Tips for Dealing with Major Life Changes
Have you gone through a major life change? I’m talking the big stuff — like moving to a new state, starting a new career in a new field, getting married or divorced, having your first child, learning you have cancer or some other major health issue, losing a loved one, something like that.
Something that really shakes and rattles you emotionally. Something that really pushes you out of your comfort zone. Something that affects you to the core. Something that changes you — and now you know, no matter what, you and your life will never be quite the same again.
You may be feeling lost, confused, uncertain. “Did I make the right choice? Am I good enough? Will I make it? What do I do now? Where do I go from here?”
I’ve personally gone through a lot of major life changes.
Moved across the country to a brand new state I’d never been before. Quit my job and started my own business. Unexpectedly lost a family member. Went through a crisis of faith and questioned everything I once believed. Each time, regardless of what was happening, the internal mental-emotional experience was much the same. And if you find yourself in the midst of your own major life transformation, I’d like to offer you some tips and a little guidance from my own experience, that I wish someone had shared with me before.
Tip #1: It’s Okay
Your world might feel like it’s in chaos right now. Things may feel upside down, lost, confusing, mixed up, all over the place, or even completely leveled and destroyed. It’s okay. You might have no idea what to do or how you’ll survive. That’s okay. You might feel like crying. Do it, let it out. Even if you’re a guy. It’s okay to cry. You might feel hurt, angry, pissed off, or scared. That’s okay, too. Feel those feelings. Allow them, acknowledge them. You don’t have to talk to anyone else or act on them. Just feel it, for yourself, to yourself.
Feeling whatever you’re feeling right now will help you process and come to terms with whatever’s just changed in your life. Journaling your thoughts and feelings may be very helpful. It certainly was for me. And one day you’ll be able to look back and read where you were, and feel good about how far you’ve come. But that’s a future benefit. For today, for right now, just know “it’s okay.”
Whatever you’re feeling — or not feeling. Whatever you’re thinking — or not thinking. It’s okay. We all grieve and process and cope in different ways. Trust yourself. And if you can’t trust yourself right now, that’s okay too.
Tip #2: You Probably Can’t Go Back
It’s perfectly natural and normal to try to fix, repair, restore, or make things go back to the way they were. You might be successful — but probably not. Why? Because this was no simple or minor change. Something BIG happened. You, and likely others, have been deeply impacted and affected by this change. It’s totally normal to want to go back to what’s familiar. Because the familiar feels safe and predictable. There’s certainty in the life you left behind. And right now, you’re probably feeling a lot of uncertainty.
But “going back” may not be an option — and even if it is, it may not be a wise option. Instead, here’s what I recommend. Know that it’s perfectly natural to desire certainty and familiarity in life, especially right now. Find it where you can. Put on an old movie or TV show that you love. Read a familiar book that brings you comfort. Immerse yourself in nature. Go for a drive. Talk to a close friend. Intentionally put certainty and familiarity into your life wherever you can.
Whatever major life change you’re going through is a really big “new” thing. Help yourself feel balanced by consciously adding extra familiar old things where you can, too.
Tip #3: Get Connected
Moved to a new area? Use the Internet, your local library, a nearby church, the newspaper, and word of mouth to find social events you can attend. Meetup.com is one of my favorite resources.
Even if you’re normally shy and anti-social, still find something you can physically go to where you’ll be connected with others. Some of those people may become your new friends. Either way, the last thing you need right now is to feel isolated and alone.
Even if you haven’t moved, you should still make extra effort to connect with others. Call up your friends. Go out for drinks or a movie or something together. Going through a major change is scary and hard. Being around others will help lighten that load. They don’t even have to know what’s going on. Simply being with others is emotionally helpful.
So, whatever major change you’ve gone through, while it may be tempting to close out the world and hide under your blanket all day, it’s important to get out of the house and spend time interacting and connecting with others. It will ease the difficulty of this change.
We human beings are social creatures. We’re hard-wired to belong to a tribe. So don’t hide. Don’t isolate yourself. Not entirely. It’s okay — even essential — to have some alone time, to get re-oriented and process all your feelings. Just don’t stay there forever. Go out, meet people, hang out and talk with others.
You’ll feel better and gain strength through that, to better cope with and handle this change.
Tip #4: Be a Beginner
Whatever changed in your life, you’re now in “new” territory — often territory you’ve never been in before. That’s okay. (Remember Tip #1.) It’s also okay to be a beginner, in this newly-changed area of life. Don’t try to act like, or tell yourself you should be, any kind of expert in this part of your life right now. For example, if your major life change was a divorce — guess what, you’re single again. It may have been a while since you were last single. That’s okay. Let yourself be a beginner again. Take it slow. Ask for help. Ask questions. Learn. Give yourself the freedom, permission, and space to make mistakes and try new things.
Tip #5: Grow
This change may (likely) require you to grow as a person. That might mean learning a new skill, taking an educated risk, or stepping up and showing up in the world in a way like never before. Great! This is your opportunity to grow. Life has forced you out of your comfort zone. Life has changed something significant in and/or around you. Often, you have to grow now. There’s no other option. You’re a new parent, or you got a new job, or something has made it so you can no longer “get by” as things were before. It’s time to expand, mature, learn, and grow.
Even if you don’t actually “have” to grow, this is the perfect time to do it. Because after a major life change, the mind is open to new insights, new discoveries, new possibilities, new growth potential. This is the easiest and fastest time to grow, because your mind is already re-adjusting to whatever big thing has just changed in your life anyway. Of course, growth means more “new territory” and uncertainty, so remember Tip #2. Balance yourself with whatever familiar people, places, things, and activities you can, that are appropriate.
