I have a cycle. Because it’s a cycle, it can’t strictly be said to have a beginning, but I always like to think of it as a story.
At first, things are groovy. Life is neither too challenging, nor too easy. As Goldilocks would say, it’s just right.
But I am a growing person, and after awhile, I get better and better at whatever I’m doing — — and I stop being as satisfied.
I’m not unhappy.
In fact, I’m not even bored yet.
But I have more energy than is being spent to run my life, and that energy is looking for an outlet.
If there’s something I’ve been meaning to look into, I do it. I’ll try new recipes, look at new markets for my business, or spent some time haunting junk shops looking for a new end table. Often, these “little cycles” run hot and fast. They’re closely related to something I’m familiar with or already doing, and after little legwork, the new pieces fall in place and for another short while, everything is just right.
But every now and then, after my life has run smoothly, all my systems have been optimized (for the time being) and nothing is really presenting itself to be the next thing to tackle.
The excess energy begins to build.
I become restless. I read a lot. I’m seeking out new stimuli to trigger the series of events that will be my Next Big Thing.
I call this the Seeking stage. I’m looking for the next quest, the next goal, the next opportunity. It could be anything, so I pay attention. I look outward. I’m searching.
Then, BAM, it hits me. That’s what I’m going to do! Whoo hoo!
I get really excited. And I settle in to plan.
It sounds very analytical process, but it’s not really. Because my new challenge, whatever it is, is almost certainly nothing I’ve ever done before. I’m researching. I’m making plans that are really more like hypotheses. And I’m evolving a plan of action that will be responsive, flexible, and hopefully, not too screwed up.
I plan enough, but not too much because I don’t know anything for sure, and I won’t know until I try it. And thus begins the Flailing stage.
Flailing isn’t inherently fun; it has a lot to do with your state of mind as you do it. A lot of people really hate the flailing stage, because they have a poor tolerance for not knowing what they’re doing.
The important thing to remember in this stage is that nothing too bad will happen because you’re paying close attention. This is the stage of testing hypotheses, so if it turns out you’ve made a mistake, you know almost immediately and you can correct it.
It’s tiring, but also rewarding. And after a while, you shift from testing theories to tweaking, and tweaking shifts to finding the autopilot settings. And it’s not too long before you’re back at the Goldilocks stage.
The Moral of the Story
I do this cycle 3 or 4 times a year. A friend of mine is cycling into the flailing stage for the first time in three years. It’s been so long for her that she’s forgotten what it’s like to flail and she hates it.
There’s no right speed. It depends on your personality, the industry you’re in, and your tolerance for change.
To a certain extent, even, it depends on how many smaller “things you’ve been meaning to do” you do. Those are small cycles, and the only difference between them and the larger cycles is the amount of flailing you do (or, alternatively, the steepness of the learning curve). I would imagine the older I get the less flailing there will be simply because there will be fewer and fewer places where my learning curve is so high, although the rate of change in the world at large might balance that out. (I don’t know; it’s a hypothesis).
Once you identify this cycle, you can see it in your family life (uh, babies? hello!) , your career, your personal goals, health and fitness; absolutely everywhere.
And you stop feeling so distraught when “things were perfect this time last year…” becomes “I just don’t know what to do!” Because you do know.
You’re going to try things. And if that doesn’t work, you’re going try other things, always keeping in mind the larger vision of what you want to accomplish. And if your risk tolerence isn’t that high, you’re going to hire a coach to reassure you and help you with your decision making process.
Relax. Whatever you’re going through? It’s completely normal. And you can handle it.