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New year's deaths

"You can continue to drum, but you'll be deaf in 4 years time." That's what my audiologist said to me when I was 22 years old, and that single sentence turned my world upside down. What started as a light ringing in my ears when I was about 18 had now progressed to become a non stop symphony of ringing by the time I was 22, the audiologist had now diagnosed this ringing as a condition called "tinnitus", which in my case had developed from excessive exposure to loud noise. If I continued to play music, the ringing would get louder, and I would continue to lose more hearing until I was eventually deaf.

Up until that point in my life, I had crafted my world around music. That's who I was - Rob the drummer, Rob the musician. That's what I studied, that was my career, that was my passion. That's how my friends and family knew me, that's the capacity in which I felt capable, and that is the way I could contribute.

That single sentence from my audiologist changed all of that.

It was a death. The death of an identity I had been building for years, an identity I had become deeply attached to, and an identity that I couldn't separate from "me" at the time. I grieved hard. I looked upwards and screamed about how unfair life was. Why did this have to happen to me?

To pay the bills I got a job selling cell phones from a store in Paddington station in London. I needed to work, but now, rather than working in an industry I loved and had skills, I was being shouted at by customers because their roaming didn't work on their recent trip to Argentina. The fall from grace was epic.

In this new world, what I struggled with the most was the lack of alignment between who I thought I was, and my new lived experience. This misalignment created immense suffering for a long time. I continued to hold onto the story of who I was before the diagnosis – I didn't want to move on from that version of myself. I had put too much time and energy into that person to let him go and move on. And yet here I was, selling cell phones, angry at life for not giving me what I wanted.

As you can imagine, the net result was that I wheel spun for a long time. Not willing to let go of the old, I was unable to tap into what else might be waiting to emerge inside me, and that kept me stuck. When I finally let go of the old stories, I was a literal blank slate, full of new possibilities and not attached to any idea of who I should be - the ultimate space of creativity.

This is how most of us live our lives. Stuck in our stories, and unwilling to let them die. The prospect of death is too painful, so we'd rather cling to our known stories for dear life than let go and move into the unknown.

It's the start of the year, and it's tempting to focus on the new. What new habits do we want to form this year? What new year's resolutions will we make for the year ahead to live happier, healthier lives? These resolutions are all good and well, but I believe the precondition to step into the new is that we let go of the old. This is a death of the known, and it's scary as hell.

Our culture doesn't celebrate our grand death. We avoid it as much as possible, trying to pretend it doesn't exist. This mindset spills over into the myriad of mini deaths that need to happen in our lives in order for the new to emerge. So we resist.

Death happens quite naturally when we stop resisting. It's actually much less energy than holding on to our old stories, but it's way scarier. When we finally stop clinging, we can let go of the outdated ways of being which are no longer serving us. Bravery is required, some level of faith or belief in our own capacity is required, but when we let go, it's actually pretty easy. It’s as natural as death.

This year, rather than focusing on the new and shiny things you want to call forth, you might first ask what can be let go? What are you holding onto which no longer has a place in your life? Do you tell yourself a story that you are shy? Don’t be so sure that this is anything more than a story you’ve told yourself so many times that you’ve actually started to live it. Do you tell yourself a story that you are bad with money? Don’t like exercise? Don’t like public speaking?

This year, let's allow space for endings that are necessary for new beginnings.


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