The Power of Pause

When you’re driving your car and you get to a fork in the road, you know you have to turn left or right. Sitting at the stop sign will do nothing since it’s not a choice at all. Driving straight between the two roads will create quite a few problems for you when your front wheel drive sedan tries to speed over unpaved countryside. So what do you do?

Luckily, life isn’t a road (no matter how many songs try to convince us otherwise). But we are so saturated in the go-go-go, busy-busy-busy lifestyle that we’ve come to think that all decisions are black or white, yes or no, do or die.

Sometimes, it’s OK to just be without rushing to action. It’s amazing how life will–seemingly magically–work itself out when we give it some time to run its course rather than obsessively fixing everything that comes our way.

I recently had an experience in my own life that kickstarted a more pause-filled life.

I was accepted into the graduate school of my dreams and was even offered a scholarship. The only problem? Well, there was more than one: I was practically broke (scholarship included), had just been tentatively diagnosed with adrenal fatigue (not the greatest thing to have while starting grad school), and had been asked by my naturopath to come back for testing in case there were “other things” going on.

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It seemed to me that life had indeed brought me to a fork: I could take a right and try to stick out grad school, filled with anxiety over money and my health, or I could turn left and not go to grad school at all, crushing my dream and bringing me back to square one.

I distinctly remember lying on my bedroom floor, clutching my acceptance letter, bawling my eyes out. My closest friend was out of town and couldn’t respond to my frantic texts the way I needed at the time. He sent one well-meaning text suggesting that I defer my acceptance until next school year, to which I responded very negatively. Why didn’t he understand that I needed to fix this problem?!

I spent that whole weekend struggling with myself over what to do. It seemed clear to me that there were only two options, and I had to pick one now. Yet through that overwhelming fog of anxiety, my friend’s suggestion to defer began to take root. Really, I asked myself, if I chose to defer, what’s the worst that could happen? I might be older than my classmates–perhaps significantly so. I would have to live at my parents house for the next sixteen months in order to save up enough to make even a small dent in my tuition costs. I would continue to be judged by other people who have no idea what my life is really like who think that I should be working a more impressive job or making different life decisions.

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But if I defer, I thought, think of all the things that could go right! I’ll have a year and a half to become a healthier version of myself. I’ll be able to save up four times as much money as I would have if I went to grad school this year. I’ll be able to visit my dream school again, maybe sit in on some classes and chat with the professors. But best of all, it will be an intentional, well-considered decision for me to attend grad school. I won’t be backed into a corner feeling that it’s all or nothing. My choice to action would be choosing not to act.

When I sent the school my response letter, a huge weight was lifted off my heart. I felt like Harry Potter when he decided not to stop Voldemort from stealing the Elder Wand. Of course there will still be decisions that need to be made and anxieties about money and the future. But it was wonderful to realize that I don’t have to live my life as a car!

I’m a human being living life, not a machine following directions. As a friend of mine likes to say, “We’re human beings, not human do-ings!” A life with intentional pauses is not about procrastination or being afraid to live. It’s about living life in a way that’s freeing and natural. It’s about allowing life to heal itself and guide us gently to where we’re meant to be.

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