Emptiness and plenitude

22 December 2017
Emptiness and plenitude

Have you ever experienced moments in your life when you were particularly irritable or anxious? I am referring to certain moments throughout our life, rather than “a day where everything goes wrong”, long periods in which we are not in tune with ourselves, as if disturbed by a disconcerting background noise. Recently, I talked with a client about the time when our children leave home to pursue their studies. She told me that she had become ill-tempered both at home and at work, that she couldn’t bear even the slightest everyday problem and that she went through ups and down as if she were on a roller coaster. Another client who had a new boss and didn’t get along with him, also had ups and downs, and became irritable, sometimes even disconcerted….

A common symptom, beside irritability, is a feeling of uneasiness, as if we were caught in the middle, unable to choose how to behave in a certain situation. These are moments of transition, that may or may not last a while, transition in our personal life, in our business, when, after leaving comfortable circumstances, we suddenly find that we are stuck.  Have you already experienced this kind of feeling? If so, I invite you to find out more by reading the rest of this essay.  If you haven’t, you may be, or may have been, in denial.  In both cases, what follows will probably shed some light.


There is more than meets the eye

These situations follow a well-defined emotional path: Irritability and/or over-involvement => anxiety => sadness => resilience, bouncing back, self-renewal

Here are some details of each phase:


1/ Irritability and/or over-involvement.

These are the first symptoms of a malaise or a necessary change that must take place but for the time being is still in a state of denial or unawareness. The world keeps moving forward, but instead of accepting this inevitable fact and trying to face it, we become anxious, irritable and, as a consequence, we plunge ourselves into our work, or a sporting activity or a thousand other activities. We’ll do anything to keep from thinking, because denying our dislike of change is apparently easier to bear than the underlying feeling known as anxiety.


2/ Anxiety

Nobody likes this feeling of deep void; we would rather fight against fretfulness and irritability than face anxiety.  It’s only human.  Anxiety is the awareness of the existential vacuum vis-à-vis certain events in life. For example, our children’s departure from home not only leaves a real void in our daily life, but also forces us to question the very sense of our life, since it compels us to admit that our life is heading towards its end. Our children leave to start a new life.  What about us?  We already have our work, we have built our life, but what’s in store for us? Old age, what a delightful prospect!

Professional changes can also plunge us into this vacuum:  the new boss is not as supportive as his predecessor; we think he doesn’t behave as a good boss should.  This in turn makes us wonder about our own position within the new organization, our responsibility or, perhaps, even our sense of helplessness…


3/ Sadness

If we yield to anxiety and the vacuum it engenders, and take time to identify it, we will very likely experience another feeling: sadness. This feeling is probably more baffling and difficult to accept, yet it is quite normal that the departure of a child or of a boss we liked should cause sadness. Nowadays, however, very few people will confess that they are sad. The word “sadness” has apparently been banished from the vocabulary of the 21st century. At a time when everything moves very fast and everybody must not only fare well but show that he does, it is preferable to be overactive, over-busy and juggling dozens of commitments, even to be irritable…rather than admitting that we can be sad.


4/ What then? Self-renewal!

We attain self-renewal only by facing our sadness. We don’t need to bemoan our fate, or to treat our misfortunes with complacency. We must simply admit that we harbor this particular feeling, then face it so we can do away with it and head towards another phase of our private or professional life.  Only by living our feelings to the full, by accepting and recognizing them without sweeping them under the rug, will we be able to let bygones be bygones and start investing our energy in something else. It is sometimes difficult to anticipate the future. Yet a renewed future must emerge from a past that is definitely over. You must create a void before filling it. If, seized by anxiety, we leave no room for voids, how can we hope to renew ourselves?


I realize it is not easy: I myself have to admit that I have a hard time facing voids and trying to elude them, but lately I have learned to look at my moments of anxiety followed by sadness and this has had a positive impact both on my professional life and my relationships with others.  I hope that you will follow the same, positive path.

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