I am in a slump. This happens from time to time, usually after a big event in my life or career. And although I know from past experience that I will probably be on the upswing shortly, every time I’m here at the bottom, I am petrified that I have nothing more to offer.
When I was still life coaching, I counseled my clients to be patient with slumps. I said that slumps were the mind's way of making room for the birth of new ideas. And I still believe that’s true. But when you’re in a slump, patience is the most difficult thing in the world—not because it is so very hard, but because we assume that patience is doing nothing, that patience is about sitting on our hands and waiting.
This assumption, however, is wrong. While patience is steadfastness and self-control in the face of provocation and delay, it is definitely not idleness. Nowhere in the dictionary does it say that patience equals time standing still.
So friends, against all assumptions to the contrary, the best thing to do when you’re stuck in a slump is to exhibit patience—by doing something. Now, before you go out and buy barrels full of absinthe and gin as “something” to weather out the storm, be warned that patience is not the same as avoidance and denial. I have learned this the hard way, so believe me when I say that being “actively patient” does not mean ignoring the wait, drowning out the wait, or becoming victim to the wait. It is simply making the wait worthwhile.
The first thing I do when I’m in a slump is remove the unnecessary from my calendar. I postpone coffee dates and errands until I can get some perspective on what I’m waiting for exactly. Contrary to what you might be thinking, this is not idleness or avoidance—it’s reassessment, and it is at the very heart of getting out of a slump. It forces me to recharge my mental and emotional batteries, which are often depleted after firing at 100% when I was at the top of my game.
Sometimes this reassessment feels like muck—it’s a sloshing through, it is replete with tears and snot and it isn’t pretty. But I’m pretty sure it’s necessary, because after the muck, after I’ve gotten to the gooey center of things and found out exactly where my new normal is—then comes the fun.
The fun part about being patient in a slump is that it gets your brain churning in new ways. Once you understand that patience is active and all about self control, you get to control exactly what activities to do to get your brain moving again. This is the part of the slump I am currently in. This time, the activity I choose is writing, something I haven’t had the pleasure of doing all summer. It’s a quiet sort of churning, but really, you are allowed to be as bold or timid as you’d like in picking your activities. After all, patience is all about self control.
My slump before this was undone by turning my living room into a giant ball pit. I ordered thousands of rainbow colored balls and filled my home with them. What had once been reserved for childhood and Chuck E. Cheese's had a little revival in my apartment. Sounds silly, but in between the jumping in and throwing of and inviting friends over for a swim through my sea of rainbow colored play balls, my brain had time to recharge the parts that were slumped.
I can tell that this slump I’m in is about to be over, because my neurons are firing in new ways, unrelated to my initial problem. Had I fallen victim to the belief that all one can do during a slump is stand idly by wallowing in distraction, I may have never gotten this far. To tell you the truth, although I’m happy to be nearly out of this one, I’m kind of looking forward to my next slump. After all, I have a closet full of rainbow colored play balls, and I’m looking forward to figuring out what to do with them next.
Photo courtesy of Melissa Pierce.