When It Feels Like Life Has Been Put on Hold
I recently placed a call to a famous retailer wanting to ask to please be taken off of the paper catalogue recipient list. After just a few rings and a few introductory messages, I was placed on hold. This got me thinking about a not uncommon experience I’ve been hearing about lately from clients, friends, and colleagues alike– and that is the sense of life feeling as if it’s been placed on hold.
Interestingly, being placed on hold– whether on a telephone call or in life– isn’t always what it first appears to be. More often than not, there is in fact quite a gap between what we think is happening and what is actually happening.
What We Think Is Happening
“On hold!? Who has time to be on hold!?” That is the typical reaction we have when noticing that some or many aspects of life have been “placed on hold”. This typically happens when a lot of changes occur at the same time. Not just one but multiple areas of our lives are changing, and it’s happening all at once. It’s a very understandable feeling and experience, and one that tends to come with sadness, anger, frustration, annoyance, and an exorbitant amount of stress and impatience. If we look at it closely, the experience of “life being placed on hold” is actually no different than any other change, except of course, for its magnitude and timing.
The most frustrating thing about it? We had plans (BIG plans!) for the upcoming days, weeks, and months of our life that can no longer be materialized. Whatever the reason for it, we may need to miss important events, find alternative ways to meet our needs, and perhaps drop some of our favourite pastimes, hobbies, and things that we were easily able to accomplish just yesterday. It may feel as if hopes have been shattered, plans unmade, and dreams unfulfilled. Life not going as you’d expected or intended can be quite a disappointment and the thought of “what do I do now?” can feel quite overwhelming. It’s expected that you may feel somewhat down about it all.
To Hold Or Not to Hold, That is the Question
“Would you like to remain on hold or would you like me to call you back when a live attendant is available?” said the operator after a few minutes of my being on hold. Immediately, I pressed “2” and entered in my phone number so that the operator would call me back in an estimated 10–20 minutes.
Then I got to thinking…
Our options, when being placed on hold, typically fall into one of the following three choices:
1) To remain on hold, clutching the phone between our shoulder and our ear, anxiously waiting and counting down the seconds until we are taken off hold. This, when it comes to feeling like life is being put on hold, is the equivalent of recognizing that things are different and spending each passing day devoting all of our time and energy to hoping, wishing, and waiting for them to return back to “normal”,
2) To hang up and not complete the call, thereby aborting our goal of receiving an answer or support of some kind. This, when it comes to feeling like life is being put on hold, is the equivalent of saying “eff it! I am done. There is no reason to pursue that goal, dream that dream, or wish that wish anymore”,
3) To choose to have the operator call us back, and filling the time between now and when the operator dials us with other to-dos that we had hoped or planned to accomplish. This, when it comes to feeling like life is being put on hold, is the equivalent of saying “Hmm, how will I choose to occupy my time now that it’s not occupied with this other endeavour?”
I don’t know about you but I always choose the option of having the operator call me back when a representative is ready to help me, at times even exclaiming “Well it would’ve been great if they automatically picked up, but sweet! No fuss. I’ve got time to use… how will I use it?” The alternatives of either hanging up completely and not fulfilling my intention for making the call in the first place or hanging out with the phone to my ear eagerly and anxiously anticipating a call back “any second now” are just not appealing to me.
Because every moment between when you are (or life is) placed on hold and when you are (or life is) taken off of hold is sacred. Every moment is precious. Every moment is important. Every moment is your life.
But Wait, Life Isn’t On Hold
Whether it’s an illness, break-up, or global event (e.g., a pandemic) that’s leading life to feel like it’s on hold, the truth is that this experience is no different than being put on hold when making an outbound telephone call. One is simply a macro perspective, and one a micro. Just as you don’t stop doing things while waiting for the operator to ring you back with the correct human to respond to your needs, you don’t just stop living life! You find other wonderful ways to make life worthwhile! You find ways to fill that space with other meaningful, productive, satisfying activities. Sure, you couldn’t have possibly planned for this in advance, but there’s no reason you couldn’t think about and plan for ways to enjoy and maximize this time in the present.
