What is the process for getting to zero? What does getting to zero even mean? Let’s call zero the point of self-determination. Reaching the point of self-determination may not sound important to you now, especially if you’re young, but as more and more of my friends reach their late 50s I see them shift.
I’d describe the shift as a change in focus that comes with a desire to make a contribution to the community and an impatience for the senseless. It’s a time to repeat the question, what am I going to do with my life, but from a very different point of view than that of a teenager.
At a later age, the answer to this question must align with our inner truth or it causes distress, anxiety, and activity I can best describe as flailing about. This struggle is often identified as a midlife crisis. Getting to zero early can result in a more satisfying life and prevent a state of crisis in midlife.
Why do so few of us confidently follow a path of self-determination throughout adulthood? There are many ways to get distracted by everyday necessities. We spend time doing what’s needed by our parents, children, bosses, colleagues, teammates, and friends to the degree that if feels as if there’s no time to get to zero.
Sometimes this is by subconscious design. If we reach the point of self-determination, we must then make choices. Many of us have learned to fear making choices.
Choices come with inherent accountability. If we become accountable for our own destiny, we cannot blame others for our failed plans, foibles, miscalculations, distractions, delays, or regrets. We must embrace our uncertainty, roll the dice, and do the best we can with the information we have at the time.
Sometimes we’ll choose well. Sometimes we’ll wish we had known more before we made a choice. If we have courage, we’ll be willing to learn from each experience and do better in the future.
This is the process of showing up and living with intent. It puts us at risk of living with our own decisions and any resulting guilt or shame. To do this takes resolve, courage, and strength. It also makes us feel vulnerable.
I don’t know if it’s due to our diminishing sense of community, shrinking churches, the rise of social media bullying, or aggrandization of the shallow, but we seem to have lost the connection to our core strength, our moral substance, our character. I say this collectively because it feels like a cultural shift.
I know there are individuals of great courage and character in every community. They just seem harder to find. They’re not the media sensations the badly behaved have become.
The relevant point is that you may feel alone when you begin down a vulnerable path. That doesn’t mean you won’t find support or mentoring along the way. It just means that if you wait for support to show up before you begin to live intentionally, you may never get started.
You can live a whole life of going along to get along. This will limit the positive impact you can have on your health, in your relationships, in your friends’ lives, in your neighborhood, and on the community. You simply can’t be an agent for growth, improvement, innovation, advancement, reform, or progress by going along.
Build Internal Strength
A step toward getting to zero is to build internal strength and faith in that strength. How you build strength will be an individual journey.
Begin by finding an avenue that builds your sense of having something to offer the world. Some will rely on religious faith. Some will find grit and resilience by drawing on stories of their ancestors. Some will connect to themselves through collective experiences they find in books. Some will find a community that recognizes, acknowledges, and reinforces their value.
Evaluate How You Spend Your Time
Part of living with self-determination is deciding how you will spend your time. That decision can’t be made until you know how you’re currently spending your time.
One way to get a handle on this is to keep a timesheet. I know you probably think you can just wing this, but keep track in writing for a couple of weeks and you may be surprised.
Once you see where your time is going, you can determine whether that time allotment reflects who you want to be and how you want to live your life and/or what you want for your family. Anything that is not in alignment with your values can go.
No, really…it can go. That’s such a scary idea! We find comfort and security in the routines we create. And we know our friends and family may grumble with any changes. Kindness, consideration, understanding, compassion, and sometimes concessions are important during big shifts. Nonetheless, grumbling itself should not throw you off course.
A balanced mix of work, family, self, and community leads to a feeling of meaning and contribution. If any area gets out of balance, it prevents us from being our best selves or making our greatest potential contribution.
Even self-care can be allotted too much time. I’m not saying self-care is bad. It is essential, but if most of your energy is directed toward yourself, your impact on the world will be limited.
Appropriate Time for Stillness
Once you’ve set aside activities that do not align with your values and intentions, fill some of the holes in your schedule with stillness. Breathing techniques, meditation, or somatic experiencing may help you find an avenue to stillness or they may not be available to you until you have already mastered it.
How you get there and how quickly you get there are not important, getting there is. Without stillness, it is impossible to know yourself.
Know What You Know
Once you’re internally strong and have made time for and embraced stillness, you must be willing to know what you know. This is the most difficult emotional task I’ve ever tackled. It is an unraveling of the stories we tell ourselves in order to deal with the world we have experienced.
We are all remarkably adaptable. When we are forced to endure difficult, stressful, or traumatic events early in life without adequate emotional support, we create stories that allow us to survive but do not necessarily reflect the truth of our experience.
A small child cannot bear the idea that her mother watches her boyfriend beat her because the mother values the boyfriend more than the child. Even reading that, you may excuse the mother’s behavior to some degree by reasoning that she’s probably afraid of the boyfriend. Unfortunately, she may not be afraid at all.
The mother is not afraid and she does not intervene. Ouch! That is a truth that feels unbearable, mind boggling, unreasonable, and wrong. And yet, it is the truth that her child knows on a very deep level and, simultaneously, actively avoids knowing in order to feel loved.
Being willing to know what you know means both seeing and accepting cruelty as cruelty, humiliation as humiliation, neglect as neglect, verbal abuse as verbal abuse, manipulation as manipulation, and violence as violence. Knowing what you know can change your life because it changes your story.
Knowing what you know frees you from the fiction that prevents you from making the specific choices that will serve you best, but it is not easy. Our story defines how we view ourselves. Changing that story can feel like losing our identity. But a story isn’t who you are and it can be rewritten. In this rewriting lies freedom, meaning, and redemption.
You have the power to write your own story. You just have to get to zero.