How to transition to the next chapter in your life

Transition to next chapterThe New Year is an obvious time to contemplate change and new beginnings, though I have no intention of talking you into adopting any New Year’s resolutions. I actually think those kinds of resolutions are pretty ineffective and can set you up for failure. Leave those aside.

Instead, imagine where you might like your life to be at the beginning of 2019. Don’t even worry about how you are going to achieve it, just play with it by dreaming about the best possible outcome for you. It could be in a new job, or the opposite, retirement. It could be letting go of something that is a burden to you, or embracing something that has always sounded like fun but you hadn’t tried before. It could be spending more time with family or setting aside more time for personal growth. Transition does not have to mean “I plan to throw out everything I am already doing and start something new.”

I actually try to do this every year around this time, and for many years the answer was, “make more money.” I wanted to stop struggling around this issue. But far more satisfying for me over the years has been embracing other sorts of new challenges.

I started taking ballroom dance lessons when I turned 52. OK, so I’ll never make Dancing with the Stars, but I do have fun, and enjoy both letting my brain form some new neuronal pathways, and getting my uncoordinated body to be a bit less so. I started doing yoga at 50, and can’t imagine my life without three classes a week that helps with strength and balance and quiet time. About age 28, I challenged myself to take on leadership roles in various volunteer committees because I “wanted to make a difference.” This was terrifying at the time because I was completely inexperienced in public speaking and had to learn how. At 24, I went to graduate school in anthropology, and finished two years later with an MA…as well as plans to get married and have children. You may see a pattern here! You, too, can find the challenge that resonates for you at this moment in time.

I thought I’d offer some things to consider as you think about what it means to you to transition to the next chapter in your life. You can use these questions as a guide whether you are applying them to work or your life generally.

  1. Start by asking, “Am I happy just the way I am, doing what I am doing?” If the answer is “yes,” then you can celebrate and stop reading now.
  2. If the answer is “no,” here are some signs you are ready to shift:
  • Whatever you once enjoyed doing with enthusiasm now feels like a burden;
  • What used to produce good outcomes doesn’t seem to be working anymore;
  • You wake up tired, and thinking about the day seems draining, not energizing;
  • You have a feeling that you need something more, somehow, some way;
  • You feel stuck, miserable, uncomfortable (pick your adjective) where you are.

If you answered “yes” to any of the questions in Number 2, here are the next things to consider:

Are you stuck, miserable, uncomfortable enough to take action? Nothing ever changes until we are ready to do so. Change is not easy for any human being. Of course, we know that change is happening to us and around us all the time, but it is completely normal to try and put the brakes on it. We want the good things in our lives to stay. We want to feel secure in our relationships, happy with our work, safe in our homes, comfortable with ourselves.

If you are ready to change, what is the most important thing to address? According to Roy Baumeister and Mark Leary “belongingness” may actually be the first need we have as humans, over and above Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. You may want to assess which groups truly make you feel like you belong, whether family, work, school, spiritual or fun. Social bonds are pretty easy to create, though I believe one should be wary of the groups that define themselves by who or what they want to exclude rather than include.

Do you need to find a sense of meaning and purpose in your life? Research suggests that this becomes more important as we age, and that people who have found a purpose that feels “larger than themselves,” and do better because they are more connected to community. Victor Frankl came out of the World War II concentration camps believing you have to create your own meaning for your life. Living for what you believe can make a positive change in the world helps keep your own life in perspective, and keeps you from getting depressed about the state of the world. As Edward Everett Hale (1822-1909) said, “I am only onebut I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something.”

How are you going to make this fun? I am a firm believer in having fun. I think you will do whatever you are doing better if you are enjoying yourself. This does not mean it is easy. Fun can be doing experiment after experiment that fails because the joy of exploration lights you up. Fun can be learning a new skill even though you make mistake after mistake as you pursue it. Fun can be having a sense of humor about handling difficult situations or people. I once had an office mate that liked to say, “Everything made sense…for just a second there.” Levity helps. It’s attitude adjustment without alcohol.

How can you be OK with the process of transition? Your goals may change, or that a new path may branch off into another one you never before considered. One of my yoga teachers says, “Energy follows attention.” Notice what you are focusing on, and keep track of the energy and actions you are taking to effect change. Give yourself some credit. You do not have to be arrogant to celebrate whatever you are doing to learn or be something new.

These are the guideposts I try to use for myself as I get older. And perhaps I should add one more thing, since I find it so hard: Be compassionate and forgiving of yourself when you aim high but fall short. After all, children learn to walk by falling down, getting up and trying again.


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