Thursday, January 12, 2012

The dangers of autopilot

Have you ever driven to work and, upon arrival, wondered how it is you got from your front door to the office? Where you just zone out from conscious thinking, and just focused mindlessly on staying in between the lines? Perhaps you are somewhat aware as you change lanes and make left and right turns, but for the most part you are not fully present in the moment? I know I have. It happened this morning as I was aimlessly driving, discovering my new city. I was here but not here.

Are you zoned out in your life? You’d think that, as a life coach, my life is somehow more enlightened and focused than the average person’s life. Not so. In fact, the most productive I have ever been was when I had my own coach supporting me and driving me towards my big dreams and passions. When my husband and I picked up our lives in Vancouver, Canada in September 2010 to move to San Francisco, it was a radical change for me. I went from working every day to not working. From being busy to having all the time in the world. The scary part is, I had more time to be mindful and focus on what I wanted from life. 

From the time I graduated university to the time we crossed the border, I had been working away in one office or another as an administrative goddess or office mommy. And I fell into the trap of “what you do is who you are.” When Blair was let go from his job, and I was the sole wage earner, that became all the more important. Society tells us you are valued by what you earn. Well, as a foreigner in the United States on a spousal visa, I’m not allowed to “disrupt the flow of commerce.” I cannot have a job. Sure, I have joked about how nice it has been to be able to bake cookies at my leisure and do nothing for months on end, but here’s the truth. It hasn’t all been fun. The past 16 months have taught me a lot about myself. And here’s a little bit about my journey:

I was physically ill for a year up to the move, and plagued with severe GI issues. On top of that, I have suffered from migraines all my life, which seem exacerbated by stress. About 2 months before the move, I was advised by both my general practitioner and a gastroenterologist that I should take sick leave from my job. Once we moved to San Francisco and got settled into our new place, the level of stress in my life diminished significantly, so much so that I have hardly had any GI issues since September 2010, and my daily migraines only visit me a handful of times a month. In San Francisco, I decided I was entitled to some rest and relaxation, and I did nothing. Absolutely nothing. For weeks and months on end. I would turn on the TV, play facebook games, and be absolutely awed when Blair came in the door. Really? A whole day passed and I didn’t even notice? There were many like this.

What few friends know is that I was decompressing from stress, but also I was dealing with a low grade depression that came out of this “I have all the time in the world, but what now?” situation. I had ideas but I wasn't particularly motivated to work towards them. I kept myself busy (and my 2011 Christmas letter to friends shows how busy I really was), but I felt like I was on autopilot. It took me about 10 months to accept that sometimes you need to tune out from everything and heal on the inside. When I finally gave myself permission for that to happen, I felt the cloud lifting and I felt like I could return to a life of purpose. 

How do we define ourselves without paid employment? I know many people who have been unemployed who have really struggled with this question. The Company Men is a recent film that looks at this very question as its protagonist takes a hard look at his life when he is laid off. In the moment, when someone says, now you can do what you really love, discovering what that thing is can be frightening. And monumental. And it feels like society undervalues parents, most often mothers, who stay home to raise their children and run a household. That is not paid work, and somehow that translates to worthlessness. Raising kids, juggling a home and maintaining relationships is hard work. All the while, mothers are expected to be an emotional rock of stability in the family. I’d love it if we could value people on their being, not on their doing. Are we being the best person we can be? Are we living true to our values and are we living up to our potential? That's what society should measure!

In the past 6 months, I have seen a real shift in my own perspective. First, that my worth isn’t defined by a salary. Sure, we all say that, but to internalize it and accept it is another matter entirely. Second, that I have healed my physical and mental self and am ready for this next stage of my life. Third, I will be Jean, to the fullest, and share my dreams and goals and maybe that will inspire someone else. I am already in kick-ass mode, and I see where I want to go. I am disengaging the autopilot and ready to live a fully conscious life. Yes, there may be moments of autopilot as I pull out of the garage and drive Blair to the office, but I have some big plans for my life and I want to be fully present for it. I don't want to arrive at the end destination and say, how did I get here. I want to enjoy the ride. And all of its bumps, twists and turns. 


  1. Can I comment? Its me, its me, its me!
    Keep up the writing. its great.

  2. Thanks, Chris. I appreciate you testing the commenting and your feedback! xx

  3. This post was AMAZING. And on the flip side, I have TWO paid jobs, and I often run on autopilot as well, because to think about every single detail in my life would send me into a massive tailspin. So, I get this, from both sides of the fence. Being unemployed and being TOO employed. I just want to finally be ME, who isn't overworked and zoned out from exhaustion. I'm working (consciously) toward that goal.

    Love your writing (and YOU), as always. xox

  4. WONDERFUL, WONDERFUL. Thanks so much for sharing, my dear Jean. xoxo