Tip #6: You Will Feel Normal Again
Right now, you probably feel anything but “normal.” That’s okay. Major life changes will stir up a lot. It may be a while before you feel normal again, but I promise you, hang in there. You will feel normal again, one day. It may be a new normal. But that’s part of life. That’s growth.
When you were in grade school, high school seemed strange and difficult. But eventually, high school became normal and easy.
When you start a new job, date a new person, move to a new city — it always feels a little strange and difficult at first. But eventually, you get the hang of it.
It becomes familiar. It gets easier and easier. It becomes normal for you. And whatever major life change you just went through — even if your life will never be the same again — eventually, in time, you’ll find a new equilibrium, things will get much easier, and everything will eventually feel like a new normal for you.
Tip #7: Embrace Change
The only people who never experience change are dead. Change is a part of life. Small changes, big changes. Sudden changes, slow gradual changes. Intentional, planned changes. Unexpected, surprise changes.
As long as you’re alive, you will experience change. You will change. Your friends and family will change. Your job will change. Your marriage will change. Your home will change. Sometimes change is very, very good and pleasant. Sometimes, it’s a little harder to deal with. But we live in a universe of change. Everything is in motion. Everything is being born, evolving, changing, growing, and dying. That is life. You know this. So don’t fight it.
A big change just happened to you. Okay. It’s okay. It’s… to be expected. Maybe you didn’t expect this particular change, but “change” itself is everywhere and always happening. You’ll only stress yourself out trying to control it or prevent it. Instead, embrace it and flow with it. I know this is much easier said than done. But that’s okay. Try anyway. You’re a beginner again after all (Tip #4). This is a great opportunity to grow (Tip #5), to learn that you not only can survive and handle major life changes — you can thrive after them.
Change can be your best friend — or your worst enemy. If you recognize it for what it is — part of a dynamic, ever-growing, fascinating, ever-evolving life experience — it can be your best friend. If you try to fight it, resist it, struggle against it — change will come anyway, and make you miserable in the process.
“This too shall pass” is a famous Bible verse, and for good reason. There’s a lot of wisdom in it. Because whether this particular change is good or bad, sooner or later, it too shall change again. So enjoy the good times while they’re here. And know that the bad times won’t last forever. They can’t. Because change is always happening.
You Are a Part of Something Big
Change is a good thing. And I can prove it. If it weren’t for change, you wouldn’t have a job. Why? Because companies wouldn’t start or expand. Because their current employees would never leave their positions to create an opening for you. If it weren’t for change, you would never fall in love — because you never would’ve gone through puberty. If it weren’t for change, you wouldn’t even exist — because your mother would’ve never gotten pregnant, because your ancestors would’ve never died, because the Earth would’ve been overpopulated a long time ago and we would’ve exhausted all the planet’s resources long before now. But because of change, life makes room for new life. We call it “death,” but life never really stops. It just keeps transforming.
You are a part of that never-ending stream of life. One day, you may leave your job to make room for someone else to work there. One day, you may fall in love and bring new life into the world. One day, you too — and me and everyone else — will “die” and make it possible for new forms of life to exist in our place.
Death is one form of transformation, one type of change. If you’re spiritual or religious, you know it’s a “major change” of leaving behind your physical body, and moving on to whatever awaits in the afterlife. If you don’t believe in any of that, you still know a part of you lives on — in the contributions and influences you’ve had on the world, in the people’s lives you impacted, in passing on your DNA, in creating or growing a company, in your shared talents and gifts, in something and some way — part of you lives on, carries on, continues on in the stream of life. Ever-changing, ever-flowing, ever-moving. You get to be a part of it. You are part of it.
You belong to a much bigger picture. So whatever’s happening right now — it’s okay. You’re here. You’re making a difference. You’re helping to shape and direct Life itself — and in return, Life itself (which includes other people, events, and circumstances) is impacting and shaping you too.
Change is Neutral — We Call It “Good” or “Bad”
When the “change” isn’t something we want, or happens suddenly without warning, we may feel lost, alone, and confused. That’s okay. But if you look through history — including your own personal past — you’ll find examples of a “bad” thing that happened, that later actually led to something good and better. So how do we know if something is actually a good change or a bad change?
We don’t. That’s up for you to decide.
And if you see change as an opportunity and a natural part of life, it’ll be much easier to find the good in it.
But if you can’t see the good in it right now, that’s okay too. Remember Tip #1. There’s a reason I listed it first. Give yourself time to feel what you’re feeling. Give yourself time to process this change, to reorient yourself in life, to allow this change to become your new normal. Then, hopefully, in hindsight you’ll be able to look back and say, “Yeah–I may not have asked for this, but in the end, something really good came out of it too.”
What you focus on determines whether it’s a good change or a bad one. I promise you, if you give yourself enough time, and keep looking, you will find at least some good that comes out of every change. Maybe you can’t see what that is right now. And that’s okay. But this is your life — and only you get to decide what something means. So whatever big change you’re going through, you’re in charge of whether it’s good or bad.
You Choose What It Means
I know that’s easier said than done. And I don’t mean to be insensitive either. If you just lost a loved one… that really sucks. That deeply hurts. And you have every right to feel hurt, angry, sad, and a whole range of other emotions. But some people will focus on the loss (making it a bad change); others will say, “they’re in a better place now” (finding the good).
Getting fired or laid off really sucks — you may even feel betrayed by your employer. Or, you could see it as an opportunity to find a better-paying job you love even more, start your own business, or take a much-needed vacation. You choose what something means. So please, choose wisely.
And even if you don’t or can’t, that’s okay. You can always “change” your mind later. 😉