Updated on April 10th, 2019
Are you in an in-between place in your life? The lack of clarity, direction, goals or visible progress a hiatus can bring can make it seem like we’ve been paused, halted, held back. And the uncertainty about our future can prey on our mind and make our hiatus an uncomfortable place to be. But don’t despair: Read on to find out why a hiatus experience is normal and valuable. And discover 16 ways of living through it with more ease!
A hiatus is a gap. An interruption. An interval. It’s a break in continuity.
Like a seemingly incessant rain stopping for a while, then resuming again. The hiatus is the bit in between, where nothing much seems to happen, whilst nature works out which way things will go…
A hiatus can happen in our lives, too.
- a writer writes nothing for years after publishing her first novel.
- a youth takes a year off after college before starting university.
- a seasoned professional loses his job, and and falls into a depression as he struggles to find a next one –
or takes a sabbatical after a time of intensive working.
- a wife and mother finds herself floundering as she tries to rebuild her own life after the end of her marriage, or after her kids have flown the nest.
- an accident or an illness forces us to stop what we’re doing, and makes us reconsider how we want to live.
A hiatus can happen naturally, like when you come to the end of an era. You can slide into such an end gradually (say, when your long-time job becomes increasingly untenable), or be thrown into it suddenly (say, if someone passes away unexpectedly). Or you can trigger or initiate it yourself (say, by deciding to take time out), or have it forced upon you (say, when you’re made redundant).
And – much as we might not like hiatus experiences…
We all go through them
Even the most successful, popular, rich or famous of us. Multiple times in our lives. And in fact, your hiatus may turn into something that shapes you, makes you more tolerant, compassionate, or wise. Or more determined. Your hiatus may indeed make you!
So, what kind of a hiatus have you experienced? Or are you in the middle of one right now?
Some of my own hiatus experiences include:
Being numb on the inside for years, after the sudden death of my father when I was 27 – whilst on the outside, my career was moving forward seemingly stellarly, as I took refuge from my grief in working hard, and working a lot.
Being unable to do anything much at all for the most part of a year, as a fast-growing and fortunately benign tumour was wreaking havoc in my brain, making me confused and exhausted. As I was processing the fact that I’d been told I needed brain surgery to remove it. And as I was preparing for, and later recovering from my surgery. (Which happily went as well as it could have gone.)
There’s been less dramatic hiatus experiences too, like when I embarked on a search for my calling in life and work, and my life went from a straight-line rise in school and career to a trial-and-error, meandering journey that was enriching, but at times didn’t seem to lead anywhere in particular. (Read my story)
One thing I’ve learnt from these experiences (and, by the way, they keep occurring every now and then even now that I’ve found my calling as a Coach, Consultant and Author, and have set up my professional practice):
A hiatus is not what it seems
That’s good news!
I’ve come to think that the image of a hiatus as being the empty, unproductive bit between two clear, achieving states – A) what we were doing before, and B) what we’ll be doing afterwards – is an illusion.
Because what’s more likely to happen is that we’re moving from A) to B) in a much more gradual, bit-by-bit and seamless kind of way. With quite a few detours, backwards-and-forwards, and even going -’round-in-circles in between.
So that B) kind of evolves from A) over time.
And B), though it may be stable for a while, is not a set-in-stone state, either. Rather, I suspect that things might happen in it that state, almost imperceptibly, which start moving us on towards its end – and towards C) – i.e. what we’ll do after B).
This means that, hiatus experiences, though seemingly empty or quiet, are not really unproductive bits of our journey, but useful transitions that move us forward even though we might not feel that they do.
The bit in between – the hiatus – can feel like we’ve fallen into a hole
Like we’re stuck there, unable to escape nor move our life forward.
The lack of clarity, direction, goals to work towards, outward productivity or visible progress a hiatus might bring can make it seem like we’ve been paused, halted, held back. And the uncertainty about our future and whether we’ll be able to pick up the reins of our life again or not, can prey on our mind and make our hiatus an uncomfortable and even stressful place to be!
So what to do? How to be in a hiatus?
Below are 16 things you can try that I find help me when I’m in-between.
1 Make your peace with where you are
Know that being in a hiatus is normal and inevitable. Remind yourself that they’ll keep happening – to you and to everyone else. That they’re part of the process of any and every life. Accept that this is where you are right now; fighting or resisting it will only make you feel worse.
You are where you are. No big deal. Just be there for a bit and know that you will come out of it eventually!
2 Relax, get still
Settle into not knowing how your life is going to unfold from here. See the time in between not as an annoyance, an obstacle blocking your progress and achievements, or even a cause for anxiety or worry, but as your chance to take a breather. Let go of wanting to be in control – which we never fully are in life, anyway.
Instead, see if you can let yourself quieten down and get still.
