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Elan Vitae


  • Paige Nolan


“I feel stuck,” my friend, Jack, says softly into the phone.

I’m sitting on my back deck with a cup of tea early, early Saturday morning. Jack is on the east coast and I am on the west. We’ve known each other about as many years as the miles between us – but we don’t talk regularly with our busy family lives. For him to plan this kind of conversation means his stress is real – and he needs an old friend. He needs the history of us to locate who he is now.

“I don’t want to leave but I know I can’t stay – at least, not if things keep going the way they’ve been going.”

Jack is talking about his job. He’s worked in the same profession for 20 years now and proven himself a high performer. The company where he works recently merged with another company – and there have been a lot of changes in leadership.

Jack is working for a new CEO – and from what I’ve learned in this conversation, Jack’s boss is a man who hasn’t, and may never see Jack for the value he brings. It’s been four months.

Listening to how the boss is leading the new team – a combination of executives from the two different companies – I can empathize with Jack’s discontent. There are all sorts of power plays and manipulations going on. It seems like people are falling into line, obeying orders, but everyone seems to be organizing around fear. The tension is smoldering just below the surface. No one is willing to speak up and burn it all down.

“The stress is starting to impact my marriage – I can feel how shut down I am. I’m short-tempered with the kids. I don’t know….I’m not sure what to do.”

“You don’t have to make any decisions right now,” I remind him. “It may take a minute, you’re usually on the thoughtful side. You’re not impulsive. You can be if you want to be, but that’s just not how I’ve known you to be.”

He pauses and I can feel him reflecting. “Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

It took Jack years to settle down with a family, he wanted to do it once and do it right. He could have done it sooner – but he doesn’t move so fast with big life decisions.

“I don’t want to be intimidated by this guy, you know. I wonder if I’m being thoughtful, like you say, or just passive. Maybe I’m denying the inevitable. He could be pushing me out – and I’m taking it.”

“Do you believe that’s what’s happening?”

“A little bit.”

“And what’s the other bit?”

“I don’t want to walk away from what we’ve built – I’ve invested so much. I like my job and I’m good at it,” he sighs.

He doesn’t ask for advice. I don’t offer any. He doesn’t know what to do. I don’t tell him what to do.

We talk about his garage. He’s renovating the space himself, with the help of his buddy down the street, and they’re putting up the dry wall next week.

Jack likes to work with his hands. And the fact that he feels good building new space is not lost on me – he wants more places to be himself.

Our friendship is one of those places.

“So you think it’s OK to hold on? To stay put…for now….” he says as our conversation comes to an end.

“I think it’s OK to be where you are…and that’s what you’re doing.”

This sentiment seems to lighten him.

“One last thing – it just occurred to me,” I tell him after we agree to talk again soon. “What if you don’t see this as being stuck – what if it is your choice to stick?”

“Hmmmm….” And then quiet. Stillness. For a moment, I take in the clouds overhead, the bird that’s landed on the wire above my backyard, my dogs stretched across the grass, the chill in the air. We are silent.

It’s difficult to accept a stressful situation – it’s not comfortable to be frozen in indecision, riddled with doubt. We are taught to move through the challenge as quickly as possible – it’s weak to be without direction. You have to go get the solution, demand the change. Too often acceptance is seen as acquiescing – you submit to the truth of your hesitancy and you’re a coward.

But there’s a difference between you not taking a step you know you need to take and you standing still, trusting that the next step will be revealed in a certain light of awareness that simply hasn’t shined upon you yet.

In our productivity-obsessed culture where we exalt “getting shit done,” that difference is often in the choice you make to embrace where you are. Maybe the most courageous thing we can do is be, for a quiet moment or two, with what is. Once we claim the pause that life is inviting us to take, we see ourselves as powerful again.

“It’s all just a story, you know,” I say softly to Jack and I think maybe, to myself, too, “…your career. It’s a long conversation with how you express what you love. I guess this is the part where you get to decide that you’re not stuck, you’re still. And you’ll move when you’re sure which way you want to go.”

“Yep – nothing wrong with that,” Jack says – and we say our good-byes and my phone vibrates just a minute later. It’s a picture of Jack’s unfinished garage space and he types – where I am now.

Nothing wrong with that.

Photo by Thom Holmes on Unsplash

Check out Paige Nolan's new podcast I'll Meet You There - first episode is live!


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