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March 23, 2017

How to keep your Cool during Life Transitions.

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“Just when I think I have learned the way to live, life changes.” ~ Hugh Prather 

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I thought about this quote while emptying my current apartment, and jam-packing my tiny caravan for something like the twenty-seventh time.

Despite my general acceptance of change and transient living, saying goodbye to a once foreign, now familiar place, supportive community equipped with a built-in berth of belonging, and a job I truly felt passionate about and devoted to, was a clumsily reluctant, and bittersweet process.

As with most transitions in our lives, this one granted an unexpected encounter with a concerto of overwhelming emotion and sorrow. It was drawn-out and difficult, and after avoiding my feelings, and publicly blubbering silent tears onto my yoga mat during savasana, I comprised a list to help myself (and you) through those crazy moments.

Remind yourself of why you’re making a change. 

I’ve always loved to travel. There’s a terrific sense of wonder and pervasive possibility that accompanies a dive into the unknown. However, a considerable chunk of my time spent traveling was used to evade making decisions and big changes. It became a convenient method for dodging the inevitable anxiety of living with more committed choices.

My rationale sounded something like this, “I won’t have time for the tedious process of graduate school, which I can always go back to if I’m in Spain next fall. Why don’t people value travel?” or, “Long-term relationships just don’t make sense because I’m fickle and indecisive. I move around so much and no man would want to follow me. I have x,y,z short-term commitments this year that aren’t flexible.” Meanwhile, I was berating myself and outwardly complaining about neglecting my dream of becoming a writer, yet doing nothing to pursue it.

The truth, of course, was that I was afraid of failure, closeness, stagnation.

I was afraid to make the wrong choice, to look back on my life with regret. Yet, in those silent moments when everything was still, I was faced with the overwhelming reality that as I was aging, although I was acquiring incredible experiences, I was building nothing.

My entire life was for rent, I had no real direction for a career, no graduate degree, and even my car wasn’t mine. I could get existential here and argue that the only thing I truly own is the present moment, but I’ll spare you that point for another time.

So, as that realization seeped into my consciousness, I knew that the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction I longed for were to be found in commitment and dedication, not strategic escapism. It started slowly, following through on social engagements, committing to a job for a year, then a relationship extending long past the honeymoon phase, and eventually the serious consideration of law school.

At times, I was sad and disappointed. I missed the thrill of traveling unpredictably and that specific flavor of excitement and freedom that came with being single. It’s easy to nostalgically reminisce on our soon-to-be past through the seductive haze of rose-colored glasses or to experience anxiety ranging from the small jitters to paralyzing fear varieties.

Change can be equal parts thrilling and utterly terrifying. That’s why it can lead us to uncertainty and second-guessing, feverishly demanding the opinions of others and internally inquiring whether we’re actually making the right choice. Did I think this through enough? Did I act too quickly or impulsively? Am I going to be happy in this new place/job/relationship?

Sometimes, I had to willfully force myself to sit with the anxieties and insecurities that presented themselves in my new romantic relationship, battling the urge to run away. I had to audibly list off the reasons I was committing to a new job, then eventually why I was unhappy with that same job, to remind myself of why it was important to leave.

It was exhausting—and it was an integral part of change.

So take a breath, and remember that you’re making a change for a reason.

It’s likely that some things aren’t working, or a small voice in your heart has been pleading with you to live in a way that’s more aligned with your truth, or both. Trust your intuition and honor your decision. If you’ve made it this far and it’s felt good in your gut, then continue to go with it. The beautiful thing about choice is that you can always make another one.

Grieve the old and celebrate the new.

Cry. Laugh. Scream. Jump around like a crazy person cursing the Gods for forcing the hand of a painful ending, or ardently express your eternal gratitude for a shiny, new opportunity. Allow yourself to feel all those ephemeral, lurking emotions—desirable and uncomfortable—as both are authentic and important aspects of your transition.

When I decided it was time to quit my job, I was overcome with relief and completely heartbroken. I felt loyal to my company and believed in their mission. I loved the management, my co-workers, and the job itself, and I was still unhappy and burned-out. I knew that for my own mental sanity, it was time to close that particular chapter in my life.

It’s difficult to embrace the full spectrum of emotions that can arise from our passage into a new chapter of life, yet our growth and transformation depend on it. If we are continuously numbing our failures or discomfort, how are we able to regularly experience our triumphs and joy?

I isolated a lot in those last few weeks before leaving. I cried in my room often, some days alone, others over the phone to the dismay of my boyfriend, muffling sobs for the sake of my roommates. Other days, I would channel all of that sadness into the outward energy of celebration, meeting friends for prized home brews and music, dinner parties, and hot tub sessions, soaking in every beautiful moment.

Give yourself permission to celebrate your accomplishments, and to also be kind to yourself if you’ve missed the mark. Remember that our lives are always in constant flux and the more we cling, the more likely acceptance and surrender are likely to evade us.

Be Brave

Sometimes, regardless of how prepared we think we are, everything still seems shitty and bleak. That’s okay, (even though it’s not okay) because like everything else, it’s only temporary. When I left my job, I was knowingly losing my benefits, most importantly, my health insurance, and a secure salary, to make less than half of what I was earning.

Despite these facts, I knew it was time to move on. I was sad and frustrated a lot of the time, had lost patience for the clients I worked with. I felt depleted, unable to muster the energy necessary to pursue passions outside of work. It got to the point where the dread of stagnation and unhappiness far outweighed the fear of change. It was time to take the risk.

Take a deep breath and gather up all of the courage you can muster. If things weren’t difficult or scary, we’d have no need for heroism. Thank yourself for all of the hard work you’ve done so far—and it is hard work, as change often entails leaving our comfort zone, and breaking down and reforging of our sense of self.

Change is really f*cking hard sometimes, and it’s the only thing we can truly count on. Flexibility and resilience will be your best friends in those tough moments of despair or regret, and the more you practice, the better you’ll get.

Practice rising to your challenges with acceptance and grace, even when it’s insanely difficult. Remember, you are the only one who knows your deepest truth, so put yourself out there and step into the unknown.

 

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Author: Shannon Mitchell

Image: flickr/martinak15 

Editor: Lieselle Davidson

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