Like when you’re on holiday, lying on the beach, and there’s nowhere to go and nothing to do but soak up the sunshine or the warmth in the shade and listen to the gentle murmur of the waves. Or like when you’re on a long walk through beautiful contryside and take a break, and there’s nothing else to do but to rest and admire the view.
Relax into your hiatus in the knowledge that it ultimately serves your journey and that your next move will become apparent in its own time.
3 Practice non-action
You might be tempted to structure what’s going on: Create a project. Set yourself some goals. Make a To Do List. You might go into activity overdrive – do anything to escape the uncertainty of being in between life phases, jobs, or relationships… To do anything to give you a feeling that you’re productive, that you’re going somewhere. To do anything to keep the stress of not knowing what next at bay.
See if you can resist this impulse. Take the pressure off. Practice “not-thinking-it-through” for a change. Get used to “not-doing-anything-in-particular” for a bit. Land where you are right now, instead of constantly trying to go somewhere. And notice how perhaps it’s not as scary as you thought, after all.
4 Enjoy the space
Where something’s ended – an era or a life phase, a job, a relationship – a space opens up. As we’re grieving the loss of what’s ended, this space can initially seem like a scary, gaping, black hole. Resist the desire to fill it with noise and activity, just to make it more bearable – see point 3.
Perhaps then you’ll find that you can see that, really, this hole, like any empty space, is also a blank canvas: an opening and an opportunity. Can you enjoy the freedom from the obligations and responsibilities that came with your previous situation? Can you get excited with the sense of possibility for what might lie ahead for you?
5 Let things sink in
Give your brain and your system a chance to arrive, before rushing off to a next thing or a next person. Be gentle with yourself: take whatever time it takes for you to let the dust settle and let it all sink in.
Then actively process what’s happened in your life so far. Let go of what or who is no longer part of it. Digest what’s ended and acknowledge how you feel about it.
Don’t be afraid to let yourself feel whatever you feel. Let your feelings blow through your inner landscape like a storm, or hover over it like a dull winter sky, or empty themselves like heavy rainclouds passing through in the outer, real world: knowing that, like the weather, they will pass.
6 Reflect – leisurely
Once the greatest upheaval of the life phase that has ended has passed (if there has been one in the first place), you might find yourself in a reflective place. Take advantage of that.
Take stock of the phase that has ended. Acknowledge its good and its bad aspects, the things that were easy about it as well as those that were difficult, or what it’s given you and what you’ve given it. Celebrate what you’ve achieved.
Try not to judge. Learn from both what has worked for you and what hasn’t. Draw out the golden nuggets of insight and wisdom that will help you mature as a person and serve you in the future.
Most importantly: Do some or all of this leisurely and enjoy the process!
7 Work on yourself
When there’s less stuff going on in our life and the world around us, when our attention is less taken up by all that’s around us and we’re less busy, we have an opportunity to look inside ourselves instead.
We can look at our own role and behaviour in what’s happened to us and our life. We can acknowledge where we’ve acted in constructive ways and where we could learn more helpful behaviours or attitudes for the future. We can attend to how we’re feeling. To what needs to be (emotionally) digested. To what we need to let go, or forgive. We can look after ourselves, too – particularly if we’ve been through a tough time – and nurse ourselves back to strength and good health.
Do get outside help for this when needed – through working with a coach, counsellor or therapist, or immersing ourselves in a self-help book, course or programme. It will make it easier for you, and might be more fun, too!
This is how you can work with me to discover your vision for what’s next in your life, and take practical steps towards it.
We all want to be well and move on emotionally and physically from an unpleasant or painful situation as soon as possible. Yet healing can take time. And we might find ourselves in our hiatus longer than we thought!
So what if you allowed yourself this time?
What if you did for your emotional hurt the equivalent of what you would do for a physical hurt?
Clean and dress the wound. Give it air. Give the wounded part of you rest, or use it only very gently. Give it time to settle and heal. Do the same with your emotional hurts. Then strengthen and build up the wounded, healing parts again – perhaps the equivalent of having physiotherapy for wounded parts of the body could be to start a body-and-mind practice, go on a course or coaching programme or have psychotherapy (see point 17).
Tap into you own wisdom: What is it you need in order to heal?
9 Build your inner resources
This is an extension of the previous point. Strength and health are but two inner resources we can re-build when we heal.
You might find, from reflecting on what’s happened and on your own role in it, that other inner resources would serve you well in the future. You could, for example, use your hiatus to develop your patience. Your resilience, self reliance, conflict resolution abilities. Or your determination, fighting spirit, confidence or sense of humour in a difficult situations.Or your kindness and ability to love and accept. The possibilities are endless.
Which inner resources would serve you well in the future, and how can you best develp them?
10 Stop pushing
I love this quote by Fritz Perls: “Stop pushing. The river flows on its own.”
In Western society and culture, we are conditioned from an early age to make things happen. Work hard to get the grades at school. Set professional and life goals and go for them. Do stuff, push through obstacles, fight for our dreams.
