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When the Pain of Staying Where You Are Outweighs the Fear of Changing

Updated: May 5, 2022

Spring is definitely in the air here in New York City! With the pandemic restrictions loosening up, plant life poking out of the crevices in the sidewalks, and the streets full of humans dressed up with places to go to once again, the energy of rebirth is palpable.

As we re-emerge into the world, many people, including myself, are getting to know one another as our Version 2.0. I find it so exciting to connect with those I had lost touch with, only to find that we are no longer the same people we once were and are now relating to each other at a different, and in most cases, deeper level.

For many, despite the obvious hardships, the pandemic really forced us into taking a hard look at our lives, getting to know ourselves intimately, and prioritizing what truly matters. And of course, as we become more honest with ourselves about where we're at, we also show up more authentically in our interactions with others.

This past week, I found myself pleasantly surprised and inspired by things big and small: A friend who used to be a big drinker no longer drinks. Multiple people have used the last two years wisely to do more of what they love and in the process are discovering their purpose. Greetings from an old co-worker who quit his job and moved across the country to San Diego. And during a sound meditation I facilitated at a law firm, the vulnerability and earnestness the lawyers showed when they shared about their mental health struggles and spiritual practices. In an industry where these topics were taboos throughout history, a new dawn has arrived.

All of these changes were liberating and could lead to even more profound outcomes in the long run, but why did it take a pandemic for us to make them happen?

The pandemic seems to have propelled or accelerated change for many, including myself. For some of us, we kept ourselves so busy pre-COVID that we didn't have time to examine what was not working in our lives. For others, perhaps we were already aware that the status quo was not working for us, but we kept putting off doing something about it because change is scary. We are often debilitated by the prospect of change and the fear of the unknown. Our negativity bias has us hardwired to ruminate on all the things that can possibly go wrong and over-estimate the risk of failure.

These worries and fears hold us back from taking the necessary action towards our dream future. In the short run, staying in place keeps us safe in what's familiar. The long-term consequences are steep, however, as we pass up the opportunities that are precisely what our soul needs for growth and expansion. Our spirit is not meant to stay in place yet the human in us likes it there. From this perspective, stagnation, not change, is really the biggest enemy on our soul's journey.

Change is part of the cycle of nature, and we humans are not exempt from it. It is the resistance to change that is creating our suffering. It is amazing the kind of stories we create and the acrobatics we perform to continue to stay in situations that are no longer working for us. And one year, five years, twenty years go by, and we find ourselves still stuck in the same job, relationships, or addictive patterns that have outlived their usefulness and are causing us so much pain.

So how do we gracefully flow with the waves of change and not swim against them?

The Buddhists have a saying “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” Accept that pain is simply a part of life. We can't avoid it but we can grow through it and be transformed by it. Often, the first step to change is to go inward and recognize that we are in pain. The awareness gives us a choice to do something about that pain.

In these moments of difficult choices, instead of automatically focusing on the risks of things not working out, what if we consciously ask ourselves "What are the risks of staying where I am?"

When the pain of staying where we are outweighs the fear of failure, that's when we take a leap of faith into the unknown. When the agony of living a stagnant, unfulfilled life screams louder than the inner voice that is trying to keep us safe, we find the courage to trust. The courage to trust in our own ability to figure life out at every step of the way, and the courage to trust in the Universe to open new doors ahead of us. The more we practice stepping outside of our comfort zone, the more we get confirmation that we already have all the inner resources we need to respond, pivot, and to get back up when we fall. We experience that falling is not as bad as our mind makes it out to be, and honestly sometimes it is the only way for our soul to evolve. When we see from the greater perspective of our soul's journey, we find more ease in those moments when we are challenged to grow. We gain more confidence in ourselves, and taking action becomes easier and easier. Have the awareness to know that the worst-case scenarios playing out in your mind are mostly overblown. Acknowledge and appreciate the protective role your fears play in your life but do not let them paralyze you. On the other side of fear is freedom. Dare to ask yourself "What if I succeed? What if everything works out better than I could ever dream of?"

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