A few weeks before leaving Bolivia, I was wondering what would be next. I was wondering when would be the right moment to start thinking about what I’d do afterwards and to contact people to say I would be available for new work again.
Somehow I didn’t want to disturb the dynamic I was in. And I wanted to experience how it would be to plan less, to give it space to let it happen. So, when anybody asked me what was next, I would say the plan was to spend the summer months in Europe. But because there was no fixed plan, I would add (maybe not always clear enough, or maybe only in my mind) only if there is no interesting assignment on offer, otherwise we might move somewhere else.
It was difficult not to fall back into my old habits where I would worry about my chances of finding something. My primary reaction was always to take action, to try to make something happen and have a feeling of control.
I think I managed, to a certain extent, to hold back these urges. And I tried to see how it would be when you just give room for the next plan or move to emerge.
But, by letting go, I was faced with a number of questions.
What do you do, as independent consultant who wants to work worldwide, when you are asked for an assignment when you have no other concrete plan?
Which framework do you use when making choices?
Which voices and opinions, including inner ones, do you listen to? Because there are many.
Is there a right and a wrong answer? Or is it better to label these voices and opinions – as mindfulness exercises suggest – as pleasant, neutral and unpleasant?
Which fear do you take most seriously?
By saying no to new work opportunities, I’m afraid I’ll squander all my chances. And, by saying yes, I sound like I have broken my (qualified) promise to family and friends in Europe that I would be around all summer. A new assignment might also mean travel to unsafe places where Jim cannot join. Or too much travel.
So, what do you tell people, when asked about your plans?
And what do you do with the unpleasant feelings when you feel impatient and out of control while waiting for the opportunities to emerge?
It was a challenging experience, especially dealing with my impatient nature and the bodily sensations and emotions that go with it. And my mind, Roosje, telling me day after day that it was time to get started on something new.
Being able to recognize all this, and label it, helped me to experience these thoughts and take a step back, before automatically acting on them. I knew I could be impatient, and that there is this internal drive to control. However, I never realised, till now, how strong this is ingrained in me. It is rather interesting to consciously experience how it feels to operate outside of your comfort zone. Revealing, even.
I also find it difficult to know how to respond when asked about our plans, because they are so unpredictable. The when, where and what of the possibilities and possible scenarios can change every day. If we say something other than ‘I don’t know yet’, we’d probably only have to correct it later. And how do you go about planning to meet someone? As a good Dutch lady, I am used to planning dinners with family and friends some time ahead.
The outcome of it all is that I have learned that it is better and easier to say that we don’t know what we’ll do and not to promise too much. Even when plans emerge and slowly form, my challenge is to wait a little longer before I communicate them.
It is also handy to have some framework in mind to help decide on what to do or not. For example, a good friend of mine said she has limited the time of travelling away from her partner to three months.
I also learned that, even though uncomfortable, it is possible to let things go a bit more than I used to, and be more confident that plans and assignments will emerge.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that by passively waiting you will be contacted for assignments. It is about finding a good balance. A balance which helps me to better enjoy the time in between, time in which previously I was anxiously waiting for something to happen.
In practical terms, the outcome is that I will leave soon to go to Cabo Verde, and join a new team to work on the project I’d been involved with before. So, after telling so many people we’d be in Europe all summer, we’re back on the road again.