Should I Stay or Should I Walk Away? How to Discern When It’s Time to Leave with Emily P. Freeman

Episode Notes

How do you decide when it's time to leave a place or a relationship behind?

We have to make decisions all the time. Yet most of us struggle with it. It's hard to leave something (or someone) behind. It's also hard to give ourselves the time that we need to wrestle with a decision.

When you don't have a process, you might be tempted to avoid decision-making. Or you might rush too quickly into a decision that isn't quite right. That's why I'm thrilled to have this conversation with Emily P. Freeman this week. It's such a rich conversation about how to discern when it's time to walk away and what to do when it's time to enter into a new space.

Here's what we cover:

1. The truth about tiny red flags (11:29)

2. 4 crucial questions to ask yourself (13:40)

3. What to do with those 51/49 decisions (20:13)

4. Readiness vs. timeliness in decision making (21:30)

5. Emily's decision process for leaving a church (25:26)

6. How to walk into a new space (33:28)

7. A life-changing 2 word mantra for decision making (38:34)

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Alison Cook: Hey, everyone, and welcome back to this week's episode of The Best of You Podcast. I am so glad you're here this week, mid-March, as we inch our way toward spring and toward Easter. I want to thank you so much for how many of you went out and pre-ordered I Shouldn’t Feel This Way.

After we announced all of the pre order bonus items last week, it was really overwhelming to see your response and to see how many of you really want to read the book, and were even willing to purchase it early. I've so appreciated the notes you've been sending me, the DMs, the emails, the messages on my website. It really means a lot to me to know that so many of you actually have those first few chapters in your hand and are reading it. 

Please know that I see your messages and I appreciate hearing from you. It means the world to me that these words are resonating with you, perhaps more than any other book I've written. This one feels pretty vulnerable to me. For some reason, it really is.

It’s a framework I try to live my life by and try to bring into everything that I do. And to know that it's resonating with you really means so much to me. Again, if you pre-order I Shouldn’t Feel This Way anywhere books are sold, be sure to go to my website, Ishouldn'tfeelthisway.com and fill out the quick form on that website. 

You will automatically receive the first three chapters, a guided journal PDF, the looking tool PDF, so you can start reflecting on some of the challenges in your own life as well as access to a masterclass. It's coming up at the end of this month. We'll have more details about that to you very soon. 

And that leads me to today's interview. There's a lot of synergy between Emily P. Freeman's work and the work that I do. And this book that she's written called How to Walk into a Room: The Art of Knowing When to Stay and When to Walk Away is a beautiful guide to making hard decisions and Emily doesn't oversimplify that complicated process of making decisions.

That's one thing I really appreciate about her. She gets that it's complicated, that it's a nuanced process, but toward that end, she's trying to give us tools to help make it a little bit simpler, a little bit more practical as we go. 

And so I was so thrilled to have this conversation with Emily today. Emily P. Freeman is the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of five books, including The Next Right Thing: A Simple, Soulful Practice for Making Life Decisions. She's a spiritual director, workshop leader, and the host of The Next Right Thing podcast. Emily holds a master's degree in spiritual formation and leadership from Friends University, where she also serves as a residency lecturer for the graduate program in spiritual formation.

She lives in North Carolina with her family. I really appreciate the nuance and wisdom that Emily brings to everything that she does. Her brand new book, How to Walk into a Room: The Art of Knowing When to Stay and When to Walk Away, is out now so you can pick that up anywhere. Please enjoy my conversation with Emily P. Freeman.


All right, Emily, I am so glad to have you here on The Best of You Podcast. I have admired your work from afar. I love what you're doing in terms of helping people with decision making. It's so practical, but also you bring such a spirituality to it, such an honoring of the process of decision making to what you do on your own podcast, the Next Right Thing podcast.

And so when I saw that you had this new book coming out, How to Walk in a Room, I thought, oh, I want to talk to you about this because I know you are going to honor the discernment, the messiness, the complexity of these decisions of leaving, staying, and even sitting with something in the middle.

So thank you so much for being here.

Emily: Oh, I am so thrilled to be here with you today. I can't wait for this conversation.

Alison Cook: You start off the book and I thought this was so astute–I think it's Malcolm Gladwell's observation that it takes about 10,000 hours to become an expert. And if that is true, most of us should be experts at making a change, at saying a goodbye, at making a big decision to leave something.

