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Creating Space

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.” —Viktor Frankl*

If you wrote this quote as a formula, it might look like this: S( )R.

I didn’t grow up with any understanding or even awareness of this space. I grew up with the R starting before the S was even done. Something happened, someone did or said something, and I’d come out swinging or fearing or worrying or apologizing.

No space. No choosing a response. Hell, not even the parentheses. Just responding in a way that led to more stacked stimuli and responses. There was very little growth and very little freedom.

The very first time I became aware of the potential for that space was when I got sober. My sobriety birthday is May 12—I’ll have 26 years this year.

For me, the gift and superpower of sobriety is being able to pry open that space. Over the years, the parentheses between stimulus and response slowly came into focus. It looked a little like this: S()R.

Sobriety gave me the strength and focus to pry open the parentheses just enough to stick my foot in. While I wasn’t actually wrestling with parentheses, I was emotionally wrestling to create space.

I try to keep that space wedged open with my sobriety, sleep, prayer, working out, practicing curiosity, therapy, and intentional breathing—to name a few. This effort to create space is probably why our team lovingly refers to our podcasts as pause-casts. I stop now and take a breath before I ask or answer a question. It’s awkward, but it’s life-giving.

They call it the sacred pause in Buddhism, and it is core to my well-being. The quote at the top of this page has become the source code for my life.

The past couple of years have been hard—personally and professionally—and I’ve found that space closing in on itself again. My responses have started sliding too close to the stimuli. I’m tired, and the pause is suffering. I can’t let that happen to me or to our organization. We need breath and space.

To reinvest in that space, I’ve decided to take a sabbatical this summer. I’ve never done it before, and just the thought of taking off 14 weeks is anxiety-producing for someone who can struggle to take a week off.

And, to make sure we have a critical mass of restorative time in our organization, we’re closing the offices every Friday for paid time off, and everyone in the organization has been asked to take four weeks of paid vacation time this summer, in addition to their normal vacation time.

To make this work across our organization, we are going dark on social media effective today. We are also going on a podcast hiatus over the summer. We will be back on social and return to podcasting again after Labor Day.

There are three more don’t-miss podcasts hitting the airwaves in the next two weeks. And I’ve got one event, on Ted Lasso–style kindness, that’s been on the books for a year.

In one of the best speeches I’ve ever heard, actress, screenwriter, director, and producer Michaela Coel said, “Do not be afraid to disappear, from it, from us, for a while and see what comes to you in the silence.” I’m a big fan of silence. I can’t wait!

We set audacious goals in our organization—like “Start global conversations about shame and vulnerability”—but this might be our boldest move yet.

We’ll be back this fall. Rested and ready for our next audacious goal.

*P.S. Very tricky attribution on the stimulus/response quote. It’s often attributed to Stephen Covey, but he’s on the record explaining that he read it in a book while on vacation in Hawaii and was not able to find the book or attribution again. It’s very in line with Viktor Frankl’s work, but it’s not verbatim in any of his published books. It’s possibly Rollo May or B.F. Skinner. No one knows for sure, but I’m going with Viktor Frankl.

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