The grace in falling apart

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broken coffee cupThere is a dark, ugly and awkward place that many self-help enthusiasts don’t want to tell you about.

Sometimes it comes up from behind and hits you in the head like a wooden plank.

Like when you get scary results back from a cancer test, or learn your spouse is cheating, or lose your job.

Other times it creep ups on you inch by inch as you are in the midst of being busy.

Like when you wake up one day and realize that you really want to do something different but don’t know what. And that your current work feels hollow, and meaningless. And that you know you have done great stuff in the past, but don’t know if you are capable of doing great stuff in the future.

It is the meantime, and it happens when you leave the comfortable, creative groove of feeling secure in your life and enter into the territory of I have no idea what is going on and I really want to feel better and won’t it stop now?

It can feel really, really awful.

The reason it feels awful is that you have no grounding. You are not producing great work. Your long-term relationships feel awkward.  Your sleep is fitful. You want to do something but don’t know what it is. Most people don’t understand it. You don’t understand it. You just want to go back to the way things were in the “good times.” You want to be a Linchpin, a world changer, a force for good. But all you can manage to do is watch reruns of Law & Order.

In the confusion, there is grace

If you let yourself sit with the confusion and sometimes dread, sadness and anxiety, a wonderful thing happens.

You find yourself.

Under the fancy degrees and impressive experience and a stellar community profile, there sits a quiet and unassuming person.

One with the confidence and wonder of a 5-year old. One without preconceived notions of what is responsible and appropriate and without fear of disappointing anyone but herself.

And you can ask her: If none of this frenetic activity really mattered, what would I be doing?

Or perhaps:

  • Who do I really want to work with?
  • If I had a dying breath and had to say something to the inhabitants of this planet, what would it be?
  • How do I want to spend my limited time on earth?
  • Who do I really love? Who really loves me?

Great, meaningful, deeply significant work happens when you really marinate in the meantime.

It is not a distraction from the creative process, it is the creative process.

Khalil Gibran explains this perfectly in The Prophet:

“Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.

Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.

And could you keep in your heart the miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;

And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.

And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.”

If you are feeling awkward and out of sorts, take a deep breath and sink into the feeling.

Renewed creative spirit must be just around the corner.

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115 Responses to “The grace in falling apart”

  1. Rosa says:

    This is like you are reading my mind. You have the perfect words of what I am thinking now. Great Post. How many people feel this way and we don’t know it…

  2. Most people think their corporate job is secure and self-employment is risky. Economic realities of 2011 have reversed that status. People are getting downsized from their corporate jobs and winding up in the unexpected world of self-employment.

    I gave a speech to a group of 40somethings and 50somethings who were downsized. The were unemployed and had that deer-in-the-headlights look. It was quite scary.

    In the new reality, job security resides in self-employment.

  3. Irene R says:

    Cheers, thanks…I was searching the web and somehow got here. Thanks for recognizing the pain, and for the words of encouragement.

  4. […] the “inner marketing circle” (big names like Darren, Naomi, Brian, Danielle, Chris, Pam, etc.), being pitched to all the time, and being ignored when you are not a “big […]

  5. […] Pamela Slim said “in the confusion, there is grace.” Smart chick. […]

  6. Yes, I am trying to stay relaxed in this white space waiting for the motivation to return and just being what I can for now.

    Thank you

  7. Susan, you’re right on target. My real estate friend… put it another way. She said the American Indian believed land ownership was ‘leasehold’ and the Great Father had the lease. Along came the English, who believed in ‘fee simple.’

    And the American Indian is still getting over the shock!

    I think… we are all coming to a point where our major belief systems are being challenged.

    Do I have a point… or am I just talking out loud?

  8. Susan Fuller says:

    Thank you for speaking this truth. No major change happens without going through it. Yet, when you listen to many motivational speakers and coaches, you’d think it’s all a rosy ride.

  9. Vicki says:

    These words have really helped me. I have launched my new consulting business (has taken me a decade to get together the courage) and have my first contract in a city far from home. I went straight from leaving my full time job 9I had started the business on the side) and 4 days later flew to another country for a month-long contract. Sitting here in my serviced apartment, I have been falling apart. Instead of being excited and proud of my new venture, I feel terrible. I just worked out that I am withdrawing from my stressful job and coping mentally and emotionally with the big life change. These words have been really comforting to me.

  10. Live Richly says:

    Very inspiring, I’ve posted a link to this on my blog!

  11. […] The grace in falling apart – Change is often painful, even if you are moving toward something better. Pamela encourages […]

  12. […] I need to just admit that it feels like things have been hard for a long time now. I came across this article yesterday and felt tears welling up in my eyes. Almost every word describes how I’ve been […]

  13. Miranda says:

    Pam, I’ve read this over and over, and sent it to friends who have found solace and inspiration and company, as I have, in your words. Thank you!