And yet none of us feel like experts at that. Tell me a little bit about your own experience with starting over, with leaving, with goodbyes. You had a ton of it in your life and you share that in the book. And yet my sense is you didn't arrive at adulthood feeling like you were an expert at that process.

Emily: Oh, but if I would have, wouldn't that have been great? It's right. I think that 10,000 hours, well, there's a lot of conversation around that–is that really true? There's been some follow-up conversation where Malcolm Gladwell got that question regarding the 10,000 hours. 

I think it depends on how those hours were practiced and who the teacher was and what that practice actually looks like. And so I think about that in terms of decision making, especially when it comes to leaving beloved spaces or deciding to walk into new spaces–who will teach us how to say goodbye?

Who has taught us how to enter rooms as the people who we most fully are? We're stumbling forward into it. We're doing it all the time. But we've never really learned how to do it well, or how to do it without feeling like everything's falling apart. Or maybe we need someone to tell us that feeling like everything's falling apart is actually sometimes the path. Sometimes that is the only way to exit or enter and I'm longing for someone to normalize that. 

So that's really why I wanted to write this book, and in many ways I think the book is hopefully a beginning of a conversation; it will maybe be the first sentence of a longer conversation we can have about, what does it look like to enter spaces as the person who we most fully are? 

And what does it look like to say goodbye, when maybe there's no opportunity for closure? Or maybe it's a space that we actually didn't want to leave or thought we would be in forever. So these are the questions that I'm asking and hopefully beginning to answer.

Alison Cook: The fact that the feeling of awkwardness, all the disjointedness doesn't mean we're doing it wrong, it may well mean we're doing it right–that's one of the things you really show us in the book. That's part of the deal, is being willing to be a little bit uncomfortable with the process.

Tell me a little bit about this metaphor of the house that you use. I loved that. I thought that was a really powerful metaphor for what we're talking about here to anchor it.

Emily: I don't know how other writers do it without metaphor. Metaphor helps me so much when I imagine big concepts and things that are difficult or hard. It helps me to think about, in some ways, all of life is a house, and every room holds a story.

And we know that some rooms in life are exactly for us. And we love those rooms and they embrace us and we feel like ourselves in those rooms. And we know those rooms. Probably some have come to mind for you. There are other rooms that we enter into and one step in, you turn on the light, you're like, nope, not for me.

And we walk right out. These two extremes are not the rooms that give us trouble. The rooms where we have trouble are usually the ones where perhaps at one time, this room was a space where I felt like myself. But what do we do when a space where we belong begins to turn or change in such a way that we begin to question if we belong there anymore? 

Or the people in the room are questioning us. And that's the place where I think is a real opportunity for some discernment, for some good questions. A lot of our spiritual formation happens when we're beginning to ask and answer those questions about those rooms where we once belonged, wondering maybe I don't belong here anymore. So what do I do now?

Alison Cook: So you said two really important things there I want to highlight: one is how do we know, what are the cues that we need to name? Oh, I'm in one of those rooms. Because if we don't name it, we're floundering and feeling like there's something wrong with us. I think most often we tend to blame ourselves. There's something wrong with me that this is happening. 

We might also judge other people. There's something wrong with them. As opposed to, oh, there's something here that's happening so how do we get there? How do we get to that name? How do we know this is happening? And then number two, I love that you said this is an invitation to spiritual formation. This discomfort, this wrestling is where the growth is actually going to happen. And so when we get that name for it, we can settle ourselves a little bit into it. Okay, I'm going to go into a season of growth here. 

So tell me a little bit about how we know, what's our cue that we're in one of those rooms?

Emily: I actually have 10 questions you can ask yourself, and we don't necessarily have to go through all 10 of them, but I can give you a few. For one thing, I think the first way we know is we start to sense some tiny, teeny red flags. When I was questioning something, I think it was about an event that I was asked to be a part of. and I was wondering, should I go, should I not, should I say yes or no? 

There were a couple things about the organizer of the event that were starting to give me pause. And it was becoming a little more difficult. This event I thought was simple, it's becoming really complicated. So I talked to my friend Holly to get some advice and she said something I've never forgotten.

