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When you’re restless, like something’s missing or not quite right in life

What’s really going on? Three possible underlying causes of that restless-in-life feeling.

Now here’s a curious feeling. I’ve heard it described like this:

“Something’s not quite right, I’m not sure what – it’s hard to place. It’s like I’m not in control. Things have kind of plateaued. Life’s OK. I’m just not ‘happy’ with the way things are and the direction life’s heading.”

The word that comes to mind is restless

You could very well be driven and independent, comfortable in your own lane, career or business. Maybe you’re quietly confident in your abilities too.

Yet there’s a lingering, yearning, underlying desire for difference or change.

Perhaps that in itself irks you?

If life’s OK, why moan? That’d be ungrateful. So perhaps we’re up against shame here too.

I feel you.

And I’ve dwelled thereabouts several times, amidst life’s natural junctures. 

So here’s my attempt at exploring what might really be going on, with three possible underlying causes of restlessness.

You’re coming of age

Something symbolic (genetic?) happens when we move between significant epochs in our life. I’m talking age 30/40/50. 

It’s not like you turn middle-age one day and everything goes to shit all at once (well it kind of does physically – stuff drops).

It’s more like gradual awakening(s). 

Chemistry plays tricks on us. Likewise with social cues. Our priorities change as we wrestle with time’s inexorable march, and let go of/cling on to ambitions.

My 30s shift began at age 28 and lingered until 32-ish. I soon left the barren grey plains of corporate 9-to-5, via breakdown, for freelance freedom. The 40s shift was similar, albeit deeper, starting earlier, say 37 when I felt disillusioned, went mad in a basement, then reemerged as the coach I am now.

What I think I’m saying is it’s all perfectly natural. 

Yet coming of age can sneak up and ambush you, especially if you’re not aware of what’s going on, in that wondrous fleshy machine of yours.

So I suppose the question is: what significant periods of life are you moving between? Where might priorities be shifting? How is it happening: to you or by you?

That reminds me to treat myself like a ‘meat pet’ 

We inhabit these fallible, credulous, fragile sacks of meat (our bodies). And we’re only cognisant of the thin foam brothing atop our murky subconscious beneath. 

You’re complex.

In layman’s terms, I wonder how essential it is to give ourselves time and space to work things through, to bring our frail meat-sacks along gently and respectfully. Because it increasingly feels like my body has a mind all of its own…

I’m still working on that anyway. How about you?

You’re plateauing

To borrow more paraphrasing from my coaching clients:

“It’s as if I’ve played by the rules, done what’s expected of me and it’s got me this far, which I’m sort of grateful for. But it’s like the old ways aren’t working very well any more. It doesn’t feel like I’m ‘getting on’ like I wish I was.”

The word ‘expectations’ jumps out here

Few of us are aware of, let alone escape, the expectations we absorb from people around us. We’re talking norms, values, prejudices and pressures – about success and how to live our lives. Aka work, debt, breed, die.

Then there’s comparison with others: dirty yet inevitable. We measure where others are up to. We crave better for ourselves and our loved ones. Then give ourselves a hard time for falling short.

So if I may, I invite you to ponder these questions: what does ‘getting on’ really mean? What rules or expectations have you absorbed unquestioningly, and which would you rewrite if you could?

Undoubtable hell

Tenuous perhaps, but I’m reminded of Gyles Brandreth’s reflections on WW2, and how some reminisce fondly upon it as a golden era for the UK, despite folk having bombs literally dropped on their heads (by nazis). 

He argues that while life was undoubtedly hell, people felt challenged and (if fortunate enough) alive. They had purpose and intention in life, and their capacity for adapting and prevailing was constantly tested.

I wouldn’t advocate moving to the embattled Ukraine anytime soon. Or nazi bomb parties. But I do ask what other, healthier (and sane) ways are there for you to feel challenged, alive and purposeful? 

On your terms, as opposed to anyone else’s, of course.

You’re not in control

As a teen with exams to pass, I convinced myself I had to touch surfaces with all 10 fingers or my family would die. 

Dark.

I now realise this was probably OCD – a very natural quirk of the human mind as it desperately attempts to manage uncertainty, and our unknowable future.

You needn’t list OCD as a nocturnal hobby to identify with poor, spotty 90s Chris. Could your present restlessness, lingering sense of dissatisfaction, frustration even at times, quite possibly be a similar reaction to control or lack of it?

Buddhists reckon attachment, and wanting things to be any other way than how they are is the root of all human suffering. At some level, maybe you’re suffering like this in your own way. You’re not out of control, yet perhaps you crave a better grip on where life’s going?

Which is relatable. 

We all expect some level of control in our lives, and we often believe that more is better – the antidote to uncertainty.

A different (philosophical?) look at this

What do ‘agency’ and ‘influence’ mean to you?

I take agency to be the power to take action in life. And taking action affords us influence on its course. 

So I’m curious: how would life be different if you explored agency and influence (rather than control)? What would it take to notice yourself (especially in predicaments like the one you’re in now) and make new or different choices when it comes to action?

There’s also something in here about being smart enough to accept life doesn’t always go your way. I believe that about you. Do you? 

I hope you’re still with me here… 

So should there be any truth in my philosophical whimsy… is control really what’s going on here? Or is there something about adapting and coping in tricky situations, with greater awareness and choice? 

Because I strongly suspect you’re also BRILLIANT at all that too. You already reached this ripe age, didn’t you?

Maybe it’s case of where we focus our dwindling attention…

What do you really want? By that I mean your secret plan, the one not getting the attention it deserves. Tell me: what’s the big adventure, project or idea you’ve got on the back burner?

In my humble experience a) everyone has at least one and b) it often links many reasons why you feel restless.

And if you did make ‘that thing’ more of a priority, how far would it go towards unlocking what’s missing or not quite right in life?


Would you enjoy being poked?

If any of this landed, you might like my daily challenge to help folk like us play with intuition, and trust ourselves to cope, adapt and thrive in the moment. 

Its working title is Micro Pokes, and it’s presently a work-in-progress. You can find out more and get invited when it’s ready here.

By Chris Kenworthy | Life coach

Maybe you'd like some space with someone who gets you? Space to work things out. So you feel freer, and more inspired to make progress on whatever matters most.

I help people like you tap into your natural, resourceful brilliance.

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