What to do When Change Gets Hard

I sent the following to a client who, in the midst a professional transition, was feeling lost. The facts seemed contradictory.  Confused about which direction to take, she worried whether she'd ever come up with a solution. She wanted some encouragement, reassurance to know her efforts weren't in vain. This is what I told her. If you're going through some sort of transition, starting a business, moving across the country, pivoting your work or embarking on any sort of new adventure, I hope you find this useful.

In the beginning the possibilities are thrilling. Daydreaming about what your life will look like is exciting. You embark on the change, excited about the prospects. At some point on the horizon, reality hits. You have to make choices. You have to adjust your behavior. Even harder, you have to shift your beliefs.

Fear rises up.

You question why you're doing this. You wonder if you made a mistake.

You want to quit.

It seems like you're stuck in a never-ending maze. You feel like you're pushing an elephant up a hill...and you're in the elephant's butt. You wonder what you're doing. Maybe you made a mistake. It seems easier to stay in your current situation even if it's begun to feel like a cage, penning you in like an animal.

Don't panic.

While it may be scary, you're not alone. This happens for pretty much everyone in the midst of transition. Some people run into that wall within a few weeks of their change effort. For others, the reaction is delayed reaction for a few months. Whenever it happens, it hits hard.  Change is difficult, the path can be confusing, even perilous at times.

Complicated feelings are a part of the process. Change is full of ambiguity, especially before a road map for the future is created. Your inner protector hates the uncertainty. Better to be safe and sure than shaky and seeking. It will try to convince you to stay exactly where you are. It reasons that safe and bored is far better than being disillusioned and disappointed.

Though they don't feel great, these emotions are good news. I know, I know. You may be wondering how I can have this perspective.

It's counterintuitive to welcome scary emotions.

But the arrival of fear is a harbinger of good things to come.  These feelings mean you're challenging yourself to want more, to expect more from your life. You're digging yourself out from a rut you may not have fully realized you were stuck in. Resistance is natural. So are feelings of fear, doubt, ambivalence and even abject terror. It's just part of the change process.

Of course you don't want to completely ignore those emotions but you also don't want to coddle them either. You're smart to recognize these fears before they burrow their way into mind, setting up a permanent home. In fact, creating strategies to handle these emotions is critically important. Make a plan for handling them. Expect scary emotions to appear. Tell a friend. Time boxing them will limit their ability to run wild inside your mind. Find a way to mute them so you can continue to move on.

Here's something else to consider.

We think that to make changes we have to push, push, push. And then push some more. We take on the phrase "No pain, no gain" as if we're pumping weights at the gym. We think the only thing between us and our goal is a relentless drive.

When climbing up a hill, sometimes stopping to catch your breath is just what's needed. Slowing down can let that tough protector inside you catch up. Pausing the incessant push for something better can help the tough protector shift from skeptical to trusting.

Thinking about the change, narrowing your path, or creating a plan can be incredibly stressful, especially if you also have perfectionist or control freak tendencies. When this happens its ok to slow the pace to a crawl.

Sometimes you need to rip up the to-do list or at least set it aside for a while in favor of just absorbing and observing. Take a week just to take good care of yourself, whatever that looks like for you. That's it. If you focus on what your body and minds needs right now, you can consider this week a success. 

One last thing.

Somewhere inside you, you know. You actually have the answers. Maybe not all of them, but at least a hazy sketch and that's all you need to get started. You can pick up the rest of the plan along the way.

Sometimes you just have to dig through a few layers to get to those answers. But I promise. If you stick with it, if you trust yourself, you will figure it out.

You can do it. You've got this.