Contraction and expansion: Sometimes you have to get smaller before you get bigger
So… I’m launching a book. From my bedroom. Sigh.
I had high hopes for what this season of my life would be. Back in late 2019, when I settled on September 29th as the date my book would be launched into the world, I was imagining myself heading out on an extensive trip, connecting with my friends and readers around the world. I wanted to fly to Australia, New Zealand, and the Netherlands to spend time with the many people I’ve met there in the last few years, people who helped me shape the ideas in the book. I even contemplated getting a camper van and setting out for a long road trip, crisscrossing North America.
Back then I thought the timing was PERFECT – my youngest daughter would have graduated from high school, likely one or two of my daughters would have moved out, and I would be much less needed on the homefront. I could go away for more extended periods than I have in the past.
But, alas. COVID-19 hit. And here I am, at home, spending endless hours on Zoom instead of hugging the people I want to hug and passing my book from my hand to theirs.
Not only am I stuck at home, but all three of my daughters are here too. This year, all four of us will be working or studying from home (even though one is going to university halfway across the country). Our house isn’t very big! We’re having to get creative about finding spaces for everyone to work. (If you follow me on social media, you might have seen the desks I built for them.) We’re hoping we still like each other in a year.
I’ve been feeling some grief about the loss of my book tour. At first, the grief simply felt like inertia – I just couldn’t motivate myself to plan a book launch on Zoom when I’ve already spent more time on Zoom this year than most people will do in a lifetime. And then I recognized it for what it was – grief.
I had to process that grief, and one of the ways I did that was to get out my power tools, buy some wood, and build things.
Something occurred to me while I was building… Sometimes you have to get smaller before you get bigger. Sometimes you have to contract before you expand.
I was reminded of the time, almost exactly eight years ago, just before my mom died. It was August and I’d flown to Ontario to co-host a fairly large gathering. I was excited about the opportunity and it felt like it was the beginning of bigger and bigger work for me. I was ready for my work to grow and my circles to expand. Then, like now, the timing felt perfect for expansion.
But then, while I was in Ontario preparing for the event, I got a call from Mom. She’d seen her oncologist. The cancer was back and was too far progressed for any more treatment. The best she could hope for would be six months to a year of life.
At that gathering, it was suddenly clear that, though I was ready for expansion, what would be needed instead would be contraction. Instead of hosting bigger circles, I would need to spend the next few months in a very small circle – sitting with my mom in her last days of life.
That’s exactly how it turned out. For the next three months, my work nearly ground to a halt. I was still teaching a class at university, but other than that, my business was barely growing. Instead, I spent much more time than usual with mom. Yes, there was a part of me that was resentful over that fact, but I was also glad I had the flexibility to pivot and turn my focus toward her. I will never regret the time I spent with her and with my siblings, especially in those final days of her life.
It took some time, after that, to regroup and to refocus on the expansion I’d been hoping for earlier. For the next two years, I plodded along, growing slowly and learning what I needed to learn from grief (it’s always been one of my greatest teachers). And then, two years after Mom died, I wrote the blog post about holding space at her deathbed, and…. BAM… suddenly the expansion I’d let go of two years earlier came barreling toward me faster than I could have dreamed it would. Suddenly my inbox was exploding and my work was growing exponentially. Over the next couple of years, I built the original program that has evolved into the Holding Space Foundation Program (a program that has sold out all five times it’s been offered). Plus I got to teach in Australia (three times), New Zealand (twice), the Netherlands (three times), Costa Rica, and all over North America. It was more than I’d hoped for back when I was in Ontario ready to co-host that gathering.
And the lesson in that is… sometimes you have to get smaller before you get bigger. Sometimes you have to contract before you expand. Sometimes – despite your readiness to rush into the next big thing – the work has its own timing and it asks you to slow down, to wait, to spend time in reflection, to learn a few more critical things, and to accept a pace that you’ll only have the capacity to understand in retrospect and not in that moment.
I don’t know why this is happening again – that I’m now needing to contract back into my own home, into a small circle with my three daughters. I don’t really need to know the meaning of it (or even if there IS a meaning in it). I simply need to do the next right thing, the thing that’s in front of me to do. For now, that will include more Zoom calls. It will also include more conversations with my daughters before they leave the nest (like the ones that helped birth the course on How to Hold Space for Difficult Conversations in Your Family) and more quiet time for writing and reflection. There will be time for learning new things that likely couldn’t be learned if I were traveling for days on end.
Perhaps there will be expansion in the future. Perhaps, though my personal life feels contracted, the book will have its own expansion, traveling all over the globe and sitting with people as a sort of surrogate for me. And maybe that’s good enough for now. Maybe, in fact, it will give people time to read the book and let it gestate before we come together again.
I am open to what will come. I am open to discovering what magic is possible through the power of the internet. I am open to waiting until COVID-19 no longer keeps us contracted and we’ll all get to experience a return to in-person circles and real hugs again. Imagine what that will be like!
I have passed through the grief that was with me for the last few weeks and now I am beginning to dream again. I am dreaming about what a virtual book tour will look like. Perhaps I can still sit (virtually) in some of the circles I’d hoped would be possible, and maybe even in MORE countries than I’d first imagined. Perhaps I can pop into book club gatherings in South Africa or Singapore or Iran. Perhaps I can visit schools or speak at conferences in Brazil or Bangladesh. Who knows what’s possible?!
I wonder, dear reader, if you’ll begin to dream with me? Would you like to invite me to wherever you are, to sit with whoever you’ve gathered, to talk about what’s on the pages of my book? Please reach out with an invitation and we’ll see what’s possible from the contracted space of my own home. And then, maybe next year, I’ll travel the miles to give you that in-person hug.
P.S. Want to join me for the virtual book launch? Sign up here. Also… order the book here.