I don’t think life is meant to be a continuous charging forward—one with no pit stops, no breakdowns, and no change in direction. And yet we act like it is. We act like unless we are walking a certain path, with a certain style, we are failing at life. And then if we have a catastrophe or if we aren’t sure where we are for a little while, we’re doing it all wrong.
But that’s not really how life works.
Like many other humans, I can say that almost nothing has gone according to plan in my own life. I might have a destination in mind and maybe I get there eventually, but the directions often rewrite themselves along the way. Or the road isn’t as smooth as I thought it would be, or it doesn’t wind in the direction I expected. And then sometimes I find myself at a dead end entirely, sitting in a pile of loose dirt that marks a fallow period and therefore breaks up my journey with seeming non-movement.
And that’s what I want to talk about now. Fallow periods. The times when we feel like we’re at a standstill but perhaps really aren’t.
I often think about how fields cannot produce abundance without time for the soil to lay fallow: to replenish its nutrients, to regain its energy, to recover its ability to push out incredible life forms. And so it goes with humans, too. Sometimes we’re simply in a fallow period and, although we don’t see it that way, it’s actually a necessary period we need to pass through in order to recalibrate our journey to whatever comes next.
A fallow period can appear in a lot of ways, I think. It can appear most prominently via unemployment when you’ve literally got nothing to do. All the downtime then forces you to sit in the present moment and to confront your own emotions around what that present moment means. Then maybe you move into thinking about what your past looked like and how your future may look a bit different, and sometimes you even change direction—either by necessity or by force.
It can also appear when someone dies. A death often makes us hit pause on our own lives as we fall into grief. Then we find ourselves in a sort of suspended animation, watching the rest of the world as through a window, with everyone moving along as if nothing has happened. And yet we now have to stop everything before we can start anew, because our life is so different without that person in it.
It can also appear in times like these—pandemic times. Times when we’re forced to be more still, to wait, to suffer, to reevaluate. Times when we’re unsure of when it all will end and what it all means anyway, and times when we’re forced to look at our lives in a fresh way. What’s really important? Who is really important? Am I using my time in the best way I can?
This year, 2020, was a significant fallow period for me—and not just because of the pandemic. And for a while I was really distressed by it. By this pause, as I wrote about in The Big Pause. By this not doing of anything, really. And then I realized what it actually was (a fallow period) and I told myself it was okay. I gave myself permission to have a fallow period and to experience it in whatever way that might be.
If you’re in a fallow period right now, regardless of how that period arrived in your life, could you give yourself permission to just be in it? To experience it fully as a period of preparation rather than as lack of progress? And, yes, to recognize that it's a period of uncertainty and discomfort, but to also know that it's a necessary one to propel you on your way?
I started emerging from my fallow period only a few weeks ago, and when I realized the fallow period had ended of its own accord (without much effort by me, to tell the truth), I was glad I’d chosen to sit in it while it was here. To not fight it, but to instead use it as a space to ready myself for whatever came next.
Do not fear the fallow periods. Use them instead for self-discovery, and to tune in to your internal frequencies. And also, try not to stress about them even though they can be very stressful (especially if your unemployment benefits, for example, are about to end like mine were).
Remember that something greater than you could ever imagine is moving the pieces on the game board and closing or opening doors for you. Trust in that presence—whatever you believe it to be—and just sit in the moment that has been given to you. Every moment, including a seemingly inactive one, is always given to you for a reason.
My first book, Halfway There: Lessons at Midlife, was released on August 18, 2020. To read an excerpt, check out reviews, see the author Q&A, or find links to buy, click the Learn More button.
The Big Pause