She said, “tiny red flags rarely shrink, they only grow”. And in considering that, first of all, I said no to that event but I have found that to be true in almost every area of life. And so I think that's the first thing to pay attention to–where do you sense tiny red flags? And that could be in relationships, in a community that you're a part of, vocationally there might be some tiny red flags.

The second thing is, refuse to assume that every hesitation is a tiny red flag, because I think some of us might say, oh, I sense discomfort. Tiny red flags never shrink, they only grow. So therefore this is only going to get worse. I'm going to get out now.

And we hightail it out of there too soon. And so my encouragement is, yes, I do believe it's true that tiny red flags rarely shrink. They only grow. However, first we have to determine, is this a tiny red flag? I would encourage anyone who has a hesitation to assume every flag is yellow.

Let's start with a yellow flag. Now, yellow flags might turn green, but if they turn red over time, then we can begin to know, okay, there might be another decision I need to make here.

Alison Cook: I love that. You talk about in the book the difference between avoidance and peacekeeping. And the first thought that came to my mind as you were saying that is in my own life, I'm super conflict avoidant. It's very easy for me to assume a flag is red because then I don't have to deal with it.

As opposed to a flag being yellow, which is, oh, I need to pay attention. Is this an invitation for me to leave, or is this an invitation for me to grow or move toward conflict? And so I think knowing our own predisposition to conflict, our own predisposition to challenging situations is really important in that yellow flag space.

Okay. Yes. Something is happening here. What's the invitation? Which gets us into that discernment that you talk about in the book. Let's be discerning. And I love very practical questions. Could you give us some of those, Emily, to help us as we're discerning whether this is a yellow or red flag?

Emily: I think the first question, backing up, is when you look at the rooms of your life to ask ourselves, did I choose this room or did it choose me? The process of choice can help us remember if this is a room that I was born into. For example, if this is a particular faith community, if you grew up in this church and you've been here all your life, that's a different type of choice than if you've been a part of a certain faith community for two years. 

Let's say there's different questions to ask yourself and the stakes are different too. And so beginning to name and say, okay, did I choose this room or did it choose me? Looking back on that decision making process. A second question to ask yourself is, are there corners or sections, people or parts of this room that I'm actively avoiding. And sometimes we don't like to think about this because we all selectively do this.

It's like selective hearing. Sometimes my kids, I'm like, you heard me, but you're choosing not to hear me. I think the same can be true for us when it comes to the rooms of our lives. Do you find yourself making excuses or concessions for defending certain aspects of this room? How often are you doing that? And what are they particularly about? 

So those are some other questions to ask. And then I think it's also good to name in this process what is good and beautiful about this room? What brought you here in the first place? What's kept you here for the amount of time you've been here? Because later down the road, if we do end up walking out, I think it's so important to recognize that no room is all bad and no room is all good.

It's really important for our own healing and closure, no matter what the ending ends up looking like, to be able to name the gifts of the room and to bring with us what we need, and then maybe leave the rest behind.

Alison Cook: I love what you're saying, and it reminds me a little bit of the parts work that we talk a lot about on this podcast. What I hear in what you're saying, Emily, is often two things can be true and when we honor that, when we validate that, it actually facilitates a better decision.

Man, part of me is attached to this room. I like it. There are things that are comfortable. There are things that are truly beautiful. And part of me is increasingly bothered by this. I don't like this. And we don't have to force fit either one of those. Both parts can live inside of us. That's what creates the tension. That's what makes it feel uncomfortable.

That's also the invitation. And I think when we try to force fit one of those, we do ourselves a disservice. It can take longer to arrive at a conclusion, but when we do, we're actually going to have a more wholehearted, more true place. Tell me a little bit about your own experience with learning to navigate that tension in your own life.

Emily: One particular decision comes to mind when I was in college, and I actually don't remember the nuance of the decision, but I remember being very torn up about what to do. It might have been about transferring from one school to the next. Wondering if I should leave this course of study, and what I wanted to study, which was sign language interpreting, was not offered at the school where I was.

I was two years into college. This is what we do. We think we know what we want to be when we grow up. And then we start doing it and we realize, no, I might need to make a change. At that time as a 20 year old, it sure felt like a really tough decision because there were some really good things about what I was studying and where I was at.

