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. I love how you’ve broken one of the big self-development taboos here, Pam. The one that goes along the lines that we can all choose to be clear, upbeat and focused all of the time. That certainly hasn’t been either my own or my coaching clients’ experience – and we’re all pretty high functioning individuals.

    Our society needs us to be sorted and to have ambitions and targets. It struggles with the concepts that sometime we’re not and we don’t AND that that’s exactly the way it’s meant to be.

    Energy, purpose, meaning and inner direction often come in their own time and when we allow them. Finding the courage to support our own process, no matter what anyone else things is vital.

  2. Pamela – what a beautiful post. I think we are all subject to the tyranny of the get things done – make things happen – culture and the slow down and listen deeply place is something most of us don’t know how to do, or are terribly fearful of. It is so important for us to support that knowing within ourselves and with others. The Buddhists call this “don’t know” mind – a place of non-resistance, an amazing and challenging practice.
    From my own experience, this practice not only can afford us the rest we sorely need – but also can be a great birthing place for new ideas, directions. That is where our ability to listen to our intuitive self is so important. But certainly – the goal here is not to do it to “get” more, but to just BE.

  3. I think that more of us go through these periods than we care to admit. God knows I’ve been through the ringer trying to “find myself” but I’ve persevered knowing that nobody ever died from experiencing an emotion.

    In the meantime, the more I can think about being a blessing to others and the less I can think about me, me, and ME, the faster these periods seem to pass.

  4. Tammy says:

    Those ‘meantime’ plateaus can be very demotivational, but they pass; all things pass. It helps to look back sometimes just to see how far you’ve come, even how far you’ve come since your last meantime.

  5. mike says:

    Like Curt, Pema Chodron’s, When Things Fall Apart, immediately came to mind while I was reading your post. In fact, it is sitting right next to my laptop as I type this. As a person that has had things “fall apart” recently in my life, I really do recommend reading Chodron’s book. I’m not a Buddhist in any stretch of the imagination, but it has been so helpful and has impacted not just how I deal with this current phase of my life, but how I look at life entirely.
    I’m sure if it is b/c I am living it right now or if changes in our society are inspiring a new approach to life, but I sense momentum behind a “different”, more accepting (“gentle kindness” as Chodron describes it) approach to life than I ever have before. And I really like it.
    Thank you for your post.

  6. Lu says:

    You have no idea how much I needed to read this message today. Truly powerful and it makes my mess make more sense. I don’t feel so bad now about falling apart, as I am finding the blessings in the valley. Thanks for the reminder.

  7. Grace Boyle says:

    This is such a beautiful and incredible reminder. I think everyone goes through or will go through what you describe here – it’s the inevitable bittersweet nature of life. The important piece is learning to fall apart, let yourself go, then also be able to pick yourself up through embracing change and the natural evolution that makes us a whole, complete person.

  8. Elena Scott says:

    A beautiful, healthy, realistic reminder that the journey is more important than the destination. Thank you!

  9. gabrielle says:

    “There is a dark, ugly and awkward place that many self-help enthusiasts don’t want to tell you about.”Isn’t that the truth! Who told us that big fat lie that we’re supposed to feel happy all of the time, anyway?

    I love your honesty, Pam.

  10. […] her whole post about the grace in falling apart here. In the meantime, enjoy this piece from Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet: “Your pain is the […]

  11. […] I’ve just read this post on Pamela Slim’s site.  There’s some great words in there & I thought it was […]

  12. lovely
    something to share with others
    thank you,

  13. Angela says:

    Oh Pam, I am going through my “meantime” right now!! Thankfully Michele Woodward, who you referred me too, has been my lifesaver. She tells me I’m on the brink whether I realize it or not and your article is exactly what I’m going through and feeling so I guess I am, in fact, on the brink. I can not WAIT to find out what’s in store!! This is an interesting, painful, yet exciting time!! Thank you!

  14. Pam,
    Thank you for this post, glad I saw your tweet about it this morning. The other commenters summed up my feelings, as did you.
    I wouldn’t call patience, at least with myself, one of my strong pts. It’s so difficult to sit in a place of unknowing, especially when the negative thoughts come in. It’s always good to be reminded that I’m not the only one. Thanks, Cherry

  15. Wait…you mean it’s not just me?!

    Love that you’ve put this into words. It’s an odd things to say, but I’ve come to a place where if I never find myself in that place you’ve described so beautifully, I take it as a signpost that I’m not moving forward in my life.

