I have a theory that people mostly buy lottery tickets for the waiting. That’s where the magic really is. From the time to buy your ticket until the numbers are drawn, you wait. You dream about what you might do or change if you are suddenly a billionaire. The buying isn’t so much fun. The numbers being drawn is quickly anticlimactic. But those few days waiting in between, your mind can run wild.
I’m currently waiting.
We don’t often talk about the waiting. We postpone sharing until we have the end result. But most of us will wait for that news that could reshape our life at one point or another.
You’ll wait to hear back from a job you really want.
You’ll wait to see if the offer on your home purchase is accepted.
You’ll wait to find out if you’re pregnant.
You’ll wait to see if the person you want to marry feels the same way.
We wait to discover if life is about to change.
But there is a waiting that is more uncomfortable. Are you sick? Is the person you love going to be okay?
I’m currently waiting on another doctor’s appointment. That will probably lead to another referral. That might lead to a test. And then I’ll be waiting on the results.
I have a bit of waiting ahead of me.
This kind of waiting is similar to waiting for lottery numbers. You can’t rush the result. You don’t have much say in the answer. But while you wait, your mind runs wild. You wait to discover if your life is about to change.
As a coach, I’ve seen the power of asking the right questions. For me, the right question isn’t figuring out what life might look like going forward if I am sick. Because I have no crystal ball.
Worry is Waste
Because most of my coaching clients are in the middle of their own big life changes, I’m overly familiar with the pitfalls of waiting in transition. The biggest is worry. Worry is seductive because it almost feels responsible. It shows we care, and the outcomes matter. The tells us we are doing something, although nothing is actually getting done.
Instead, after we come up with the plan and figure out solutions to the worst-case scenario, I try to help reframe the role of worry. It’s not enough to say, “don’t worry.” Because no one really plans to worry. It’s not on the daily to-do list. It sneaks into the quiet and still moments. Instead, we reframe Worry as Waste. It’s energy and time that is stolen from you by robbing you of the present. We have to sacrifice the joy of today and be present in this moment with all the good it can offer us.
Right now, I feel great. We are camping right on the beach, the sand literally drifting under our camper steps. It’s sunny and warm, and my kids are finding washed-up crabs on the beach and creating all sorts of silly games in their “seafood store.” There is no way I’m wasting this to worry. This is the best life has to offer.
Worry will creep in. Tomorrow’s potential problems will try to chip away from what you have right now in front of you. But just because it takes an inch, doesn’t mean you need to give it a mile.
The Right Questions
My go-to question is challenging question is, “What does this make possible?” This is a question I practiced for years. I wrote a whole blog post on how to use this question. Change can be like an earthquake. It can be sudden, scary, unexpected, and create upheaval. But with a huge shift, new things are uncovered and accessible that weren’t before. I stayed at a campground at the base of a mountain in California a few years ago. It had a creek running through it with a sign that explained there had been an earthquake that “unlocked” the gold in the mountain, which then flowed down this creek. That image has always stuck with me. Sometimes change unlocks something we simply couldn’t access before. No matter if the change is good or bad, things have the potential to be different afterward.
Beings the New Year is right around the corner, it’s almost time to create our The Best of List. This is where Adam and sit down and reflect on everything we loved from the previous year. All the big things and little things. What made up the fabric of a good year? It helps gives us clarity of how to incorporate more of the good things into the next year.
This year, knowing that life might change, I’m expanding my list. I’m using this opportunity to reflect on the last two decades. What have I loved the most? What would I instantly do all over again? What brought me the most joy, most purpose, most peace?
And what things felt a bit like a waste? What would I do differently if the situation happened again? And most importantly, how will I take this information and use it going forward to create a life with the most joy and purpose and the least regret?
One of my “What does this make possible?” opportunities is that I’ve leaned into this reflected wholeheartedly. Waiting on results makes that self-reflection more powerful. With that low buzz of fear in the background, I’m feeling all the feelings more intensely. The joy, gratitude, passion, and regret hit a bit stronger these days.
As we go into the New Year, maybe it’s a helpful question for you as well. Hopefully, this coming year only brings you the best kind of changes. But if life changed in ways you didn’t hope for, what would you feel most grateful that you spent your time, money, and attention on? Anything you would do differently if you could?
To start your consideration, I’ll share a few of mine. Let’s start with the regrets of time, money and attention wasted.