There was a good community there. There was a good community there. But I had a conversation with my dad at the time, and I remember he said to me, this 51%-49% is still a decision and I really wanted it to be a hundred to zero. Like we always want 100%. Yes. And sometimes we get that.

And when we do, man, toast to it, throw a party and be glad that this is a clear decision. But so often our decisions are like two percentage points in one direction. And that's a really nuanced movement to pay attention to. And that's why, to be a person of reflection, to be someone who pays attention to our own life, that's what's required sometimes in order to be able to discern the difference between 49%-51%. 

Alison Cook: That's right. It reminds me of that house metaphor. It's very rare that in those rooms, you open the door and go, oh no thank you. Slam it. It's that hundred percent. It's not those rooms where, oh, there's some things about this I like. It's not all bad.

And also, and I love what you're saying to slow that down. It takes some reflection. It takes some discernment. You describe in the book, particularly as it relates to a church community, was it years or months, Emily, of you and your husband having conversations about the flags that you were noticing, whether they were red or yellow. Noticing some flags, talking about them while you were still participating in the space.

It took a lot of time to do that, and by naming it and honoring the time, it doesn't take away the discomfort, but it allows you to engage it more authentically where you're aware.

Emily: Absolutely. And I think what you're describing is the tension that we all experience between readiness and timeliness. The hundred percent is when readiness and timeliness align. And that's when we have graduation parties, that's when we throw weddings, that's when we retire. When I'm ready and it's time and everybody agrees, there's no discernment process that has to happen because these two things are the same.

I think what we're always chasing, and this is where the tension exists, we're always wanting readiness and timeliness to align, and rarely do they when it comes to these decisions of our life. And so often we are asked, invited if you will, to practice courage. When it's time, but we don't feel ready, or we're invited to practice patience when we're ready, but it's not yet time.

That nuance takes a lot of attention, and I think we do ourselves a disservice when we force those two things, when we expect those two things to be aligned. We're missing out on some potential times of, no, it's actually time for me to stay, even though everything in me says leave, or the opposite. And that's some deep work right there.

Alison Cook: I want to pause there for a second. There are two different invitations. It could be that we're invited to practice courage when it's time to leave, or we could be invited to practice patience when everything in us wants to leave, but it's not quite time.

I can feel that in my bones. And again, as you said that, I can feel the tension inside of me settling because a part of us is like, come on, you got to do this thing. And then we beat ourselves up because we're not. And what if, in fact, the deeper wisdom is, yes, a change is going to be needed. And also it's not quite time for whatever reason. 

Maybe I'm not quite ready emotionally to handle it. Maybe there's still something left for me to do in this room. I see this a lot in folks, where we beat ourselves up. And you hear that in memes right? It's like, why am I not doing the thing? Maybe let's reframe it as, we're not quite ready. It's not quite the time. I love that. And then conversely, I can feel in my bones, it is time.

And oh my golly, do I not want to do this thing? Walk me through that a little bit. I'm curious for you, I'm wondering, as I'm listening to you, if different personality types tend to have more of one of those invitations than others. For example, do you tend to be someone who has to really lean into patience or do you have to be someone who has to lean in more to the, oh, it's time to be brave?

Emily: Oh, the second one for me. Personally, I find myself needing to move even when I don't feel ready a lot more often than I find myself having to wait even though it's not yet time. One great picture of this, I think comes from, of all people, Tina Fey. She writes in her book, Bossy Pants, about Lorne Michaels, who very famously said, Saturday Night Live does not go on because it is ready. It goes on because it's 11:30 on a Saturday night. 

And that's such a beautiful example. In our cultural ethos, we understand what that means. Oh, they could have spent another week, another month on that show. They didn't have it because time's up. That's a deadline. Like we got to get this out. Were we ready? No ma'am, we were not, but this is how the creative process works. 

We don't ever finish books. We have to turn them in because we have contracts. Those are two great examples that we can all broadly relate to, of it being time, whether or not we're ready.

Alison Cook: That's so good. That's so good.

Emily: And I think that's where I'm challenged usually, is like Emily, you got to be done, whether it's a small thing or whether it's a really large thing. And you brought up when we made that difficult and painful, still painful, decision to leave our church where we were.

