Last week we talked about my former client Janice, who had the terrible realization that she didn’t like who she was at work.
Through a values analysis, we came to see that Janice’s high need for certainty kept her in a job that didn’t support her core values. This self-betrayal pushed her into an Unhealthy Contractive state in which she felt miserable, reactive and stuck.
When your needs are not being met in positive ways and you fall out of alignment with your values, you experience an Unhealthy Contractive state.
Not all contractions are bad. There is such a thing as a Healthy Contractive state. In fact, it’s necessary to contract. If a balloon keeps expanding and expanding and expanding, it will eventually pop. We don’t want that for you.
Chef Albert Adria, was the creative director at elBulli, the most famous restaurant in the world. Though not as well-known as his brother, head chef Ferran Adria, Albert was equally responsible for elBulli’s success. Each season, Albert was charged with creating forty-five innovative, rule-breaking, thoroughly original, not to mention delicious dishes. Forty-five! And he did it. Year after year, season after season until eventually, he popped. He just couldn’t do it anymore.
Albert’s mind, his creativity and his passion for his work were completely depleted. And wisely, to save himself, he did the unthinkable. He quit the best restaurant in the world. And in doing so, he allowed himself to contract. After a time of rejuvenation, Albert re-entered an expansive state, this time on his own terms. Albert is now the creative force behind six restaurants. He calls his restaurant group elBarri, “A gastronomic amusement park with six differentiated concepts in the same neighborhood.” Pretty expansive sounding.
We’re meant to expand and contract. We breathe in and out. Our hearts pump. The warmth and growth of summer is followed by the cold and hibernation of winter. Expansion and contraction are a part of the natural order of things. And they’re a natural part of us.
True balance comes from managing our expansive and contractive cycles effectively.
So what’s a Healthy Contraction? Well, if you’re sick and you go to bed for a couple of days to drink ginger ale while binging on Netflix, well, that’s a healthy and necessary contraction. A beer with co-workers after a successful pitch meeting is a healthy contraction. A walk around the block after drama with your daughter is a healthy contraction, as is a week on a beach with a margarita and a John Grisham novel.
Healthy contraction is about relaxing, recovering and rejuvenating.
Healthy Expansion is about creating, growing and contributing. When we’re expansive, we focus on positive things, such as our values and purpose. We’re curious and eager. We want to help others. We use positive language both when speaking to ourselves and to others. Physically, we are relaxed and open with a strong core.
Think of a dancer. She can’t do a great pirouette if her shoulders are hunched up and her core muscles are disengaged. She’ll lose her balance and fall over. Her chest needs to be relaxed and open and her core needs to be strong.
Same for athletes. Relaxed, chest open, shoulders down, with a strong core ensures peak performance and minimizes injury.
Same for you. If you have an open heart and are honouring your strong core values, you’re going to expand. There will be more of you. If you have a closed heart and you’re ignoring your core values, well, you’ll contract.
Where we fall out of balance is when we get stuck in one state.
If you get stuck in expansion, you lose connection with yourself and burn out. You’re a popped balloon. If you get stuck in contraction, and this is by far the more common place to get stuck, you become anxious, afraid, self-obsessed, unhealthy and unhappy.
Either way, you're off balance.
So let’s get back to Janice.
Last week, we discovered that Janice’s high need for certainty was getting in the way of her living her core values. And this sent her into an unhealthy contractive state. And that led to, “I don’t like who I am at work.”
From her Unhealthy Contractive state, the best thing for Janice to do was to move into a Healthy Contractive state. One where she could recover from her negative working experience and rejuvenate her curiosity and creativity. From there, she could move back into an Expansive State, one that would allow her to reposition her career and personal life so she could be more aligned with her true self.
Like chef Albert Adrea, Janice quit her job. Talk about challenging your need for certainty! She did it, because she knew she couldn't continue as she was. She was no longer willing to betray herself. Janice took six months to travel, and journal and re-evaluate. And now she’s in the process or discovering what she really wants out of life. She's cocooning. You can learn more about that here.
So. Do you have to quit your job to enter a Healthy Contraction?
No. But you do have to give yourself the time and space to do the internal work required. Start with understanding your six human needs, how you prioritize them, and the healthy and unhealthy ways you choose to fulfill them. Then examine your core values, and where you’re living them, and where you’re betraying them.
Next time, we’ll talk about Purpose. And specifically, how to find yours.
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