When I shared with friends and colleagues last year that I was going to take 2016 as a “gap” year from work, the advice I got about managing my time from those who had made transitions of their own fell into two categories. One was protective, with people saying, in essence: “You’ll be asked to do a lot of things once people know you aren’t working full time; you should say “no” to everything until you have a strong sense for what you want to say “yes” to.” The other was expansive, and indicated that this was a year for me to say “yes” to everything new or even vaguely appealing or interesting, as that exploration might lead me to my next professional adventure or career, and certainly to fun.
Now that I am back in the Bay Area, I have been noticing how resonant that conflicting advice has been. I’ve been curious to notice when and how I find whether my response is protective or expansive, and how I apply it to questions big and small.
A former colleague-now friend recently asked me if I would be interested in working with her as her coach as she took on an expanded role at her work. For pay! At first, I had a reactive “must say no” to the idea, when in fact I was excited, and frankly, honored to be asked. I have always thought that coaching professionals with their work and self-development would be a natural extension of my skill set and experience.
I worried about the slippery slope of saying “yes” to this opportunity: what if I found myself wanting to expand into the work and do more of it? This was supposed to be a full year off from work… I have always been a bit of a rule follower (although rebelling also comes naturally) and I just want to do this gap year thing right –whatever that means. And then I got real: coaching my friend is an important engagement that I take very seriously, and the time commitment would also be modest. And aren’t I in charge of myself, fully intentional, and quite capable of avoiding the slippery slope into whatever? I think so. Besides, the opportunity to work with her – something I find appealing and interesting – also fully fits the criteria for a yes response. So, I have in fact said yes, details to be worked out soon.
Last night, David and I took a friend out for a birthday dinner. David proposed taking a drive after dinner to City Hall where there was an interesting art installation. I begged off, and asked to be dropped at our place first. And it nagged at me a bit that I was saying no to a fun little adventure. This week I returned after three months to my early morning bootcamp, which is basically a group exercise class/training session outdoors with a trainer. Getting enough rest and getting up early this week has been a challenge after sleeping without an alarm for months. I wanted to pass on the City Hall trip in order to get back home to organize myself for the morning and get ready for bed.
As I write this, I’m on a plane to Hartford, Connecticut. I’ll be joining my alma mater’s President’s Council tomorrow at Wesleyan University. This was another ask that I was hesitant to say yes to, not being sure how focused or helpful I could be to this semi-annual advisory group. And then I remembered that one of my wants for this year is to stay intellectually stimulated, while paying attention to what interests me and what doesn’t. I no longer have the amount of interaction with smart and engaging people my workplace afforded me, and the President’s Council is full of people just like that. The more I thought about it, the more it sounded like the right sort of adventure for me for this year, so I said yes.
What I have noticed is that I am getting better at paying attention to the noise under my first “should” response, and to knowing what I really want. I’m also learning to be more comfortable saying no when that’s what I really want, which is hard to do as it often disappoints people. I think many of us need a lot of practice knowing what our truth is in any given moment, and then being solid about acting on and around that clarity. It takes patience, self-compassion, and courage on daily basis.
As I thought about the advice on managing this year, I realized it really is more complex than committing to a standard approach – whether yes or no – to what comes my way. Rather, it is “both and.” As a current example, I am trying to make self-care (sleep, exercise, clean eating) a priority right now, which means saying yes to my bed, to Zumba and early morning bootcamp, and my Whole30 eating plan. It also means saying no to staying up late, to sleeping in, or to enjoying a glass of red wine or a bourbon cocktail. For me, this gap year is about being both expansive and protective, and saying yes and no at the right times for me.
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