April 21, 2014

Curing the Collywobbles — Part 1: The Empire Strikes Back

rhodes“Collywobbles” is one of those delightful British words that means exactly what it sounds like it should. There are two shades to its meaning, one physiological, the other emotional:

  1. Cramps or other intestinal disturbances.
  2. A feeling of fear, apprehension, or nervousness.

The collywobbles are what we get when we decide to make big changes in our lives – especially if those changes affect the Big Three: career, relationships, and money. We do that, and suddenly 99.999999% of our normal competent functioning shuts down, and we retreat to what’s left, which is our most basic self-preservation instinct. That instinct is unimpressed with our dreams and visions and big ideas. Its only comment is usually something like, “That’s supposed to be a joke, right?”

It’s no joke, and neither are the collywobbles. Gastro-intestinal distress, heart palpitations, waking up at 3:00 a.m. in a panic… the mere thought of large scale change gets us into trouble. New initiatives trigger reserves of raw fear we didn’t know we had in us. We should know better. Rocking the boat can’t end well. It feels good and freeing and powerful for a moment, but then look out: we just woke up the Be Reasonable Gods, and The Empire of Status Quo is about to strike back.

Status quo is the combined force of everything we’re used to thinking, believing, doing, and being. It’s everything solid and reliable, lawful and decent and in order about our lives. Status quo makes sense of things, keeps us safe, tells us what’s possible and what’s not, and makes sure we don’t get any ideas.

Until one day we dare to wonder, “What if…?” We’re okay as long as we keep our wondering to ourselves, but as soon as we wonder out loud, we wake up the slumbering giant. Uh-oh. Collywobbles Time.

Inspiration makes us bold. Status quo makes us pay. Inspiration initiates. Status quo retaliates. Back and forth the Titans strike their blows and throw their thunderbolts. Their epic struggle is for keeps: there will be real winners and real losers, and plenty of collateral damage. The center does not hold; we go spinning off axis; our lives fly out of orbit. The seas rise and the thrones shake. We stand dumbstruck, watching the tempest from afar, when suddenly the wind shifts and we’re in the middle of it, scrambling for shelter, fearing for our lives.

We’ve got a major case of the collywobbles.

You know I’m not exaggerating if you’ve ever followed your creative inspiration very far. If you haven’t done so yet, but plan to, you’ll soon become more familiar with the collywobbles than you ever wanted to be. You poor thing.

Why is change so hard on us? And how do we cure the collywobbles?

To be continued.

Kevin Rhodes is a lawyer in private practice who coaches and mentors other lawyers to love their work and their lives. He leads workshops for a variety of audiences, including the CBA’s Solo and Small Firm Section and the Job Search and Career Transitions Support Group. You can email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.


  1. I love this term! But here’s hoping that there’s no “cure” for the collywobbles, just a way of productively managing them through the ride of our life, our own hero’s journey.

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