    Not that it makes it any easier to be there. Still kinda sucks, I like knowing what’s coming next. But, at least framing it as a leading indicator of evolution…takes the edge off.

    Thank you!

  16. Milo says:

    Excellent post and this is not said often enough. It’s amazing how long you can stay in this place too, and keeping hope alive can be as important as survival (and takes a massive, consistent effort). I’ve just got a new job though which is a lot closer to what I want to do, so I feel like I’ve taken the first major step out of the ‘meantime’!

  17. Anne says:

    What a wonderful’s what I call the “it’s all s*** anyway” time and it’s hard to be with it. (I have found that reruns of Criminal Minds are also good at this time LOL…) but what I have noticed is that what emerges is interesting, surprising and deep…how could a seed ever see itself as a tree unless it spent that loong time cracking open, deep in dirt but trusted that it was destined for something better than it imagined. We want to be a bigger seed. Our Maker wants us to grow into a tree…

  18. Penny says:

    Hi Pam, Great stuff from you again. This resonates completely with what I’ve learned reading William Bridges’ books on Transition. He calls your ‘meantime’ the ‘neutral zone’ where things can be tough, but there is the possibility of seeing so many creative options that wouldn’t have been considered in the hurly burly of normal life. Another key point is that this ‘neutral zone’ is not considered usual in our culture but that in indeginous cultures this is usual and is marked by rituals that help. So, if you’re moving away from an old life, celebrate what was good. Finish it off properly, go through the neutral zone knowing you’re not going mad and then start of with your new beginnings. All of this was so helpful for me when leaving corporate life (I made sure my neutral zone was spent in 3 months off with my family in New Zealand!) and then when my mother died unexpectedly.
    Thank you for all you are and all you write.

  19. Adam says:

    I’ve had a tough week of it and this has made me feel so much better – thank you! 🙂

  20. Iván Pérez says:

    This reminds me of one of the key ideas of Iron John, a book by Robert Bly. IME, this is really true. It doesn’t mean that pain is the only way to get to know yourself. However, most of those who claim to know themselves (self-help people most of the time) fail to do it when it comes to their dark side. Because they don’t let themselves get to that side, they don’t know it and logically they fear it and hide it even more. They think if they go there they might become a beast or a monster forever.

    Everyone should get to know themselves, both the bright and the dark sides.

    P.S. Beautifully written!

  21. sadya says:

    There’s another thing about the “in the meantime” phase…we tend to go through it alone. we isolate ourselves, but i think what we are subconsciously doing is blocking out all the voices & noise around us. for me , another element has been losing track of time or rather not wanting to keep track of time. i do it and then i berate myself for having done so & then little by little i start forgiving myself .

    A really goodheartfelt post Pamela, i’m glad i have this blog on my RSS feed.

  22. Andrea says:

    Hi Pam,
    You hit the nail on the spot! I was tossing this in my head, and going crazy in circles because I didn’t know how to talk or write about it. I especially like your take on this and how we can all ‘marinate in the meantime’. I forget that this is the creative process. It is very easy but when I tried to sit still by myself in it all, the craziness just settled down so quickly. It’s very effective!

  23. DD says:

    This spoke to me and couldn’t have come at a better time. I spent the first half of this month completely and emotionally unraveled. You’re right, I’m finding myself again.

  24. Jenny Blake says:

    I’ve read this post three times today, and I’m not done yet! THANK YOU. What an amazing reminder – particularly the part about the “low” moments being the very things that allow our creativity to flourish.

  25. floreta says:

    I’m on a career break so I’m pretty sure I’m in this *meantime* phase but I’m viewing it in an entirely different, and positive light! I call it my “brainstorming phase”. I’m having LOTS of fun exploring, finding value in “emptiness”, “idleness” or “wasting time”, and realize that being lost is all part of the process/journey. I have no anxieties about my future, even though sometimes I do wonder what path I’ll end up taking… It’s more of a curiosity thing rather than an anxious thing. I think I must thrive in the unknowns of life.. When things start becoming stagnant and complacent is when I’m at my worst!

