Wisdom//

How I Gave Myself Permission to Slow Down

Insights on the transition process

Panya Kuanun / EyeEm/ Getty Images
Panya Kuanun / EyeEm/ Getty Images

Suddenly, I felt present. 

Here I was, looking in the mirror at this radiant woman, with a smile, with tenderness and with love. I shook my head and felt so light. My shoulders were back and there was so much space! My face was clear, open, happy. 

“Isn’t it amazing how much lighter you feel after a haircut?” I asked the hairdresser. 

The corners of his mouth lifted: “Both literally and metaphorically”, he replied.

And that’s when I knew I was back. We really need to do a better job of accepting that sometimes, the only way out, is in. And I say “We” because I know that I’m not the only one who finds it hard to do this. If you are reading this, you are most probably someone for whom slowing down means taking a walk while listening to a podcast and making a couple of work calls!

Some of you may know the feeling I’m about to describe:

It’s an unfamiliar sense of nothingness and it’s undoubtedly the beginning of a powerful shift, but you don’t know that yet. All you know is that something is off – that you are not aligned with yourself and that something has to change but WHAT? You know that you need to sit with this feeling but you can’t. How could you just sit around and let things be? You need to fight and DO! So, you ignore the call and you keep going… You keep doing the same things that don’t work, you keep feeling misaligned and you keep getting more miserable in the process. You keep spiraling down because you don’t know what else to do. You haven’t been programed to stop or slow down and you can’t stand the idea of not doing anything at all. Eventually, you might realize that you need to focus on yourself and take some time out and you probably make excuses and find reasons why you absolutely cannot do that. 

Rings a bell?

In many traditional societies, rite of passage rituals mark the transition between one period of life and another – for example from boyhood to manhood or girlhood to womanhood. They often begin with a symbolic death and a period of disorientation, of exploring the unknown, of loss of the old identity to make space for the new. Elders teach those about to embark on this journey how to deal with it. When the person has gone through the rite of passage ritual, they begin anew, ready for their new role.


In the west, we have forgotten to allow ourselves this moment of surrendering to the unknown, of getting lost. Instead, it’s seen as selfish or unproductive to take a break… Let’s change this. Let’s take a break.

In order for a transition to truly take place, it is absolutely necessary that we “shed” our old identity or identities to make space for the new. For example, I needed to let go of being an educator to truly step into my power as a coach. At work, one might have to let go of being a team member to truly become a leader, in personal life, one may have to let go of their identity as a son or daughter to truly become an adult and gain independence… Whatever the transition might be, it always starts with an ending of sorts.

And with this ending, comes a period of mourning, of letting go. Often, although we might be scared of letting go, we know it’s the right thing to do to move forward and self-actualize. We WANT to change and become the wonderful new person we want to become… but before we can awaken as the pretty butterfly who brings joy to all those who see it, the bad news is, we have to spend some time inside the cocoon… Alone. And it’s dark and it’s cold and it’s empty in there. And that’s what we’re scared of. We’re afraid of going in.

Today, I want to encourage you to go there. I want to give you permission to do it. Let yourself be.

Let those who care about you know that in order to get out, you need to go in. Announce it to the world – to YOUR world, and make something of it. Not only will it help you to own your need for silence and give you the permission to let go, but it will also bring understanding to those around you, allowing them to give you the space and support one needs in times of vulnerability. 

As a transformational coach, the best thing I can do for my clients is to give them my presence, without judgment, or an agenda. It’s all about allowing each person the space to express their thoughts out loud, organize them and process so they can make sense of what is happening. During my quiet time, my coaches (I work with several!) never pushed me to take action, instead, they simply created the space I needed to reflect. I say this as reinforcement for the need to let those around you know that you must have your own quiet time so they are not tempted to give you advice and tell you that you really should do this or that… Only YOU know what you need. Tell people, and most of the time, they will give it to you. 

William Bridges, in his book “Transitions: Making Sense of Life Changes” gives 3 reasons for the need for this time of emptiness which he calls “The Neutral Zone”.

1- It’s a death and rebirth process. 

2- The process of disintegration and reintegration is the source of renewal.

3 – It provides perspective on the stages themselves.

I will let you make sense of this for yourself.

Here is what I take from my own experience:

  • Be kind to yourself and surrender. 
  • Stay with it. It’s tough, it’s uncomfortable, it’s necessary. 
  • Cry, release, let go and stay free of judgment. 
  • When you’re ready, get your hair cut.

When I walked away from the mirror, at the hair salon, I kept looking back. I could not believe that just like that, because I had surrendered for a few months, I had now been able to break the cocoon and was free to fly.

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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