You only need to do 1 thing.
You’ve been there. I’ve been there. We’ve all been there.
It’s not a fun place to be.
It starts like this: One minute you’re doing fine. Great actually. Then out of nowhere everything changes.
Suddenly, you realize you hate your job — you can’t work there another minute. Suddenly, you realize you’re in the wrong relationship — you can’t imagine what you even saw in the first place. Suddenly you decide it’s finally time to stick up for yourself — you can’t let your coworker, boss, friend, walk all over you anymore; it’s time to put your foot down.
Enter the slew of impossibly difficult decisions that leave you feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. I get it. I feel you. I love you and your courage.
Before we talk about what to do in these situations — when it feels like life is crashing down around you and throwing a million decisions your way, and you have no idea which one to make first or which one is correct — let’s talk about Change.
Good ol’ Change.
Anyone who’s lived through childhood knows that nothing stays the same forever. The shirt you used to love, the shoes you used to run around in, the childhood home that harbored a million memories… all of it changed.
One day you look up and realize you’re living a completely different life. You ask yourself, “how did this happen?”
That’s a good question. I wish I had the answer. What I do know is this:
- You’re not fifteen years old anymore.
- Your child is not the same 6-pound, 7-ounce baby anymore.
- The puppy you brought home all those years ago is now a senior dog who needs Vet check-ups every six months.
Things changed and we didn’t do anything to make that happen. That’s life. It’s neither good nor bad, right nor wrong. It just is.
On one side of the spectrum, we know this. We know we’re going to get wrinkles. We know the tires on the car will eventually need changing. We know a loved one, at one point or another, is going to say something to hurt our feeling…
Which brings me to my original point.
What do we do when it feels like life is crashing down around us? When we feel like we have a million decisions to make but no idea which one to make first or which one is correct?
The answer is simple. Kind of.
I heard it first from Oprah several years ago and it stuck with me ever since. It played a pivotal role in one of my biggest decisions. A few years after college, when I was twenty-three, I found myself in a difficult situation that would change the entire landscape of my life. I was juggling three jobs in three entirely different fields and averaging about eighty hours of work a week. This was the only way I could keep a roof over my head and the collection agencies off my back. My student loans totaled to more than my monthly rent, my car needed a maintenance checkup that costed two months worth of rent, I still had to pay the car insurance, the gas bill, the cell phone bill, credit cards, utilities, and let’s not forget the groceries (although by this point my groceries were at the bottom of the totem pole. I was used to living off twenty dollars a week; enough for rice, beans, oatmeal, and almonds. Yum!) And on top of that, I was being asked if I wanted to renew my apartment lease.
It was just too much to handle. I remember sitting up in bed one night, burnt out from the week’s work, thinking, “I can’t keep doing this.” My next decision was going to either make or break me; the potential outcomes were endless. Trying to wrap my head around that was crippling.
A wave of nausea and dizziness took me over. Then my heart kicked into overdrive. The back of my neck grew hot. Dark spots grew at the corners of my vision. I became lightheaded and then eventually passed out.
I’ll spare you the specifics but basically, I had a panic attack. I didn’t know that’s what it was because it was so fierce and knocked me unconscious so fast, but you never forget your first.
For those of you who have experience with panic attacks, you know how terrifying they are. It’s a blessing I didn’t know what was happening. All I remember is waking up the next morning with Orpah’s words playing in the back of my mind.
“When you don’t know what to do, do nothing.“ — Oprah Winfrey
When you don’t know what to do, do nothing.
When you don’t know what to do… do nothing.
Fine, nothing. I can do that.
What that meant for me was putting an end to the incessant self chatter going on in my head. The kind of chatter that tells you over and over again that you should be doing this, or you should be doing that, or your life should look more like this, or more like that. This situation needs to be handled this way, or this way, but definitely not that way. You need to do this when you get home from work, and anything less is a failure. You need to fix this problem a certain way, and it needs to be done ASAP before it spirals out of control, and if you don’t everything is going to go to shit. You need, you need, you need; you have to, you have to, you have to.
I was driving myself insane.
It was a relief to finally stop.
Do nothing. I can do that.
And in that moment, everything changed. My worries pounded against the door — they practically broke it down — but I didn’t let them in. My decision to do nothing was like a bureau blocking the entryway. I was safe.
I went throughout my morning routine feeling twenty pounds lighter. I walked into work smiling and stayed smiling until I clocked out, which was strange because I had a sixteen-hour workday ahead of me.
My problems weren’t going to solve themselves, sure. I knew that. I just wasn’t going to add fuel to the fire.
I thought of a second quote, just as powerful as Oprah’s, and it made the decision to do nothing all the more easier. The second quote was from the legendary poet, Maya Angelou. It was this:
“The truth is Right may not be expedient, it may not be profitable, but it will satisfy your soul.” — Maya Angelou
That was it! Today, and every day hereafter, I was going to do nothing until I landed on a decision that satisfied my soul.
It was like an unexpected gift, these two quotes coming together at the same time. Individually they were powerful, but together they were life-changing.
This begged the question: what satisfied my soul? I came up with this:
- Cozy nights at home with a good book and a glass of wine or tea
- Long walk around the neighborhood during twilight.
- Venturing off to a coffee shop by myself and reading there for hours
- Connecting spiritually with my partner through meaningful conversations
I use the term satisfy my soul because that’s what Maya used, and it stuck to me like glue. It works for me because it cuts through all the mental BS that blocks the actual meaning behind the term. If satisfy your soul doesn’t work for you, use a term that does! Maybe it’s things that make me happy, or things I love to do, or things that make me smile. It’s not the term that matters, it’s the feeling it elicits.
I declined the offer to renew my lease.
I put in my two-week notice.
I shredded my credit cards to prevent further use, packed up my belongings and moved in with my parents, and eventually sold my car, deciding I’d find my way around on foot or public transportation.
On paper, this looks like a crazy person’s descent into madness or a mid-life crisis, but it was neither of those. It was my decision to ignore what looked right on paper, ignore what other people may or may not think, and do what I needed to do to be happy. As the late poet Jack Gilbert said in his poem A Brief For The Defense, it was a form of Stubborn Gladness.
To be fair, I didn’t make all of these decisions at once, although they were only months apart. I landed on each of them separately and only after careful consideration. I didn’t overthink it. I didn’t let anyone in on my decision. I didn’t run it by friends or family. I sat with it privately until I was positive it was in my best interest. And once I was one hundred percent certain I acted on it before doubt or fear persuaded me otherwise.
It was the best thing I ever did for myself.
Wait until the solution you’re so worried about feels right in your soul. Forget the consequences, the outcomes you’re so worried about. Listen to the stillness that floats between one breath and the other; stay there for a while. Right here and now you are not required to do anything other than be still and breathe. And in the meantime, while you’re figuring out what to do, DO NOTHING.
Thank you for reading.