  14. Ronnia says:

    I found this site through a recommended entrepreneurial blog list someone posted on twitter. I wasn’t expecting to read the story of my “quarter life crisis” on the first page (and my favorite K. Gibran quote).

    Pamela, you’ve perfectly touched on a soft spot that many books, people and sites had either accidentally grazed or beaten with a sledgehammer. What was missing was the pat on the shoulder that says “It’s okay, we all go through it at some point.” I feel renewed about my decisions to leave the comfort of my 9-6, the unrealistic but ideal expectations I held for my long-term relationship and the “self” I had spent so long building, but hadn’t really felt like “me” in forever.

    Since letting go, I’ve found great creative energy, amazing chemistry in my relationship and I am able to see myself more clearly and accurately than ever before. It’s also the toughest and most challenging period of my life – a constant battle – but I feel myself growing stronger with time. I recommend anyone who can relate to this article to follow Pamela’s advice – and your gut & heart.

    There actually is something beautiful about completely falling apart and putting back the pieces in a way that is even better than before. Hopefully with a smile when it’s all said and done. 🙂

  15. If I had a dying breath and had to say something to the inhabitants of this planet, what would it be?

    “It’s alright.”


    Sheesh, Pam. Good writing.

  16. Tina says:

    Thank you Nellie and Meijor for your stories! I needed to hear them today.

  17. I was thinking about you today… and I remembered a story one of my associates shared with me a few months back.

    My friend Meijor and I shared a cup of coffee while we were brainstorming a web site.

    And the conversation drifted all over the spectrum… like smoke.

    He told me that his world had come to an end when he was 21.
    But he learned to play ‘der fluegelhorn’ as he calls it … in a city park … to soothe his heart and mind. And he moved totally away from all his family, associates and as he puts it …’his old life.’ Quit his fortune 500 job and everything! And decided to live by his wits alone.

    Of course, at 21, it is possible to re-invent yourself… your future is still ahead of you.

    I had felt so sorry for him … until he told me quite directly… ‘don’t feel sorry for me! I was lucky. The people I knew then… were living in a dream world … chasing a phantom life … and I on the other hand (he talks like that) picked up on the Billy Joel hit … if this is moving up, I’m moving out!’

    Pardon me for rambling on … but this is too important. So I asked him how long it took him to get over his heartache.

    You never get over it … you just move on. A little humbler and wiser.

    Meijor told me … “when you connect with the hurt all around you… that’s when you feel and see people in their true state of being. Surprisingly… that’s when your sense of humor starts to really develop and you realize your life is … what you make it. Not the other way around.”

    Best regards…

  18. Joyce says:

    Wow. Amazing. Thanks. This gives me a lot of hope in my own “meantime.”

  19. Lisa says:

    Beautifully written. It’s an amazing gift when someone sums up the very feelings you are living with in such a thoughtful, insightful and comforting way. Thanks for the validation.

  20. […] The grace in falling apart by Pamela Slim. I chose this one because it’s really different to what you could expect on a blog post about self-improvement and whathaveyou because it says that happiness and fulfillment is not milk and honey, basically. Similar to this one is The Secret Life of Burnout by Havi Brooks. Share it! If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed! […]

  21. Naomi says:

    Wonderful. Thank you.

  22. Daven says:

    Nicely written. Wonderful.

  23. Great questions! As I was reading along, my answer for what I would tell the world was: “LIVE NOW!!!” Do things that you enjoy Now. Enjoy the people around you Now. Work on your passions Now. Because that is what can get us through the drag of the meantime, even just knowing that we are working on or towards our passion. That is what keeps me going.

  24. Susan says:

    Thank you; I needed to hear this. I sold my very successful, 23 year old, business in late 2008. I spent 2009 running around like a crazy person who still owned her own business. And 2010? I have crashed. I don’t know who I am. Was my entire identity wrapped up in that business? Do I have anything left to share? Any difference to make in this world? I used to be this dynamic, proactive, creative person. Now, I just sit, day after day, in my white space, staring at nothing. I can only trust in the process.

  25. After reading your post, I felt I felt as if I were ‘falling into grace.” I’ve linked back to your lyrical, gentle essay on my blog.

  26. SP says:

    Wow, indeed. Thank you so much, Pam. Timing’s perfect. I’ve been fortunate enough to come across similar words of wisdom over the last few days, including these lines, from Rumi :

    “Don’t turn away. Keep your gaze on the bandaged place. That’s where the light enters you.”

