Caught Between The Past and The Future

It’s uncomfortable, being “in between”.

And I seem to have a lot of in between in my life right now.  In some ways I dislike this state, yet I also understand that it is necessary to pass through an in between state to evolve and grow.

For context, here’s what in between consists of for me right now:

  • Work – for 35 years, I got up in the morning and went to work. For one year, I got up and went to work half time.  Now I get up and I don’t go to work.  I have a coaching practice that is emerging quite nicely, but in some way I don’t feel like I’m quite “there” yet.  There’s something that needs to be settled into.
  • Physical location – I don’t know where I live anymore. We still have our house in Calgary, but since April I’ve been there for a total of five weeks.  The rest of the time we are renting a furnished condominium on Vancouver Island that is lovely but somehow feels like living in someone else’s space.  Some of our stuff is at the house, some is at the condo, and some is packed up in storage. That’s because …
  • Our Dream – we’re trying to build a new house. I say trying because we haven’t been able to start.  There has been a series of set-backs and challenges that couldn’t be anticipated. So by now we expected to be fully immersed in a project and in fact getting close to the end, but we continue to be on hold and not knowing when we can even start (let’s just say that I never expected to hire an archaeologist at any point in my life, but that’s another story).
  • Relationships – with all of this going on, we are moving away from many of our long-standing relationships including family and friends. While this doesn’t mean those relationships end, they certainly change and lose the familiarity of closeness.  At the same time, we don’t feel fully immersed in our new community yet, so there’s an odd feeling of not belonging anywhere.

I’d propose that the definition of being in between is that one has let go of a previous state and is moving towards a new state, but not yet there and therefore not knowing what it will be like.  I have frequently used the analogy of a trapeze artist holding on to one swing, knowing that he must let go of that swing to grab the one swinging towards him.  I’ve never done that, but I imagine that the short period in between is both unnerving and exhilarating.

The problem with that analogy is that in real life, in between lasts longer than a fraction of a second, perhaps months or years.  In such a long period, the exhilaration can easily get lost.  I have to constantly remind myself that this situation is of my choosing:  I chose to leave my primary career; we chose to build our retirement home on Vancouver Island; we chose to divide our lives between two places; I willingly chose to be in between.

The net of it is that I’ve learned that there are two big strategies that are effective for me in dealing with being in between.

Focus on the Present

“There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called Yesterday and the other is called Tomorrow. Today is the right day to Love, Believe, Do and mostly Live.” – Dalai Lama XIV

It is so true that one can get caught up in the nostalgia of how life used to be, or being impatient for the future state to arrive.  Going back to the way it was means throwing away my dreams.  Wishing for the future to arrive now is a waste of energy, and even if I could do that, it would be crazy to throw away all of the times and events I will experience between now and then.  The only possible answer is to focus on now.

What can I do now that will move me forward towards my desired future state? There is often something one can be doing in that regard.  In our case, we can look at the delay in our building project as extra time to invest in our design decisions, spending more time making sure we get what we want.  We can use the time to declutter and stage our house in Calgary, making the final move much easier.  We can be much more flexible with where we spend our time, making sure we continue to invest in our current relationships while also exploring new possibilities on Vancouver Island.

The biggest challenge comes when there is nothing that can be done now, or at least nothing that makes sense to do now.  It becomes far too easy to get lost in the in between space, unfocused and uncentered, wasting time on the Internet, watching TV, etc.  That’s when it is time to move on to the second strategy.

Pursue Happiness

This is a strategy for the present as well, because when I have nothing that will move me through in between then I need to focus on being happy, which requires me to be present and centered. It isn’t as easy as it sounds, largely because it requires focusing on ourselves, and we have been conditioned to focus on everyone but ourselves.  Do we even know what it is that makes us happy? Here’s some approaches that work for me.

  1. Be Content – perhaps the first secret to being happy is letting go of being unhappy. I think of the absence of unhappiness as contentment. The angst associated with being in between can certainly cause unhappiness. I’ve tried to become better at the art of letting go of things we aren’t in control of.  There are likely many ways of going about this.  For me, I like to bring what is causing the angst to mind, breathe in deeply and then feel the all the negativity associated with it leave me as I exhale.
  2. Exercise – being healthy is the ultimate self-focus, and one that can’t be mistaken for being selfish. Nothing is more important either, yet we often neglect our health for the sake of other priorities – real or perceived.  Exercise not only improves our physical health, but our mental and emotional health also benefit.  When we are fit we are more resilient, and when we are doing the work to get fit we are present in the now.
  3. Pursue Something Meaningful – In her book, The Power of Meaning, Emily Esfahani Smith proposes that there are four pillars of meaning in life: purpose, belonging, storytelling and transcendence. I won’t go into this in detail, but each of us will have our own drivers of meaning (if you’re interested in learning more about yours try this quiz I think each of us has some of each of these pillars in us, but one or two that will drive a sense of meaning the most.  As you think about what your pillars might be, consider the key words in these four thoughts:
    • What do I long to create?
    • What do I long to contribute to my world?
    • What do I long to express to others?
    • What do I long to experience?

In the end, I can be thankful today for the delays in our project.  It has caused me to think about the nature of this state, and more importantly reminded me of my love of writing, this being my first blog post in six months.  I can go further and say if all of the challenges we’ve faced didn’t happen then I wouldn’t have met some really great people.

There is always time to create happiness and meaning in our lives, perhaps even more so when we are in between, if we can only be mindful and look for those things!  While we’re at it, let’s call it by its rightful name … the present! Let’s face it, aren’t we always in between in some way?


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Ian Munro @

Ian Munro is a leadership and vitality coach with a primary passion for working with senior professionals who wish to improve their connection to and vitality in their career, or who wish to make a transition to a meaningful and rewarding retirement. His methods are focused on helping clients understand why they present as they do in day-to-day life, discover their authentic self and give themselves permission to build a meaningful and rewarding future, both professional and personal. Ian’s love for this work has developed naturally as he built his career as an executive and leader in the IT services industry, serving in many roles and facets of this industry over 25 years. As he reached the pinnacle of his career he began to search more deeply for meaning and alternate rewards from his own career and to begin to plan for his own “first retirement”.

8 thoughts on “Caught Between The Past and The Future

  1. What great insight Ian. I really value your willingness to dig into what might be “in between”, and where it might lead. We also hope you’ll be home soon so we can get together, and catch up on everything.

  2. Thanks Ian, I’m just now getting around to reading your article and it resonates with me. Sorry I haven’t kept in touch as my being “in between” has put me in some interesting places (to say the least). Transition is the space to explore and reflect, which will prepare us for growth (as you mentioned). But we need to view transition as an opportunity versus something to be avoided. Thanks for your insight.

  3. Ah, yes! Life in transition lasting much longer than anticipated. I can relate to this SO much – living between two places – the hold-ups with building projects – the stuff packed away in boxes – feeling you cannot get started with connections in the new place yet already losing connections in the old – the feeling of not belonging anywhere. It can be a trying time. Although it can be difficult (as there is so much of the past & future “processes” to deal with) I like your approach of dealing in the present. It is, after all, where you actually are.
    I wish you the best with the building project. It will all be worth it in the end.

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