And I share that story in How to Walk into a Room. There was a long runway leading up to it. It wasn't a day and then you decide. And I think a lot of people can relate to that. I think a lot of us have been in this space in recent years. I still don't feel ready to have left my church, and it's been four years and that's how long ago we left.

But when the time came, my husband John and I, we both knew. Like it is time and we don't feel ready but we had to make that move and I have such compassion for people who are standing at the threshold of the time has come. Your body and your heart might be broken into a million pieces, because you are having to leave something that you thought was going to be yours for a really long time.

And you had to let go of something that you thought you would always be able to hold on to. So I have deep compassion for anyone standing at that threshold, who's needing to practice the courage that they might not even think they have, to step over it and say goodbye to something that they deeply loved.

Alison Cook: I feel that so viscerally. I was thinking as you were describing that, I've had moments where I'll have to make a phone call or I'll have to have a conversation. I will literally have to have a friend sitting in the room with me cause I wouldn't do it otherwise. I won't do it, and I think we talk a lot on this podcast about empathy being such a gift and also, when you have an empathetic heart, when you care about others, when you care deeply feeling heart that's what's coming to mind as I'm listening to you, man are these endings really hard.

And it's the flip side of a wonderful gift. It can be really hard to make those brave decisions. We don't want to hurt anybody. We don't want to disappoint anybody. We don't want to hurt parts of ourselves. And I love that you're giving us permission to honor the pain of that and the ongoing loss of that. You know you made the right decision, and it doesn't mean that it doesn't still bring up complicated feelings.

Emily: That's right. And I'm so glad that you mentioned the presence of other people, because I think that's such a key part of the discernment process–acknowledging the presence of those who know you and love you. Acknowledging the presence of God who always goes with us wherever we go, and also acknowledging our own presence, which for me is something that I sometimes forget.

That third one is that I forget that I'm going with myself. I can learn to be my own friend. And sometimes when you're leaving a space, what keeps a lot of people in spaces is the fear of loneliness on the other side of knowing that there's going to be some loss of community.

There's going to be a loss of being able to control the narrative. Potentially, there's going to be a loss of understanding that maybe you didn't get a chance to say goodbye or to have the closure you thought you might get if you ever had to leave. And so there's a lot of loneliness on the other side of that.

But I think recognizing the presence of those who are with me, including myself, has been a real gift to me in times of transition like that.

Alison Cook: We need those, in the psychology world, these attachment figures. And attachments can become problematic if we won't leave because we're too attached, but we sometimes need those transitional tethers. To your point, I'm doing this hard thing. I'm leaving this relationship. I'm leaving this space that I've loved. I'm leaving this. It could even be work. 

You talk about that in the book, having to leave behind a business that you built and loved. Oh my gosh. My heart broke when I read that. I was like, oh, that is hard for the right reasons. But I think about this word attachment. We need some tethers during those seasons. These structures provide us with that sense of stability. We need those structures. And so when we're leaving them, we need those transitional figures.

And I love that you're saying God is one. Oh my word. God is that. We can be that for ourselves. And also sometimes we need a couple other people to remind us, you're going to come through this, you're going to come through to the other side. And you're not going to be alone. Because it feels like you are. 

Emily: I think a lot of us want to forget the pandemic. Hello. But I think of it now because so many of those natural tethers, the ceremonies, the embedded goodbyes, the community that we had, we didn't have any of those things, but that doesn't mean that things didn't end. And so instead, things ended without even an opportunity for closure.

And I don't know about you, but I find myself now, several years later, beginning to recognize some of the things that ended that didn't have those natural tethers. And it's almost like it's a little bit of an open wound still, and I'm realizing like, oh, this still needs to be processed and named.

Alison Cook: 100 percent. My husband and I were talking about that. Our son essentially didn't have his last two years of college, and we did all sorts of creative things and it turned out really well. And we have a wedding coming this June and I can tell that's what it's like to celebrate a big event. 

And with that comes that loss of, oh, we missed a couple of other opportunities and there's a fresh new understanding of why that's such a beautiful thing, but there's also a little bit of the grief of we didn't get that. Talk to me a little bit about, as we're winding down here, walking into the new space.

Because this is hard. You and I've gone on the emotional journey of letting go of all that we have to ask of ourselves. To make hard, wise decisions, to make those decisions well, and it's not like we tie a bow on it. There is a reason we are walking into something in a different way as a result of that. Talk to us a little bit about that piece. That's the third component of this.