  27. Andy Pels says:

    One more shot to the gut that I needed to feel, and am able to be grateful for.

  28. Nazima Ali says:

    Wow! Funny how things just pop up and strike you to the core. This is me, how I’ve been feeling and being. Thank you for writing this – much needed!

  29. When things fall apart… didn’t use to be this way for so many people. When it happened to me… people I barely knew… came through. People, who I thought were my dearest friends… avoided me like the plague. So as some major doors closed in my life, some really unusual and never considered ones… opened up.

  30. Googlover says:

    This is very helpful. I have been falling apart for a while but I am slowly it is coming together. It is funny when you try really hard to make things come together-they don’t but sometimes when you sit with the mess it just comes together.
    Strange and wonderful.

  31. […] I have recovered – for now. I read a post yesterday by Pamela Slim. She wrote about The grace in falling apart. […]

  32. Joaquin says:

    Wow. Thank you Pam.

  33. […] Escape From Cubicle Nation: The Grace in Falling Apart […]

  34. You know how every now and then you bump into something that just rings you like a bell?

    A head-to-toe dingdingding kind of thing?

    This was totally one of those things for me.

    Especially the line about this being the creative process. My gut responded with an immediate and resounding YES!

    There’s serious goodness here. Big thanks Pam.

  35. Tell us what is unique to Christianity?…

    I found your entry interesting do I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…

  36. Tom Aplomb says:

    Simultaneously inspiring and practical. That’s hard to pull off. Great post.

  37. Sherron says:

    “You want to be a Linchpin, a world changer, a force for good. But all you can manage to do is watch reruns of Law & Order.”

    Pam, you’ve been eavesdropping on my life!

    Thanks for this. Your post, along with Havi’s post, “You don’t need to have a thing” ( come as such a welcome relief.

  38. I haven’t been by in a while and I can see that I need to go back through your previous posts.

    This one was excellent!

    It was useful, inspiring, and intelligent.

  39. kb says:

    My fiance just told me he doesn’t want to get married – we are two weeks away from the wedding and a few months away from losing my father to cancer.

    I will be printing out your post and carrying it with me for the next while I’m sure.

    (Hmm, I deeply wish my fiancee had the strength mentioned by Willie Jackson on May 25, 2010 at 5:07 pm regarding his best friend … )

    • Megan says:

      Dear kb,

      I’m so sorry to hear that you are going through this time in your life right now. I can relate! Hang in there, we have a purpose and a plan and I’m sure everything will work out.

  40. Touko says:

    Thank you. I needed to hear this.

  41. Ije says:

    thank you for this! so beautiful. exactly the reminder i needed. you even quoted one of my favorite books:-) your writing really moves me.

    another great book that helps me get through this space is: the zen path through depression. ever read it?

  42. Kristina says:

    Tapping in to what’s important and what makes me feel alive has become a mission of mine since late last year. It’s nice to know that that anxious, gnawing gut feeling is common when you realize that there’s more to life and you want/have to do something about it. I forgot thought that sitting with that feeling, and letting it guide me, is part of the process. Thanks for the reminder.

  43. Well, those are some real “time to rethink my life..” questions. Great stuff.

  44. Tyler Hayes says:

    This is exactly where I am right now, and have been for the last two years. And that is exactly what I’ve been doing. It’s amazing how much I’ve learned about myself, and the world around me. It’s even more amazing that, after two years, I still haven’t completely stopped falling apart. But I’m slowly piecing myself back together again, and as I do so it becomes more readily apparent, which makes everything a little bit easier.

  45. Cindy says:

    Wow, Pam, I saw myself in that post. I’m feeling my meantime to be almost over and looking forward to some clarity.

  46. Sarah Mason says:

    Beautiful post, Pam…”All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten 2.0″. I’ve been asking my 5 year old self lots of questions lately. Thanks for helping me add some great ones to the list and reminding me that this IS the creative process.

  47. Kay says:

    This is a great post. I can say I can relate to the feelings entailed. Very inspiring 🙂

  48. Carla says:

    Pam, I definitely know what you’re talking about–have been there and back again. You said it well. Thanks for the reminder. I’m waiting to feel the wind beneath my wings again.

  49. Live Richly says:

    That was a touching and beautiful quote from Khalil Gibran! Sometimes we get what we think we want, but then it’s not what we dreamed. This happened to me. I wanted to be a therapist for 11 years, but by the time I reached my goal, the profession had changed A LOT. It just wasn’t what I wanted anymore. I was stuck with a lot of student loan debt and no career plan.

    I think of these awkward, painful times as being like a phoenix. Sometimes your dreams have to be burnt to ashes so you can be reborn.