When the Terrain of Life Changes…
Moving on from a broken relationship. Retiring from a job you loved. Watching your youngest child leave the nest. Change is certainly a fact of life. Still, these and other turns in the road can be difficult to adjust to—even if they are generally welcome ones. Leaving behind what’s comfortable or familiar can ignite fears about the future, leaving you overwhelmed or even paralyzed by the ‘great unknown.’
What do I do now?
You may feel desperate for an answer, but it’s OK if you don’t have one. “Why is it a bad thing if you’re not sure?” says Sharon Alpert, L.I.C.S.W., a life management therapist at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Mass. “If you’ve spent most of your life doing something or living a certain way, and that avenue is no longer open, it’s unrealistic to think that what comes next will always be automatic.” The key to feeling better about what lies ahead is being open to the possibilities, even if you don’t exactly know what they are yet. This mind-shift can help unblock you and give you room to find your way, Alpert adds.
We wish we could say this is easy. It isn’t, especially when your circumstance is truly life-changing. Though your experience is unique to you, you may find these suggestions helpful as you work to adjust and restore your confidence and balance once again.
Take Time to Process What Has Transpired
When a change is set into motion, it’s common to feel blinded by the enormity of it all. As the days pass, make an effort to really think about exactly what has happened.
After 40 years as a dedicated engineer, I am retiring. I now have the chance to explore a whole new chapter in my life. Allowing abstract thoughts (I’m nothing if I’m not an engineer) to swirl can only make them gain steam, making the journey you now face seem not only longer, but impossible. Your goal here is to ground yourself—to gain some clarity over the situation and accept that the change is happening.
Acknowledge Your Feelings
“If you think it’s your job to know for certain what will come of this change, you are not being fair to yourself. How can we be new and expert at the same time?” notes Alpert. Give yourself a reprieve and go beneath this notion to identify what’s unsettling you about this period in your life.
For example, our engineer friend might say:
I will miss seeing my colleagues every day.
I’m afraid that whatever comes next won’t be as stimulating as my work.
I’m confused about what I should do with my free time.
Stating your feelings doesn’t make them disappear. But calling them out—putting a name on what’s truly bothering you—may help you feel less trapped. “When you claim yourself, you have more with you for whatever is next,” says Alpert.
Value Small Steps
If you’re finding this change difficult, it’s unlikely that you’ll feel energized to move forward at first. It may seem easier to just ‘be’ than to evolve, even if your current state isn’t making you happy. Remember that trying, not ‘fixing,’ is enough. “Trying is how we learn,” says Alpert. “Just making an effort is progress in and of itself, and it can be encouraging, prompting more small steps in a new direction.” With time and patience, you may eventually (and perhaps even surprisingly) find yourself in a new adventure. The engineer might find himself exploring a new hobby or taking a cooking class.