So what is actually happening is that you are being provided with an opportunity and options for shifting how you use your time and live your life.
Most people, without consciously recognizing it, will resort to lamenting the fact that things have changed and hoping, praying, and expecting them to go back to “normal” (ie, the ways that they were used to before). This response, as I’ve mentioned, is a very natural and normal initial response to noticing a change of life events, circumstances, and directions. Staying there, however, can lead to stagnation and frustration. Because when we interpret a great amount of simultaneous change to be “life being placed on hold”, how do we respond? We panic. We worry. We become bored. We are disinterested. We lament the opportunities we could’ve had, the plans we made that did not materialize, and the life that could’ve, should’ve and would’ve been, but isn’t.
But what if, just consider this for a moment, your life wasn’t actually being put on hold?
What Is Actually Happening
If life isn’t on hold, then what is it?
Well, staying with our illustrative analogy… just like a phone call initiated with an operator trying to get to the correct department and person, your life is simply being transferred.
Life is different. It’s changed. There’s no denying that. Yet considering it to be on hold assumes that it will go back to exactly the way it was. It keeps us holding on to and grasping for what was. It keeps us agitated, anxious, afraid, and glued to what was whilst missing what is.
What if you could open up to the possibility that this pause or hold is actually an opportunity to build something different? (We don’t want to rush into this perspective but please do consider and welcome it as it feels appropriate).
After all, the way things were– and what some might refer to as their “normal”– isn’t always all it’s cut out to be. Sure, you may be used to it, comfortable with it, and in some cases even enjoy it, but is it giving you the life that you really want?
For some of us, “normal” means focusing too much on our work and too little on our friends and family. For some of us, “normal” means being over-focused on the image that we portray to others and under-focused on attending to and caring for our own inner world. For some of us, “normal” means living inside our heads and missing out on our feelings, intuition, and the pleasures offered by life. For some of us, “normal” is born of habits and preferences of years past that go unnoticed or unexamined despite not serving us in our relationships, growth, and life.
So, if you find that a little change actually wouldn’t hurt, it’s perfectly okay to invite in growth; it’s okay to invite in change; it’s okay to invite in new perspectives and realizations that inspire new habits and choices to form. From this point of view, it’s okay if you return to your former notion of “normal”. And hey, it’s equally okay if you don’t.
Finding Freedom in Preferring What’s Occurring
There is an optimal (i.e., easy, peaceful, kind) way to cope with and get through changes that make us feel as if life were on hold, and that is by doing what David Bruner of the Center for Spiritual Living in San Jose, California refers to as preferring what’s occurring.
When we have intentions, we create the likelihood of personal joy. When we have expectations, we create the likelihood of suffering; we are unable to be present to life’s naturally unfolding moments and essentially, we miss out on life. When we prefer and accept what is, however, we can surrender to and enjoy life’s many nuances and vicissitudes.
Sure, life feels like it’s on hold. A lot is changing. Things don’t feel like they used to. No one would argue with that. But instead of fighting the way things are and trying, with all your might, to make things go back to how they were, how can you embrace, accept, and maybe even prefer what is happening?
In all pivotal life experiences are contained lessons. If we treat these experiences as if life is on hold and don’t pay attention to the richness contained within them, we may miss the opportunity, whether to rediscover personal meaning, to strengthen our relationships, to slow down, or to make the changes we know we need to make to create a better now and a better later.
I leave you with this invitation: To pay attention. To treat these periods as if they were a reset button. To go inside. To reflect. To not miss the opportunity. If a new “normal” is what you want to create, then by all means, please do it. Use these valuable, once-in-a-lifetime experiences as a spark to light an inner fire and ignite a new beginning. After all, the biggest loss in the end of experiences like this is if we come out of them unchanged.