Earlier this year, when my cafe job went away, I got a little worried about money.
Not a panicky kind of worry, with thoughts of utility cutoffs and peanut butter for dinner every night. More like a rumbling, thunder-in-the-distance kind of worry.
Most of my work is self-generated and my income tends to rise and fall. This has been true for more than half of my life. You’d think I’d be able to roll with it by now.
But no. When my income falls, I worry.
Even though worry does no good. It saps bandwidth. It incapacitates. It’s impatient. Which means it makes for bad decisions. When I make a worry-based decision it’s usually in reaction to what is less a problem than a predicament, i.e., a situation for which there is no solution, just adaptations to intractable reality. (cf. climate change, and the skullduggery of politicians.)
My intractable reality is that I prefer to work for myself.
But when I’m worried, my work gets no traction. Projects stall out. There’s just not enough creative energy to achieve liftoff. Fewer projects means less income means more worries. So I might take a job I don’t really want — like that cafe job — in order to alleviate the worry. This usually works in that it banishes the worry. But it crashes the creative energy.
And so I get stuck.*
This was where I was back in February. Worried and stuck. And then I read an article that got me thinking.
The author of the article was getting ready for an extended road trip, taking some “gap time.” Not quite a “gap year” — they didn’t have the funds for that — but a few months of no-obligation living in their converted van.
It sounded… nice.
Understand, I have zero aspirations for van-living. But the idea of gap time? Very appealing. Not to go anywhere, but to create some space for myself right where I was.
At the end of February I sat with my morning journal and asked (myself? the gods? the stars in the night sky?) if I could take some gap time from this stupid and unhelpful worry. Could I put myself on a fast, marked by the calendar, thirty-one days in which I would not allow worry — particularly worry over money — to hijack my thoughts?
It sounded do-able.
No, it sounded ridiculous. “Don’t think of an elephant.”
It wasn’t going work without re-direction. As anyone who’s ever tried to change a habit knows, you’re more likely to succeed if you swap out what you don’t want for something you do want. Worry had become like a habit. What did I want to replace it with?
What I wanted was clarity. I wanted to know what to do next. I’d been asking (myself) that question for months, and it had gotten me nowhere. But I needed to know.
So I decided to ask the world.
Every time I noticed I was worrying about money, or about my future, or any of the preoccupations that were plaguing me, I would turn to the world and ask it what it wanted from me.
And then I would give it some time to answer.
Thirty-One Days, No Worries
I started on the first day of March. I asked every morning. I asked in my journal. Whenever money worries came up, that was my cue to ask again.
“What do you want from me, World?”
Almost at once, the world started answering. It was as if it had been waiting for the question.
It had a lot to say.
Okay, so maybe it wasn’t “the world”answering me. Maybe it was just all the stuff I’d been covering over with worries, coming to the fore in the newfound playspace in my head. Maybe.
What I noticed, though, was that the answers came as feelings rather than decisions. And the feelings were pleasant, not fraught. That was new. Also: there was an absence of urgency. I felt a nudge to do a thing now, but not instantly. There was no whiff of desperation attached. No constriction in my chest,
I got direction. I got instructions.
It was uncanny.
Yes, I’m being vague here. Do you want specifics? Do you want to know about the dream I had early in March that gave me a four-point plan to get unstuck?
I know, I know. It sounds too woo for words.
Listen. It’s okay if you think talking to the world is silly. Here’s what I know. I’m no longer stuck.
On the first of April, at the end of my gap month, I sat with my journal and considered. The month was over. What now? Do I end my fast? What would that even mean? Do I go back to worrying?
And the world said how about another gap month? We still have lots to do.
*Did you happen to watch the Paul Simon interview that went around recently, in which he describes being stuck? “Everywhere I went led me to where I didn’t want to be. So I was stuck.” Exactly.