Emily: I really think about this framed very loosely by the three centers of our intelligence, our thinking, feeling, and our action/instinct, our body, if you will. And I think we all have a natural tendency to lead with one. And when I walk into a room, I walk with my feelings first.

I can't understand not knowing how I feel. I always know how I feel. Now, I might not know why or where it's coming from, but I can always name it. Someone else might walk into a room, a physical room, I'm talking like a meeting or a church or a community, and, immediately, they're analyzing the room and they're thinking through it.

They walk in with their thinking mind. And then someone else might walk in and instinctively know who needs a helping hand in the room over in the corner, or they feel something in the room. And that's a more instinctual person. And I think it's true. We lead with one.

Alison Cook: Yeah. My mind is running the Enneagram wheel as I'm listening.

Emily: Yeah. And we all have all three. It's not like we only have one. And so I think when it comes to walking into a room as a person who I'm most fully am, it's bringing online my whole self, not my feeling or my thinking or my doing, and I think depending on your social location, your cultural space where you grew up, some of us have been taught to value certain types of seeing ways of seeing the world, certain ways of knowing over other ways of knowing, and they're all valid and we all have something to learn from one another.

Those are some ways that I'm beginning to learn to walk into a room as my own friend, as a listener, and as a leader, even when I'm not in charge.

Alison Cook: Emily, I'm wondering, I'm imagining, as you're walking into maybe a new church, you've left a church, you're walking in, it seems to me as if you're saying, now I can walk in both with my heart wide open, my feelings wide open, and also maybe I'm going to bring online, for lack of a better word, critical thinking, like observation, what's happening here. 

Because of this old experience, and what I've gone through, because I made a brave choice to change, to leave, to move in a new direction, I now have more access to different parts of myself as I'm discerning this new space.

Emily: I think so. And that question of did I choose the space or did it choose me? Sometimes when we leave a space that we've been in for a really long time, we become more aware of things that we maybe didn't have, weren't required of us in the room where we had been for so long.

So now in this new space, whereas before I could get by because people knew me and I knew the language there and I knew the ins and outs of the space and I didn't have to access this other, this maybe more hidden part of myself because I could get by, I belonged. But when you walk into a new room, there is an invitation there to access parts of myself that maybe I took for granted before or didn't really have to access before and calling them to mind in a new space.

We've been visiting a new faith community for about two years now. And I'm not a different person there. But my experience of that space is different from my experience of the old space. And I think it's because of the loss of the old space. And I still can't fully put that into words, but I do think it has to do with recognizing that yes, I feel certain things here. But also, I can bring to the forefront these other aspects of myself that maybe I wasn't exercising before, and I'm finding that to be a real gift.

Alison Cook: Interesting. It makes sense to me. Geographically, I've moved a lot. I grew up in a little town in Wyoming, the same school, same house, same family for 20 years, went to school in New England on the East Coast, went to college. Different world.

How do I bring that person that I was into that new space? And almost going to a different country. You learn to speak a different language. You learn over time. It takes time. And then lived on the East Coast, then came back during the pandemic to this rural area of Wyoming. Suddenly I'm like, wow, I have this old person in me. And also now I speak about five different languages. 

And how do I bring all of that so that I'm an integrated person in a new way, because I can't speak all the languages at once, but I'm aware now that all those languages are inside of me. That's the best way I can put it–almost as I think about people who have lived in a lot of different cultures and literally, I had to literally learn a new language, but sometimes that's what it feels like. 

It's a whole different way of being. They're all now inside of me and it's fun. It's also disorienting, but there's an adventure to it. I can play with this a little bit. How can I bring this one to the forefront in this new space? And I love that you said, we've been trying out this new church for two years. Meaning that also takes time. 

It takes time to figure out how I am gonna show up as a whole person with all these new facets of myself that have become more illuminated in this new space.

Emily: And what of myself in my previous experience am I bringing forward? And what was conditioned and I followed and fell in line, because that's what was expected in that room? And that's what I'm also discerning as we're disentangling what is me? What is God? What is from that space?

