant to make another leap into the unknown. For some reason, the image of my 17 year old cat popped into my mind; it occasionally makes a sprightly leap onto the back of a chair and misses the target completely. Perhaps part of me is scared to risk suffering the same indignity!
Finally, self-doubt. I realised that in making the transition to my future path, I was still carrying some of the underlying values that shaped my work as a journalist and analyst. Both these worlds are highly competitive, and like many people, I worked in the areas where I felt I could excel. In making the switch to a new role, I realised that I was carrying this competitive streak forward but with no assurance of results. As a coach, I have always had positive feedback from my coachees, but I have met many people who are more experienced and who also have excellent skills. And although I kept my creative work going throughout the period that I worked as a journalist and analyst, I have never “gone for broke” as a creative artist.
I don’t think there is an easy way to resolve these uncertainties, except by letting go of the rock and taking the risk. But I found the creative visualisation process very helpful in identifying my concerns about the future path. I understood that these concerns were primarily related to my reluctance to let go of my former self, and what I had achieved, rather than a sense of any real danger that lurked ahead. It often feels relatively easy to make plans for the new, but what’s more difficult is to let go of the past.