Often, big life changes are completely outside of your control. Sometimes they blind-side you; like the day I became a young widow without warning. Other times you know they’re coming; like my friend who was informed her company would be closing in 6 months.
Some life-altering changes happen because of opportunities you choose to take – like entering into marriage, getting divorced, or taking that dream job. Then there is the kind of change that comes from within – a personal, inner, transition that begs to be born.
A few years ago, I experienced an enormous internal stirring. I had landed what seemed like a dream job as a Project Manager in a small, privately held corporation. When I accepted the job, I was so enthralled with the salary and benefits that I muted out the nagging inner voice that pleaded for purpose.
When that voice started yelling in the form of chronic neck and back pain, I thought perhaps I needed a new, ergonomically designed office chair. When it started punching its way out, sabotaging my office punctuality and removing all spring from my step, I finally took notice.
I found myself faced with a critical decision. I could requisition a new chair, establish a close relationship with my chiropractor and set my alarm earlier, or I could listen to that persistent inner voice and explore the shift that was taking place within me.
I chose to explore what was awakening inside me and what I found led me to yet another critical decision point. Should I stay in my current life with its excellent pay, stock options and 401K Plan? As a single mom of three, it would surely be the responsible thing to do, guaranteed to increase my financial wealth, erode my health, and leave me cranky and irritable – a victim of my own choosing. Or, should I take the totally illogical, but exhilarating route: trust my instincts, quit my job and go back to school to pursue a brand new career at age 45?
Whichever way I chose, I’d be facing a life-altering change because I was no longer who I had been.
From here to there and the cycle of change
First Stop: Nowhere
When big change hits, you feel completely untethered, unsure of exactly who you are or which way to go. During this liminal period, you’re forced to let go of your old identity and you spend a lot of time mourning your old life. You know you are no longer who you were and to acknowledge this feels unsettling. The aspects of my job were dreadfully unfulfilling and I felt like an imposter sitting in my office. My identity was in limbo and I felt lost.
The good news is that even in the midst of being ungrounded, you’ll find yourself on a threshold; a place in which you have the freedom to choose your new identity. Cross this threshold with the mindset of an explorer because when you’re nobody nowhere, you can become anybody anywhere. And it’s perfectly normal to have absolutely no idea what you’re doing.
You’ll know you’re leaving Nowhere when you find your feet closer to the ground and the answer to the question, “Who am I?” You may not know what your perfect career is, or the identity of your soul mate, but you’ll know who you are. And you’ll experience a sense of excitement and possibility. Without intentional action, you find yourself doing things you’ve never done before; changing your style, redecorating a space, connecting with new kinds of people. I started wearing my hair spiked up and bypassed the power suits in my closet for funky, artistic fashion. You begin to dream of possibilities for your new identity. Be gentle on yourself: don’t dash your dreams, let them flow and let them develop. Be audacious in your dreaming because during this phase, there are no rules.
At some point, one of your musings will begin to take shape as a real possibility. Then your brain will begin working on a plan because you’ll go from wanting that possibility to intending to have it. When you intend to do something, you tip the odds in your favor of doing it. When I decided to do some self-exploration, I landed at MarthaBeck.com where I found the phrase “Become a Coach,” And the decision to take action was made.
Trial and Error
With careful planning, you’ll set out to achieve your goal. As trial and error goes, you’ll try and fail and then try again and fail again. You’ll be tempted to believe the negative, deceitful thoughts that accompany failure and give up on your goal. Quitting will get you nowhere. Instead, keep reworking the plan and give it another shot. There’s great information in each failure because you’ll learn which way not to go. You’ll try and learn and try again and learn again. Once I came across a huge flat funnel in the mall. You could launch a marble and watch it go round and round for 5 minutes until, finally, it dropped through the center. The trial and error phase is like that; it may seem like you’re going in circles, continually ending up right back where you started, but all the while, you’re actually honing in on your goal.
The trial and error period is always a lot harder than you ever think it will be. As I build my life coaching practice, my momentum alternately grows and stalls with each idea that misses the mark. Nobody registered for my first webinar. I spent a considerable sum of money on a business-building product I never used. I thought my practice would tightly connect coaching with interior design. Time after time, back to the drawing board I went. When it comes to big life transitions, trial and error is terrifying, exhilarating and exhausting. You’ll need to constantly replenish your energy through plenty of rest and play.
The New Normal
One day you’ll realize you’re living in a new normal where things are going smoothly without much effort. The part of your life that was once new and scary now feels natural. You’ve conquered the obstacles of single parenting; you easily navigate your responsibilities at work; your romantic relationship is easy and relaxed. Each of these things weren’t so effortless at their inception. When they were new, you probably felt lost. As you began to get clarity, you set out to accomplish them. Through trial and error, you learned and learned some more. As the journey continues, you find yourself knowing what to do, making minor adjustments along the way. Now you can ease up, focus on what’s working, and spend time in the present, better for the journey.
Big change is inevitable; its progression, predictable. Whether in the form of shock, opportunity or inner calling, big change holds the power to shift your identity in remarkable ways.
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