Earlier this year I attended a course with the Academy for Coaching Excellence, where I learned that everyone has a basic assumption, or fundamental misapprehension, that rears its ugly head whenever we move toward our goals and dreams or venture into the new. It is a core belief formed early in life that repeats like a bad sitcom plot, keeping us trapped in a certain way of seeing ourselves and the world around us, resulting in a self-fulfilling prophecy. Examples of basic assumptions include: I can’t, there is something wrong with me, and life is hard.
My basic assumption was obvious to everyone but me, though when they said it, I immediately recognized it as mine:
This isn’t it.
Before my brain could comprehend it, I knew it by the sinking feeling activated inside me. It was that familiar and nagging sense of disappointment that life wasn’t going the way I wanted it to, like I was missing out on something better — the “it.”
For me, the “it” in “this isn’t it” represented a time and place when the ground would stop shaking beneath me, when the pace of change would slow, and I would arrive at a destination where there was no gap between what I wanted and what I had. It was like I saw life as a ladder to climb, where eventually I would reach the top floor and rest in joy, knowing I had made it. I could kick off my shoes, sip martinis, and eat vegan bonbons until it was time to go.
All of my reaching, striving, and craving suddenly made sense. That longing and hunger had brought many wonderful things into my life but they never delivered the feelings of fulfillment and contentment I expected, at least not for long. Every time I thought I had finally attained “it” in life, happiness would eventually give way to dissatisfaction, boredom, or constriction. My basic assumption would creep back in with a sigh, starting the cycle anew with the added sense that I was screwing up.
If this wasn’t it, the real “it” must still be out there behind the prize door I hadn’t picked.
It was no wonder I wasn’t really happy. I was chasing something that didn’t exist — an end to an endless journey.
The fear that ruled it all
Behind every basic assumption is a fear. I knew that to get out from underneath this limiting belief and the lingering disappointment that came with it, I would need to understand where it came from. This is not to say I needed to trace it back to a particular childhood memory or point of origin, but I did need to know what I was really afraid of.
My young life had been plagued by anxiety. Though I believed myself to be mostly cured, there was still something within me that disliked the uncertain and unknown, which drove me to search for stable ground and cling to it, even as my intuition nudged me to move along. Throughout my life, I tried to find security and safety in relationships, jobs, routines, and places. I sought to create certainty for myself by controlling whatever had the appearance of being able to be controlled.
At the root of my anxiety (and much of human suffering) was a belief in my own powerlessness to choose what happens in my life. All wrapped up in that belief were fears that others would mess things up for me, outside circumstances would conspire against me, or I would unwittingly self-sabotage. I was terrified of arriving at the end of my life and confronting a devastating regret that I had failed myself and missed out on the life I was supposed to live. I didn’t want my last words to be a frail utterance of “that wasn’t it.”
The irony is that I have often leapt into the unknown, seeking change. I dropped out of college to tramp around the west with only a backpack. I moved to Finland and faced the challenge of acclimating to a foreign society. I have quit jobs, left relationships, and ventured off on road trips without knowing where I was going. To the outside person it might seem like I have a love affair with change. They wouldn’t necessarily be wrong.
But what was the appeal of change to me? Is it possible that change was what I did when I had a major “this isn’t it” moment? Was change my way of trying to escape disappointment by rushing to the next thing that might be “it?” Similarly, when I took action and left something behind, did I feel more in control? Was there a comfort in making my own decisions and taking charge of my life to feel like no one else could?
I think the answer to those questions is yes.
My fear was not so much of change but of that change not producing the outcomes and feelings that drove the desire for it.
I was always looking for that final destination of perpetual bliss but could never shake the fear that I lacked the power and ability to manifest it for myself. In that fear, I had given away authority over my life.
A new orientation
The coaching course taught that our basic assumption is our greatest life lesson, the thing we came here to master. For me, mastering this lesson came through realizing that I was fighting against the fundamental nature of existence and misunderstanding the purpose of my life. It was like I was going through life turning a knob when I needed to push a button. No wonder it never seemed to work out quite right, like joy was always a little out of reach.
The greatest lesson I could learn was to truly find joy and satisfaction in the journey. It was realizing that I came here to have a diversity of experiences and explore different paths as a way to more fully experience all of who I am.
The point of my life wasn’t to achieve a certain “it,” but to realize that ALL OF THIS is it.
The messiness, discomfort, and longing, as well as the wonder, excitement, and joy. The struggles and setbacks, as well as the triumphs and thrills. Getting upset and dismayed at the very experience I came here to have just doesn’t make sense.
Once I embraced that there is no goal line and no end game, it relieved a lot of pressure I had put on myself. I accepted that my wanting and longing will never cease because it is not supposed to. We evolve individually and as a species by dreaming new things for ourselves and expanding into new territory. We are supported in this with every moment providing an opportunity to create something new. Why would I rob myself of that creative pleasure by worrying about what hasn’t shown up yet or trying to control the uncontrollable? Isn’t it more fun to enjoy the process?
When I find value in all points on the path, especially those points when I am wanting what I don’t yet have, and trust that I can create tomorrow the same way I created today, the fear starts to fall away. When I believe I am worthy of all that I want and capable of drawing it to me, I take my power back. When I see life as a giant playground where I can explore and experiment without limit, I stop wanting things to settle and stand still. Instead, I get excited about all that I can do and delight in the mystery of it all.
Shifting my basic assumption from “this isn’t it” to “all of this is it” gave rise to a new way of participating in my life and appreciating what comes. My gaze is no longer on what I thought was missing but what I want to create and experience each day for its own sake. I remind myself that I can choose to be happy and fulfilled. Why would I choose anything else?
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