Last week I was sitting at a lecture with a friend, watching the speaker and the other participants in the room, when it hit me: every single one of the 200+ people in the room was there because they longed for change in their lives.
The lecture was on finding one’s passion. People’s passions, it turns out, are as varied as their personalities. And making or having money is a passion for only a few individuals. Most of us want money because we feel that this will help us achieve our true passions. But as we all know, that doesn’t usually work out too well. All too often we get stuck in a job we hate and lament the total loss of all our passion to the mindless routine of work. Anyhow, the basic message was: Follow your passion no matter what and life will be a success – even if you hit a few speed bumps on the road.
When I came home I flipped open a magazine and was faced with an article on creating gentle change. The C-word, again! Here I learned that the trick to creating lasting change is to take it easy. Don’t change too much all of a sudden or you’ll discourage yourself when something doesn’t work out right away. This message was the polar opposite to the passion lecture: tread lightly and choose wisely.
When I look at the circle of my friends and clients it seems clear that there is no right or wrong way to go about changing one’s life. Of two people who jump into big changes head-on, one is going to get hurt while the other is swimming free and loving it. Big life-changes, as much as anything deeply personal, require an individual approach! But how can one find out which approach is the best in this particular situation?
1) Let your body help. If you are facing a big life-change follow your guts – sometimes even literally. Most of us have a physical reaction of some kind when we are about to do something that we are not feeling ready for. It might be a cold, back pain, headaches, stiff muscles, or the proverbial pain in the butt – digestive problems. And ‘doing something we are not ready for’ includes sitting it out when we should be making a move. If you are not ready to stay in this relationship, job, or household any longer but you are sticking it out (for whatever reason) you are still doing something you are not ready for!
2) Make a clear decision before you put your money down. For most of us it feels like an all-or-nothing situation once we get a clear picture of what is wrong with our lives. You may have felt unhappy for years but didn’t know why. Now you suddenly – and truly – know the reason so you go for change, any change. Unfortunately, “I’m not doing this anymore” is not really a decision for change. It is more of an incision; a cutting into what’s there without thinking about what to do once the bad part is gone. And that can leave us hanging in the air with all the energy of renewal and change dissipating quickly. If instead you can find the “I am going to do that instead of this”, the energy of change has a goal and direction and you progress after the first step is made. And if it turns out that this goal wasn’t quite the right one, you can always adjust the direction on the way.
3) Make a plan before you jump ship. If you can’t swim, learn it. In other words, big life-changes may require new life skills and adjustments in your social and financial lives. Make sure you know what you are getting yourself into and that you are comfortable with it. That doesn’t mean that you have to have a 5-year plan all typed up and with checklists (although, if that is what makes you feel comfortable that is okay, too). Knowledge is power and change is all about having the power and the choice to create lasting change.
4) Listen to Your intuition. Most of us know what’s right for us; we just don’t trust it half of the time. Making a big life-change is about your life and there is no better expert on your life than you are. If you are confused and don’t know what to do it might not be the right time for that particular change. Maybe it is time to change your relationship with yourself first (see also point 3). Change is disruptive, no matter how wonderful the outcome is. Why put yourself through more disruptive energy than necessary when it may take only a few hours of quiet reflection or a conversation with a friend or counsellor to make sure you are going in the right direction?!
5) Keep your fan-club informed. As mentioned above, change is disruptive energy. No matter how beautiful life is going to be after the change, there is a 99% chance that you will have doubts at one point, feel lonely, confused, or sad. You are leaving something behind that has been a big part of your life. Your friends (related or not) are your safety net. They can catch you when you fall. They can possibly even help you create the change you are looking for. You never know what contacts and resources someone has until you let them know what you need. And if the change you are in for is all fun and games – don’t your friends deserve to be part of that, too?!
6) Take advice – with a grain of salt. Just because something worked well for your Aunt Sally it doesn’t mean that it’ll work for you. It is always good to hear many possibilities, find out about possible problems that may pop up, or to hear success stories of others who went before you. However, don’t mistake them for blue prints for your own life-change. Your situation is different, no matter how similar it seems. For starters, you are you and they aren’t. Your life experiences and therefore your reaction to life is different from theirs. And their life-changes involved other people with other lives, happened in another time and context, at a different age, etc. Take the information and use it as a springboard for your own investigation.
7) Remember – there is no right or wrong. What works for Bob might not work for you – and vice versa. Different people have different personalities and different priorities. So, even if both, Bob and you, are unhappy in the same job the solution may be a completely different one for both of you: Bob may have to change careers to be truly happy while you might have to learn how to speak up to your boss in order to reach your happiness within the company. And don’t let anyone tell you that Bob’s is a life-change while yours isn’t: trust me, learning to speak up is going to change your life more than a switch from teaching to banking!
8) Finally – take Your time. Just as there is no right or wrong, there is no too fast or too slow. Change is change, no matter if it takes an hour or a year to accomplish it. The very word life-change indicates that you are heading for something big – and that usually takes time. Most people who go through “fast” changes will face little “earthquakes” for many years thereafter. Change happens on the inside. What we see in the world is only a tiny part of it. Your process of change began when you asked yourself for the very first time if “this is it?” So don’t worry if your change happens slowly or all too fast: it is taking exactly the time that it is meant to take!
If you keep those basic suggestions in mind as you are heading for your life-change you will find your own individual measuring stick to success. Instead of following the well-meant advice of others you will find the wisdom inside yourself. Instead of comparing your life to that of those around you, you can treat it as the unique experience it is. And instead of trying to do it all perfectly, alone and without bothering anyone you can do it with the supportive love and energy of those who care about you. That in and of itself is a huge life-change for many.