  26. Dale says:

    WWWWOW, so perfect to be reading this right now, it’s EXACTLY where I’m at… unwilling to ‘work’ my body for a corporation focussed purely on profit, unsure of how to begin (yet again)… absorbing info from people who are exploring new lifestyle territory, discovering creative outlets and playing with new ideas… and then rent day looms ahead challenging me to either go back into the workforce with yet another promise to myself “it’s only for a short time, and then..” Going crazy, jealous of people who are making it, hating the supposed secure world that patronises its widgets to keep it in existence. And now I read this and adjust myself to “perfect, it’s part of the process FOR carving out a created life”.

  27. Laura Click says:

    Love this, Pam! I’ve read a number of posts/articles about this lately. This describes exactly where I was a week ago (and had been for quite some time) about developing my business name. After reading a recent post by Jonathan Field’s about “making space”, I took a day away from it after pushing really hard for a couple a weeks. And, low and behold, I came up with a name a day later. It’s really amazing how taking time to breathe can really help.

    Good advice!

  28. […] Slim wrote a fantastic post today called The Grace in Falling Apart. For the most part, I have my shit together. Look! I swore on my blog! Letting loose already! But […]

  29. Maya Mathias says:

    Wonderful post, Pam! I read your book just after marinating in the meantime for several months. The entire process has been humbling, enlightening and invigorating. I’ve come out the other side stronger, wiser and ready to roar! It’s also been a bugbear of mine that the self-help community doesn’t shed nearly enough light on this dark but crucial part of the transformation cycle. Thank you for so eloquently stating the stage of change that many of us don’t recognize, and the ‘unknowingness’ of which eventually makes so many of us abandon our dreams & revert to our old lives. Cheers, Maya.

  30. Jamie says:

    Thank you. This brightened my day and brought tears to my eyes during this tough time for me.

  31. Gwen says:

    I cannot tell you how much I needed to read these words today. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’m going to dry my eyes now and sit still in my awkwardness.

  32. Heidi says:

    Thank you for this post! It’s well timed, as I seem to be falling into a bit of “meantime” myself… I’ve been fighting it for a while now, but this helps to remind me of the importance of the meantime as a phase. Besides, one lesson I’ve learned (though I seem to forget it – repeatedly), is that fighting the meantime simply prolongs the pain and frustration. Relaxing into it, and letting it teach you what you need to learn allows you to flow through it.

  33. Tina says:

    Thank you for posting this. I really needed to read it and let your words sink in. A truly life-saver! Thank you!

  34. Nick Smith says:

    Thank you for helping me to remember that other people go through stuff like that, too.

  35. Pam,

    You spoke to me in this post. Thanks for reminding us of the dark, ugly, and awkward place that so many don’t want to tell. And to know that there is a portal of light in the dark abyss and that yes we will come out.

  36. Anna says:

    Rationally, I “knew” I wasn’t alone in feeling this way, but it sure has felt that way lately. Thank you for sharing this post. It was much needed and I hope I can take away from it what I need to find my grace.

  37. Nancy says:

    Hi Pam,
    This is so great! Yes, folks don’t talk about it much, yet it is this ‘dark’
    place that gives birth to our new creations. But only if we spend time
    with it, become fully conscious, as you point out. Thank you dear one.

  38. A friend of mine asked me to be his best man a few years ago. I didn’t know him that well at the time, but I agreed to it anyway. For a whole host of issues related to his upbringing, he absolutely self-destructed in the months leading up to the wedding. It was awful.

    He pulled it together in time and emerged stronger, wiser, and more focused than ever before. In that time, he became one of my very best friends and has since counseled me through situations that I simply couldn’t have handled on my own.

    During his months of emotional suicide and subsequent recovery, I learned how to cherish life and all of its beautiful imperfections. It was one of the most powerful things I’ve experienced to date.

    Timely post, Pam. #understatement

    • Pamela says:

      That’s a doozie Willie! Watching someone melt (down) in the heat of the meantime can be so painful. I am so glad he got through it and learned from the experience.

      Life is indeed beautifully imperfect. And you know this at your age! 🙂

  39. Oh I know this place well – in a way I’m circling it now – and I love how you’ve framed it so beautifully here. Thank you.

    • Pamela says:

      Thanks Alana! I hope you enjoy your trip through the meantime and feel the creative surge soon!

  40. Sometimes we find the most beauty in the mess of life, in the mud and dirt and mess. Yeah, the path isn’t always well manicured and neatly paved.

    Thanks for this reminder Pam. Sometimes we forget that we need to give ourselves permission to feel the pain, and to acknowledge, in order to go through it.