I’ve written about getting stuck at 6 and recorded a podcast episode on the idea. It’s the easiest spot to get stuck because there isn’t much upside to change. But there is a lot of risk, because things could be much worse. I’ve been stuck at 6 many times. Embarrassingly enough, I’ve been stuck at a 4, and a 3, and a 2. When the pain of staying was overwhelming, and almost nothing could be a worse option, I stayed. I stayed at jobs out of a strange sense of obligation, even though I wasn’t really doing anyone any favors. It felt responsible, reasonable, and safe. I’ve felt physically sick on Sunday night as I dreaded Monday morning. I’ve sat in my car in the parking lot trying to gather the nerve to go inside for work.
In hindsight, it doesn’t feel responsible or reasonable at all. Those feel like wasted weeks and months. So much time and energy, and attention poured out. There were lots of other ways to earn money.
Maybe I was scared. But those could have been some of the best months of my life. I was young and healthy, had all my friends and family, and a million opportunities in front of me. If I could gather all those months up and get them back, there is no way the money I received is anywhere near that value.
Staying stuck in those jobs is my deepest regret. It’s probably not surprising to any therapists in the group that I help coach people with their careers: how to adjust job roles so they are more satisfying, how to take mini-retirements, and how to start a business they love.
I also have a small sense of regret for all the days that felt uneventful. I know it’s a part of life. Some days are errands and cooking and taking care of the business of life. But sometimes, uneventful days became uneventful weeks that turned into uneventful months. I heard my fellow writer and friend share, at Chautauqua, that the year before they retired, they took just a handful of photos. Because almost nothing happened in their life worth taking a photo of. And in their first year off work, they took hundreds of photos.
I think I figured this out more by my 30s. My 30s were filled with projects, hobbies, learning, pursuits, adventures, and trips. But when I think back to my 20s, it feels like there were some gaps. There were weekdays that felt like pushing through to the weekend. But nothing interesting happened on the weekend either.
If I could do it all over again, I would spend even less money and time on our stuff. We have been living in our camper for the last two months, and it creates a stark reality of want vs need. For example, there are a lot of clothes we left at our house, ones we apparently don’t need. If I could trade all of those clothes for a memory of another exciting trip while my kids were younger, I would. In a second.
Thankfully, the things I’m grateful for far outnumber my regrets.
I feel incredibly grateful for all the things I’ve done. Basically, everything that wasn’t required or expected to do, but I chose to do it because I wanted to. I love all of it. And the time, energy, and money it costs seem inconsequential.
- I love that we adopted 4 kids and had 2 biological kids.
- Lived abroad for 4 years.
- Traveled all over Europe while we lived there.
- Camped across the US.
- I’m grateful for the business I tried and failed at.
- Rentals we bought.
- The house renovations we learned to do ourselves.
- For planting my crazy permaculture yard and all the landscaping projects.
- Every single mini-retirement. Those are my biggest comfort in this waiting.
- I’m grateful for every coaching client I’ve spent time with and watching their lives, finances, and work transform. Watching their lives change is one of my greatest joys.
- I’m so glad I wrote a book.
- For hundreds of camping trips.
- Every time we went out for ice cream.
- Gatherings with friends and family.
- All the FI events I’ve attended and spoken at.
- And getting to be married to Adam these last 20 years.
- I’m grateful for every phone call with my mom.
- And every dinner with friends.
- Serving on the board of The Hope Effect.
- Every cup of hot tea, and there have been a lot of those.
I feel like if they said the dessert has run out, I can’t feel disappointed about that. Because I got 3 servings already. I’ve had far more than my fair share of life. I’m incredibly grateful for everything I’ve been able to experience. I’ve packed these 40 years to the brim.
Life is a funny and fragile thing. One we can’t perfectly control. It’s been 10 years since my son passed away, unexpectedly. Processing that loss caused me to be far more intentional with my 30s than with my 20s. I prioritized joy and meaning. I didn’t settle as much. I tolerated less nonsense. It created a hunger in me and a sense of urgency. I wasn’t as complacent.
But right now, I’m waiting. Waiting to see if my life will change.
And while I wait, I’m reflecting on everything I’m grateful for and mistakes I’ll keep trying to avoid. Thankfully you don’t have to be in the waiting to reflect on these things. You can simply ask the questions and make next year even richer than this year was.
I hope to have another 40 or 50 very healthy and active years. If so, the chef better turn the ovens back on and make some more desserts. I’ve had a lot already, but I’m not even close to slowing down.