Alison Cook: It's a whole different season of discernment. I love that. I love that because again, it's to your point, what did I choose and what kind of chose me? Putting myself in this new situation gives me that gift of agency to choose. It also requires discernment, but I feel like the disorientation of that has a little bit more of a connotation of joy. I don't know. It feels a little bit more like an adventure than the disorientation of the middle place. But you tell me how you see that.

Emily: I think that's a good articulation of that because from my experience, when you have an unmade decision, when you're in the liminal space of a hallway, there's a lot of tension you have to hold all the time, because you're always waiting for the resolution of the final chord in the song.

It feels like you're always in this waiting space. And so once you enter an actual room, even though there are new things to explore, part of it's been resolved. The decision of my next right thing was this. I don't know for how long. And one of my favorite two word mantras is “for now”; here's where I am for now.

I'm doing this. It will not be forever, or if it is, I can't answer that right now. For now, here I am. Therefore, what's my next right thing here in this space, because I know this room is where we'll be for a minute. And so I think to that point, it does feel a bit more like an opportunity or an adventure, even while we're carrying a whole bag of losses with us still.

Alison Cook: You're in the room. So there's some release there, even as now you have to explore it and you have to figure out where the old stuff that you brought with you goes. You're in a new room. You've crossed the threshold. I love that. I love that. 

You've led the way so well for so many of us around this topic of making decisions and the part that we play in that. It’s not a passive thing; we have a part to play in our spiritual formation to bring it back to that.

We have to make decisions for now. We have to discern. We have to be aware. There's a very active role that we play in that. You've done such a beautiful job of leading us through that, through this book, through your podcast, through so much of your work. I'm curious, as you think back over younger Emily, back even when you were thinking about making that decision in college, what would you want her to know that you know now? 

Emily: I did this then and I still do this sometimes now, in that when I make the final decision, I think the destination is the point. And I think what I continue to learn and what I would hope to be able to impart to my younger self is that while the decision is very important, the more important thing is the person who you are becoming.

And for me, I have found the process of discernment and decision making is such a wonderful place to meet God, to meet myself, to find community, and what ends up happening on the other side, I don't want to say it doesn't matter because it deeply matters, but maybe the thing that matters more is who I am becoming in the process, which then gives me a lot of freedom. It maybe lets me off the hook from having to make the exact right decision in every case, because I'm becoming someone no matter how I end up choosing. That's what I want to be more deeply invested in.

Alison Cook: I love that. It's who you’re becoming. You can't go wrong then. You can't go wrong if you're becoming that truer version of yourself. I love that. Thank you. To close, I want to ask you the question we ask all of our guests: what's bringing out the best of you right now?

Emily: What a lovely question. We mentioned this a little bit already, but I probably would answer it this way and for a long time, which is, I think what brings out the best of me is a regular habit of reflection. Whether that's reflecting on gratitude, on what was life giving, even on what was life-draining, because paying attention to decisions I've made in the past helps me make more informed decisions in the present and for the future.

If I go too long without reflecting on my life, I start to not feel like a person. I start to lose my sense of self in a way. And so that practice and having that be a regular part of my rhythm of life brings out the best of me

Alison Cook: That's so interesting. I love that. I hear the word courage in that–a courage to come up out of things and really look at them. It allows you to tap into a better version of yourself. I love that. This is such a gift. Where can people find you? 

Emily: You can find me and links to the book and all the things at my website, emilypfreeman.com, don't forget the P. Also on Instagram @emilypfreeman. I host a weekly podcast called The Next Right Thing where we talk about 12 to 15 minutes a week about usually one decision making practice.

And then we go a little deeper on my substack, the Soul Minimalist, where we host a little bit of a smaller conversation with people who are a part of that community, who want to go beyond the pro/con list and talk about decision making in faith, work, and life. And the book can be found at the website and wherever books are sold.

Alison Cook: I love that. How to Walk into a Room. The love language we speak on this podcast is deeply spiritual and also practical and it's both. It's both. I was like, oh my gosh, this is right up our alley. So for those of you listening, you're going to get spiritual wisdom with some really practical, helpful questions, practical tethers to help anchor you when you're walking through these seasons where you might need to make a change. 

You might need to leave something, you might need to start something new. And it's a fantastic resource. Thank you for all that you do, all of who you are, most of all, because it reflects in the work that you do. And, grateful for your time being here with us today.

Emily: Thank you so much.

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