Life coach and author Martha Beck’s 4-Phase Change Cycle begins with Phase 1: “Death and Rebirth.” Martha’s blog contains the Phase I Mantra: “I don’t know what the hell is going on … and that’s OK.”
Many of us try to skip Phase 1. It’s uncomfortable. It’s painful. And, it’s necessary.
I finally accepted the value of Phase 1 after years of trying to jump into Phase 3 of Martha Beck’s Change Cycle: “The Hero’s Saga.” That phrase sounds way more fun and less painful than “Death and Rebirth,” doesn’t it?
Many of us try to catapult ourselves into Phase 3 when contemplating a life and/or career transition, missing the incredible value of allowing ourselves to spend time in Phase 1 to process thoughts and feelings that arise during transitions.
Neglecting myself the opportunity to sit in Phase 1 when I left oral and maxillofacial surgery and the Air Force led to detrimental consequences that prolonged my healing journey. At that time, I had been numbing myself with work and a restrictive eating disorder. The only way I could stop was by allowing myself to be admitted into an inpatient psychiatry unit for medical stabilization. While inpatient, I could have used the time to be present and take in the reality of the situation. I could have accepted that I would need to make a specialty transition and allowed myself to grieve the loss of the life I thought I would have. However, I didn’t do that.
Instead, within a few days of admission, I signed a 72-hour form to get out of the locked unit due to the restlessness of not being in a state of constant overdrive. Accepting that I needed medical care, I rescinded the form and stayed a month. Still, the month was filled with interview arrangements and preparing for my next steps shall I be discharged from the military, a fate I feared as I loved being in the Air Force. Despite my attempts to save my military career, I was ultimately medically discharged, which left me wondering how things may have turned out if I had given myself permission to rest and reset sooner truly. Could I have at least saved my military career?
The lessons learned from that time have shaped my mission today: to help people to give themselves permission to pause sooner. To pause before we are forced to do so and face the risks of losing much more, including our lives.
Many of us start to feel guilty as we contemplate a pause. However, in a rested state of mind, we may see more clearly just how much better we show up in the world. Why do we feel so much guilt when we act like humans and not robots; we are humans, not robots. What may it look like to honor your basic human needs and not feel guilty?
We must bring humans back into the healing, for patients and ourselves.
We may know this, and still resist. In attempts to ignore our human needs and silence the sirens from our inner knowing that we are on a path that no longer aligns with our true desires, we wait until we are physically and emotionally exhausted to allow ourselves to check-in. At this point, we often live in survival mode when our brains have less ability to be creative and provide us with the abundance of options available to us. We are more likely to feel trapped. Many of us try to plan our next move while in this state of mind, and we do ourselves a great disservice.
For many of us, jumping into action without allowing ourselves to pause and reset means landing ourselves into the same exhaustion cycle we were desperately trying to escape.
This is what that looked like for me: I held out on my official resignation from oral and maxillofacial surgery until I started my residency in oral medicine. If memory serves me correctly, my official resignation and the start of my new residency were a day or a couple of days apart. A wider time gap would have meant that I would have to sit in the discomfort of facing the truth that my entire self-worth was wrapped in academics and my career. A truth that showed up as a workaholic and sacrificing the relationships that I felt may get in the way of my professional development. A truth that led me to ignore my human needs and feel empty, lonely, and suicidal, all of which perpetuated the cycle of throwing myself into work and achievements to cope with the deep psychache.
I am not alone in this journey; if you relate, we are not alone. Many express similar feelings and are not sure where to turn. Rather than sit with our thoughts and feelings, we may keep trying to throw ourselves into action and use numbing behaviors to temporarily relieve ourselves of the discomfort, only to end up in the same sense of despair.
Tired of repeating this cycle, I tried something new over the past two years with a quote often (controversially) attributed to Albert Einstein in mind, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
I needed to do something different. What haven’t I tried yet?
Doing less. Being more.
I sat uncomfortably while letting go of my numbing behaviors, which often felt awful. And great. And all the feelings in between. I could feel the full spectrum of emotions for the first time in years. I committed myself to doing the work. Therapy, coaching, shamanic healing, energy healing, meditation retreats, writing, crying, laughing, dancing, running, sleeping, laying on the floor in overwhelm, being in community, taking time alone, hating myself, loving myself, feeling guilt, feeling shame, being vulnerable and learning deep self-compassion.
Through allowing and no longer resisting, I have been processing the death of my past life and experiencing a rebirth that feels like meeting my adult self for the first time. This is the gift you may give yourself when you commit to not rushing yourself through The Change Cycle.
Thus, if you are going through a change, I highly recommend you allow yourself to sit in the discomfort of Phase 1 and embrace the uncertainty that arises. During this time, it’s important to surround yourself with support from those who see and love you holistically. Be prepared that this phase often sucks (to put it lightly), and that’s OK.
It’s been freeing to live in the space provided by the Phase I Mantra described by Martha Beck: “I don’t know what the hell is going on … and that’s OK.”
Let’s be honest: The world is a bit chaotic. I am not convinced that we know what the heck is going on … and that’s OK.
Jillian Rigert is an oral medicine specialist and radiation oncology research fellow.