    • Pamela says:

      Thanks Jonathan! Yes, sometimes in the midst of all our “live a better life now!” “passive income” “make meaningful work” language, we need to say “some days really suck and it is ok.”


  41. Raye says:

    Thank you for putting in to words what I have been feeling inside but couldn’t express or understand.

    • Pamela says:

      Thanks Raye. I actually baked on this post for quite awhile (more than a week) to find the right words.

  42. elana carter says:

    you said a mouthful sister!

    • Pamela says:

      I assume you relate to a thing or two in the post? That’s right, you just go from success to success. 🙂 Glad you liked it, thanks for stopping by!

  43. Melinda says:

    I can’t tell you how awesome this post is. I found this out when I was going through a divorce. Very painful, but I learned to sit with my grief and work through it. I’ve never felt stronger because of it.

    • Pamela says:

      I am so glad it fit for you Melinda! I have never been through a divorce myself, but I remember when my parents did. It was excruciating!

  44. When I got to the third paragraph in your newsletter, I was like, “Has Pam been spying on me?” 🙂

    Paraphrased, I too am “deep in a creative groove, having been through a labyrinth of personal and professional challenges. By leaning into the uncertain time and getting familiar with what I term the meantime, I have new enthusiasm for my work, tons of ideas…and renewed strength for getting through tough times.”

    This has been exactly my process for the past few months, and it’s been very hard to put into words. Thanks for the newsletter and this great post!

    • Pamela says:

      Yes Willo, I have been spying on you. Sorry about that! 😉

      I am glad I have not been alone!

  45. I had really high hopes when graduating with my MBA last year but nothing really panned out as “planned.” Fortunately, instead of getting a high paying corporate job I was able to find work that I really enjoyed but didn’t pay well. I eventually got a well paying job with benefits but the work and the environment was not for me and a wound up leaving…which is pretty scary in this economy. The good thing is I’m back doing work I really love and hopeful. Had I just taken a high paying job I didn’t enjoy, I might never have learned as much about myself as I did. Failure really can teach you a lot about yourself 🙂

    • Pamela says:

      Our path is not always in a straight line, is it Stephen? I am so glad you have landed in a good place.

      Failure is a brilliant teacher!

  46. This is exactly what I needed today.


    • Pamela says:

      I’m so glad Beth! Simply knowing that the process is natural and you are not alone is often enough to lift a heavy mood. Creativity coming soon!

  47. Falling apart with grace – I appreciate the call to surrender to it, relax deep into the allowing…

    Yet I had a period in my life where I was severely depressed, and it didn’t feel like a falling apart so much as a deflation…when just summoning the will to keep going was a supreme effort. I found the practise of tiny offerings of gratitude gradually served to fill me back up again, until I was strong enough to lift myself out of the fog that had flattened me for so long. Even as I started every day sobbing, just a little reminder of what I could be grateful for was an intensely powerful balm.

    And it’s moments such as this, when life is falling apart and our cosy calm is shaken up, that what truly matters is revealed to us. We can take the chaos and the pain as a signal to nudge ourselves more consciously into the direction that gives us more joy.

    Thank you, Pam.

    • Pamela says:

      Thanks for sharing that Natalie!

      I almost mentioned in the post that there are times the meantime slips into depression … and it takes more help and effort to get out. I am so glad you found strength in gratitude! That is certainly the key to happiness.

  48. Julie Daley says:

    Lovely, heart-opening post, Pam.
    That place of death, I call it. Destruction before creation. Death before birth. Darkness before Light. In the creative pit is transformation. We all know it. Love how you give it new life and new light.

  49. This is where I have been for a long time (as you know) and been wanting to write about how to be here with more compassion and grace. We all are here and more often than we used to be – as with all the choices comes so much more… choice. Thanks for the pat on the heart!

    • Pamela says:

      I feel you Jen! I know you have been marinating for a long time. Just think how juicy your steak (or tofu?) will taste after all that time!

      There have been so many times when I have felt like I was ready to get out of the meantime. But I have learned it works on its own agenda, in its own sweet time.

  50. Great post, Pam! I love the acknowledgement of the stickiness that life sometimes brings. Whether or not we want to accept it, one way or another it’s going to catch us. And when it does, we can either keep fighting it or embrace it. Easier said than done, to be sure, but a potentially rich and fertile experience.

    Have you read Pema Chodron’s book, When Things Fall Apart? She talks a lot about being in that state of unknowing and leaning into it rather than running from it.