That’s all ok, and there’s a place for that.
But the implication that comes with this kind of life philosophy, i.e. that we can achieve anything we want if we just work, push, fight hard enough, is a treacherous one. Because life doesn’t always work this way. Not all is always fully in our control.
Often, things come about with more ease when we stop pushing and relax into the flow of what’s around us. Being awake and aware, spotting and noticing opportunities as they come up, and then going with them – not after them.
So go on: In your hiatus, try tuning into and going with the flow!
11 Keep moving
Accepting, relaxing, healing don’t mean you get all lethargic and lazy, stop moving and eventually get stuck. Quite the contrary.
Though you may feel you’re not moving forward much in practical terms in your life, accepting, relaxing and healing are energetically active states, because what you’re doing is practicing to stay conscious and present with what is going on around you and within yourself. You’re aligning yourself with the flow of life.
Whilst you’re doing that, you’re not stuck. Rather, your awareness is pleasantly alert, and you’re engaged with life, yourself and others.
If you feel stuck or stagnant, try moving mindfully or meditatively with your body – walking, dancing, running, swimming, yoga are all practices that will keep the energy in your body (and therefore your mind) flowing!
12 See the gifts
No matter how difficult a life stage or a hiatus is – it often also brings a gift.
Sometimes – particularly when we’re in the thick of it – that’s not so easy to see. We can tell ourselves that a tough situation we’re in will make us stronger and wiser in the future, but we might not really feel this whilst we’re struggling with it.
And yet – the more you can see the gifts, the good stuff, the opportunities that are also present (despite of and at the same time as the difficulty), the easier it will become to move through your hiatus.
Acknowledge the good, however small. Look for the opening. What is still or newly possible? And can you perhaps, somewhere inside yourself, find a place from which it is possible to be grateful?
13 Experience new things
A hiatus is a wonderful opportunity to experience new things. After all, you might well be free of the obligations of your previous life phase and have more time on your hands.
Here’s your chance to try something you’ve always wanted to do, or something you feel drawn to. Hopefully, it will lift your energy and give you joy. It might also stimulate your creative juices and help you figure out what you want next in your life. You’ll likely meet new people. And you might start seeing things in different ways, too.
It doesn’t matter what you choose: A gardening course. Joining a choir. Volunteering work. Travelling to a place you’ve never been to.
What is it that draws you?
14 Let things emerge and unfold
So now that you’re more comfortable with the fact that the river flows on its own (see point 10), and you’re more at ease in flowing with it without getting stuck: Stay awake and aware. Notice what’s around you. Engage in opportunities that draw you.
Give it time. Cultivate your patience: Allow your next thing to emerge. Let things mature until they’re ready. Let yourself get ready.
Once things get underway: Let them unfold.
I love the saying that nature doesn’t rush things, that everything happens in its own good time, and still gets done. So why should we? We can coax things along and keep them flowing, growing and developing, but ultimately, everything happens in its own good time.
So just have a mindset of allowing this to happen.
15 Follow your joy
This is one of the most important principles!
It’s not a hedonistic pursuit, because neuroscience says that most things that feel wholesomely joyful to us are also good and right for us. (We’re not talking about over-indulgence or destructive pleasures here…) And that really taking in what is good helps us overcome our brain’s innate tendency to respond more strongly to what is not so good, and feel better.
So take this as a guide for testing opportunities and things that emerge for you during your hiatus. Before and whilst embarking on them, ask yourself: Does this person, activity or thing feel (quietly or exhilaratingly) joyful? Does it make your heart sing? Does it feel inherently good and right for you?
If it does, go for it. And if it doesn’t: Why would you pursue it further?
16 Be safe
As human beings we’re conditioned by evolution not to like uncertainty. Yet a hiatus can be an uncertain time! If you start feeling restless, anxious or even panicky, then making sure you are safe is important.
If you’re not safe: What can you do to make yourself safe? How can you leave a dangerous or unhealthy situation, or protect yourself from people that make you unsafe? Who can you ask for help with that?
And if you know that you are indeed safe and that nothing bad can happen to you, but you’re still feeling anxious, then remind yourself and consciously recognise that to help you feel calmer.
What’s important: Be kind with yourself, be compassionate.
You would calm a child or a friend who comes to you feeling scared or anxious, wouldn’t you? How about giving that same support and reassurance to yourself?
17 Trust the process
Cultivate your faith that you’ll come out of your hiatus eventually. You’ll find your next thing. You’ll know what’s next for you. You’ll find your way eventually.
I have seen in my own journey that you cannot really go wrong: If you miss a turn, it’s likely to come up for you again at a later stage. If you discover that you’ve taken a detour, you can always adjust course or turn around.
So, trust the process. And keep the faith!
Over to you now…
Do you feel like telling us about your hiatus experience(s)?
Which strategies have helped you live through it?
Why don’t you share them in the comments box below?